The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I

The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I was a spontaneous event initiated by the soldiers themselves. Truces today are ordered from military and political authorities and are very brittle as some factions use them to bring about an advantage for their purpose. I remember Marie Curie’s words:

“ It’s hard to think that after so many centuries of development, the human race still doesn’t know how to resolve difficulties in any way except violence.”

There was a Christmas Truce during World War I from Christmas Eve seven thirty to Christmas Day three in the afternoon. Accounts of these events were documented in soldiers diaries from both sides of the conflict.

b70fd40cd1415c2814656d5fe946c310_600x600_a538b01aIt began with the German soldiers singing Christmas carols and lighting candles. The Germans invited the “Tommys” to cross into “no-mans-land” for some wine. One allied soldier accepted and took with him a big cake to share.

Some soldiers held a church service and sang hymns. Then both sides met to participate and exchanged buttons, badges and caps.

Some soldiers played a football game in “no-mans-land” using a bully-beef can to kick and helmets to mark the goal posts.

These practices spread across eight hundred kilometers of the front as soldiers shared cigarettes, shook hands and sang carols.

The truce ended at three pm on Christmas day when they returned to warfare.

The allied soldiers reported that the Germans were very nice, but were tired of the war. The war at its outset was expected to last a few weeks, but continued for years.

Today there is a monument with a wooden cross in Flanders Fields  in western Belgium to mark the truce.


Let’s encourage more girls to play and learn in STEM

girl-scienceEncouraging and attracting girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas of study and employment has become a growing challenge for parents, educators, and businesses. For example, the US National Science Foundation reports that women now make up only 16% of those pursuing computer science degrees, which is a sharp decline from 40% in the 1980’s.

If we adults in North America want to improve our standard of living, we must motivate more girls to study the sciences in high school and pursue STEM pathways in college and universities. Growth in the number of jobs in technology has tripled that of jobs in the non-STEM sector and will continue to grow.

Bringing more women into these fields would expand the workforce and bring a new dimension to challenges. Women and men think differently. It is frequently said that a project or a problem needs “fresh eyes” so it seems to me different points of view could be acquired by hiring more women for the STEM careers.

Parents, educators and businesses can introduce young girls to the wondrous possibilities for them in these STEM fields. The qualities needed are: curiosity, persistence, and creative thought — the same qualities needed to solve puzzles and problems.

How can we introduce and motivate girls to science?

Expose young girls to hands-on STEM activities via construction toys, natural science kits, and number games. Introduce them to parents, relatives, or friends in STEM fields. Visit science museums to see first-hand how exciting these fields can be. Participation in hands-on experiences makes these subjects and ideas more personally credible.

Encourage girls to start thinking of their future. Ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Girls who:

  • believe they can solve problems
  • believe they can overcome obstacles
  • consider themselves hard workers
  • believe overcoming obstacles makes them stronger
  • feel that whatever boys can do girls can do
  • look for challenges
  • believe “if I work hard, I’ll succeed

are girls well suited to STEM careers.

Encouraging youth into STEM courses and careers starts in infancy for some families.

March-MegsBooks-postSTEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math, coined by the United State’s National Science Foundation in the 1990’s. More recently, educators have been seeking ways to increase the number of young people, and especially girls, studying STEM subjects, and embarking on STEM careers.

Parents are promoting STEM to their children too, some starting in infancy. Pennsylvania software engineer and mom Kelly Mathews is starting her daughter’s awareness of science, technology, engineering, and math before she’s even had her first birthday.

Kelly reads Rosie Revere, Engineer and HTML for Babies to her nine month old daughter, to introduce her to STEM subjects, and empower her to explore these areas as she grows.

How can we interest young people, and especially girls to embrace STEM subjects? Expose them to science, technology, engineering and math concepts from an early age, and read to them! I found it interesting that while Kelly Mathew’s masters degree is in computer science, her bachelor’s degree is in English literature!

Kelly is also working towards bridging the gender gap in STEM areas by working with a non-profit group in Pennsylvania, called TechGirlz, who work with girls in middle-schools.

As a children’s author of historical fiction (and teacher to the core) I write stories about truly heroic scientists, from the point of view of Lexi Catt, a lively feline who has spent his nine lives living with scientists throughout history. In honour of Women’s History Month, and the desire to promote STEM to young people, I invite you to share Lexi’s tale of his life with Marie Curie. Marie Curie was a STEM pioneer, winning two Nobel Prizes, and saving more than a million lives and limbs in World War I.

Associate Professor of Law and Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, University of British Columbia, Janine Benedet says, “This is a fascinating and unusual book for readers in intermediate grades. Lexi and Marie Curie introduces readers to the amazing story of scientist Marie Curie, whose isolation of radium, among other discoveries, led to her being awarded the Nobel Prize in both Physics and Chemistry. Shut out of much of the formal scientific academy, Marie forges her own path, one that paves the way for her daughters and for generations of girls and women whose curiosity is sparked by ‘STEM’ — science, technology, engineering, and math.”


The War to End All Wars – Not!

TheProvince-20140807-Kent-Spencer-300To prepare for my book, Lexi and Marie Curie Saving Lives in World War I, I discovered Marie’s role as a war heroine. It was necessary therefore to know more about the war in order to paint the background in detail. In the research the First World War was called “the war to end all wars.” Of course, it didn’t end wars; but it did change how they are fought.

After I wrote the following post on Tuesday, August 5, 2014, I was amazed to read Kent Spencer’s article in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Province. Mr. Spencer’s article supported the points I was making in my post so beautifully that I altered my post to include quotes from Mr. Spencer’s article. In recognition of the Centenary of World War I, please consider the following thoughts.

Since time began, men have settled differences by fighting. Fighting began hand to hand. Soon stones and blades became weapons. Men next made swords and spears – ever seeking to distance themselves from the killing.

The bow and arrow increased the distance, and then guns and canons increased the distance even more. But accuracy became a concern so leaders lined up their bowmen and later riflemen to increase the number of enemy destroyed. This was accepted practice until the American Revolutionary War, when the colonists took cover and shot at the British soldiers all lined up. (The British didn’t think that practice was fair at all!)

One hundred forty years later, French soldiers and soldiers from Newfoundland were ordered to march – not charge – into enemy fire. They were slain by machine gun fire. Thus trench warfare evolved as the soldiers on both sides hid. Always inventing more lethal means, gas warfare and long distance canons were added to the mix. These weapons, with more range, grew more lethal, more accurate, and even rained down from the skies.

The Province newspaper’s Kent Spencer wrote about Corporal Filip Konowal, a Ukranian Canadian and WWI war hero, on August 7, 2014

Corporal Konowal was awarded the Victoria Cross for single-handedly destroying nests of enemy troops and their machine guns with his bare hands and bayonet. Spencer’s article includes a quote from Konowal, “I was so fed up standing in the trench with water to my waist, that I said the hell with it and started after the German army. My captain tried to shoot (me) because he figured I was deserting.”

In Spencer’s article, Professor Lubomyr Luciuk of Kingston’s Royal Military College commented, “The bayonet was up close and personal,” referring to the corporal’s actions.

In my opinion, the soldiers who take personal action, these are the men who are often labelled ‘heroes’.

Today, Man has invented weapons that do his dirty work for him and keep him so far from the killing that he doesn’t even admit responsibility for it. Today, men sit in computer rooms controlling flying, robotic drones, and kill people continents away.

Yes, man is very clever, very inventive, and more distant from the killing, but he hasn’t worked out how to avoid wars in the first place …

… yet.

The men who figure out how to end wars altogether will be the heroes of the future.


Lest we Forget

poppyEvery November the poppy reminds us … of what?

What does the phrase “lest we forget” and the little red flower remind you of?

Of war? More than that. Of veterans? More than them. Of bravery? More than that. We are reminded of our culture and what it stands for, because that is exactly what the brave soldiers fought for.

Around the globe people are observing the 100th anniversary of the start of the “War to end all wars,” World War I. There was a ceremony in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, on August 4th. Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid a wreath at the National War Memorial, and, recounting how 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders* fought in WWI he said, “Canada is still today loyal to our friends, unyielding to our foes, honourable in our dealings, and courageous in our undertakings. This remains the character of our country.”

There is a series on CBC TV on Sunday nights called The Doc Zone, and their recent series entitled THE GREAT WAR re-enacts scenes of WWI in England, France, and Belgium.

The producers of THE GREAT WAR explain, “In 2005, CBC-TV and Galafilm put out a call to descendants of Canadian First World War soldiers to participate in the living history component of the Great War project. Over 6,500 Canadians applied and 150 made the final cut to take part in vivid battle recreations, and to experience what their ancestors went through in the killing grounds of Europe. Of the 150, 14 descendants were chosen for a special mission – to travel to the battlefields of England, France and Belgium where their ancestors fought and sometimes gave their lives.

“In documentary style, THE GREAT WAR follows the 14 young men and women – representing a cross-section of Canada – as they voyage through time to understand their ancestors’ experience as soldiers and nurses at the front. Viewers will watch as the great-grandchildren relive the horror of that time and how they are transformed by it.”

It is so important to pass on our cultural stories and through them, our principles and ideals to our children. Let truth, justice, steadfast courage, and freedom from tyranny, pass on to our children and keep us strong.

*Newfoundland was a colony and dominion of the United Kingdom until March 1949, when it became the 10th province of Canada.


Marie Curie – the Woman I Most Admire

Marie-CurieThe woman I most admire was shy and suffered from depression. However, she was so determined and so full of empathy for the human race that she spent three entire years of her life shovelling heavy dirt to find an elusive element that she thought might benefit human kind. Marie never faultered in the face of hard work; In fact, she drove herself sometimes to complete breakdown. She never faultered in the face of danger either, as she spent another four years of her life in proximity to bombs and bullets to rescue soldiers from loss of limbs and even lives.

That woman was Marie Curie. She suffered the loss of a sister when she herself was seven, followed by the loss of her mother when she was eleven. The loss of her loving husband by a traumatic accident triggered profound depression, but she found the courage from within to continue with her life during which she founded atomic physics, promoted new ways to fight cancers, and personally took medical technology to the dangerous warfront of WWI to save soldiers from amputation and death.

The fact that Marie Curie overcame personal woes and personal danger to help others speaks to her inner morality. Even Albert Einstein, who sometimes found her irritating in her lack of flexibility, admired her when he said, “I have always admired Marie Curie. Not only did she do outstanding work in her lifetime … and help humanity greatly … she invested all her work with the highest moral quality.” Marie was a stubborn woman who insisted on what was right in every detail. For example, she imposed her conviction that the American check for gift money raised for her Radium Institute be made out to the institute, and not inaccurately to her. She kept her promises, such as the promise to her husband by personally taking her radium to safety when the German’s invaded France in WWI.

Intelligence, perseverance, integrity, and courage all combined in one feisty little woman. What a role model!


Read more about Marie Curie’s accomplishments in Lexi and Marie Curie Saving Lives in World War I.