Improbable Wars: The Bloodless War, 1634-1635
In 1632 King Gustavus
II Adolphus of Sweden
1611-1632) was killed in action at the Battle of Lutzen, and was succeeded by his six year old daughter
Christina (r. 1632–1654). By
coincidence, Gustavus' cousin Ladislas
Vasa had ascended the Polish-Lithuanian throne at about the same time, as King
and Grand Duke Ladislas IV (r. 1632-1648).
Now there were several issues between the two branches of
the Vasa clan, notably the fact that
Gustavus' father had, in effect, usurped the throne of Sweden in 1599
from Ladislas' own father. But a more important
issue was that Sweden
recently had acquired some lands in Prussia and Pomerania
that had previously been fiefs of Poland-Lithuania.
death left Sweden
time enmeshed in the Thirty Years' War, and having a hard time of it, Ladislas decided to grab what he could
an army of some 24,000 men on the lower Vistula,
and threatened Swedish possessions in Pomerania
but did not actually invade these regions.
The Swedes, wisely decided to avoid fighting a two-front war, promptly
concluded a 26-year armistice, and shortly began negotiations that resulted in
the cessation of some territories to Poland.
An so Ladislas came
away the victor in "The Bloodless War."
"What is That For?"
After a long career in the Royal Navy, Commander Edward Whitehead
(1908–1978), became a rather noted celebrity, serving as a spokesman for Schweppes, of which he later became
president, and for a time during the late 1950s and early 1960s even hosted a program
about British art and culture on WQXR radio in New York.
During his hitch on the radio, Whitehead would often tell tales of his travels
or his years afloat in His Majesty’s service, which included a tour with the
British Pacific Fleet in the final year of the Second World War, and culminated
with a hitch as an aide-de-camp to George VI (r. 1936-1952), during which he accompanied the king on a long
voyage to and tour of South Africa in 1947.
The first state visit by the royal family since their tour
of the United States on the eve of World War II in 1939 (during which F.D.R.
had insisted on calling the king and queen "George" and
"Elizabeth"), the trip had several goals. The primary goal was to cement Commonwealth
ties, which had a political dimension, since South Africa's Prime Minister Ian
Smuts was facing a rising tide of right-wing Boer nationalism that would
culminate the following year in the imposition of the apartheid regime that would endure for half-a-century. Then too, the trip, aboard the new battleship
HMS Vanguard, would serve to
introduce Princess Elizabeth, then just 21, to some of her future subjects, and
would also provide the king with a restful holiday, his health having
deteriorated during World War II.
Now George VI was the last of the "Sailor Kings",
of six sovereigns who had sat the throne since 1830, with the accession of William
IV (r., 1830-1837), only Queen
Victoria (r. 1837-1901), and George's
brother Edward VIII, who had reigned for less than a year, had not seen serious
service in the Royal Navy. After
attending the Royal Navy Colleges at Osbourne and Darmouth, George had been
commissioned a midshipman in 1913, saw wartime service with the Grand Fleet in
the North Sea, most notably as a turret office in the battleship Collingwood during the Battle of
Jutland, before transferring to the Royal Naval Air Service, and later serving
in the newly formed Royal Air Force. So
the king knew a thing or two about warships, and greatly enjoyed exploring his newest
and mightiest battlewagon; ordered during World War II, Vanguard had not been completed until mid-1946.
One evening, while strolling around the quarterdeck (the
stern section of the ship's deck, traditionally the “territory” of the senior
officer aboard a ship) with Whitehead at his side, the king chanced to spot a
cleat set virtually in middle of the vast expanse of deck. He turned to Whitehead, and said that despite
his years of service in battleships, he had never actually seen that
particularly cleat being used for anything.
The two chatted briefly about the cleat, trying to recall what its
purpose was. It was much to light to
serve as a hitch for a tow or mooring line, nor, given its position, could it
have served to help lower work platforms over the side or raise and lower
boats. They even inquired of some petty
officers nearby, to no avail. No one, it
seemed, knew quite what function the cleat served.
King George shrugged it off, continued his stroll, and in
due time turned in.
Meanwhile, word of the king's question, and of the inability
of anyone present to provide an answer, reached the ship's captain. During the night, according to Whitehead, the
skipper gathered every man in the deck division -- the officers, petty
officers, and sailors who actually worked the ship, and asked if anyone knew
what the cleat was for. None did. Nevertheless, all agreed that the very same
cleat had been aboard every other battleship they'd ever served in, and
although they had occasionally seen it put to use, no one knew what it actually
was intended for
Frustrated, the captain ordered up the rest of the crew. Each man was shown the cleat and asked if he
knew its purpose. Finally, an old mess
cook came up. When the question was put
to him, the man, who had joined the service as a boy of about thirteen, back
around 1880, answered quite promptly
"That's where we used to tether the cow."
In the days before refrigeration, livestock had often been
carried aboard ship, chickens for example to provide fresh eggs and the occasional
fresh bird, pigs for the occasional fresh chops, and goats or even cows for a
little fresh milk. To give them a little
air, the larger animals would be tethered to the cleat. Back in the day, the designers of warships
understood the purpose of the cleat, but as the custom of taking a cow to sea
waned, what with the advent of better refrigerating methods and pasteurization,
which permitted fresh milk to be kept aboard for relatively longer periods, and
of canned milk, the purpose of the cleat had been forgotten, though it
continued to appear on ships' plans.
BookNote: Commander Whitehead's wife, Tommy Whitehead, wrote The Beard and I
, an amusing account of their lives together, full of
interesting anecdotes from their travels and his service in the Royal Navy and
subsequent career in business and radio.