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Paul Sparkes: News from an earlier leap day


Today is special. It's a day that occurs once every four years and it means we are adjusting the earth on its travels around the sun, just so that it gets back into sync with our calendar.

More correctly stated, this day was designed to fix the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the solar year of about 365.25 days.

So what, right? Well, as with most serious or academic things that go back over the centuries, all kinds of folk tales and bugaboo became entangled in the factual warp and woof. So Feb. 29 is Job's birthday and he is the Biblical man who cursed the day that he was born. Leap years, and the day itself therefore became unlucky. But this is also the day (coming forward from Job about 1,500 years) when a woman had every right to pursue a man and ask his hand in marriage (so to speak).

Arbitrarily, I decided to look back 80 years in our past to see if leap day made any difference. Short answer, it didn't. The news could just as easily have happened in March.

On Saturday, Feb. 29, 1936, our newspapers were all excited about the impending radio speech by the new King. Under one headline reading “Listeners all over the world will hear the King,” I read this:

“The King's first broadcast speech since his accession to the throne will take place from a studio at Broadcast House on Sunday and listeners all over the world will be able to hear his speech. Among foreign countries which have sought and obtained permission to relay it are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Austria, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Poland.

“In some of those countries, land line will be employed to link the local broadcasting stations with London. Elsewhere the speech as transmitted on the Empire short waves will be picked up and rediffused.

“Although this is the King's first broadcast since his accession, his voice is familiar to British listeners for as Prince of Wales speeches by him at public functions have frequently been heard.”

OK. That was the news item. Now this needs a little castor oil. The King in question was Edward VIII, eldest son of King George V, who ruled for 25 years and then died. Edward, up to the time of his broadcast was a womanizer, a party-party man and someone who treated British institutions with (in a manner of speaking) “what odds?” He appears to have given no thought to the fact that he did not have to work for money in order to live like a king.

I went online to the BBC's archives and heard the brief speech which, the archives notes was circa March 1936. Circa, mind you, points out the fact of 1936 being a Leap Year. That extra day seems to have confused the archive's dating. The day of the speech was Sunday, March 1. Nothing circa about it. However, moving right along …

 Edward said of his late father: “He set an example of constant devotion to duty.” (It’s a wonder that didn't choke in the throat). And he added, “It now falls upon me to succeed him.”

But if it fell upon Edward, it didn't stick. He very soon chucked in what the Royals call “duty” for a little number called Wallis Simpson.

During the 11 minutes when the western world held its breath, Edward assured that, in leaping from Prince to King, he was “still the same man whose constant effort it will be…” blah, blah, blah. And he sewed up his bag of tricks with a wish — “May we be worthy of the heritage which is ours.”

 In December of the same year, he left his country in a constitutional snarl over his abdication. He would go on to break off communication with his own mother, put his frail and stuttering brother in the limelight as George VI and in other ways, as the Duke of Windsor, make a high-level nuisance of himself. So much for being born great.

 

“The refugee problem”

This was a Feb. 29 headline on a local newspaper editorial. It caught my attention as you might expect. Here's an excerpt:

 “Of the persecution of the Jews in Germany so much has been said and written that nothing can now increase the indignation and disgust of civilized people the whole world over. But it is significant that the League High Commissioner” (the reference is to the League of Nations, the ineffectiveness of which had become very clear at this time) “appointed to deal with the problem of refugees should have resigned his post because the magnitude of the problem is now such that it can only be tackled at its source by representations to Berlin. Germany’s insane policy is throwing thousands of her citizens upon the generosity of her neighbours at a time when employment is scarce and the demands of charity are heavy the world over.” A reference here to the Great Depression, which would only evaporate at horrendous cost as economies stirred with people everywhere labouring to create the most essential product of the times — weaponry.

 

Economic note

Feb 29, 1936, news item: “A sensation was caused in Bucharest on Wednesday when it was known that Italian imports of Rumanian oil dropped in February by 80 per cent.”

 

Let's sell canned fish!

To end this collection of news items from an 80-year-old issue of a daily paper that comes around once every four years, I have clipped an editorial comment about a promising new fish product.

“The Telegram has had an opportunity to sample a new product which has been placed on the market by the Bay Bulls Biological Station. This is fresh codfish fillet.

“By a special process, the difficulty of canning this fish owing to its water content has been overcome and a food article which would satisfy the most exacting taste has been turned out. It is contained in a tin of convenient shape and size and the brand label of artistic design and colouring would at once catch the eye of a purchaser. Processed and put up in this or similar manner, numerous Newfoundland fish foods should command sales in any of the markets of the world. The Telegram is gratified to find that the Biological Station is applying more of its efforts to the commercial side of the fisheries.”

Forget for the moment that canned codfish seems anything but appealing, and consider that Biological Station. A government project launched in 1930 (but by 1936, it would have been moved in under the Commission of Government's Department of Natural Resources), the station's mandate was to collect scientific information “to contribute to what was known internationally” on food fish. I detect, however, some impatience with the station from the editorial's last sentence in the above excerpt. Could we ill afford science and academics in the face of an industrial base that was pathetically small and jittery?

A report in J.R. Smallwood's “The Book of Newfoundland” (Vol. II, 1937) outlined the station's study achievements and part of a wishlist. For instance, it was noted that we were “one of the very few sources of pure cod-liver oil” and yet, “at present foreign oil is actually imported to Newfoundland in various emulsion forms.” The report added that it was “desirable to produce these and other medicinal products locally as a matter of principle, as well as from the practical business standpoint.” Probably actually written a year before publication (therefore, in 1936) it was also noted that “efforts are being made to produce canned fish products … and recently the first sales to England were effected.” Whatever happened to that venture?   

 

Of interest

Andrew Morton, a journalist known for his books on the royals and other celebrities, has a new one out entitled “17 Carnations — The Royals, the Nazis and the biggest cover-up in history.” Apparently Edward and Wallis are still good copy years after their deaths.

 

 Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail:  psparkes@thetelegram.com.

More correctly stated, this day was designed to fix the discrepancy between the calendar year of 365 days and the solar year of about 365.25 days.

So what, right? Well, as with most serious or academic things that go back over the centuries, all kinds of folk tales and bugaboo became entangled in the factual warp and woof. So Feb. 29 is Job's birthday and he is the Biblical man who cursed the day that he was born. Leap years, and the day itself therefore became unlucky. But this is also the day (coming forward from Job about 1,500 years) when a woman had every right to pursue a man and ask his hand in marriage (so to speak).

Arbitrarily, I decided to look back 80 years in our past to see if leap day made any difference. Short answer, it didn't. The news could just as easily have happened in March.

On Saturday, Feb. 29, 1936, our newspapers were all excited about the impending radio speech by the new King. Under one headline reading “Listeners all over the world will hear the King,” I read this:

“The King's first broadcast speech since his accession to the throne will take place from a studio at Broadcast House on Sunday and listeners all over the world will be able to hear his speech. Among foreign countries which have sought and obtained permission to relay it are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Austria, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Poland.

“In some of those countries, land line will be employed to link the local broadcasting stations with London. Elsewhere the speech as transmitted on the Empire short waves will be picked up and rediffused.

“Although this is the King's first broadcast since his accession, his voice is familiar to British listeners for as Prince of Wales speeches by him at public functions have frequently been heard.”

OK. That was the news item. Now this needs a little castor oil. The King in question was Edward VIII, eldest son of King George V, who ruled for 25 years and then died. Edward, up to the time of his broadcast was a womanizer, a party-party man and someone who treated British institutions with (in a manner of speaking) “what odds?” He appears to have given no thought to the fact that he did not have to work for money in order to live like a king.

I went online to the BBC's archives and heard the brief speech which, the archives notes was circa March 1936. Circa, mind you, points out the fact of 1936 being a Leap Year. That extra day seems to have confused the archive's dating. The day of the speech was Sunday, March 1. Nothing circa about it. However, moving right along …

 Edward said of his late father: “He set an example of constant devotion to duty.” (It’s a wonder that didn't choke in the throat). And he added, “It now falls upon me to succeed him.”

But if it fell upon Edward, it didn't stick. He very soon chucked in what the Royals call “duty” for a little number called Wallis Simpson.

During the 11 minutes when the western world held its breath, Edward assured that, in leaping from Prince to King, he was “still the same man whose constant effort it will be…” blah, blah, blah. And he sewed up his bag of tricks with a wish — “May we be worthy of the heritage which is ours.”

 In December of the same year, he left his country in a constitutional snarl over his abdication. He would go on to break off communication with his own mother, put his frail and stuttering brother in the limelight as George VI and in other ways, as the Duke of Windsor, make a high-level nuisance of himself. So much for being born great.

 

“The refugee problem”

This was a Feb. 29 headline on a local newspaper editorial. It caught my attention as you might expect. Here's an excerpt:

 “Of the persecution of the Jews in Germany so much has been said and written that nothing can now increase the indignation and disgust of civilized people the whole world over. But it is significant that the League High Commissioner” (the reference is to the League of Nations, the ineffectiveness of which had become very clear at this time) “appointed to deal with the problem of refugees should have resigned his post because the magnitude of the problem is now such that it can only be tackled at its source by representations to Berlin. Germany’s insane policy is throwing thousands of her citizens upon the generosity of her neighbours at a time when employment is scarce and the demands of charity are heavy the world over.” A reference here to the Great Depression, which would only evaporate at horrendous cost as economies stirred with people everywhere labouring to create the most essential product of the times — weaponry.

 

Economic note

Feb 29, 1936, news item: “A sensation was caused in Bucharest on Wednesday when it was known that Italian imports of Rumanian oil dropped in February by 80 per cent.”

 

Let's sell canned fish!

To end this collection of news items from an 80-year-old issue of a daily paper that comes around once every four years, I have clipped an editorial comment about a promising new fish product.

“The Telegram has had an opportunity to sample a new product which has been placed on the market by the Bay Bulls Biological Station. This is fresh codfish fillet.

“By a special process, the difficulty of canning this fish owing to its water content has been overcome and a food article which would satisfy the most exacting taste has been turned out. It is contained in a tin of convenient shape and size and the brand label of artistic design and colouring would at once catch the eye of a purchaser. Processed and put up in this or similar manner, numerous Newfoundland fish foods should command sales in any of the markets of the world. The Telegram is gratified to find that the Biological Station is applying more of its efforts to the commercial side of the fisheries.”

Forget for the moment that canned codfish seems anything but appealing, and consider that Biological Station. A government project launched in 1930 (but by 1936, it would have been moved in under the Commission of Government's Department of Natural Resources), the station's mandate was to collect scientific information “to contribute to what was known internationally” on food fish. I detect, however, some impatience with the station from the editorial's last sentence in the above excerpt. Could we ill afford science and academics in the face of an industrial base that was pathetically small and jittery?

A report in J.R. Smallwood's “The Book of Newfoundland” (Vol. II, 1937) outlined the station's study achievements and part of a wishlist. For instance, it was noted that we were “one of the very few sources of pure cod-liver oil” and yet, “at present foreign oil is actually imported to Newfoundland in various emulsion forms.” The report added that it was “desirable to produce these and other medicinal products locally as a matter of principle, as well as from the practical business standpoint.” Probably actually written a year before publication (therefore, in 1936) it was also noted that “efforts are being made to produce canned fish products … and recently the first sales to England were effected.” Whatever happened to that venture?   

 

Of interest

Andrew Morton, a journalist known for his books on the royals and other celebrities, has a new one out entitled “17 Carnations — The Royals, the Nazis and the biggest cover-up in history.” Apparently Edward and Wallis are still good copy years after their deaths.

 

 Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. E-mail:  psparkes@thetelegram.com.

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