Did you know…about Passchendaele?

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle…
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells…
This paraphrasing of the opening stanza of Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen sums up the tragedy that was the battle of Passchendaele.
ChateauwoodFought in Belgium, the goal of the campaign was to gain control of the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres, putting the Allies  within striking distance of the vital rail junction at Roulers.
Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the campaign began on the 31st July, 1917, making  Monday this week its centenary. The battle saw approximately fifty Divisions from Britain and her Empire, support by a further six French Divisions engage more than eighty German Divisions and lasted until mid-November 1917 with the capture of the village of Passchendaele before being called off, having failed to produce the breakthrough desired.
Both sides suffered huge casualties for very little gain. Though there are conflicting reports on the final casualty figures, the minimum figure given is in excess of half a million with the higher estimates approaching 900 000 killed and wounded for an advance of less than 10km.
Along with the Somme and Verdun, Passchendaele has become synonymous with the ‘blood and mud’ misery of the First World War.
Want to know more? Check out the books on the Passchendaele Campaign or other accounts of the First World War.

Did you know….about Harry Potter

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverWell…who doesn’t know about Harry Potter, right?

Seriously though, did you know that Monday June 26th 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? That’s right, the series about the boy wizard is turning 20!

The book was author JK Rowling’s debut novel and was far from an overnight success. Indeed, Rowling began writing the novel in 1990 while riding on a train. According to an interview the author gave in 2009, the idea just hit her of a boy riding a train to wizard school. The death of her mother influenced much of the writing process.

The book was not well received by publishers and agents who felt that it was too long for a children’s book. That is, until Barry Cunningham of Bloomsbury recommended the publishers accept the book based on the recommendation of his eight-year-old daughter.

With seven books, eight films, a stage play and now a spin-off series of films, the rest, as they say, is history.

The library will be holding events from 10:00-1:00 this Saturday to celebrate the occasion so why not come along or maybe re-read the books, play or films.

BTW – Did you know that the books are actually set in the early-to-mid 1990s? You can work this out from information provided by Gryffindor ghost Nearly Headless Nick. In the Harry Potter and the Chamber of  Secrets, he celebrates his 500th ‘Death Day’ which occurred on October 31st, 1492, meaning that book takes place during 1992-1993!

Did you know…about the Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny?

Everyone knows the Easter Bunny, right?

Cute little fuzz-ball that delivers chocolate eggs on Easter…but…rabbits don’t lay eggs! Where, then, did this idea come from?

It would appear that the tradition comes from Germany, with one of the earliest references to the Easter Bunny turning up in a mid-late 16th century text. Another text from the late 17th century entitled ‘About Easter Eggs’ by Georg Franck von Franckenau makes reference to the German tradition of a Hare or Rabbit bringing eggs for children.

The eggs themselves tie into the tradition of the fast of Lent, during which ‘rich’ foods such as butter, sugar and eggs are forbidden (see Did You Know…About Pancake Day for more). As part of the tradition people would decorate eggs (usually by boiling them with flowers to change the colour which was typically red, representing the blood of Christ) and give them as gifts.

But how does one link a rabbit and eggs?

In ancient times it was believed (by the likes of Pliny the Elder and Plutarch, among others) that rabbits and hares were actually sexless and reproduced by laying eggs! This sexless reproduction was linked to the Virgin Mary by the early church with rabbits and hares appearing in paintings with Mary and the Christ Child.

So there you have it!

Why not checkout some more Easter Traditions, or pick up some cute Easter Bunny stories to read to the kids?

Did you know about…the Battle of Jutland?

I love battleships!

Did you know that this week marks the centenary of the Battle of Jutland? Involving over 250 warships, Jutland was the largest naval battle of the First World War, and one of the largest sea battles in history.

The battle was the culmination of an almost 20-year naval arms race between Britain and Germany. In the late 19th Century, German naval commander Admiral Alfred Von Tirpitz (with the support of Kaiser Wilhelm II) began to increase the size of the German High Seas fleet. This build up was seen as a serious threat by the Royal Navy, who maintained a fleet as large as the next two largest battle fleets (the ‘two-power’ standard).

HMS Dreadnought

HMS Dreadnought

In order to meet the German challenge, the British increased battleship production, culminating in the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1905. A technological revolution, Dreadnought was larger and faster than any other battleship afloat and had two-and-a-half times the firepower, mounting a total of ten 12-inch guns to the average of four ‘big guns’ on preceding battleships. Dreadnought was followed by HMS Invincible, the world’s first battlecruiser (battleship-size hull and armament, with cruiser speed and protection) in 1908. Germany responded by building her own ‘dreadnought battleships’ and battlecruisers, beginning with the launch of the Nassau and Von Der Tann launched in 1908 and 1909 respectively.

By the outbreak of the war, Britain could boast a fleet of 29 dreadnoughts to the 17 German vessels.

It was expected that these two powerful fleets would immediately engage one another in a pitched battle that (in the words of Churchill) could decide the outcome of the war in a single afternoon. Instead, the two great fleets sat at anchor, with the British Grand Fleet conducting a long range blockade of the North Sea with skirmishes being fought between small groups of vessels.

Knowing that they could not fight the Grand Fleet head on, the Germans drew up a plan to draw out a small portion of the British Fleet (such as the battlecruiser force) by using its own battlecruisers as bait to lure them into the guns of the entire High Seas Fleet.

The German battlecruisers, under the command of Admiral Hipper set out at approximately 01:00 hours on the 31st May 1916, 90 minutes ahead of the main German Fleet (16 battleships; 5 battlecruisers; 6 pre-dreadnoughts; 11 light cruisers; 61 torpedo boats)  under the command of Admiral Reinhard Scheer. Unfortunately, the British had cracked the German codes and the entire Grand Fleet (28 battleships; 9 battlecruisers; 8 armoured cruisers; 26 light cruisers; 78 destroyers; 1 minelayer; 1 seaplane carrier), commanded by Admiral John Jellico, had already departed their harbour at Scapa Flow two and a half hours earlier with his battlecruisers (under Admiral David Beatty) acting as advance scouts.

The opposing battlecruisers sighted one another at approximately 15:22 and opened

HMS Invincible explodes

HMS Invincible explodes

fire about 25 minutes later. Though the British would lose both the HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, they successfully lured the Germans north into the waiting guns of the Grand Fleet. The battle raged through the night, with the German’s performing two ‘battle turn-away’ manoeuvres before finally breaking contact and escaping.

The badly damaged German battlecruiser Seydlitz

The badly damaged German battlecruiser Seydlitz

Far from the decisive action that both sides had expected, the battle was as much of a stalemate as the trench warfare on the western front. Both sides would claim victory in the battle, with the German’s achieving a ‘tactical win’, sinking three battlecruisers, three cruisers, and eight torpedo boats and destroyers, almost twice their own losses (one battlecruiser, one pre-dreadnought battleship, four light cruisers and five destroyers). The Royal Navy however, could weather these losses thanks to its fare greater size, and more importantly, retained strategic control of the sea for the remainder of the war.

Why not read more about the ships that fought in the battle or check out some documentaries on naval combat.

Did You Know…About Valentine’s Day?

We all know about Valentine’s Day, but Did You Know how Valentine’s Day actually came about?

There were actually numerous Christian martyrs who were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 496 and Valentine of Terni who became bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) in about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian.

The day actually became associated with romantic love through the work of writer Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honour of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In “The Parliament of Fowls,” the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine’s Day are linked:

For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.

The actual treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381 but readers have  assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine’s Day. While Parliament of Fowls refers to a supposedly established tradition, historians have found no record of such a tradition before Chaucer.

It is interesting to note that the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia was observed between the 13th and 15th of February. Some researchers have theorized that Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with the celebration of the Purification of Mary in February 14 and claim a connection to the 14th century’s connotations of romantic love.

Struggling to find the words this year, why not take advantage of the library’s collection of Romance Poetry, or make your own card or gift with the aid of our craft collections. Or why not prepare the perfect romantic meal for someone special.

If you would like to know more, then check out this documentary courtesy of the History Channel website.

Did you know… that today is international Batman day?

Created by Bob Kane, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 way back in 1939, the second major costumed superhero to be introduced by DC Comics after Superman. The Dark Knight is ranked second only to Superman in IGNs top 100 Comic Book Heroes of all time and has been adapted to both the small and big screen, with perhaps the most iconic portrayals being Adam West in the 1960s Batman TV Series, Michael Keaton in 1989s Batman (directed by Tim Burton) and Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Next year (2016) will see Ben Affleck take on the role in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In comics, Batman has been written by such legendary figures as Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morison (who actually killed Bruce Wayne in RIP/Final Crisis) and Scott Snyder.

Almost as memorable as the Caped Crusader himself are his Rogues Gallery of villains which includes the sultry Catwoman and Poison Ivy, the fear inducing Scarecrow, criminal mastermind The Riddler, back-breaking Bane and the immortal Ras Al Ghul. None of these can compare, however, to the Clown Prince of Crime, the psychotic Joker

Why not checkout the library’s collection of Graphic Novels or DVDs and live the excitement that is…BATMAN.

Did you know…About April Fools Day?

Everybody knows that April 1st is April Fools Day, but do you know why?

fool

The so called “April Fools Day” may actually have its origins in the middle ages or an even earlier time in history. In Europe during the Middle Ages, new years day was celebrated on March 25 with a week-long celebration ending on April 1st. It is suggested that those who use the now traditional January 1st as New Years made fun of those who did not.

It is interesting to note that the 13th day of the Iranian New Year, which falls on either April 1 or April 2, is a day of practical jokes. Called Sizdah Bedar it is believed to be the oldest such tradition in the world, dating as far back as 500BC or earlier. The Romans also celebrated the festival of Hilaria on the 25th of March.

Why not check out the library catalogue and find out more about the origins of folklore and superstitions like the book Black Cats and April Fools by Harry Oliver.