Her Career Started with A Bang: Star Reporter Claire Hollingworth 1/15

Claire HollingsworthClare Hollingworth, a British journalist whose career as a war correspondent spanned more than four decades, died earlier this month in Hong Kong at age 105. She covered conflicts from Europe to the Mideast to Vietnam, but it was her reporting during her first week on the job that became the touchstone of her career and the reason for this blog’s interest in her.

The child of well-to-do parents, Hollingworth was drawn to writing at an early age. She eschewed the life of a housewife to pursue a career in journalism, scandalizing her mother. In the 1930’s, her freelance articles began appearing in the New Statesman, a British political and cultural magazine.

After Hitler annexed the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the 26-year-old Hollingworth went to Warsaw to work with Czechoslovak refugees. From March to July 1939, she helped thousands of people escape German occupation by securing visas for them to cross into Poland. Her experience in Eastern Europe led the editor of The Daily Telegraph in London to hire Hollingworth as a reporter in August 1939 to cover the growing tensions in Poland.

On the job less than a week, she somehow convinced the British Consul-General in Katowice, Poland, to loan her his car so she could drive over the border into Germany, thanks to the vehicle’s Consular plates. While touring German roads just over the border on August 28, she observed a massive German build-up of troops, tanks and armored cars. Back in Poland, she telephoned her bureau chief in Warsaw and told him what she had seen. The front page story in the Telegraph the next day scooped the world’s news media.

Three days later in Katowice, the rumble of airplanes woke Hollingworth at 5 a.m. She ran to her window and saw planes approaching and bursts of anti-aircraft fire. What appeared to be incendiary bombs began falling in a nearby park.

“It’s the beginning of war,” she shouted into the phone to her bureau chief at the other end of the line.

“Are you sure, old girl?” he asked her. In response, Hollingworth held the phone receiver out the window so he could hear the explosions.

On the way to the British Consul-General’s office in Katowice, she began having second thoughts. Had she witnessed a military exercise and not the start of war? If so, her promising career as a journalist would be short-lived.

At the Consulate she received news confirming the German invasion. The date was Friday, Sept. 1, 1939, and the Telegraph’s “cub” reporter had again scooped her colleagues with an eyewitness account of the start of World War 2.

 

 

“The Writing Life” – My 2016 Journey…

 

the writing life journeyThe end of the year typically is a time to reflect on the twelve months just passed.

For me, 2016 has been a very significant year, and not just because of the endless drama that accompanied the presidential election. It was a year that saw my historical novel, Without Warning, draw closer to publication, and I thought it might be interesting to share the ups and downs of this journey with you.

After three years of research, interviews and writing, I completed the first draft of my manuscript by the end of January, 2014, and considered it accomplished enough to begin querying agents. Agents are gatekeepers. No major publishing house will consider a manuscript unless it is represented by an agent.

What followed was two years of rejection notices from agents, manuscript revisions, attendance at writing workshops, more revisions, more rejections, and intermittent soul-searching about the viability of my skills.

As this year dawned, I had completed six drafts of Without Warning, but something wasn’t working. While I had written for most of my life, nearly all of my output was non-fiction. Perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

After attending a workshop on creating fictional characters, reading a book about narrative voice, and recharging my batteries at a local writers conference, I did a seventh draft. I clearly delineated the story’s protagonist, gave him a character arc, and added a new ending. Eager for more constructive feedback than the form-letter rejection notices from agents, I recruited five readers to critique this latest draft.

By early April, I received their feedback. They were kind, but their comments followed a pattern: not enough drama, most of the characters sounded like me, and the book took too long to get started.

Gut check time.

Was it worth all the work I was putting into this book to collect more rejection letters from agents and body blows to my ego? After a brief hiatus I returned to this question and realized my answer was, “yes.” The manuscript had improved from the first through the seventh draft. I still wanted to tell this story and believed that fiction would be the most compelling format for readers. Besides, the novel’s characters now seemed like old friends and I didn’t want to strand them in the middle of their voyage.

From late spring through early fall, I went through two more re-writes, differentiating characters’ insights, making their efforts to escape Europe ahead of the war more dramatic, heightening their fears as they faced their mortality after the torpedo strikes Athenia, and giving more detail and color to the book’s final chapter.

Beginning in October I polished my query letter to agents and sent out a dozen more. When these efforts failed to produce any interest, I decided to try the smaller publishers that accept queries directly from authors.

Within weeks I received an encouraging note. A publisher in Texas was interested in my book. They plan to get back to me in a few more weeks with a detailed evaluation of my manuscript and the work needed to bring the strongest possible book to market.

My long journey isn’t over, but at least the destination is in sight!

 

My Personal Ties to Mac’s Web Log…

 

My grandmother, Rhoda ThomasI spent several days exploring the fascinating SS Athenia pages on Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log.

My interest in this site, dedicated to “All who went down to the sea in ships” in World War 2, was a personal one.

 

My grandmother, Rhoda Thomas, was a survivor of the Athenia’s torpedoing by a German U-boat, and she left our family with a detailed account of her experiences that evening and beyond.

Rhoda Thomas was born in England, but immigrated to the United States with her husband and small family in 1914.

She had returned to England in August, 1939, to visit with friends and relatives but was advised by the American consulate toward the end of the month to return home as soon as possible.

Grandma boarded the Athenia in Liverpool. When the ship was attacked Sept. 3, 1939, she was on deck and, fortunately for her, wearing a heavy coat against the evening chill.

The lifeboat she entered was crowded and she had to stand for a good portion of the night. During this time, she was handed a baby to hold under her coat to keep warm. How I would love to know that child’s identity and what became of him or her!

Also in the lifeboat with by grandmother were Margaret Hayworth, a child who eventually died of wounds she received in the submarine attack, and her mother.

They were rescued by the Southern Cross and later transferred to the City of Flint and landed at Halifax.

While on the City of Flint, my grandmother met another survivor — a young man named John Garland.  They struck up an acquaintance because they were both from Rochester, New York.

Over the years, I found that many people knew of the Lusitania, a passenger ship torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War I, but hardly anyone had ever heard of Athenia, even though 30 Americans died in that attack more than two years before Pearl Harbor. My fascination with this ship, my Grandmother’s personal account and a collection of newspaper articles encouraged me to write my debut historical novel, Without Warning.  

In researching the book, I read many inspiring and harrowing accounts written by other survivors and I was able to speak to a handful of them who are still alive. What began as a project to remember my grandmother, became a personal effort to honor the memories of Athenia’s passengers, whose heroism and sacrifices have been overshadowed by the war’s greater conflagrations.

 

Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log: To “All Who Went Down to the Sea in Ships,” World War 2

Royal Australian Navy veteran Mackenzie J. Gregory created “Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log” more than 30 years ago on the Internet. He dedicated the site to all “Who went down to the sea in ships” in World War 2, and especially to the 84 officers and men who died on H.M.A.S. Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942. Over the years, Mac’s website has become an invaluable source of information, much of it first-hand, regarding naval exploits from the war. 

Mac joined the Royal Australian Naval College as a 13-year-old Cadet Midshipman in 1936.  He went to sea as a young naval officer in August 1939 as the clouds of war gathered over Europe.

macat17

October 12 1939: Mac was just 17 years old on board H.M.A.S. ‘Australia.’

Three years later he was serving as Officer of the Watch aboard the cruiser Canberra in the Solomon Islands northwest of Australia when the Battle of Savo Island began August 8, 1942.  The ‘Canberra’ did not survive the battle.

After the war, Mac completed the first combined Torpedo Anti-Submarine (TAS) Specialist Long course in UK Naval Schools from 1947 – 1948.

Other assignments followed, including aide de camp to Australia’s Governor General in the capital of Canberra, and as Fleet TAS Officer on the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet aboard the carrier Vengeance. 

july23finalv4Several years after retiring from the navy, Mac started “Ahoy,” helping to preserve the memories of both service men and women and civilians caught in the whirlwind of war.

His long held dream to erect a bronze commemorative statue of a World War 2 sailor “Answering the Call” was unveiled by Royal Australian Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett in November 2015.

Although Mac passed away Aug. 27, 2014, before he could see his dream realized, his website had already become a fitting monument of his devotion to preserving history.

You’ll discover that Ahoy – Mac’s Web Log is filled with interesting articles, features, guest stories, and a forum. 

Lieut Cdr NICOLAS BRACEGIRDLE MBE RN (BATH, UK) writes: His erudite website has been a magnificent example to all naval historians and shipmates. RAN history is made all the more accessible by this wonderful gentleman and even in our sorrow, we hope that his family are strengthened by the many tributes from all over the globe.

Visit http://www.ahoy.tk-jk.net/index.html for more.

 

 

Early 1900’s Transatlantic Travel…What Was It Like?

 

mauretania

For most of the first half of the 20th Century, nearly everyone traveling between America and Europe made the trip by sea.

The journey on these vessels was as important as the destination.  First class passengers experienced glamor and style with meals, entertaining, sightseeing, and socializing.

However, passengers in steerage were housed in the hold of the ship…and the journey was truly miserable.  “Before the United States closed its borders in the 1920s, immigrants to America would sleep packed together like cattle, eating a common meal that was described as frequently almost inedible.”

The Mauritania was one of the best-known passenger ships of this era.   It held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing for 20 years (ending in 1929).

Greater speeds were achieved by new ships built in the 1930’s.  Two German ships, the Bremen and the Europa challenged the Mauritania‘s dominance. The elegance and speed created fierce competition, and several of the largest companies (including White Star, owner of the ill-fated Titanic) actually operated at a loss for the first half of the decade.

During World War I the Mauritania worked as a transport and hospital ship. During its long career the ship made 269 round-trip crossings of the Atlantic, exclusive of war work. Its last crossing was made in 1934. She was sold for scrap in 1935.

A second ocean liner with the name Mauritania was launched in 1938 by the Cunard White Star Line. It made its maiden voyage the following year and, like its predecessor, was noted for its luxury and service. With the outbreak of World War II, the Mauretania became a transport ship but resumed its passenger service in 1947. In the late 1950s the ship’s popularity began to wane, and the Mauretania was scrapped in 1965.

 

Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill  enjoyed the lavish surroundings of the Cunard cruise liners.26d7e20b00000578-3000444-image-a-47_1426871954430

Photos courtesy Dailymail.co.uk

Would love you to share your experiences on these vessels.

 

Where was the British Royal Family throughout World War II?

he King, the Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to greet the cheering crowds. Where was the British Royal Family throughout World War II?

And how did George VI unexpectedly become  King in 1936? 

When King George V died in January 1936, Edward, the eldest son, became King.

Edward created a scandal less than a year later when he gave up the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.   Thus, his younger brother, Albert, became George VI, monarch of the United Kingdom, a duty he never expected would fall to him.

The film “The King’s Speech” depicted George VI and his broadcast to the British people after Britain’s Declaration of War against Germany on September 3, 1939. George VI was in the third year of his reign as King.

The King and Queen remained at Buckingham Palace throughout the War.

Their daughters, Princesses Elizabeth (the present Queen of England) and Margaret, were sent to Windsor Castle, about 30 miles from London, for safety. They lived there until the end of the war in 1945…visited by their parents on weekends.

All valuables in Buckingham Palace were removed or protected. The horses and carriages from The Royal Mews also were moved to Windsor and the horses were put to work on the farm.

Like all other girls her age, in 1942 Princess Elizabeth (aged 16), registered at a labor exchange. She wanted to volunteer as a nurse in bombed-out areas of London, but the King thought it was too dangerous.

In 1945, (aged 18) she was permitted to join the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). She learned to drive and repair heavy vehicles.

King George and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (he had married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923) did not remain hidden in the Palace during the War.  They displayed real care and concern for the people of London by visiting many areas that suffered heavy bombing.  The King even went abroad to visit his troops in France and North Africa. The British people felt that their Royal Family shared their suffering and were united with the people.

Buckingham Palace actually suffered nine direct hits by German bombs during the “blitz.”

As the Nazis advanced through Europe, Britain offered refuge to European heads of state including King Haakon of Norway, King Peter of Yugoslavia and Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands.

The George Medal and George Cross were created by King George VI to honor “many acts of heroism performed both by male and female persons especially during the present war.”  The George Cross is one of the nation’s highest award for extreme bravery. (The Victoria Crosses the highest symbol of bravery in battle.)

The George Cross was awarded directly to 155 people, 84 posthumously.

On V.E. Day (May 8, 1945) the King, the Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and Winston Churchill appeared together on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to greet the cheering crowds.  Police officers escorted the Princesses as they mingled in the crowds to celebrate the end of the War.

Here is an excerpt from The King’s Speech:

“It is to this high purpose that I now call my people at home, and my peoples across the seas, who will make our cause their own. I ask them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial.

The task will be hard.  There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God.  If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.”

Why was Food Rationed in Britain in World War II?

Candy rationing ended in Britain in 1953!

Candy rationing ended in Britain in 1953!

Before food was rationed, and prior to World War II, Britain imported about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries.

The British government was forced to limit imported food after the war began in 1939, because German submarines attacked British supply ships. As a precautionary measure, the British government introduced a rationing system to alleviate shortages of food supplies available..

Rationing ensured that the citizens received equal amounts of food every week. Would prices rise as food became scarcer?  Would the poor be able to afford to eat?  Would some people hoard food?

So rationing was a necessary consequence of the shortages, making them more bearable for the entire population.

How did food rationing work? 

Each person in Britain received a ration book after registering, and was assigned to buy their food from chosen shops. Since there weren’t any supermarkets,  people visited several different shops for meat, vegetables, bread,…

After items were purchased they were crossed off the buyer’s ration book by the shopkeeper.

The first items to be rationed on January 8, 1940, were bacon, butter and sugar.

And, everyone received 16 points per month for whatever food items they desired (Potatoes, fruit and fish were not rationed).

Indicative of the devastation the war had on Britain, food rationing lasted 14 years!

It began in 1940 and ended July 4, 1954.

U-BOATS: Their Contributions to Germany’s Success

Launching of U-218 at Kiel, Germany, in 1941. From J.P. Mallmann Showell, U-Boats under the Swastika (1987)

Launching of U-218 at Kiel, Germany, in 1941.
From J.P. Mallmann Showell, U-Boats under the Swastika (1987)

Did you know that U-boat (in German: U-boot) is an abbreviation of  Unterseeboot, (“undersea boat”, a German submarine)?

The destruction of enemy ships by German U-boats was a huge part of  World Wars I and II.

Germany was the first country to employ submarines in war as substitutes for surface commerce raiders.

At the outset of World War I, German U-boats, though numbering only 38, achieved notable successes.

The Armistice terms of 1918 required Germany to surrender all its U-boats, and the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to possess them in the future.

But in 1935  Hitler’s Germany renounced the treaty and forcefully negotiated the right to build  U-boats.

So, Britain was ill-prepared in 1939 for a resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, and during the early months of World War II the U-boats, which at that time numbered only 57, again achieved great successes.

Throughout WW II, The German U-boats began to operate in groups (called wolf packs by the British). One U-boat would shadow a convoy and summon others by radio, and then the group would attack, usually on the surface at night.

However, by 1943 the Allies improved their ability to detect and attack submarines under water and developed tactics to force them to the surface where they could more easily be destroyed. Over the last two years of World War II, the U-boat’s effectiveness never approached the level of success enjoyed in the first four years of the war, primarily because of these technological and tactical developments.

In World War II Germany built 1,162 U-boats: 785 were destroyed and the remainder surrendered.

Of the 632 U-boats sunk at sea, Allied surface ships and shore-based aircraft accounted for the great majority.

 

Source:  https://www.britannica.com/technology/U-boat

The SS Athenia: A Different Way to Write About this Tragedy.

 

Thomas C. Sanger - Author of Without Warning - photo

The S S Athenia: I chose a different way to write about this tragedy.

When I decided in 2010 to write about the Athenia tragedy (see blog post “Origins of a Book, Part 1, Sept. 1, 2016), my first step was to find out what had been published on the subject.

There were two non-fiction books written about the sinking: Tomorrow Never Came, by Max Caulfield, published in the U.S. in 1959, and Three Days in September: The Last Voyage of the Athenia, by Cay Rademacher, published in Germany in 2009. The older book was no longer in print (though copies were for sale on the Internet) and there were no plans to publish the German book in English.

And so the journey for a new book on the Athenia began.

To differentiate my effort from the previous books, I determined to write a historical novel about the sinking. I thought fiction would be the best way to make the emotional connection with readers that I sought.

I began by reading the Caulfield book. Then I scoured the Internet, where I found a great deal of material, including many first-hand accounts of Athenia’s sinking.

Rather than invent my characters, I decided to fictionalize the experiences of real people, imagining their thoughts and conversations as they experienced events before, during and after the torpedoing by a German submarine. Following 18 months of research I settled on ten people – eight passengers, the Athenia’s second-in-command and the submarine commander – whose experiences would allow me to tell the most complete story of Athenia’s last voyage.

With two years invested in my project, my heart sank late in 2012 when I opened a catalogue and found a new Athenia book had just been published: Athenia Torpedoed: The U-Boat Attack That Ignited the Battle of the Atlantic, by Francis M. Carroll! I ordered a copy and discovered an up-to-date, concise, thoroughly researched and well-written non-fiction account of the attack on Athenia and its aftermath.

Had I chosen to write a non-fiction book on the subject, like the Athena, I would have been sunk!

Thankfully, my idea for a historical novel remained afloat. All I had to do was write it….

Without Warning by author Thomas C. Sanger - book cover image

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Rhoda Thomas Photo credit: Family photo

The Writing Life: Origins of a Book, Part 1

As some of you may know, Without Warning is in its final revision stages as I attempt to make my manuscript read more like a novel. With luck I’ll finish this part of the process by the end of September, when my search for an agent and/or publisher will resume.

At this juncture, I thought it might be interesting to tell how I came to this project and what I hope to accomplish with my book. Without Warning tells the story of the British passenger ship Athenia, which was torpedoed by a German submarine Sept. 3, 1939, only hours after the two countries declared war.

Despite Athenia’s place in history as the first British ship sunk in World War 2, few in the British Isles and even fewer in America have ever heard her name. My attachment to this tragedy is personal. My grandmother, Rhoda Thomas, was a passenger on Athenia’s last voyage. She survived the sinking and returned home to Rochester, NY, as a minor celebrity. She gave her eye-witness account of these events to several newspapers and completed an affidavit for the U.S. State Department, which asked all 281 surviving American passengers to describe what they saw.

At some point, Rhoda sat down and wrote a vivid 14-page memoir for family members about her experiences before, during and after the torpedo attack. Reading her account many years after her death was like hearing her voice again. Her honesty and the immediacy of her descriptions inspired me to try to bring this long-ago incident back to life. It was late fall of 2010, and I had no idea this effort would take me six years, more than 100,000 words, and several thousand miles of travel to complete.

That journey begins in my next blog.