Friday, 9 October 2015


‘Ye Blews’

Blues means what milk does to a baby.
Blues is what the spirit is to the minister.
We sing the blues because our hearts have been hurt,
our souls have been disturbed.
Alberta Hunter

As waggish musicians are wont to say,
‘You should always have a W. C. Handy’

Whilst jazz was simultaneously emerging in New Orleans and Chicago, like all music at the time, the only way you could hear it was by being there at a live performance, or by taking advantage of the huge, burgeoning printed sheet music industry and playing the popular tunes yourself, at home. Yet towards the end of the 19th century, something exciting happened.
       Emile Berliner (1851–1929) was a German-born American inventor, and alongside all the other attempts at recording sound, such as his own cylindrical machine, which he dubbed ‘the gramophone’ in 1887, (a system already in use via the machines of the equally inventive Thomas Edison), in 1888 he managed to surpass cylinders by using discs. Yet such devices were still, for many, simply fascinating playthings.

However, Berliner persisted and managed to sell his new disc-based technology, albeit at first to toy manufacturers. But in 1895 he succeeded in raising a substantial investment of $25,000, and with this he established the Berliner Gramophone Company. Even as Berliner continued to burn the midnight oil in his workshop, coin-in-the-slot, sound-reproducing machines, perhaps the earliest form of juke box, were becoming a popular attraction in amusement arcades, and as early as 1890 the New York Phonograph Company opened the first recording studio.
Putting music on a disc was one achievement, but trying to stabilise the speed of the turntable was a different challenge.
So Berliner teamed up with Eldridge R. Johnson, an engineer, who designed a clockwork spring-wound motor. In 1901, Berliner[1] and Johnson knew that together, they had something impressive, so they joined forces. The Victor Talking Machine Company was formed.
      By 1902, recordings were being made by performers sitting in a studio, playing into the large horn of a gramophone. The recordings were made onto thick wax discs. By 1902 the immensely popular operatic celebrity, Enrico Caruso, essentially became history’s first recording star as one of the earliest performers to embrace the new technology, ‘cutting’ his first record, Vesti le gubba from Pagliacci. It sold more than a million records.

Soon, the hand-cranked Victrola would be superseded by the invention, by Lee de Forest, of the triode, an electronic amplification device having three active electrodes.
      Against the tragic backdrop of the Great War of 1914-18 (although it must be remembered that the USA did not enter the war until April 1917) African American music making had developed into a variety of vibrant styles. Jazz had taken off in the south and as far north as New York and Chicago, and jazz scenes were developing in places as far apart as Kansas City and Los Angeles. All the accrued cultural heritage of struggle and deprivation experienced through two centuries of slavery, the continuing racism, the immense transcendent outlet of the spiritual and various European influences had all fused together to create a new, improvised and uplifting musical form. Cutting its own swathe through this was yet another means of expression. Unlike the spiritual, this wasn’t religious, but secular. This was the Blues.

Like the word ‘jazz’ there are numerous theories surrounding the origin of ‘blues’ as a musical appellation. Its provenance, when studied closely, is quite surprising. Because of the way we now think of the blues it simply sounds too hip and modern for the word to have a history prior to the birth of jazz. We can confidently sidestep the ‘official’ first musical mention from 1912, in W.C. Handy's Memphis Blues because long before Columbus, in Britain as far back as 1385, the adjective ‘blue’ meant ‘low spirited’[2]. There are other historical examples, one quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) which tells us of it being in use in 1741 for ‘depression, low spirits.’ 

David Garrick in his 'Blews'
outfit, no doubt ...
In that year, the great 16th century actor, David Garrick, wrote in a letter:
      ‘I am far from being quite well, tho not troubled with ye Blews as I have been’[3].
‘The blues’ is also a diminutive of blue devils, bad little demons associated with despondency, depression and sadness. Blue devils have been with us since 1616, from a poetry collection entitled  Times’ Whistle:
      ‘Alston, whose life hath been accounted evill, And therfore calde by many the blew devill’[4].
If we need any further proof of the provenance, in 1798 George Colman the Younger wrote a one act play, set in France entitled The Blue Devils.
      As a musical style, yes, the term ‘the blues’ has been around since 1912, which inevitably takes us to ‘the Father of The Blues’ William Christopher Handy (1873 –1958). The first publication of blues sheet music was Hart Wand's Dallas Blues in 1912 but the prominence of W. C. Handy dominates the genre’s history.
W. C. Handy
As this story deals with the way in which R&B musicians were frequently the victims of appalling treatment and skulduggery over money and royalties, it is a sad fact that such dubious dealings, although mainly the province of some promoters and managers throughout history, should have coincided with the rise of recorded music, and have continued up to this day. Memphis Blues was Handy's third composition, but his first blues. However, it began life as a political campaign song in support of Edward Hull Crump (1874-1954), who was running for Mayor in Memphis in 1909. It was originally an instrumental entitled Mr. Crump, with a bit of a jive/rap vocal thrown in to help ‘Boss’ Crump, one of the early builders of the modern Democratic Party and eventually one of the South’s most powerful politicians, on his mayoral way. The mayoral campaign kept Handy busy all over town, assembling bands and musicians to give repeated performances of Mr. Crump. The lyric seems simple enough:

      Mr. Crump don't 'low no easy riders here
      Crump don't 'low no easy riders here
      We don't care what Mr. Crump don't 'low
      We gonna bar'l house anyhow
      Mr. Crump can go catch hisself some air.[5]

However, even in 1909, almost five decades after emancipation and the Civil War, there are still West African roots here. West Africans always had what were known as ‘songs of derision’, so although Mr.  Crump is a campaign song, it has all the hallmarks of the Southern black man’s penchant for ‘telling it like it is.’ It pulls no punches, yet at least Crump was a ‘straight’ politician, and by all accounts not like the rabid segregationists of later decades. Others in the Crump Camp were more devious.
Beale Street, Memphis.
In Memphis, Handy had to pay L.Z. Phillips at Bry's Department Store, the representative of the publisher Theron Bennett, (who was also a notable ragtime composer and musician) for the printing of the first sheet music edition, 1,000 copies, of Mr. Crump. Phillips had convinced Handy that he was only printing the music on speculation in the hope it would sell well throughout Memphis. Phillips seemed positive and Bennett, who was visiting Memphis, offered Handy national distribution and exposure, an irresistible deal. Handy, by no means a rich man, was in the shop with Phillips and Bennett when  the initial 1000 copies were delivered. Bennett was still in town a week later when Handy went into Bry’s Department Store to check on sales. Bennett showed him a remaining pile of 1000 copies, suggesting sales were slow. He then suggested that Handy sell him the full copyright to the composition outright. Because of the popularity of the song, this confused Handy, yet what he didn’t know was that the wily publishing duo had actually printed 2,000 copies, and the first 1,000 had indeed sold like wildfire. Still, Handy, thinking he may have written a turkey, agreed to sell his copyright to Theron for a mere $50. In the following weeks, another 10,000 copies, complete with Bennett's imprint, rolled off the presses. Months passed and Bennett sold Handy’s work for a substantial sum to publisher Joe Morris. Adding insult to injury, George Norton, one of Bennett's lyricists, was hired by Morris to add words to the song, a move which Handy considered highly objectionable. 
      Needless to say, but once Theron had bought the copyright, he knew that he’d make a fat profit because there’d be no royalties due to Handy until the copyright ran out. It would be 1937 before Handy could re-claim his highly successful composition, and when he completed his first book on the blues, he had even been refused permission to include the song.[6]
This notorious episode did however convince Handy to form his own successful publishing company, Handy & Pace[7].

      As an early demonstration of the felonious way in which African American performers would be treated by publishers, managers, promoters and record companies, W. C. Handy’s Mr. Crump/Memphis Blues experience is an early milestone of cynical opportunism. It seems poignant that under the revised song’s later title, Memphis Blues, that Handy could pen such a magnanimous verse as:

      ‘Folks I've just been down, down to Memphis town,
      That's where the people smile, smile on you all the while.
      Hospitality, they were good to me.
      I couldn't spend a dime, and had the grandest time’

Of course, there’s always another side to every story. In his book The Country Blues,
Sam Charters
Samuel  Charters writes: ‘Handy later complained bitterly that he was cheated out of the rights to his song, but the man who bought the rights from him was acting in good faith and had as little idea as Handy did the song would become so successful.’[8]
If that’s the case, then Theron Bennett must have been a saint among his peers. As will be seen, the practice of grabbing copyright and composer credits from innocent artists became one of the big bonuses
in being a publisher or a record producer, jobs which were often combined. For example, Lester Melrose, rightly famed for recording many of the greatest country blues artists for RCA and Columbia for their Chicago ‘race music’ subsidiary, bragged that he had recorded 90% of all the black music African Americans were dancing to across the USA. Dedicated though Melrose was to bringing the blues to a wider audience, he only paid artists a recording fee, and made sure that before they left the studio they had fully surrendered the compositional copyright to their songs over to him. Thus, with no artistic, creative or musical skills, Melrose is said to have gained royalty payments for up to 3,000 blues compositions, whilst not writing a note or a word of any.
Lester Melrose
This would appear to be true, as his tax return for 1938 shows him making a staggering $139,000 – a huge income for the time. Melrose was able to retire to a splendid villa in an orange grove in Florida, where he died in comfort in 1979.[9]
      It didn’t take long for the word ‘blues’ to become a popular addition to a song title. A new musical structure had developed. Primarily a vocal form, lyrically, it wasn’t religious, but secular, although it contained echoes of slavery and field hollers through its call-and-response pattern and the syncopated rhythms of work songs and spirituals. Its hallmarks were a repeating harmonic structure with melodic emphasis on the flatted or “blue” third and seventh notes of the scale. Its common form featured a 12-bar phrase using the chords
of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees of the major scale.
With the advent of the gramophone, records began to match the popularity of sheet music. Although a white Broadway star, Marie
Cahill recorded The Dallas Blues in 1917, and the early 1920s saw the first black blues recordings, and women led the charge. Mamie Smith (1883-1946) was the first African American singer to record. 
Mamie Smith
Her 1920 Crazy Blues, written by Perry Bradford, an experienced Minstrel and Vaudeville performer, was to be followed in 1923 by Ma Rainey’s (1886-1939) Boll Weevil Blues. Fine vocalist though she was, in a variety of popular styles, Mamie Smith wasn’t really a blues singer, but Crazy Blues sold 10,000 recordings the first week and 75,000 within a month. Ma Rainey certainly was a blues singer and went on to make over 100 recordings. These early recordings, with their jazz accompanists; would soon earn the title ‘classic blues.’
      By the end of the 1920s the blues, especially due to classic female artists, had become a major element of African American and American popular music. It even had exposure, often due to Handy’s arrangements, to white audiences in theatres and clubs, such as the Cotton Club and numerous Beale Street venues in Memphis through special blues shows organised by the Theatre Owners Bookers Association The record industry began recording blues performers. New labels such as Okeh Records, Paramount Records and the American Record Corporation, all found it worthwhile to record African American music.


[1] Berliner invented many other products, such as an early version of the helicopter, the acoustic tile and a loom which enabled the mass-production of cloth.
[4] Gent, R.C. (Ed.) The Times Whistle: A Naïve Daunce of Seven Satires and other Poems. English Text Society, London 1616.
[5] Avakian, George: Liner notes to Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy, Long Playing Record, Label: Columbia CL 591 Canada, 1954
[8] Charters,  Samuel  - The Country Blues. New York: Rinehart. 1959 Reprinted as The Country Blues: Roots of Jazz by Da Capo Press, with a new introduction by the author 1975
[9] Reich, Howard and Gaines, William: Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton Da Capo Press, New York, 2004.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Dumps of Doom


Before Saddam Hussein blotted his copy book by invading Kuwait, Iraq possessed significant stocks of  chemical and biological weapons, many of which were happily supplied by Britain, Germany, the USA, France and Russia up until 1989.

  In the New York Times in August 2002 a senior intelligence officer, Colonel Walter P. Lang, talking of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988,  declared that the CIA ‘were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose’ and that ‘the use of gas on the battlefield was not a matter of deep strategic concern’.  Another American intelligence source claimed ‘the Pentagon wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas – it was just another way of killing people – whether with a bullet or with phosgene, it didn’t make any difference…” 

Eventually, when all the current hot air and rampant hypocrisy has blown over, if there really are remaining hidden caches  of menacing weapons lurking in the Iraqi desert, what will the noble Allies do with them once they’re discovered?
No matter who made, bought or sold them, getting rid of WMDs – especially the CBWs (that’s Chemical and Biological Weapons) is a task no nation likes to face up to. This is a secret, sinister process which has been handled over the past sixty years with an incredible clumsiness and in consequence has turned parts of the globe into toxic time bombs.

Of course, there’s nothing new about this ‘dirty tricks’ department of war-making. In 400 B.C. the Spartans burned wood treated with sulphur and pitch to gave their enemies some serious breathing problems resulting from poisonous sulphur dioxide fumes[1]. The Crimean Tatars in 1346 had the novel idea of catapulting plague-ridden corpses into  Italian trade enclaves. In medieval times if your horse caught a disease its corpse became a handy weapon if dumped in your enemy’s well or stream. The Conquistadors both deliberately and involuntarily wreaked havoc with diseases among Native Americans. As one Spaniard, Francisco de Aguilar,
Aquilar, who spent the last 40 years of his
 life as a Catholic monk,
with no South American Indians to worry about ...
brutally records in 1525, ‘God saw fit to send the Indians smallpox’.[2]  By the time the British had gained a foothold in the New World we see the likes of General Jeffrey Amhurst, in 1763,  presenting the Indians with blankets deliberately infected with smallpox, developing a nasty little ‘ethnic cleansing’ method which continued right into the 20th Century, gathering momentum in the   1920’s when Britain used chemicals against the Kurds in Iraq, with Churchill recommending the use of gas ‘against uncivilised tribes’.[3]

Gas the buggers! 
Winning a war with disease:
General Jeffrey Amhurst

By December 2nd 1943,  Allied forces had spent 85 days in Italy in their massive campaign, code named Operation Avalanche, to drive the German Tenth Army northwards and eventually out of Italy.[4] By this time the fine Mediterranean weather which the troops had enjoyed at their September landing in the Gulf of Salerno and at Taranto had turned into persistent rain and icy winds.
Throughout the Apennine Mountains, Montgomery’s 8th Army and the US 5th Army under General Mark Clark spent the weeks up to Christmas locked in cold, wet battle with a stubborn and implacable foe. Yet even as the military casualties mounted on both sides, 100 miles behind the front line in what may have seemed the relatively safer haven of Bari on the Adriatic Coast, the hapless civilian population was about to suffer a grisly, unexpected blow.
The SS John Harvey
On that chilly December 2nd.,  the U.S. merchant ship S.S. John Harvey was tied up in the port of Bari waiting to discharge her deadly cargo – 2,000 M47A1 bombs, each containing up to 70lbs of sulphur mustard. Also in the John Harvey’s  holds was an unknown but sizeable quantity of high explosives. At 7.30 p.m. the Luftwaffe launched a raid on Bari. For thirty minutes the bombs and shells pounded the port until at 8pm, close to the John Harvey, an oil tanker  suffered a direct hit and blew up.[5]  Within minutes the American freighter also fell victim to a massive explosion which threw debris and exploding shells over a wide area.
A ball of fiery, twisted metal,  she rapidly sank with all hands.
Yet the SS John Harvey was much more than just another victim of war. Due to her horrific cargo, she was the epicentre of  a grim outreach of death and injury. Although a restrained U.S. Government report later stated that 83 men had been killed and 534 civilians wounded, another source[6] based on information collected in Bari  suggests that the exposure to the exploding mustard bombs killed over 1,000 Italian civilians within a few days of the explosion, as well as causing over 630 serious military cases.
The devastation closed the port of Bari for over a month
Our history of World War II tells us that the use of poison gas, namely Zyklon-B, was reserved by the Nazis in Europe solely for the destruction of the Jews.
Only one other nation resorted to chemical/biological agents between 1936-45 - Japan[7]. The Japanese Army took great pains to keep this embarrassing episode
under wraps, but in 1989 British writers Peter Williams and David Wallace carried out extensive research which culminated in their book,  Unit 731,  which revealed a catalogue of grim experiments which included dropping bombs filled with disease-carrying fleas,  various pathogens, plague, anthrax and cholera.
 From Hell: Japanese military 'know-how' in action
These foul acts were carried out in China  against not only communists and Allied prisoners, but on dense areas of civilian population. In a special ‘information exchange’ deal with the Allies at the end of WWII,  most of the main Japanese perpetrators of these war crimes escaped punishment, and eventually landed good jobs in Japanese hospitals and medical schools. The dark end of the scientific community looks after its own.

For the so-called ‘civilised’ West, by WWII chemical weapons on the battlefield simply weren’t cricket. Even Hitler, who had no qualms about gassing millions of innocent civilian victims with carbon-monoxide and Zyklon-B, had pale reservations over the use of mustard gas and other nerve agents in the European theatre of war, following his own trench experiences in WWI. Never the less, the Nazi military-industrial complex went into overdrive with a massive CBW production programme.
Although the Hague Convention of 1907 had outlawed chemical weapons, the Generals of 1914-18 had ignored it. The more determined Geneva Protocol of 1925, ratified by 33 nations,  also sought to make chemical warfare illegal, yet even then Winston Churchill was willing to consider the prospect of gas warfare as late as 1944.[8], when Britain had enough mustard gas stockpiled to kill off almost 1000 square miles of the Reich.
A nice little earner - filling mustard gas shells.
The prevailing attitude to these horrendous weapons over eight decades can best be illustrated by the very nation which originally abstained from supporting either the Hague Convention or the Geneva Protocol – the U.S.A.
In 1977 a study carried out by the Stanford Arms Control Group declared that
the Geneva Protocol is essentially a no-first-use agreement, and in no way prevents the development of chemical weapons as deterrents…”[9]
Although they did finally agree to ratify in 1935, the American military complex,  just like the Asian and European arms industries, continued to forge ahead with chemical weapons manufacture.

But the mid to late 20th century has been the CBW’s golden age of research and development. More horrific ways to die in agony have been invented by the men in white coats since the late 1930’s than during any other period in history.
There is, however, an obstinate and inconvenient problem to all this.
If, as has been the case, you try and out-do your potential enemies by manufacturing many thousands of tons more of this stuff than they do – (which, of course, being ‘civilised’, you would never dream of using) – where do you put it?  And as soon as you replace that unfashionable lung-rotting, brain-strangling microbe with a brand-new vein-bursting, skin-eating instant killer, once you’ve stopped celebrating, what do you do with your old stock? Sell it off? Maybe. Give it to the dustmen? Hardly.  You could try burning it, but it’s an extremely expensive process, and the first rule of weapons development is profit.
Underground? That’s costly and can be hard work. No. There’s an easy place to dump your horrors. The same destination man has chosen for his garbage, effluent and everything else he wanted to forget for centuries – the ocean.

When Marshal Konev’s 1st Ukrainians of the Red Army  rumbled across Poland in January 1945[10], they were about to make a grim discovery just outside the town of Breslau (now Polish Wroclaw) on the River Oder.  The village of  Dyernfurth-am-Oder was dominated by a spectacular, self-contained industrial compound. It covered an area 1.5 miles by 0.5 miles and at its peak employed no less than 3,000 German nationals, all equipped like some denizens of Hell with rubber suits and respirators.
Since 1940, Dyernfurth’s speciality had been the mass production of some of the most toxic nerve  agents known to man; Tabun, Sarin, Soman and VX.  To go into the separate effects (on the bronchial tubes, lungs, eyes, skin, blood and vital organs) each one of these virulent killers has on the human frame in any depth here would make for sickening and pointless reading. Rest assured that any one of these Nazi nasties left mustard gas in the shade. Tabun, for instance, was so toxic that the production rooms had to be lined with double glass walls, with a stream of pressurised air running between the glass panes. Frequent decontamination took place with ammonia and steam, yet between 1942-45 there were still 300 serious accidents and ten horrific deaths at the plant[11] There was a large, high-security underground facility where shells were filled and sealed with these deadly compounds ready for storage.
What astounded Allied Intelligence and the Soviets was the sheer volume of production of these agents in wartime Germany.
In the Summer of 1944, Tabun alone was being produced at 1,000 tons per month,
whilst the old favourite, phosgene, was being stockpiled at 3,100 tons per month. The basic building blocks for these weapons, such as methanol, was being produced at 10,900 tons per month by October 1944, and cyanide at 336 tons.[12]
If Churchill had got his way, and used gas on the Reich, the obvious German preparedness for retaliation would have resulted  in unspeakable mass horror and death on the British mainland. 
The remains of the Sarin factory of death at Falkenhagen
Yet the Soviets were far from horrified by this factory from Hades; they were fascinated. The Nazis, preparing to blow the place up,  had already dumped thousands of tons of Tabun and Sarin into the River Oder. But Dyernfurth was saved. Throughout the decades of the Cold War the USSR enhanced its CBW skills and worked hard to devise suitable weapons delivery systems which might carry virulent new strains of smallpox or plague to wherever it might be needed.
Once the iron curtain had fallen, a veil of mystery covered not only this but several other  poison plants throughout the former Reich. Within months of the Red Army’s discovery, both Dyernfurth and another Sarin plant at Falkenhagen were back in production, this time under Russian control[13]. Yet their ultimate quest was for newer, even deadlier gases – and their growing problem was disposing of the thousands of tons of defunct yet deadly shells already in storage.
Deadly biological warfare shells left to rot in Europe
Elsewhere in Germany the Allies were also discovering massive stockpiles of chemical and poison gas shells. In Berlin, Munster, Luneberg and other locations the tonnage was mounting – within months almost 300,000 tons of nerve agents were awaiting destruction.  There was only one way to go - out to sea.
Between October 1945 and  August 1948 up to 40 German merchant ships[14] were commandeered by the victorious Allies,  filled to the gunwhales with CBW shells and explosives, sailed out into the North Sea, the Skagerrak of and the Bay of Biscay, and deliberately sunk. Disposing of over 175,000 tons of this vile material was a thankless, secret and extremely hazardous job and at this stage little is known about the volunteer Merchantmen and Royal Navy Reserves who carried out these operations. The majority of the commandeered vessels were loaded in Hamburg, by German dockers, in the main totally unaware of the ton upon ton of death which was being lowered into the holds. At least the Allied sailors were afforded protective gear when preparing these vessels for destruction, but the German dock workers rolled up their sleeves and with little else than leather gloves as defence, allowed the breath of hell to pass through their hands.
With 21st century environmental hindsight, such ecological irresponsibility over four decades later  appears outrageous. But in 1945 Europe was in a physical and political mess.  Disposing of the detritus of war was just another tedious task, to be completed in any way possible.
Every combatant nation had a similar problem. Despite the Italian tragedy of the SS John Harvey, the Americans never the less chose the beautiful Adriatic near Bari to dump large quantities of Phosgene, cyanogen chloride bombs, hydrogen cyanide, etc. shortly after WWII ended.[15] The result has been a toxic time bomb which frequently wreaks its revenge on innocent Adriatic trawler men, who often bring deadly, glutinous clusters of mustard gas up in their nets. Neither were the Americans afraid to use their own ‘back yard’, either. 32,000 tons of captured chemical weapons were sent down in US coastal waters. The Japanese sank unspecified  tonnages of CBW’s in the Pacific and Sea of Japan. Many land burials also took place; secret chemical dumps abound all over North America. In Britain, especially in counties such as Wiltshire,  gas shells from both World Wars are scattered beneath the surface, and  still lie in wait for hapless ploughmen. (The Ministry of Defence has destroyed all records of such burials older than 25 years…[16])
Dumping poison gas into the Atlantic in the 1960s. It's still down there ....

But perhaps the greatest horror story of WWII CBW dumping has yet to be fully told. It has remained hidden from the West by four decades of the Cold War. Fifty five years after WWII ended, Swedish fisherman still annually report CBW accidents in the Baltic Sea. Danish fishermen are said to pull up 2,500 tons of chemical bombs every year. [17] In some areas of the Skagerrak, where gas wrecks are known to exist, large numbers of dead starfish have been found floating on the surface.
Since the fall of Communism and the Berlin Wall, the records of both the Stasi in East Germany and the KGB in the former USSR have become subject to scrutiny.
 What they will eventually reveal about Soviet  dumping in the Baltic will only confirm  Scandinavian  suspicions; that this beautiful, mainly shallow, enclosed sea, noted for its clear water, has probably suffered from more CBW dumping than any other stretch of water world wide. According to a Russian document released on the Internet in April 1999[18],  munitions taken from Peenemunde, (Hitler’s V1 and V2 rocket plant on Germany’s Baltic coast), alone offer just the tip of a terrifying Soviet iceberg of Baltic dumping;

          408,565 Mustard gas shells
          71,469 250-kilogram mustard  bombs
          17,000 Adamsite/diphenylchlorarsine bombs
          1,004 one-and-a-half tonne containers of mustard gas
          189 tonnes of cyanide (in rubber bags)
          10, 420 chemical 100mm mortar shells
          7,860 barrels of Zyklon-B.

This harvest of horror – only a small example - currently languishes on the sea bed somewhere between the Swedish Island of Bornholm  and the Latvian port of Liepaja.  Because of the prevailing cold war secrecy of the time (dumping, apparently, went on well into the 1960’s)  full records of exact positions of these dumps remain to be found. But a great many vessels were commandeered, loaded and sunk before the new masters of Eastern Europe could get to grips with their deadly legacy.
The search goes on; and as yet, no-one knows what eventual effect these decomposing shells might have on the marine environment.
Bornholm: A favourite dumping area for poison gases
 Throughout history,  white coated Boffins have burned the midnight oil to come up with formulae which have changed the world, eradicated diseases and made humanity’s burden lighter.  But, like Jekyll and Hyde,  every enlightened chemist has his dark counterpart, crouched like one of Macbeth’s three witches over the cauldron, hell bent on destruction. In the end, designing death is a fast track to profit.
Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, the Project Leader of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Chemical Warfare Project, regards ocean chemical dumps, even five decades after WWII, as a dangerous, hidden legacy which the international community has yet to face up to.  The Stockholm Institute (SIPRI), which works in partnership with the University of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies,  monitors all evidence of possible zones of pollution and regularly issues reports and documents.   After years of secrecy no-one can really say how much of this toxic weapons material is still stockpiled in Russia. Saddam Hussein was just one moustachioed madman capable of using such horrific devices – it is estimated that he killed 60,000 Iranians this way in the Iran-Iraq War, in addition to using poison gas against the Kurds in his own country.  CBWs are  arms of sheer temptation to those governments with little or no regard for humanity – and that’s a long list. Apart from our own piece of chemical hell real estate, HMG’s Porton Down research Establishment, we only need to look back a few years to Vietnam and the use of Agent Orange and that most disgraceful weapon, napalm.
Yet as the science of war and the study of biology make ever larger advances, new, more subtle strains of microbes, germs and chemical compounds come onto the market,  making some of those old favourite snot, blood and blisters varieties obsolete. That’s when the dumping starts. Tread with caution in Wiltshire, keep your eyes open down on the beach – and be careful where you swim.


Notes / Sources

[1] Grossman, Zoltan The Pot Calling The Kettle Black – A History of Bio-Chemical Weapons
[2] Wright, Ronald; Stolen Continents – The Indian Story John Murray, London 1992
[3] Grossman,  Zoltan see also Blum, William,
   Killing Hope; U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since WWII’.
[4] Various, Ed. Pimlott, John L. The World at Arms Reader’s Digest, London 1989.
[5] Compton, J. A. Military Chemical & Biological Agents. Telford Press, New Jersey 1988.
[6] IBID.
[7] Grossman, Zoltan. (See note 1).
[8] See Speer, Albert Inside The Third Reich Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, London 1970.
On August 5th 1944  Churchill called for a report on England’s capability for gas war against Germany.
[9] Warren Howe, Russell Weapons Abacus, London 1981.
[10] Werth, Alexander;  Russia at War 1941-1945 Barrie Books, London 1964.
[11] Paxman, J. & Harris, R. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Hill & Wang, New York 1982.
[12] Speer, Albert Inside The Third Reich.
[13] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute The Problem of Chemical & Biological Warfare
Humanities Press, New York 1971.
[14] List of gas ships supplied by Bjorn Axel Johanssen, Kalmar, Sweden and checked/verified by
     Professor Theodor  Siersdorfer , Essen, Germany, 1999.
[15] W.R. Bankowitz/University of Bari see also
[16] BBC Radio 4 Costing The Earth documentary, June 1997.
[17] Philip Facius, Chairman, Danish Environment Council in Green Left Weekly October 1999.
[18] Bodarenko, B. B., Kasyanenko, L. G. Arch Foes Saw More Mercy than The Baltic

Thursday, 17 September 2015


Bones of Contention
(and other body parts…)

If you’re searching for tangible evidence in the murky fog of conspiracy theories, new world orders and secret societies, facts, figures and names are slippery eels.  However, beyond the myths and legends surrounding the Bilderberg Group, the Illuminati  and the Freemasons, in the leafy Ivy League enclaves of  Yale University  there is one  perceptible organisation, obsessed with death, the Skull and Bones Society. This secretive group, dating back to 1832, has been populated by some of America’s most influential industrialists, politicians, bankers and presidents, among them  George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and the failed presidential candidate John Kerry. Whereas their membership list[1] is no secret, their saturnine rituals, performed in The Skull & Bones Hall, otherwise known as the windowless, red stone Newhaven "Tomb” certainly are.

One of the ‘Bonesmen’s’ morbid fascinations has been the acquisition of body parts.


In 1986, Ned Anderson, chairman of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona, led a campaign against the Skull and Bones Society for the return of the skull of none other than the great warrior, Geronimo, who died of pneumonia in 1909. The story goes that in 1918, a group of 6 well-heeled ‘Bonesmen’ stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, robbed Geronimo’s grave and removed the chief’s skull and some bones.

According to a centennial history of Skull and Bones by a 1923 initiate, Francis Otto Matthessen, there exists a 1919 log book featuring the skull, which is apparently now displayed in a glass case in the Tomb. Matthessen names the grave robbers, among them one Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of the U.S. presidents.

Over the past decade 20 of Geronimo’s descendants have tried desperately through the U.S. Courts to have the skull returned, but in 2010 Judge Richard Roberts dismissed the lawsuit against Skull and Bones and Yale, saying the plaintiffs cited a law that applies only to Native American cultural items excavated or discovered after 1990[2].
The privileged and the rich: Skull & Bones members with a young
George W. Bush, in light suit standing next to the grandfather clock.


The sad theft of Geronimo’s remains is just one example of the melancholic fascination with the possession of purloined body parts. In 2009, for a few hours on E-Bay, you could bid for three glass vials containing a dictator’s brain and blood. The initial asking price was 15,000 euros, or £13,000[3].

At the end of World War 2, after being shot with his mistress Claretta Petacci by anti-fascist partisans,  Mussolini's body was strung up on a lamp post by a petrol station near Milan. The Americans, no doubt interested in how the mind of a dictator works, removed his remains and kept the interesting bits. Mussolini’s wife, Rachaele, expressed her horror in her memoirs, and in 1966, America returned part of the former Duce’s brain to his widow. Yet the macabre story didn’t end there. Forty-three years later, Mussolini's granddaughter Alessandro discovered what was left of her granddad being peddled on E-Bay and the auction was abruptly aborted.

Heart searchers at Erwarton Churxh with researcher James Marston

You could drive through Erwarton in Suffolk and hardly realise you’d been there. The village, in the parish of Babergh, 14km south of Ipswich on the Shotley peninsula has a population of just over 100, and a pub, The Queens Head, which closed in 2009.
      Yet like many seemingly insignificant villages, Erwarton has an interesting little 13th century church, St. Mary’s. The church organ dates from 1912, and it bears a curious attachment; a copy of a drawing by Holbein of Anne Boleyn, together with this legend: after her execution in the Tower of London, 19 May 1536, it was recorded that her heart was buried in this church by her Uncle, Sir Philip Parker of Erwarton Hall. It goes on to reveal that in 1837 a lead casket was discovered in the church, believed to contain the hapless Anne Boleyn’s heart, yet the casket had no inscription. Historian Alison Weir[4]  points out that ‘heart burial had gone out of fashion in England by the end of the fourteenth century’ and identifies the uncle in question as Sir Phillip Calthorpe of Erwarton, who was married to Amy (or Amata) Boleyn, Anne’s aunt. Yet the story of the heart reverberated around the world for decades after the discovery, and an article in the New York Times dated November 13 1881 confirms Weir’s correction and tells us that Erwarton’s parish clerk, James Amner, who died in 1875, was present with the rector, Rev. Ralph Berners, when workmen, restoring the church, found the heart-shaped lead casket behind the north wall. It was opened and contained what appeared to be a pile of dust. It was re-buried in the Cornwallis vault, beneath where the organ now stands.


America’s independence owes much to Thomas Paine, Born in Thetford, England on January 29, 1737. A great revolutionary, the author of The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, he inspired Washington’s army during the Revolution of 1776. As his service to America had been at his own expense. in 1784 New York State gave him a confiscated Royalist farm in New Rochelle, and Congress awarded him $3000. Paine died in New York City on June 8, 1809, and only six mourners, including two freed slaves, attended the funeral. He was buried on his farm.
        In 1819 Britain’s William Cobbett, political activist and author of Rural Rides, another ‘dangerous man’, at one time Paine’s rival who had come to admire him, without permission dug up Paine’s remains and brought them to London with ambitious plans for a memorial which never materialised. Paine’s bones, in a series of boxes, were handed down through the generations of Cobbett’s descendants. What became of them is uncertain, although it is claimed that there is a rib in France, some of his bones were made into buttons and in 1987, a Sydney businessmen bought Paine's skull while on holiday in London. It was sold to another Australian named John Burgess, reputed to be a descendant of an illegitimate child of Paine's[5]. The last bit of news on the tale was that Burgess’s wife was trying to raise $60,000 for DNA testing. Is it Paine’s skull? Both Gary Berton, president of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association and The New Rochelle Citizen Paine Restoration Initiative have been on the trail. Berton said the skull was  the right size and has some incised markings which are believed to have been made by Cobbett and his son.
However, all that definitely remains in New Rochelle of the great are his mummified brain stem and a lock of hair, kept in a secret location.



He may have ruled Europe with a rod of iron, but as for Napoleon Bonaparte’s physical extremity, much enjoyed by Josephine,  it seems to have suffered the ultimate indignity.  The unkindest cut of all, the removal of Bonaparte’s penis is said to have been carried out by his physician when the Emperor died in exile on St. Helena in 1821. The doctor may have given it to the priest who gave him the last rites. The priest’s descendants, the Vignali family  in Naples,  crop up in an article by Guy Lesser about a rare book dealer, A.S.W. Rosenbach,  in the January 2002 issue of  Harper’s Magazine. Sadly, the fleshy relic does not seem to have been well preserved. Lesser writes:  "Rosenbach evidently had been fond of showing off his collection of Napoleon relics to his most favoured clients, acquired in the mid-1920s, from the Vignali family of Naples, the descendants of Napoleon's chaplain and last confessor on St. Helena. The relics included hair, cutlery, clothes, and, as the piece de resistance, so to speak, a short length of dried leather, kept by Rosenbach in a small blue morocco box--and delicately referred to, in his day, as 'Napoleon's tendon’. The ‘thing' had been quietly sold by Rosenbach in the mid-1940s"
The wayward Willie has been compared at various times to piece of leather, a shrivelled eel or a bit of beef jerky. In 1927 it went on display in Manhattan, when TIME magazine likened it to a "maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace." In 1977, John Lattimer[6], of New Jersey, the world’s leading urologist who had treated Nazi war criminals awaiting trial, reputedly  forked out $3,000 for the battered baguette  (some sources claim it was $38,000)  and stored it under his bed where it stayed until his death in 2007. His daughter inherited[7] it as a probably unexpected bonus in her father’s will, and has had offers up to $100,000. At least that’s a more dignified sum for an Emperor …


When the faithful go in search of a miracle, they can have no better reward than a body which refuses to decompose. At the age of 46, the zealous Catholic missionary St. Francis Xavier, worn out from his various Asian sea voyages, died on Saturday  December 3, 1552 on the Chinese island Sancian. The body remained buried – and fresh - for ten weeks in a coffin full of lime. It was then transported on a decorated galleon to Goa as the saint himself had wished to go there. Huge crowds, including the Viceroy himself, accompanied by the nobility, gave the cadaver a royal welcome.
On March 14,1554 the corpse, in a wooden coffin with damask lining, was taken to the Church of Ajuda at Ribandar. Dead or not, Xavier just kept on travelling. Two days later he was delivered to the Church of S. Paulo in Goa on March 16, 1554 and the strange life of a relic began when the little toe on the right foot was bitten off by Dona Isabel de Carom, a Portuguese woman, who claimed she was anxious to have a relic of the Saint. Apparently, it gushed blood. Three other toes were later removed from his right foot. One of the purloined extremities ended up at the saint’s birthplace, the  Castle of Xavier. After 60 years of not mouldering in the grave, the ecclesiastic souvenir hunters were at it again. On November 3, 1614,  Father General Claude Aquaviva instructed that the right arm was to be cut off at the elbow. It arrived in Rome  the following year, where it remains in a silver reliquary in the church of Gesu. Today, St. Francis Xavier is spread far and wide[8]. As well as the toe, displayed in a silver reliquary in a Goa cathedral, one of his hands is in Japan, there’s yet another relic elsewhere in Goa - a diamond-encrusted fingernail, and for all we know, he may have a toe in the door at other clerical locations.


Back in less enlightened times, when Britain, France and Germany had empires, many branches of non-European humanity were seen simply as biological curiosities. Our intervention in such cultures back then must have had all the characteristics of today’s ‘alien abduction’ phenomena.  Even as late as the 1960s, touring fairgrounds, alongside their 2-headed sheep, often had their 10-foot mummified South Pacific Giant or a brace of tiny, unfortunate mummified  little characters doubling as either Polynesian pygmies or even ‘captured leprechauns’. However, the abduction of hapless tattooed Maoris developed into a grisly business for collectors of the exotic. Around the world today about 500 intricately tattooed Maori heads, known as ‘tai moko’ are either hidden away in dusty vaults or stored in boxes in various museum stockrooms.
The sad thing about this repugnant trade is that many Maoris were kidnapped from New Zealand, forcibly tattooed, then be-headed. In May 2011[9] the head of one such unfortunate warrior was handed back to the Maoris in Rouen, Northern France, where it had languished in the city’s museum for the past 136 years. According to museum director Sebastien Minchin, up until 1966 the head  had been displayed as part of the museum's prehistoric collection. Although the Maori committee and the New Zealand Consul were pleased with the hand-over, there are still an estimated 15 of these heads awaiting return throughout France, and in recent years 300 tai mokos have returned home from countries around the world.


In the same dark, colonial collector’s  netherworld which decapitated Maoris lies the story of two opportunistic mid-19th century  French taxidermists, the Verrueax brothers,  who, finding themselves at a burial site in the Kalahari desert, decided to take a break from stuffing lions and rhinos and exhume the body of a recently buried African man.  Soon they had him well stuffed and suitably embalmed, and before long the morbidly curious of Europe were queuing up to see their handiwork.
As the two maladjusted stuffers were a bit disappointed with their victim’s light skin, they decided on their own method of making him ‘African’ by adding a layer of black polish. He eventually came to rest in Spain at a Catalonian town called Banyoles, where, known to locals as ‘El Negro’, he resided for a century in the Darder Museum until in 1992, when Alphonse Arcelin, a local Doctor of Haitian descent, raised objections. The town fought to keep the corpse, and even issued boxes of chocolates commemorating his presence, but common sense eventually triumphed, and he was finally laid to rest in a dignified burial ceremony in Botswana in 2000[10].


Traditionally, St. Nick may squeeze down your chimney on Christmas Eve, but the jolly old redcoat’s mortal remains might put Rudolf right off his carrots.
The Middle Ages were the high watermark for the lucrative Christian business of attracting pilgrims to holy body parts and possible miracles. The long-dead, real St. Nicholas was originally lying in peace in a grave in Myra, Turkey. However, in 1087 the wily elders of the Italian town of Bari, looking for a suitable, cash-raising  religious attraction, hit upon the wheeze of hiring a gang of pirates (some called them ‘privileged mariners’) to nip over to Turkey and raid the Myra crypt and bring Father Christmas to Bari. The mission was a success, and the buccaneering blag is celebrated every year with a massive parade followed by a firework display.  Commissioned by Abbot Elia in 1087, the Romanesque basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari now attracts thousands of pilgrims who hope to benefit from the strange liquid called ‘Manna’ which oozes from St. Nick’s casket[11] and is said to cure various illnesses.


King Badu Bonsu of Ghana’s Ahanta tribe  seems to have pushed the invading Dutch over the edge in 1838 when he decided to lop off the heads of two Dutch emissaries  and use them to decorate his throne. When Major General Jan Verveer discovered what had happened, he promptly had the king hung and then decapitated, and took his head back home to Holland. It’s modern location, the Leiden University Medical Centre, was revealed by Dutch novelist Arthur Japin, who was researching his latest work.  For decades, the poor old Monarch had been staring out through the glass from a dusty jar of formaldehyde in a store room in the centre’s anatomical collections department.  In July 2009 the Dutch government received a deputation from Ghana to arrange the head’s return. The ceremony was not a particularly joyful occasion, despite the ceremonial tipple of Dutch gin and the red robes of the visiting Ahanta tribesmen. They were still angry; the King’s great, great grandson, Joseph Jones Amoah exclaiming "I am hurt, angry. My grandfather has been killed…”[12] The party were also displeased as they thought they had only come to identify the relic, not return it, as they would first have to adhere to tribal protocol by reporting back to their chief. However, the king’s head went home a few days later, with the Dutch hoping that they’d righted a wrong.

            The ages of imperialism and colonialism may be long past, but the lamentable enthrallment with bits and pieces of the departed, or even the whole body, is still with us. The frozen cadaver of the ‘Prince of Pop’, Michael Jackson, remains un-buried in a bare brick room in a gold casket encased in a clear fibreglass container. Jackson’s 79 year old mother can’t bring herself to have him buried[13] for fear that grave robbers might moonwalk into the cemetery, and like a scene from ‘Thriller’, make off with a Jacko souvenir.

It’s a pity all those religious zealots, fairground barkers, taxidermists, and Lenin’s 1924 embalmers didn’t know anything about the modern science of cryonics. If the old chestnut about Walt Disney’s frozen noggin is true, saints and sinners could, like baseball legend Ted Williams, whose body was frozen in 2002, become major live attractions in the years to come.

[1] For a full membership list
[2] Los Angeles Times May 3rd 2011
[3] Daily Telegraph July 20 2011
[4] Weir, Alison The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn  Vintage, 2010.
[5] For two engrossing leads on Paine’s remains read Collins, Paul The Trouble With Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine Bloomsbury, 2006. There is also a fascinating article in the New York Times dated May 31st 1914 at
[6]  This site claims Lattimer paid $38,000 for the penis.
[7] This is a video where the writer, Tony Perrottet, author of Napoleon’s Privates, (Harper Entertainment, 2008) visits Lattimer’s daughter to track down the penis. For some peculiar reason, although he verifies its existence in the basement,  the camera is not allowed to film it.
[8] TIME magazine, May 10 2011
[10] "España sólo devuelve huesos del negro de Banyoles" (in (Spanish)).
[11] At you can see a video of priests collecting the ‘Manna’ from the tomb.
[12] Huffington Post July 7 2009