HENRI DUNANT – THE RED CROSS MAN

Henri Dunant is a very famous person indeed but hardly anyone knows who he is today.

He is the mentor behind the creation of the Red Cross.

He is probably and literally the fourth most famous Swiss national after William Tell, Henri Nestle and Roger Federer.

When as a thirty one year old journeyman he passed by the Battle of Solferino in northern Italy in 1859, he knew something had to be done to address the barbarity of warfare.

He wanted to set up a humanitarian movement which could and would protect human life and health, ensure respect for all human beings and also prevent as well as alleviate human suffering.

It was only a few years after the Crimean War fought by Britain, France and Turkey against Russia which was significant to bringing public attention the need for non-combatant trained medics to be available at the field of battle, the most famous of whom was, of course, Florence Nightingale.

Within the space of four short years, his vision came to fruition and the Red Cross institution was formed in Geneva Switzerland in 1863.

Its adopted symbol of a red cross on a white background is an exact reversal of a white cross on a red background for the Swiss nationaL flag.

Henri Dunant received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 for his important contribution to mankind and yet he suffered greatly in his life as a direct result of this due to poverty, ill-health and personal bankruptcy.

When he died an old man in 1910, he was an obscure rather than a notorious figure for history to record.

But the Red Cross plays an important part in times of war and world crisis today with no little thanks paid to Henri Dunant.

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AMERICAN YANKEE

.This is a personal explanation on how the term ‘Yankee’ has evolved.

I am a tenth generation descendent of Jan Kees and that makes me a Yankee.

Jan Kees was a very popular Dutch name during colonial days.

The first Dutch arrivals were probably freebooters, pirates or buccaneers who plundered and earned contempt from the colonial English.

A lot of Dutch migrated from their homeland to settle in America in the eighteenth century, notably New York and New England.

Haarlem and Brooklyn are place name examples of that.

The English were the colonial rulers of America until independence was established in 1776.

The English could not pronounce the Dutch language very well.

So at the beginning the term ‘Yankee’ was adopted to refer to all Dutch settlers in their colony.

And the name Jan Krees became synomyous with ‘Yankee’.

A song was written by the English called ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ to mock the American rebel in the fight for independence who wore a cap and stuck a feather in it.

It has remained a popular song ever since but with a complimentary rather than a derogatory meaning.

Later on during the American Civil War of 1861-1865, Confederates referred to the militants from the Unionist states as ‘Yankees’.

By the time of the second world war `1939-1945, ‘Yankees’ had come to refer to all Americans and had even be shortened to ‘Yank’.

Today, the term ‘Yankee’ is used to refer to the national baseball team which plays at the Yankee Stadium in New York City.

There has been a Yankee sports stadium in New York City since 1923.

The original stadium was replaced with a new one in 2009.

‘Yankee’ is probably not the most famous acronysm in American English but it must run a close second to Santa Klaus which is derived from the Dutch patron, Saint Nicholas.

Happy Independence Day Americans!

THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

I am an Englishman and not a patriot of the United States.

This is, however, my twopenny-worth as a reflection on the American Civil War.

The United States of America was a union of thirty six states formed by the so-called founding fathers with a declaration of independence from colonial rule in 1776.

The two key elements of the declaration were freedom for every American and entitlement to a pursuit of happiness.

One of the legacies of colonial rule was slavery, the concept of which was to contract one individual to another by way of subordination.

The slaves were brought from Africa and the Caribbean.

It was the era of industrialisation and the swing away from slavery to free paid labour across the world.

Slavery remained prevalent throughout the Union.

Significantly less so in the industrial north than the agricultural south where the prosperity gained from cotton and tobacco flourished.

It was somewhat inevitable that the white European settlers of the south who had the most to lose from the abolition of slavery, would be the most resistent to it in their territory and would be the least able to accept an emancipated slave as their equal.

In spite of the founding fathers vision, America remained a divided nation from the time of independence right through the civil war, a period of reconstruction and decades more of racial indifference before finally in 1965, equality for blacks with whites across the Union was acknowledged.

It does, however, seem extraordinary that in a nation state such as America that there could have been such blantant racial discord for so long.

In truth, if you believe in a cause whether or not right or wrong, then it is surely a just one.

Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Generals Lee and Grant, were honest, honorable and humble men who were true to a cause as they saw it.

The Confederates were not necessarily wrong to effect secession.

The Union were not wrong for the corrective actions they took to protect what existed.

The two American States could potentially have separately co-existed side by side.

It was not quite a case of the irresistable force meeting the immovable object.

War was forseeable and predictable but not inevitable.

If it was not an attack on Fort Sumner which sparked conflict, then it surely would have been something else.

Neither the Union nor the Confederates were ready for war.

The Confederates were certainly not ready for governance.

Richmond Virginia was no match for Washington as an administrative capital, let alone Montgomery Alabama.

The Confederates could have held the upper hand if possessed of a more manageable infrastructure, if the fighting force was better trained, if more consideration was given to maintaining morale not just spirit and determination to fight, if a greater sense of objectivity was applied in key decision making and if those who could financially contribute towards the cause did so from their profits.

A war is not won by tactics alone.  It needs strategy, planning, organization, objectives and an infrastructure by virtue of which a military force can access food and supplies.

In the case of the American Civil War, railroads and rivers such as the Potomac and the Mississippi played their part in the outcome of the conflict as did an effective blockade of southern ports and an ineffective embargo on export of products to former colonial powers.

Once the south had what the north did, partly but not entirely due to the economic and political reconstruction of the Union which followed the end of the Civil War,  it slowly but surely dawned on Americans living in the deep south that living the American dream could not be miraged from the past.

There was enlisting and drafting of able bodied men for military service.

There was conscription.

There was recruitment of combatants from overseas.

There was no rebellion or insurrection.

There was no invasion or official border control division.

There was no treason.

There was oppression.

There was self-preservation.

There was patriotism.

For every three men who fought for the Confederates, two had never owned a slave.

For every man who vocalized the cause, there were three more who paid an exemption fee and did not fight.

For every Afro-American who was enslaved, there was another who found it to freedom.

For every American who fought, there was a compatriot who died for the supposed cause.

This was a conflict in which the valiant fought for the true cause.

The true cause was that no man or woman should suffer oppression when there is a more righteous path in the pursuit of happiness.

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THE AMERICAN SLAVE

It was, of course, the colonialists who introduced slavery to the American continent and it was then they who set the trend for its eventual worldwide abolition.

In 1776, following the revolution, the new nation state of the United States of America came into being on the premise of freedom and liberty for every American.

That did not include those who were indentured and bonded as slaves.

There is a common misconception that after the Declaration of Independence, there were only slaves in the southern American states who were used primarily on the cotton farm plantations.

Census records have shown and proven that there were slaves in the northern states as well but due to climate and commerce, not as many as in the south.

Whether they were free slaves remains a matter of discussion and debate.

The emancipation of slaves in America would be a gradual process right up to the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and the enactment of a ratification law known as the Thirteenth Amendment.

Slavery, ultimately, became the focal issue of the American Civil War in which perhaps a million Americans, both black and white, died for the cause.

The American slave had been denied combat during the revolution.

Except for isolated incidents and in spite of the sufferance of being enslaved,, there is no evidence to suggest that the American slave would or could have threatened an insurrection or rebellion against the Union State before, during or after it came into being.

Until more recent times perhaps.

Nevertheless, the potential of the threat supposedly played a part in moving the capital city northwards in 1800 from Philadelphia to Washington.

The American slave would, however, finally be permitted to enlist in the Union Army by the sixteenth serving President, Abraham Lincoln, and to fight against those who chose to go against industrial progress with their stubborn Luddite-like thinking and enslave humanity, whatever the colour of their skin..

Somewhat curiously, a presidential decree soon followed, declaring freedom for the American slave who was still enslaved in the territories controlled by the Confederation and not by the Union.

It is curious in the context that it may never have reached the ears of those to whom it was intended until the latter stages of the civil war.

Colonialists had left behind a legacy which their descendents could not just let go.

The perceived white master was afraid of what would happen if the American slave was given equality and status.

That relationship between the white master and the American slave was never more epitomised than in a novel written by an American schoolteacher entitled ‘Uncle Toms Cabin’

Many years after the end of the civil war, the American Slave, though free from chains, shackles, bond and indenture, would suffer further indignity in the pursuit of happiness promised to him by the American Constitution of 1776.

That came with the Jim Crow Laws and absolute segregation in society applied in schools, public places and on transportation.

It has to be understood that those laws were only applied in the cotton states of the deep south and not across the whole United States.

It would take many decades more and in effect be a century of years (1865 to 1965) before he who was once a slave by the colour of his skin could claim to be truly American as of right and not merely rewarded for services rendered.

The undeniable reality is that the American slave is no more than a true patriot of his country in the twenty first century which is reflected in all forms of public life.

It is the ultimate colonialist legacy, without which, the United States of America would not be the country it is today in the pursuit of happiness and the prestige of civil liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

THE JESUIT PRIEST

Yesterday, in a coffee shop in a town in a faraway land, I met a Jesuit priest.

While drinking a capuccino latte and eating a sugar-coated cinammon doughnut, I made my one and only confession.

I confessed that I was not a catholic, that I did not know the meaning of the word, that I believed in the notion of God but not the Christian one which affiliated with Jesus as its figurehead.

Years ago, I watched ‘The Mission’ and only last week I watched ‘Silence’, directed by American Martin Scorcese.

As I understand it, the essence of both films was that a soldier of Jesus Christ, defined as a Jesuit, should go to a foreign land and spread the gospel of the Christian faith.

Or do I mean the catholic faith?

Why is it that I spell Christian with a capital letter and catholic without?

I became intrigued to learn that the supreme head of the catholic church, the Roman Pontiff himself, the Pope, elected to that position in March 2013, was a Jesuit priest.

There was a wry smile and a short shriek of laughter from the Jesuit priest sitting in my presence.

The sudden clasp of our hands and looking into each other’s eyes was a touching moment of unforgettable silence.

As I now know, the Jesuit priesthood was a religious order formed in 1534 by a Spanish soldier by the name of Ignatius Loyola.

To become a Jesuit priest, the man told me, entailed the taking of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for a lifetime.

Jesuits, like Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines and other such religious orders, are not attached to a diocesan parish church like their secular brothers.  Nor are they accountable to bishops.

Jesuits are licensed by the Pope himself to spread the gospel, so to speak.

Forgive the abrasiveness of my thinking but I must stand to question the need at all to evangelize and apostasize in the twenty-first century to a seemingly well-educated, science-orientated, objective-thinking global populus.

And what is apostasy if it is not to be defiant based on rational opinion or belief about a system, authority or situation perceived to be different?

I could see all too clearly in the eyes of the Jesuit priest that he had abandoned nothing or no one in his absolute determination of human faith.

He was no defector,  no deserter, no whistleblower, no rebel, no mutineer, no betrayer of his nation state.

There are, of course, pockets of civilisation in underdeveloped countries but I am not dissuaded from thinking that the Jesuit Priest is overstepping the boundaries of his mission.

So why does he sit before me?

And why do I sit with him?

It was I who traced him on the internet by social media.  It was I who requested the meeting taking place between us today.

This is a Jesuit priest of the twenty first century who has a smartphone at his fingertips, an online presence, wears a baseball cap and can speak seven languages fluently.

This is my confession.

His mission has taken on a different sphere, a bit like an astronaut going into space to explore the unknown, the universe.

Yes, that is it.  Catholicism means Universal.

Except there are those Christians in the world who have declared themselves to be protestants, lutherans, anglicans, prestbyterians, orthodox.

Today is actually Sunday Twenty-Third of April.

The Jesuit Priest knows it is the celebrated birthday of William Shakespeare, the English playwright who came from the town of Stratford upon Avon.

He takes the words right out of my mouth when he refers to the harbouring of Jesuit priests in the Shakespeare family home by William’s father John and the hiding of the sacred Borromeo testament.

He has never been to England but I hail from that town and I have so many times been to the famous cottage on Henley Street where the events he vividly described supposedly took place.

His ‘take’ on the historical events were different from mine but it mattered not.

Once a lawyer, I am now an English teacher and I have a mission in my life too to teach students the English language so that they can, possibly, have a better, brighter future.

The mission of the Jesuit Priest and the English teacher, it seems, though not fused, is therefore linked and the same.  To deliver a message.

The charming young waitress serves us both a second (free) cup of coffee.  I take another bite of my delicious doughnut.

The clock on the huge white church which shadows the  square strikes eleven on this April Sunday morning.

The hearty congregation disperse into the environs of this northern Indonesian coastal city.

Sunday school, alas, was a long time ago in my life but suddenly I am reminded that catechism, another word I did not fully understand,  is no more than explaining belief as a compilation of doctrine and teachings.

It always remains open to question but I have got the message.

What we nearly all accept today is that there are many different intepretations of faith besides our own and we should not be so stubborn or short-sighted as to believe that ours is the only way.

Not today.  Not any day.  Not any way.

The Jesuit priest has heard my confession.

There was no farewell.  No selfie.  No bill of conscience.

My soul can be at peace because, now, today, I know the truth.

HENRY JEPHSON AND LEAMINGTON SPA

My name is Henry Jephson.

I first came to the small town of Leamington Priors in the spring of 1818 as a raw medical student with aspirations of becoming a doctor.

I was attracted by the prospect of what salted spa waters could do for healing and curing people with certain ailments and afflictions.

Back then, Leamington Priors was a town on the south bank of the river Leam with a priory extending to the Elephant Wash.

Nearby was a small post office on the corner facing the largest parish church in the county of Warwickshire and there was close proximity to the access of spa spring water.

Bath houses, Inns and a Pump room were established as one Bernie Greatheed looked to cash in on land he owned to the north of the river.

The potential for development of a parade of shops and residences constructed on a grand scale was obvious.

The Willes family owned a large swathe of land on their Newbold Comyn estate to the east with a corn mill right down by the river itself.

I qualified as a doctor and established my medical practice on the upper part of the Parade.

As my reputation spread, clients would come from far afield and stay at the nearby Clarendon or Regent Hotel.

Queen Victoria herself made an official royal visit to Leamington in 1838, just two years into her reign.

Not only did I have the privilege of meeting her but I had the honour of treating her for some of her ailments.

I am in no doubt that she fell in love with the town and returned many times subsequently, unofficially of course, for a holiday ‘to take the waters’.

Queen Victoria was instrumental, I believe, in persuading the Willes family, notably Edward Willes, to turn ten acres of the meadowland next to the river Leam into a public garden and park.

I was somewhat flattered to say the least when the gardens and park were to be named after me personally in 1846 for supposedly having put the town of Leamington Priors on the map as a health resort.

Queen Victoria did not return for another official visit until 1858 when the town was renamed as Royal Leamington Spa by royal decree.

A momentous day indeed which led to a marble statue being erected of the great lady outside the Town Hall in her honour.

How much more could I have done? … Or would I have done? ….. If I had not gone blind two years later which forced my early retirement.

I don’t have any regrets as such about my life but losing my sight so early in my life is one of two things which disappointed and saddened me as a professional physician.

Here was I advocating cures to the needy but I had to accept Gods will for the impairment.

The second thing is not experiencing parenthood with my wife Mary.  I had always hoped that the ‘taking of waters’ would fix the shortfall in my married life but it was never to be.

The compensation has been, I think, in being slightly ahead of my time and being able to educate ordinary folk, both the paying clientele and the town needy, about basic healthcare.

I lived out my life at Beech Lawn, the mansion house which I had built behind the Parade in the 1830s.

I understand that after my death in 1878, my home became a Ladies Finishing School for a few years before eventually being demolished in 1946.

The town’s Fire Station is located on the site today.

Though I say it myself, the Jephson Gardens are a wonderful sight to behold at any time of year and I am extremely proud that such a ‘green flag’ legacy carries my name for generations to come.

Thank you all very much indeed for listening to my ramble, for that is surely what it is.

Be sure to visit the Jephson Gardens whenever you are passing through Royal Leamington Spa.

Thank you once again most graciously from the bottom of my heart.

TWELFTH NIGHT AND THE TWELVE TENETS OF MY FAITH

Tradition and social habit derived from pagan custom die hard and there is no mirth without mischief, so they say.

When I was just a young boy, I learnt to recite the twelve tenets of my faith.

I was born into a catholic family in the middle of the sixteenth century in a provincial market town called Stratford upon Avon in the mid-shires of England.

Throughout my life, England was declared to be a protestant state and it was forbidden to practice my faith in a public place.

In fact, even practicing it at home in private was considered taboo.

I learnt English, Latin and Greek at my local Grammar School which I was privileged to attend because my Father held high office in the town.

I studied History there too which was a fascinating subject to me.  My tutor, Simon Hunt, often complimented me on my uncanny ability to comprehend details in a manner beyond my tender years.

Somehow I just knew that my passion for history plus the background of my family from farming stock and the strength of my faith would shape my adult life.

Many a day I had spent at the forest of Arden or along the banks of the river in town where I could engage with nature and be as free as the birds I could see flying in the sky.

There was not a bird I thought I did not know or could not identify with.

When my father fell upon harsh times and I was sent away as a teenager to a catholic seminary in the north of France, one could say that it was kind of the beginning of the rest of my life.

I would step foot on the battlefield at Agincourt where my Shakespearean ancestor had fought on behalf of King Henry V.

I would visit the small town of Domremy in the north-east of France to feel some affinity with the young woman, Jeanne d’Arc,  who was born there one hundred and fifty years before me and who had left her own all too brief legacy in the annals of history.

And I would see a partridge in a pear tree for the first time.

It was a defining moment in my life when the meaning of my catholic faith came home to me, on foreign pastures.

I could readily relate why this beautiful gaming bird would spend hours in a pear tree, feigning injury as a decoy to protect her young from a constant stream of potential predators.

How odd it sounded then to hear the same chant as mine ringing in my ears but yet spoken by others with different tone and words.

The relationship between the partridge and the pear tree was considered supreme in my faith.

A partridge.  Two turtle doves.  Three French hens.  Four colly blackbirds.  Five golden ringed pheasants.  Six geese a-laying and seven swimming swans.

Memorise or forfeit I say.

The game does not, of course, end there.

Eight maids are milking to produce from the dairy.

Nine ladies are dancing to the sound of the music.

Ten lords are leaping at the prospect of winning a ladies hand but one will not be lucky.

Eleven pipers pipe the music for the ten lords and nine ladies to entwine while twelve drummers are drumming the finale, one beat for every tenet of my faith.

Only several centuries later in the year 1909 would an Englishman named Frederic Austin compose a melody which would be fitting for the chant which became labelled as ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ and which would be sung forever thereafter by protestants and catholics alike.

It seems funny now that a nonesense song of secular origin should strike such a cord.

I had a dream once but it may have been only a vision during my awakened hours.

I allowed my imagination to run a riot about a shipwreck in a faraway place which was,  in truth,  much closer to home than you might think about town folk and royalty.

Stratford upon Avon was such a wonderful place to grow up as a child.

There was an effervescence in the life of its tradesmen and craftsmen, a magic in the forest of Arden and a serenity about the Avon river which flowed calmly through the town.

Folk drank ale in the taverns, Inns accommodated visitors while mummers, pageant wagons and keepers of exotic wonders brought social entertainment to the town like never before.

An orchard was never very far away either.  Plum pudding, apple pie, pear crumble were constants on the menu.

I knew the meaning only too well of the fruits of the earth.

As a catholic, I wholeheartedly embraced both the Old and New Testament of the Christian bible, the Holy Trinity of Faith, Hope and Charity; the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not only that but I felt at ease with the ten commandments, the ethos of the eleven disciples (excluding Judas) who followed Jesus and course the twelve tenets of my faith.

Nothing could or would change that.

The twelve days of Christmas were celebrated from the twenty fifth of December until Epihany on the 5th January.

What I had always understood this meant was that three wise men, called Magi, had come from the east and followed a bright star to bring gifts for a new born child who was proclaimed as the son of God but in reality was the first born of Judeans Joseph and Mary.

The new born child, born on 25th December, was named Joshua and was baptized with holy water on the twelfth day after his birth, 5th January.

Christians of whatever denomination, protestant or christian, would join in the revelry which climaxed on the twelfth night with gift-giving.

There always comes a time, it seems, when politics are in conflict with expression of faith to the detriment of the common man who wishes no more than to go about his daily life in peace, dignity and honour.

Catholics were perceived as a threat to the new protestant state and so it came to pass during my lifetime that the catholic manner of celebration on the twelfth night became forbidden.

A failed catholic insurrection in 1605 (better known as the Gunpowder Plot) against the new King, James I, would lead to severe constraints against catholics.

At the peak of my literary powers and I could say that William Shakespeare was a household name in theatrical circles, I would be inspired to write a play which I called ‘Twelfth Night’ .

The play was performed in private chambers first of all before a failing Queen Elizabeth and an Italian Duke, Orsino, who by special request, was given a role in the play for his own egotism.

There would be frivolity and revelry and all would be revealed in time on the twelfth night.

That would be the last twelfth night in my lifetime.

And that, my friend, is the Gospel Truth.