In 44 B.C., when 19-year-old Gaius Octavius first entered the political stage after the death of his great-uncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar (thereby becoming Julius Caesar Octavianus), Augustus (as he was later called) was quite ruthless, even brutal. However, as he grew older and as his enemies declined in number (mostly through untimely deaths), he began to reveal a good sense of humor.
Not long after securing complete domination of the Roman world through his victory over Marc Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (31 B.C.), Octavian was approached by a man who offered to sell him a raven. The fellow presented the bird to Octavian, and it promptly cried "Ave, Caesar, imperator et victor -- Hail, Caesar, Great Captain and Victor!" Quite pleased, Octavian bought the bird on the spot for a considerable sum.
Shortly afterwards another man approached Octavian and announced that he too had a raven that the imperator might want to hear. His interest piqued, Octavian demanded to see the bird.
The man presented the bird, which promptly shouted, "Ave, Antoni, imperator et victor." The man then explained that he had conspired with the first man, each to train a raven to give an appropriate cry, so that whether Antony or Octavian emerged as the victor in the civil wars, one of them would be able to sell his bird for a goodly sum, which they would then split. This second man went on to explain that when he asked for his share, his erstwhile conspirator had reneged on the deal.
Greatly amused, Octavian bought the second bird as well.
The Earl of Suffolk Does His Bit
Like many British aristocrats of his times, Charles Henry George Howard, born in 1906, was of trans-Atlantic heritage, his father being Henry Howard, the Earl of Suffolk, and his mother Margaret Leiter, daughter of the Chicago department store millionaire Levi Leiter. When Charles’s father was killed in action in Mesopotamia in 1917, the 11-year old became the 20th Earl of Suffolk, the 13th Earl of Berkshire, and much else besides.
Shortly after World War I, the young Earl enrolled in the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, intending to become a naval officer. Apparently finding the regimen too rigid, the Earl quit and signed on as a deck hand aboard a sailing ship working the Australian grain run. After various adventures, he returned to Britain sporting some impressive tattoos and secured a commission in the Scots Guards. His “wild ways” and casual insubordination eventually led to a request that he resign for the good of the service. The Earl shortly returned to Australia, where he spent five or six years farming and sheep ranching. In 1934 he married the American ballet dancer Mimi Forde-Pigott, which seems to have steadied him. Over the next few years the pair had three children, while the Earl graduated with honors in Chemistry from Edinburgh University, completing a bachelor’s course in only three years. By the eve of World War II he was a research chemist at Oxford University, experimenting (in his words) with "explosives and poisons". On the outbreak of the war he went to work for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and served as liaison officer with French scientists doing war work.
Now in 1939 the French had initiated a program to investigate the possibility of developing an atomic bomb, the first nuclear weapons project in history. By May, 1940, when the Germans began their conquest of Western Europe, the French had made some progress, accumulating specialized research equipment, procuring several tons of heavy water and samples of uranium ore and ordering thousands of tons more from the Belgian Congo. So in May and June of 1940, as the Battle of France unfolded, the Earl was sent to rescue what he could. Armed with two pistols, which he nicknamed "Guinevere" and "Josephine", and assisted by his secretary Eileen Beryl Morden, he went to France where, with the help of French security agents, he organized the transfer to Britain of 50 scientists (some with their families), as well as specialized research and machine tools, a supply of heavy water and the accumulated research documents from the atomic bomb program; all while taking time out to hi-jack millions in industrial diamonds.
The Earl managed to get his fugitives and loot to the coast, where two small vessels were waiting. As they made their way to sea, they came under German air attack, and the boat carrying the heavy water and some equipment was sunk. This sparked something of a panic aboard the civilians in the other vessel, which the Earl reportedly calmed by distributing champagne which he had lifted from some nearby chateaux while on the way to the coast. These adventures, which greatly advanced Britain’s atomic bomb program, also earned the Earl the nickname "Mad Jack.”
Returning to Britain, the Earl worked for the Ministry of Supply, conducting research into explosives ordnance disposal and developing the procedures necessary to defuse German bombs during the Blitz. He also headed his own bomb disposal team, which consisted of himself, Miss Morden (who observed and took notes) and his chauffeur Fred Hards. The trio soon earned the nickname “the Holy Trinity" for their skill in rendering bombs harmless.
On May 12, 1941, the trio were working on their 35th bomb (an older device found in the Erith Marshes in Kent) when the device exploded, killing all three plus the five soldiers who were assisting them. The Earl was awarded the George Cross, and those with him lesser decorations.