Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Do I Have to Go to School?

I lived much of my childhood in northern New Jersey, an area prone to long winters. As a result, school was often cancelled because of inclement weather. I loved missing school until we exhausted our allotment of snow days, and we had to attend classes until the end of June. Made for short summers.
The children of wartime Britain missed school for very different reasons.

In the early days of WWII, the British government made plans to
evacuate all children (and their teachers) from large cities to rural areas. Part of this plan included closing most schools, two-thirds of which were requisitioned and handed over to the Civil Defense Services. Reports indicate that only about fifty percent of the children actually evacuated, leaving nearly a million students without a school.

Incidents of vandalism rose, and authorities realized a solution had to be found. Alternate buildings such as churches, village halls and warehouses were converted to schoolrooms, but because of bombings, constant movement to new lodging, and other wartime problems, attendance dropped. As one writer it, “Understandably, education sometimes took a backseat to simple survival.”
In rural areas, schools used a double shift system to handle the
influx of evacuees. Local students used classrooms in the mornings and evacuees used the in the afternoon. As the war progressed young male teachers were drafted into the armed forces, causing a shortage of instructors and a swelling of class size. Curriculum was varied, but gas mask drills and air raid exercises were an integral part of the school day for everyone.

What unusual experiences did you have during your school days?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mystery Monday: Classic Children's Stories

Laura Lee Hope. Carolyn Keene. Franklin W. Dixon. Do you recognize the names? You might if you were an avid reader of The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and/or The Hardy Boys. What do the names have in common? I was surprised to recently learn they are all pseudonyms for a cadre of writers who worked for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book packager founded in the early 1900s.
Edward Stratemeyer’s career began as a writer for the magazine Good News. In 1899, he created a series called The Rover Boys. Selling over five million copies, the series was wildly successful. Stratemeyer quickly realized there was an untapped market for children’s books that were primarily entertainment rather than the usual stories focused on moral instruction. The Bobbsey Twins appeared in 1904 and Tom Swift in 1910. The Hardy Boys series was not written until 1927. Nancy Drew followed in 1930. According to several accounts, Stratemeyer felt that a woman’s place was in the home, but he wanted to capitalize on the fact that the Hardy Boys books were incredibly popular with girl readers.

Stratemeyer initially wrote all the Rover Boys, Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift books himself, but wanted to publish more than feasibly possible for one person to produce. At that point he hired ghostwriters. He continued to author some of the stories, but was primarily responsible for creating the outline for each book and editing the final product.
I was fascinated to discover that for many decades libraries refused to carry any Syndicate books, considering them to “cause mental laziness, induce a fatal sluggishness, and intellectual torpor.” In fact, psychologist G. Stanley Hall wrote that “series books would ruin girls in particular by giving “false views…which will cloud her life with discontent in the future.”

Interesting viewpoint considering that many well-known women from Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush indicate the strong positive influence Nancy Drew had on them.
What childhood books influenced your life?


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Talkshow Thursday: USO

Hello! My name is Geneva Alexander, and I’m the main character in the new mystery series that Linda is writing. I wanted to introduce myself, and tell you a little bit about the United Service Organization (or USO – the name you’re probably more familiar with). I’ve just joined up, and I’m very excited to find out where I’ll be stationed.

The USO was founded in 1941 when President Roosevelt decided there needed to some sort of organization to provide morale and recreational services to the U.S. military personnel. He was elected honorary chairman. Six civilian organizations came together one umbrella: the Salvation Army, YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board.

The first facility was built in Louisiana in 1941, but it wasn’t long before there were centers and clubs
around the world. The club was the place to go for dances, movies, music and social events as well as a quiet place to write a letter or get free coffee and doughnuts. The USO is probably more famous for providing Hollywood celebrities and volunteer entertainers to perform for the troops.

According to historian Paul Holsinger the USO did 293,738 performances between 1941 and 1945. There were 702 different troupes that toured the world. There was even a Liberty ship named SS U.S.O. that was launched in 1943.

USO work wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed. One entertainer wrote that “We’ve played to audiences, many of them ankle deep in mud, huddled under the ponchos in the pouring rain. We’ve played on uncovered stages, when we, as well as the audience, got rain-soaked. We’ve played with huge tropical bugs flying in our hair and faces…”

Despite the danger (twenty-eight performers died in the course of their tours), I’m looking forward to serving the troops as they fight the Axis powers. I hope you’ll follow along as I chronicle my experiences. Maybe I'll get to meet Bob Hope!



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Traveling Tuesday: Old Man's Well

World War II is aptly named. Skirmishes and battles occurred literally all over the globe. At a time when most people didn’t leave their town, men and women went to countries they had never heard of.

Today we’ll be visiting Libya – a country in North Africa that is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Algeria to the west, Egypt to the East and Chad and Niger to the south. It is the fourth largest country in Africa (about the size of Alaska) and has been populated by Berbers since approximately 3,000 BC. Much of the country is dry in nature.

Between May 26 and June 21, a battle took place at Bir Hakeim, an oasis in the Libyan desert. The 1st Free French Brigade defended the area against the German and Italian forces commanded by General Rommel. It was a difficult battle, and both sides used it as propaganda. Churchill renamed the Free French as the Fighting French, and Hitler called the French the second best fighters after the Germans.

The fortress at Bir Hakeim (Old Man’s Well) had been built by the Ottomans and later used as a station by the Italians to control movement at the crossroads of two Bedouin paths. The wells had long gone dry and it had been abandoned.

The French ultimately lost the battle, but the delay influenced the cancellation of the planned German invasion of Malta. It also gave the retreating British time to reorganize and stop the German advance at the First of El Alamein.
The Paris metro station named Bir-Hakeim, and the bridge Pont de Bir-Hakeim are both named for the battle.



Friday, September 4, 2015

Forensic Friday: What's in a Bullet?

photo courtesy of
You’re familiar with the concept of fingerprinting, but have you ever heard of ballistic fingerprinting? With all of the crime dramas on television, maybe you recognize the term. For those of you who don’t know “ballistic fingerprinting” is using a variety of forensic techniques to match a bullet to the gun with which it was fired. Fingerprinting is based on the principle that all firearms have variations due to marks left by the machining process. Because the variations aren’t completely polished out, they leave impressions on the bullet.

Calvin Goddard, a physician and ex-army officer, is Army Ordnance titled “Forensic Ballistics” in which he described the use of the comparison microscope. However, more than 100 years prior to his article, a killer was brought to justice in England when the markings on a bullet taken from the victim were matched with a bullet mold belonging to the suspect. (Back then you made your own ammunition).
credited with creation of the term. In 1925, he wrote an article for

photo courtesy of
Goddard went on to form Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, an independent criminological laboratory, because few law enforcement agencies had the capabilities of providing this service.

There are three characteristics used during the identification process. The first is the easiest and most apparent. It is referred to as the “gross difference.” For example, a 10 mm bullet could not have been fired from a 9 mm barrel.

The second classification is striation, the fine grooves etched into the bullet from the spirals of the
photo courtesy of
rifling in the barrel. Rifling varies among manufacturers and models. For example, Smith and Wesson use a right hand twist, and Marlin Firearms uses a 16-groove rifling.

Breech markings are the third classification. This refers to the marks on the cartridge case which are often easier to identify than bullets. The concepts here are that the parts of the weapon that produce the marks on the case are less subject to long-term wear, and that bullets are often severely deformed on impact, destroying much of the markings they acquire.

Goddard’s techniques were used to solve many high profile cases including the Sacco and Vanzetti payroll robbery case during which a paymaster and the guard were killed. A century later these techniques are still used, however, many are performed by computers instead of humans.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wartime Wednesdays: Rock Buns

According to Wikipedia a rock cake, also called a rock bun, is a small, hard fruit cake with a rough surface resembling a rock. Rock cakes originated in Great Britain, where they are a traditional teatime treat, but are now popular in many parts of the world. They were promoted by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War since they require fewer eggs and less sugar than ordinary cakes, an important savings in a time of strict rationing. Traditional recipes bulked them with oatmeal, which was more readily available than white flour.

I found this recipe online at

They are certainly not as sweet as cake, but an acceptable substitute. I used dried cranberries because that’s what I had in the house. Not sure how readily available they would have been during the war. Perhaps currants or raisins would be a better choice. Give them a go. I think you’ll like them.
Rock Buns

  • 8 oz wholemeal/wholewheat flour
  • 4 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice/all spice
  • 2 oz margarine
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 2 oz sultanas or dried mixed fruit
  • 1 egg or 1 reconstituted dried egg
  • milk
  • 2 teaspoons sugar for topping


Sift the flour, baking powder and spice

Rub in the margarine

Add the sugar, dried fruit and the egg

Gradually add enough milk to make a sticky mixture

Put spoonful onto parchment paper on baking tray ( makes 12-14)

Sprinkle with the sugar

Cook in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 12-15 minutes