Did you know that…
During the First World War…
Soldiers used urine for almost anything! They pissed on their boots to soften the leather. They pissed on their handkerchieves to make gas-masks. They even pissed on their machine-guns to stop them warping from overheating! Urine was ideal for several applications in the trenches. It was easily accessed and in plentiful supply. Any duties where water was not absolutely required, or where urine was an acceptable substitute, this freely available fluid was utilised. Pee for victory!
Australia had the only 100% volunteer army. While other nations that participated in WWI had standing armies, the newly-federated (1901) nation of Australia did not have an army of its own. All its troops and officers sent to fight in the Great War were volunteers drawn up from ranks of civilians. Most of them had no prior combat-experience, and received only the most basic of outdated infantry training!
The first air-raids on a large population center were carried out. In 1915, the first-ever air-raids over a major city were carried out by the German ‘Zeppelin’ airships. Although highly inaccurate, these raids brought war to a civilian population that was previously untouchable. But for the first time, the people of Britain realised that the Channel was no guarantee of safety. The raids were carried out on London and other major British cities, starting in January 1915, and lasting until August of 1918.
The Underwood Typewriter Company manufactured a gigantic, working typewriter as a marketing gimmick in 1915!…It was later melted down for the war-effort.
Despite the fact that the war started in Europe, the first allied shot was fired from Fort Nepean in Victoria, Australia!
Just two and a half hours after the declaration of war, Australia, a country on the other side of the world, fired the first allied shot of the war, using the coastal artillery cannon at Fort Nepean.
During the Second World War…
Despite the fact that the war started in Europe, the first allied shot was fired from Fort Nepean in Victoria, Australia!…Again!
Just as in July of 1914, on the 3rd of September, 1939, the first allied shot was fired by the coastal artillery cannon at Fort Nepean, in Victoria, Australia, on the other side of the world! By the same gun, from the same fort…and the shot was even ordered by the same man! In both instances, gun-captain, Commander Veale, ordered shots fired across the bows of two ships which refused to heave-to. In both instances, just hours after the official declarations of war. And before any other allied nation had fired so much as a flare gun.
Cities were bombed with pianos! Okay, not really. But…Starting in 1944, pianos were parachuted into bombed out, but liberated cities across Europe, as the Allies advanced eastwards towards Berlin. Manufactured by Steinway & Sons, and called “Victory Verticals“, these lightweight, cheap, upright pianos were designed to provide a form of entertainment for troops and liberated civilians, whose own instruments were damaged by air-raids and artillery-barrages during the earlier years of the war. 2,436 Victory Vertical Steinways were manufactured.
A Steinway ‘Victory Vertical’ piano, sourced from pianoworld.com
The British tried making aircraft carriers out of ice! Those crafty Limeys. They tried concealing convoy ships as icebergs, and tried to make aircraft-carriers out of ice, to save up on precious steel.
No such ships ever made it off the drawing-board.
American psychologists produced a Freudian-style profile of Adolf Hitler. As part of trying to understand their enemy, the Americans drew up a psychological profile of Adolf Hitler. Theories about Hitler’s personality and possible future actions were built up from known facts about the Fuhreur. These were gleamed from his published works, body-language in films, and from the few people who knew him intimately and had escaped to America. One of them was Dr. Eduard Bloch!
Dr. Eduard Bloch in his medical office in Austria, 1938. Two years before he fled to America with his family
Bloch (1872-1945) was the Hitler family doctor…and a Jew. For Bloch’s attempts at treating Hitler’s mother for breast-cancer (from which she subsequently died), Hitler gave Bloch special protection from Nazi antisemitic persecution. Despite this, Bloch felt unsafe, and fled from Austria to America in 1940.
Over a three year period, from 1941-1943, he was interviewed extensively by the Office of Strategic Services or “O.S.S.”, the precursor to the CIA. He provided the Americans with valuable insight into Hitler’s personality and early life, which helped them produce their psychological profile. He told them about such things as the death of Hitler’s mother, how Hitler reacted to the news, and details about Hitler’s childhood and upbringing.
Bloch settled in New York City. He lived long enough to see the defeat of Germany, and Nazism in Europe. He died on the 1st of June, 1945, at the age of 73.
The profile drawn up by the Americans was surprisingly accurate. It correctly predicted the July 20 bomb-plot of 1944, Hitler’s increasing withdrawal from public life, and even Hitler’s suicide in 1945!
During the war, many companies ceased production of their peacetime consumer-goods, and started manufacturing materials for the war-effort. Where possible, companies were asked to build things using materials or techniques and qualities which they already had. It wasn’t always a great success.
Steinway & Sons, the piano-manufacturers, produced lightweight wooden gliders for the Allies. These were used during D-Day, for the invasion of Normandy.
The Singer Manufacturing Company, world-famous producers of sewing-machines, was tasked by the Americans to produce sidearms for the army. They were given a contract to produce 500 Colt .45 automatic pistols. The pistols did not all pass muster, and Singer did not produce any more guns for the duration of the war. It produced bomb-sights instead!
Singer lost the pistol contract to Remington-Rand, the famous typewriter manufacturer! Remington was producing M-1911 pistols from 1942 until the war ended in 1945. In total, it cranked out 877, 751 firearms for the U.S. Armed Forces!
The Royal Typewriter Company ceased all production of civilian typewriters during WWII. From 1942 until the war ended in 1945, it cranked out rifles, bullets, machine-guns, and spare parts for airplane engines! It didn’t start making typewriters again until the war had been over for two months!
The Underwood Typewriter Company produced M1 carbines for the war-effort. In the late 1930s, it manufactured a gigantic, working typewriter as a marketing stunt for the World’s Fair:
Just like in 1915…this too, was melted down for the war-effort! This typewriter was a giant version of the Underwood Master standard typewriter:
Rationing on the British Home-Front was so severe, some people came up with interesting substitutes for some rare, rationed foodstuffs and goods…
Makeup for women was in short supply. Beetroot-juice was used for lipstick, gravy and pencil-marks were used to create the illusion of stockings.
Eggs were almost nonexistent. And if you wanted them, you had to open a can of egg-powder, instead! (Eugh…) Egg-powder was mixed with water, and the resultant slurry was fried on the pan.
Restaurants continued to operate throughout the War, but were not allowed to charge more than 5s (five shillings) per dish. Vegetables were not rationed in any way at all.
Fish and Chips were not rationed. But getting plaice, cod and other regular varieties of fish was almost impossible. Instead, Britons had to eat Snoek, (“Snook”), imported from South Africa.
Winston Churchill was an impossible workaholic. He worked day and night. He worked on the toilet. He worked in the bathroom. He worked in bed. He would stay up for hours and hours at a time, working. By comparison, Hitler enjoyed his shut-eye.
The British Army had its own magician! No, I’m serious. It really did.
His name was Jasper Maskelyne (1902-1973). Born into the famous Maskelyne stage family, Jasper was originally a magician performing in London’s West End theaterland. When war broke out, Maskelyne was recruited by the British Army to provide morale-boosting performances to allied troops. He soon grew bored of this, feeling that he was not doing enough for the war-effort. He offered his services to the army as an expert in camouflage and deception. The Army was not exactly taken by the idea. They thought Maskelyne was mad!
Maskelyne’s argument was that as a stage magician, he had a lifetime of experience in deception, trickery and illusion, which could surely be handy for the Army! But they weren’t interested. To this, Maskelyne famously retorted:
“If I could fool an audience only twenty feet away, I could certainly fool the enemy, a mile away, or more!”
Maskelyne supposedly convinced the army that he had something to offer, when he successfully created the illusion of a German battleship. He was employed as a camouflage expert, and together with his team of men (the “Magic Gang” as they were called), Maskelyne set to work putting on his greatest show ever.
Among other things, Maskelyne disguised tanks as trucks, to make military-buildups look like harmless goods-deliveries. He set up blackouts, and fake lights at night, to shift the position of Alexandria Harbour (a key attack-point for the German air-force), and most amazingly, shrouded the Suez Canal (a vital link between Britain and its Empire) beneath ‘dazzle-lights’.
Dazzle-lights were powerful searchlights aimed at the sky. Twenty-one massive search-lights would have revolving heads, each head with two dozen smaller lights. Aimed at the sky and constantly spinning, the hundreds of lights created a glittering, dazzling effect. It was very pretty, but its purpose was to disorientate German pilots. Blinded by the dazzle, they wouldn’t be able to look down from their aircraft to spot the canal, and therefore wouldn’t be able to bomb it.
The canal is still here, so it obviously worked.
So there you have it. These are just a few of the weird, whacky little facts about the two World Wars which you probably won’t find in your history books.