Saturday, 29 November 2014

Astrophysics Corner, Part 13 - Simplified Basic Astrophysics of Solar Panels

We have been kind of busy lately with our solar panel install. It’s a little tough, doing an early winter job, but that’s when the installer was available, so that’s what we are doing.  It's tricky with the weather, but things look to be warming up soon.

Of course anything we can do, Kati of Terra has probably already experienced in her universe, and at a much more advanced level of technology. Here’s a excerpt from Kati of Terra Book 3 - Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers:
Finding Mikki’s was easy… there were, indeed, expanses of objects on the roof which Lank took to be the solar panels that the guard had mentioned. They were not quite the streamlined, flat circles that the Lamanians used, but then, those were the super-efficient ones that the Shelonians had perfected over a long time; these had probably been manufactured on Wayward itself, or another Fringe planet. No matter, they spoke of the owners desire to be self-sufficient when it came to electricity; Lank guessed that such a desire was a positive quality in Salamanka, at least in terms of what he was looking for.
So, how much energy will the panels on the hotel roof in Salimanka, on the planet Wayward produce? That depends on a number of factors:
  • First off, there is the solar irradiance that the planet experiences from its star. That’s measured in energy per square area, above the planet’s atmosphere. For the Earth, that’s about 1360 Watts/meter squared, above the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • The solar irradiance is basically a combination of the star’s energy output and how “diluted” that energy has become as the radiation has spread out, as it radiated away from the star.
  • The amount of energy that the star produces is dependent on the star’s chemical makeup and it’s mass.
    • Basically, large stars burn hot and bright (and burn out fast), while small stars burn cooler and dimmer (and last a long time).
    • Along with the mass of the star, its chemical makeup affects the types of nuclear reactions that can go forth, and those have different energy outputs. All of this affects the temperature and colour of the star.
    • The sun is a sort of middle class star - not nearly as hot and short lived as the really big blue O or B class stars (which might burn out in only a few hundred million years), nor as small and dim as red M class stars (which might last hundreds of billions of years or more). The sun is a yellow G class star, likely to last about 12 billion years and is roughly half way through its lifespan as an active star.
  • The degree to which the star’s energy is dissipated is a function of the planet’s distance to the star and how circular its orbit is.
  • The amount of energy that actually makes it to the surface of the planet is also affected by its atmosphere, of course. This is most obviously due to cloud cover, as on Earth, but the presence of different atmospheric components (e.g. aerosols, ozone) can also affect the amount of sunlight that makes it to the planet’s surface.
  • The latitude of the location of the panels is obviously important. Essentially, the solar flux that is experienced on the surface varies with the latitude of the site as the sine of the sun’s elevation above the ground. The farther from the planet’s equator, the smaller that angle will be, and the smaller the sine of that angle will be (the sine is 0 at 0 degrees, .5 at 30 degrees, about .71 at 45 degrees, about .87 at 60 degrees and 1 at 90 degrees).
  • That will be further compounded by the tilt of the planet’s axis, relative to the plane of its orbit around the star. The greater the tilt, the more the elevation of its sun will vary throughout the year, so the solar panels output will be greater or lesser as the season’s progress.
  • The amount of energy that can produced from the solar irradiance then depends on how efficient the solar panels are. For current Earth technology, typical efficiencies are in the high teens to high twenties (percentages).
  • Obviously, Lamanian/Shelonian technology is much more mature than ours - perhaps they have achieved the 50% or so efficiency that is theorized to be a maximal threshold. Or, perhaps they have come up with breakthrough physics, as hinted at by the reference to “streamlined, flat circles that the Lamanians used”, in the quotation above.
  • There are also some electrical engineering factors that might be considered - for example, whether the planet tends to use AC or DC technology, which will affect whether or not the panel setup needs to use inverters, which can also affect efficiency of the overall system.
At any rate, those are some of the simplified considerations for solar energy usage on different planets.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Weekend visit to Chapters

Ok, so I had a little fun about Chapters transition away from books to general merchandise, last week with The Bookstore satire.  But I did visit the Whyte Avenue store on the weekend, out of general curiosity and to scope out the going price for kid's books, to see how Nathan's Adventure in the Other-Other Land compares.

Kids' print books seemed to be going in for about ten to fifteen bucks, though there was a lot of variability.   I would say that well over half of the kids' section of the store was taken up by toys, rather than books.  So, clearly, Chapters is pivoting away from books as far as the children's section is concerned.  It is hard to say where that will stop.

The soft cover versions of Harry Potter that we purchased were $12.50 each, if memory serves.  We had the last two books in print form, so we wanted to get the remaining ones.  Normally, I would go for e-books, but I found the Pottermore site was just too irritating to bother with, so we picked up the paper books.  It seemed funny to have to go to the Children's section for them - at some level I just don't see them as kids' books any more.  I guess they are now in the same mental category as Alice in Wonderland now - much more than entertainments for children

I also found all of the items that I mentioned in the satire - pillows, blankets, scented candles, monopoly games, chess sets and maps.  I forgot to ask about compasses, though.  And as noted above, there still were books, including at least one shelf for local authors.  I didn't have a chance to note if any of those were Indie or self-published, though.

As far as service was concerned, we were quickly helped by at least 3 different clerks.  That was nice in its way, though it also made browsing a bit difficult.  But it shows that they are trying to engage the customer at a personal level, which is presumably a value added that they can provide over on-line bookstores like Amazon. 


Friday, 21 November 2014

The Book Shop (with apologies to Monty Python and their Cheese Shop sketch)


I have been very busy lately with solar panel paperwork lately, so here’s a bit of cheap satire about Christmas shopping at bookstores these days.  A few words of explanation:

·         Chapters is the big Canadian chain bookstore, rather like Barnes and Noble.

·         Whyte avenue is a trendy urban neighborhood in my home city of Edmonton, Canada, with plenty of buskers and other interesting city sights.

·         The Strathcona Farmer’s market has a great cheese selection, among other things, and is just a few blocks from Chapters.

·         Monty Python is one of the funniest TV shows ever done, and the Cheese Shop sketch is a classic.


The Book Shop (with apologies to Monty Python and their Cheese Shop sketch)
(a customer walks in the door)

Customer: Good Morning.

Clerk: Good morning, Sir. Welcome to Chapters Indigo!

Customer: Ah, thank you, my good man.

Clerk: What can I do for you, Sir?

Customer: Well, I was, uh, sitting in the cheese section of the Strathcona Farmer’s Market on Whyte Avenue just now, sampling the selection of Edams by Sylvan Star, and I suddenly came over all bookish.

Clerk: Bookish, sir?

Customer: Literary.

Clerk: Eh?

Customer:  I were all readerly-like!

Clerk: Ah, readerly!

Customer: In a nutshell. And I thought to myself, "a few inked-up paper folios will do the trick," so, I curtailed my cheesy activities, sallied forth, and infiltrated your place of purveyance to negotiate the vending of some bookish consumables!

Clerk: Come again?

Customer: I want to buy some books.

Clerk: Oh, I thought you were complaining about the street buskers!

Customer: Oh, heaven forbid: I am one who delights in all manifestations of the Harmoncan muse!

Clerk: Sorry?

Customer: 'Oh, Ah like a nice tune, 'when I’m forced to!

Clerk: So he can go on playing, can he?

Customer: Most certainly! Now then, some books please, my good man.

Clerk: (lustily) Certainly, sir. What would you like?

Customer: Well, eh, how about a little literary fiction.

Clerk: I'm, a-fraid we're fresh out of literary fiction, sir. Perhaps a nice pillow.

Customer: Oh, never mind the pillows, how are you on mysteries?

Clerk: I'm afraid we never have that at the end of the week, sir, we get them fresh on Monday.

Customer: Tish tish. No matter. Well, stout yeoman, the final four volumes of Harry Potter, if you please.

Clerk: Ah! They’ve beeeen on order, sir, for two weeks. Was expecting it this morning.

Customer: 'T's Not my lucky day, is it? Aah, Bel Hooks?

Clerk: Sorry, sir.  How about a blanket?

Customer: I don’t want a blanket, I want a book.  Science Fiction?

Clerk: Normally, sir, yes. Today the van broke down.

Customer: Ah. History?

Clerk: Sorry.

Customer: Classics? Shakespeare?

Clerk: No.  A scented candle?  It sets the stage.

Customer: No.  Any Norwegian playwrights, Ibsen per chance?

Clerk: No.  Fresh out of Ibsen.  A DVD on Vikings?

Customer:  No, I want a book. Finance?

Clerk: No.  But we have a monopoly game.  It contains Reading Railroad.

Customer:  That’s not how you pronounce it.  And it’s not a book, is it?

Clerk: No, sir.  Not technically.  But is sounds like it could be.

Customer:   Biography?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Game of Thrones?

Clerk: Ah, no, but we have the game of chess.

Customer: Is that a book called The Game of Chess?

Clerk: Not as such sir. More of a chess set, really.

Customer: A travel book then - a Danish dictionary?

Clerk: No. No sir, but we have Danishes in the Starbucks.

Customer: Series?

Clerk: Yes, sir, I am very serious.

Customer: (rolling eyes) Horror?

Clerk: (Jumps) Where?

Customer: Well, not in this supposed bookshop, obviously.  Action and Adventure?

Clerk:  No, sir, the life of a bookstore clerk is pretty dull.

Customer: Drama, Self-help, Cookbooks, Religion, Anthologies, True Crime, Law, Poetry?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Camus, perhaps?

Clerk: Ah! We have Camus, yessir.

Customer: (suprised) You do! Excellent.

Clerk: Yessir. It's..ah,'s a bit dog eared...

Customer: Oh, I like dog eared existentialists.

Clerk: Well,.. It's very dog eared, actually, sir.

Customer: No matter. Fetch hither the livre de la Belle France! Mmmwah!

Clerk: I...think it's a bit more dog eared than you'll like it, sir.

Customer: I don't care how dog eared  it is. Hand it over with all speed.

Clerk: Oooooooooohhh........! (pause)

Customer: What now?

Clerk: The dog's eaten it.

Customer: (pause) Has he.

Clerk: She, sir.

Customer: (pause) Perhaps English existentialism, then.  The play about Godot?

Clerk: Afraid we’re still waiting for that one sir.

Customer: Naturally.  Western adventure?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Eastern philosophy?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Northern Exploration?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Southern Gothic?

Clerk: No, sir.  But we have a wide selection of maps and compasses.

Customer: *have* some books, don't you?

Clerk: (brightly) Of course, sir. It's a book shop, sir. We've got—

Customer: No, no... don't tell me. I'm keen to guess.

Clerk: Fair enough.

Customer: Uuuuuh, Children’s books.

Clerk: Yes?

Customer: Ah, well, I'll have some of those!

Clerk: Oh! I thought you were talking to me, sir. Mister Childrensbooks, that's my name.

Customer: (pause) And a most inappropriate one.  Greek drama?  Euripides?

Clerk: (looking down anxiously) I ripped my what sir?

Customer: Uuh, Economics?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Political Science,

Clerk: No.

Customer: Sociology,

Clerk: No.

Customer: Anthropology,

Clerk: No.

Customer: The Joy of Sex,

Clerk: Flattered, sir, but you’re not my type.

Customer: There doesn’t seem to be much type around here, especially of the printed variety.  Czech poetry,

Clerk: I already checked earlier, sir, there is no poetry.

Customer: Venezuelan astrophysical journals?

Clerk: Not *today*, sir, no.

Customer: (pause) Aah, how about the Bible?

Clerk: Well, we don't get much call for it around here, sir.

Customer: Not much ca-- it's the single most popular book in the world!

Clerk: Not 'round here, sir.

Customer: (slight pause) and what IS the most popular book 'round hyah?

Clerk: The Kama Sutra, sir.

Customer: IS it.

Clerk: Oh, yes, it's staggeringly popular in on this avenue, squire.

Customer: Is it.

Clerk: It's our number one best seller, sir!

Customer: I see. Uuh...'The Kama Sutra’, eh?

Clerk: Right, sir.

Customer: All right. Okay. 'Have you got it?' he asked, expecting the answer 'no'.

Clerk: I'll have a look, sir........nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnno.

Customer: It's not much of a book shop, is it?

Clerk: Finest on the avenue!

Customer: (annoyed) Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, please.

Clerk: Well, it's so clean, sir!

Customer: It's certainly uncontaminated by books....

Clerk: (brightly) You haven't asked me about thrillers, sir.

Customer: Would it be worth it?

Clerk: Could be....


Clerk: Told you sir....

Customer: (slowly) Have you got any thrillers?

Clerk: No.

Customer: Figures. Predictable, really I suppose. It was an act of purest optimism to have posed the question in the first place. Tell me:

Clerk: Yessir?

Customer: (deliberately) Have you in fact got any books here at all.

Clerk: Yes, sir.

Customer: Really?


Clerk: No. Not really, sir.

Customer: You haven't.

Clerk: Nosir. Not a scrap.  It’s because of Amazon - we can’t match their prices. I was deliberately wasting your time, sir, hoping you would buy a $40 pillow or a $20 scented candle.

Customer: Well I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to shop on-line for a book now.

Clerk: Right-Oh, sir.

(The customer takes out an iPad and buys Nathan’s Adventure in the Other-Other Land from Amazon)

Customer: (shaking head)  What a *senseless* waste of time this bookstore visit was.  (smiles) Oh, well, this Amazon book looks like just the thing for my little nephew.
And here’s a vaguely related comic strip:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Some thoughts on hand-selling books - Nathan's Adventure in the Other -Other Land

We ordered a few dozen "member copies" of Nathan's Adventure in the Other-Other Land, to give as gifts and such, since Christmas is coming up.  They have been drawing a fair bit of attention and sales around my office, over the past few days.   It doesn't hurt that the illustrator's mom works there, too :).

Some people have asked whether we would rather that they buy from Amazon, or purchase a paper copy directly from us.  It's a good question.  On the one hand, you want to close the sale right then and there, via hand selling.  On the other hand, you want the validation and rankings hit of an Amazon sale.

So, I decided to go with the immediate sale, but follow up with a gifted copy of the Amazon ebook.  That way, the sale is recognized by Amazon's algorithms at some level, and the buers can also do an Amazon Verified Purchase review, should they so desire.  On Amazon, we are bundling a free copy of the ebook with copies of the print book, so this gifting of the ebook amounts to the same thing for the consumer, which only seems fair.

We have priced the two alternatives in such a way that the profit is about the same.  The gift might also build some goodwill, and result in sales of some other books by the writer, Helena Puumala.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Nathan’s Adventures in the Other-Other Land Ebook

Nathan’s Adventures in the Other-Other Land now on Amazon in Print Book and Ebook form

This is a great book for kids, especially with Christmas coming up. Adults who read the book to children will also be amused. Here’s the summary:

Young Nathan discovers some new playmates in the Other-Other Land, a wonderful, magical world that exists behind the Magic Mirror. But disaster strikes, and Nathan must help Prince Roland rescue his sister, the Princess Pepper, from the clutches of the Black Flying Dragon of the Dark Mountain.

But the rescue will not be easy. There are said to be many fearsome obstacles along the way, including treacherous quicksand swamps, complete with monsters, poisonous mushrooms that can walk and jump and that hate people, and ferocious bands of roaming tigers. And then, there is the dragon and his minions to contend with.

Will Nathan and Roland (with the aid of their trusty ponies) outwit their enemies and overcome the many dangers of the journey to the Dark Mountain? Can they save the feisty Princess Pepper? Come along for the ride and find out for yourself.

The story is about 10,000 words, a suitable length for an elementary grade child to read in an hour or two. It can also be read to a younger child over a few bed-times. There are 15 short chapters with 15 original hand-drawn pictures to go along with them. Note that the writing includes some humorous passages that parents and older readers will enjoy.

The book is available from Amazon in both e-book and print versions.

Ebook - $3.99
Print book $9.99

Monday, 10 November 2014

Remembrance Day - Some of my Father’s Memories of the Second World War

What follows are some stories told to me by my mother and father, mostly concerning their experiences, or their family's experiences during the Second World War.  The book, The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2,  (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966) is excerpted to provide the historical framework for the personal anecdotes.  Excerpts from the book are in regular type-face, while related personal anecdotes are in italics.
My father, Martin Olausen, served in the Canadian Army from 1941 to 1945 with the Royal Canadian Engineers.  He originally immigrated to Canada from Norway.  While overseas he met my mother, Ruby Olausen (nee Gorrman), who lived in Dundee, Scotland.  They were married and settled in Edmonton, Alberta after the war, raising seven children.

These stories are of events that occurred fifty or more years ago, so naturally there is a certain flavour of tentativeness to them, as the principals are either no longer living or are drawing on memories that are over a half-century old.  Some stories are of the twice-told variety, to use Edgar Allan Poe's term.  Nonetheless, they give an interesting perspective to some of the great events of the first half of the twentieth century.


"Duty in North Africa - Dieppe, although it had lasted only hours, had at least been a battle for part of the Canadian troops.  North Africa was close enough to provide battle experience for a limited number of others.  Arrangements were therefore made to send well-qualified officers and sergeants to serve for three month periods with the British First Army.  These were to be employed in their several specialties and, as far as possible, as normal reinforcements.  A total of 200 officers and 147 other ranks was sent out - almost exactly 10 percent of both categories being engineers.  The first group arrived in Algiers on 3rd January, 1943.  The fifth, and last, just missed actual hostilities, which were over by mid-May.  Sappers went from most types of field units, and some were permitted to remain over their allotted time.  Major C. E. Brown, with the first group, was granted an extension because it was requested that he be allowed to continue in command of the 256th Field Company, R.E., for a further period of two months.  And some of the February draft were still there in late July.  Comprehensive reports were required on the return of these various observers and the lessons learned were disseminated throughout the Corps of R.C.E.  It may be noted in passing that Sergeant G. A. Hickson, D.C.M., won his second decoration, the Military Medal, whilst on tour with the 78th Divisional Engineers." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 114, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966)

Comment: Martin talked about being in North Africa. Although the Canadian Army was not there as a unit, perhaps he was part of the above group.  He mentioned the sand flies, how they would get into everything - food, etc.  He also talked about the heat of both North Africa and Sicily.  He often mentioned swimming in the Mediterranean.  My mom says he was a keen soldier, and good at sapper type tasks, so it would not be that unlikely.


"The Voyage and Landing - …The slow convoy however, had three ships torpedoed and sunk - two on the night of the 4th/5th [July 4 &5 , 1943) and one on the 5th July - in the Mediterranean between Oran and Algiers.  There was some loss of life and a large loss of vehicles and guns." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 135, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966)

Comment: Martin talked about the U-boats and torpedoing of ships.  Perhaps he was with this convoy.  He said that torpedoes missed his ship, but not by much.  Torpedoes were a constant and real fear whenever troop transport was involved.

My mother's father was in the merchant marine during the Second World War, so talk of convoys and torpedoes came from that direction too.  He had been in the Royal Navy from the ages of fourteen to twenty-one, a time that included the First World War, so he was an experienced sailor.  Martin stated on several occasions that my grandfather had been on the 'Mermansk Run' at times during the Second World War, the series of convoys that sailed through the high reaches of the North Atlantic to the Russian city of Mermansk.  If so, that would have been quite a brutal experience, as these convoys were very badly mauled by the German U-boats.  Of course, any convoy duty would be dangerous, regardless of where it was located.

"The 1st and 3rd Field Companies, RCE landed in the assault with the 1st and 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade.  The 4th Field Company followed up with the 3rd Brigade later…quite a number of sappers were put ashore at wrong places but all managed to locate their proper areas easily enough…The 2nd Field Park Company started disembarking during the afternoon of the 13th  [July 13/43], as did the detachment of Canadian tunnellers." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 136, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966)

Comment: Judging from the units landed in Sicily, Martin was probably in the 1st, 3rd, 4th Field Companies or the 2nd Field Park Company.  One of the Field Companies seems more likely.  These units also correlate with locations that he talked about being at later on in Italy.  During the landing, he met my mother's brother on the beach, who was with the British Army (she is from Scotland - they met during the war).  This may be due to the confusion of landing locations located above.  Considering the number of people being landed, running into his future brother-in-law seems like a big co-incidence.

"On the first morning the advance from the beaches was rapid…a warning shot brought out the crew of an Italian battery…with their hands up in surrender…By last light [July 13/43]…the Canadian bridgehead, from Burgio west was about two miles deep…Casualties had been comparatively few; the Italians seemed to have had little will to resist.  There were, however, two mobile divisions inland - the 15th Panzer Grenadier and the Hermann Goring Panzer - ready and willing to provide future opposition." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 137, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966)

Comment: Martin and other veterans I had met when with him had a great respect for the qualities of the German soldier and a corresponding lack of respect for the Italians.  The informal term for the Germans was "Jerry", whereas the Italians were referred to as "Eyeties".  In modern usage, the term "Eyetie" (and to a lesser extent "Jerry") may seem rather politically incorrect, but wartime is not the particularly conducive of tolerance.  It hardly seems surprising that the Italians were not enthusiastic soldiers, with their country stuck in between two great contending armies.

"On 12th July [July 12/43] the Headquarters RCE were at Ispica and the three field companies were spread out in support of the infantry brigades.  To start with, as the advance went up into the hills, movement was fairly rapid.  The very speed of the penetration caused early trouble, for the engineers, moving on foot, were hard put to it to open communications and yet keep sections forward with the leading infantry as needed…The main tasks for the first few days were engineering reconnaissance, clearing minefields (sometimes well booby-trapped and, on more than one occasion, in part dummy, which was a great nuisance) and demolishing roadblocks, particularly in towns and dykes.  Every inch of road had to be checked for mines." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 138, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: I guess these were pretty typical engineering tasks, except for the absence of bridge and road construction.  Martin talked of one of the techniques for detecting mines, "prodding".  It seemed to involve poking the ground ahead with a knife or bayonet, to determine a mines location by touch.  It seems like a dangerous technique, but magnetic detectors were not always reliable, especially if there was a lot of shrapnel, etc. in the area.  Also, some of the German mines were primarily made of wood, and therefore difficult to detect by magnetic means.

It also shows the dual requirements of sappers, to be at the front of the advance with the infantry, clearing mines, booby traps, obstacles, etc. but also to open up communications and transport for the units that are to follow.

"The Advance to Mount Etna.  By midnight of the 15th [July 15/43] advance elements had reached the bombed and burning town of Caltagirone on the Syracuse-Caltanissetta-Palermo road.  The advance had been of necessity slow; occasional mines and booby traps made the whole route suspect…In addition to shifting rubble the 3rd Field Company had a 30 foot crater to fill and a large blown culvert to repair north of town.  And there were special hazards in the quantity of vino available." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 114, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: I can recall Martin mentioning Syracuse many times.  The mention of vino (Italian for wine) is also interesting.  Within my family, there is a celebrated story of the time when Martin and some comrades discovered a large quantity of vino, in a wine cellar somewhere in Italy.  They overdid things with the wine quite severely, and ended up far behind the enemy lines.  One version of the story has them actually getting captured by some Germans for a short time.  Fortunately, the situation was very confusing, and they managed to get back to the safety of their own lines after a few hours.  He also pointed his rifle at his lieutenant, threatening to shoot him, while under the influence of vino.  He was threatened with court martial, but that was dropped because skilled sappers were in such short supply.  Instead, they had him solemnly swear that he would never again touch vino, an oath which he maintained during the remainder of the war, and the rest of his life.  Of course that did not diminish his hearty appreciation for beer.  

Other than that incident, he was apparently quite a good soldier.  He was quick to volunteer and frequently went out on reconnaissance patrols.

P 144 "The river bed was swept by fire all during the 30th  [July 30/43].  Bulldozers went forward at 0130 hours together with other parties of the 4th Field Company.  The construction of crossings was attempted in two places but mortar and shell fire stopped the proceedings.  Efforts were concentrated on one of these sites at first light and the job was about 25 percent complete when the sappers were pinned to the ground - machine gun and rifle fire being added to all the rest…The 4th Field Company had now lost four officers - all in twelve days.  Seven other ranks were wounded in this one operation." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 144, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966)

Comment:  Another rather celebrated family story involves an occasion when Martin was working on a bridge, setting charges for demolition I think, suspended by a line in the water below the bridge.  The bridge suddenly came under attack, and the platoon high-tailed it out of there, to the safety of the other side.  Unfortunately, they had forgotten all about him.  It wasn't until a fair while later that someone remembered and they went back and rescued him from his predicament.  He was rather unhappy about the whole incident.  He was left in the cold water for quite a while, unable to move for fear of being spotted by the enemy and killed or captured.

"Between Campaigns [August/43]. Time was found for games and sports - under some difficulties, for games equipment was in very short supply…For some there was a chance to swim in the Mediterranean and perhaps the climbing of Mount Etna by numerous troops could also be classed as a sport.  Between 35 and 40 percent of starters are reported as having reached the top of the ancient and still active volcano (elevation 10,758 feet).  Towns were out of bounds and entertainment parties almost non-existent, so on most nights it was 'early to bed'". The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 114, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment:  Martin talked about both swimming in the Mediterranean and climbing Mount Etna.  These seemed to him to be much more interesting physical challenges than the war itself.

"There were, of course, inspections and visits…On the 20th [Aug 20/43] General Montgomery inspected and spoke to the divisional engineers at noon.  And on the 22nd Lieutenant-General McNaughton made an informal visit to see the men at training." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 148, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: Martin talked about a visit by Monty: he was especially proud to serve alongside the 8th Army, the famous Desert Army.  He also liked McNaughton, who was eventually taken off the command of the Canadian Army.  Martin, and many other Canadian soldiers think he got jobbed because the Americans didn't like him.

"There were one or two mines and mine-lifting problems which were novel to the troops.  Box mines (Holzmines) of wood were particularly hard to detect, although easy enough to neutralize when located.  And even steel Tellermines didn't produce much of a signal in the headphones of the Polish mine detector when buried 30 and more inches deep.  Fortunately there had not been too many booby-traps". The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 148, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

 Comment: Previous comments about mine detection apply.  Martin had at least one bad incident with a mine, fracturing his left big toe.  Eventually, it was partially amputated, after the war I believe, so he had no toenail on that toe.  He never spoke much to me about the details of the event, at least that I recall.  His discharge papers also mention a scar on his left thigh.  Whether the two injuries were related, I don't know.



P 153 "So the pattern of the days to follow was set - craters, blown bridges and more craters - days of heavy labour compensated by the inner satisfactions that go with the sense of a job done well.  The C.R.E.'s diarist wrote on the 7th  [September 7/43]:   'This division is becoming very sapper conscious and we bask in glory.'  The faster the road became usable forward, the shorter the distance supplies had to be packed; the Canadian soldier does not really enjoy packing supplies." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 153, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: I once met another veteran, to whom I mentioned that my father had served overseas.  He asked me what unit he was with and I replied that he had been an engineer.  His eyes grew a little wider and he seemed to ponder that a moment.   'Sapper, eh', he replied, nodding his head.  ' Tough job'.   It seemed to me, that raised Martin in his esteem.  Of course, that was only my interpretation.

"At the Basento [September 19/43] the task was to get the tanks across a crater, through a mined area and into Potenza.  This was soon accomplished and a platoon of the 4th entered the town in the wake of the tanks.  In the late afternoon, while clearing a route through the streets (the city had suffered considerably in recent air attacks) this platoon was fired on by a belated nest of the enemy.  One man was killed and a corporal wounded.  A sharp exchange took place during which several Germans were hit and one taken prisoner; the remainder of the enemy then 'cleared out'. The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 157, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment:  Sappers were also combat soldiers and got into firefights.  I don't think the RCE liked to use them this way, as the special training and skills they possessed were difficult to replace when there were casualties.  Martin once told me about having to kill a man at close quarters, with a knife.  He had been drinking, and I guess that brought the story out.  I guess it still haunted him, as he was weeping when he talked about it.  All I could say, was that it was him or you, so you had to do it.  I am sure that wasn't an original thought, but it was all I could think of at the time; I think I was about twelve years old or so.  I believe this occurred later in the war, perhaps in Northern Italy.

"Field Marshal Montgomery in El-Alamein to the Sangro has commented at some length on the important part enemy demolitions played in delaying the drive and on the opportunity the enemy sappers had to create trouble and confusion at every 'twist and turn' in this mountainous country.  When an advance is made against an enemy who chooses to stand and fight, the infantry have the predominant role.  But in this almost bloodless trek, the load bore heavily on the engineers.  It was emphasized again and again, as in Sicily, that the division could go forward only as rapidly as craters could be filled, diversions or bridges built and the roads repaired.  A senior staffer is reported to have remarked…'What this division really needs is three brigades of sappers and three companies of infantry.' " The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 157, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: I always thought it rather remarkable that my father had managed to survive over 4 and a half years of service with only one significant wound.  I suppose these intervals of what the book calls 'almost bloodless' treks must have helped.  Luck also helped.  I remember one story where he said his platoon was pinned down in a farmyard in Italy.  An 88 mm German howitzer had them in its sights, sighting over the barrel, as they say.  This was a particularly fearsome weapon.  A shell landed in a large pile of pig dung, blowing up the pile and covering them all with pig shit, but the dung must have muffled the explosion, as nobody was hurt.  Had it not been for that pig dung, he says they probably all would have been killed.

"During this period the Italian people gave considerable assistance both with military intelligence and with labour.  It was no unusual sight to find a single sapper out on a job with a working party which he himself had pressed into service from the neighborhood.  There was help with more dangerous work on occasion too.  On 9th September (1943) men of the 4th Field Company found themselves clearing minefields near Stazione di Riace with the enthusiastic co-operation of the Italian engineers who had laid them and two days later, a 3rd Field Company party at Marina di Monistare ran into a similar situation with an Italian officer, who located for it two Box-Mine and three Tellermine minefields.  Yet, although the populace had somehow acquired the idea that the Allied troops were liberators rather than conquerors, some incidents discouraged the troops from trusting too far.  One returning reconnaissance arty, mistaken for German by the local inhabitants, was warned of the proximity of British troops." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 158, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Another example of the interaction of the Italians, both military and civilian, with the Canadians.  Martin was not impressed with their soldiering, as he was with the Germans.  He claimed that they would sometimes send their livestock, or even the civilian women, ahead to determine if there were minefields.  Some, for example the Mafia in Sicily and southern Italy, would go whichever way the wind blew, and could not be trusted.  I believe he was impressed by the Italian partisans, who could be quite effective and deadly.

"Contact with the enemy came quickly - machine guns fired on the vanguard of the force, 'A' squadron, 4th Princess Louise Dragoon guards, as it approached the Motta ridge.  Sergeant A.B. Harris and Sapper W. Foster of the 1st Field Company had a brush with a German patrol while reconnoitering close to the town itself.  Take and disarmed, the two were marched away.  However, their captors apparently considered one armed guard a sufficient escort for two unarmed men.  Consequently, both were able to escape and return by a circuitous route to make other and better 'recces' another day." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 161, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

I guess this story illustrates how a Martin and his comrades could have escaped from behind the enemy lines during the vino inspired escapade that I touched on earlier. I never heard much of the details; perhaps they didn't remember them to clearly themselves.


"The Upper Sangro…The discovery of a number of German signs, in English, including 'Fix this up with Bailey Bridge strong enough for Tiger tanks.  We'll be back in the spring' and 'Merry Christmas, Canadians' provided light relief." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 166, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

As I say, my father didn't seem to have any particular dislike of the Germans.  He used to say that they were 'damn fine soldiers'.  From my reading of the war in Italy, it seems not to have been as barbaric as it was in many other places, although I am sure there were plenty of terrible events.  From quotes like the one above, it seems like the respective armies had a fairly high level of professional respect for each other.

P 235 " At 0830 hours the 4th Field Company had a tragedy  similar to that of the tenth field squadron just a week before; a section being fed in a church suffered three killed and eight wounded or hurt when a "Kittyhawk" plane bombed short, burying the men under rubble." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 235, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: Martin always used to say that the U.S. Airforce was more to be feared than the Germans Airforce.  I wonder if this was a U.S. plane?  Perhaps he was aware of this particular incident.  He sometimes said that if you spotted a German plane you hit the deck and dug in, but if you spotted an American plane you dug in that much deeper.

P 237  "Still further to the left, V Corps had had a stiff fight in the hills, but as the Canadian Corps broke through on the coast, the British Corps cleared the enemy from the tiny Republic of San Marino.  Soon the British too were over the Marecchia." The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2, Page 237, (Thorn Press, Toronto, 1966).

Comment: Martin mentioned San Marino frequently.  He was quite impressed that it was only about a mile in extent, yet was an independent republic.  He also talked about swimming in the Adriatic Sea, so this would have been about the area.


Of course the war carried on.  Maybe next Remembrance Day I will add to this.  There are some interesting stories remaining.