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Thursday, April 10, 2014

WAR OF 1812 SOLDIERS HAD TO BE TOUGH

Ron Watts in uniform of British Soldier War of 1812.
British soldiers who fought in the War of 1812 had to be as tough as nails. They were not pampered.  To prevent the carrying of personal items, uniforms had no pockets. One uniform had to last three years. They were issued with three shoes—not pairs. The shoes had leather tops with wooden soles. There were no left and right shoes. They were rotated to promote even wear.
Ron Watts, a London re-enactor, displayed the uniform, Brown Bess musket, his sword and other items of British army life of the time, during a meeting of the London and Middlesex Historical Society recently.
Soldiers’ hats were tall to make the men appear taller. The hats were made from beaver skin with the hair removed, he said. Later, the hats were reduced in height but carried false fronts, again, to make the soldier appear tall.
Coloured vertical hackles stood next to the false front to help indicate which men were where during the smoke of battle.
Watts’ role during reenactments was that of an engineer. These soldiers wore a sturdy leather apron to protect the clothing. In his case, he also carried a billhook, “a rather vicious looking weapon,” used for many purposes, including cutting brush, wood, trees and for building bridges; it also could be used for cutting meat and in battle.
“The main weapon was the Brown Bess musket—still used today in re-enactments.”
The British used 69 calibre musket balls. They were smaller and easier to load, but were notoriously inaccurate, he said. A good soldier could shoot and reload three times in a minute. (Watts was tested and was rated at just slightly below three times.) The musket was reliable up to about 80% of the time on a dry day.
Re-enactment soldiers today use about 90 grains of powder per shot, but some use 100 or even 110 grains. Soldiers had to be very careful when loading: too much powder could result in broken ear drums or damage to the weapon itself. They were supposed to check to see that the touch hole was smoking to be sure the gun had gone off. When in good condition, a musket could fire 18-20 rounds without misfiring. When it misfired, the soldier had to stop and clean it. To keep it in top condition, the weapon was carefully cared for, with the stock protected with wax.
Photo by Roxanne Lutz

The Brown Bess musket was the longest serving weapon used by the British, he said. It was also the first weapon made with interchangeable parts. Prior to about 1760, when a musket broke down, it had to be returned to the original gunsmith for repair because only he had the correct parts. After the use of interchangeable parts came into effect, different gunsmiths could manufacture the different parts and any gunsmith could repair a musket.
The manufacturers of powder mixed it with sawdust to increase the quantity, but while it did that, it reduced the effectiveness of the weapon in the field.
Watts appeared at the meeting dressed in the colourful uniform of the Royal Scots. “On the end of my musket, I have a 22-inch three-sided bayonet. Many of the British soldiers of the time believed that after the first shot, the musket became a handle for the bayonet, much preferred in close-order combat, rather than reloading and firing.”
During the Battle of Longwoods, the British attacked from a low valley with the Americans on the high ground. It had snowed the night before and the slope was slippery. The American soldiers not only had the advantage of higher ground but also used Kentucky rifles. Although slower to load—about one shot per minute—their rifled barrels put a spin on the ball that made for much more accurate shooting than that of the Brown Bess.
The British lost that battle.


Site of the original battle near Wardsville, Ont.
You can visit the site of the battle on Longwoods Rd. (Number 2 Highway) 51 kms west of London east of Wardsville.
The Upper Thames Military Reenactment Society will re-enact that battle, May 3-4, 2014. It will be held in the Longwoods Road Conservation Area. This is not the site of the original battle. From London, drive west on Longwoods Rd. from the exit of Highway 402—it’s about five kms.
Click here for more information: www.battleoflongwoods.ca





Tuesday, March 11, 2014

BEST JAZZ BAND IN THE LAND!


Londoners just don’t realize the great wealth of music that resides here. Example: The Western Jazz Ensemble that played to a packed house during the London Jazz Society’s gig March 9 at the Mocha Shrine Centre on Colborne St.
The mostly greying devotees at the Society gave its 25 members a standing ovation, and in true jazz fashion to show their enjoyment, applauded throughout the gig.
These young men and women are primarily trained in classical music, but study jazz twice a week, says Dr. Kevin Watson, assistant professor of Music Education, Don Wright Faculty of Music, Western University.
Some also play in a smaller jazz chamber group on campus led by Barry Usher.
During these days of low employment, I wondered, is there sufficient demand for them when they graduate?  He replied: “There is a variety of career aspirations in the group. Many will seek to become music artist/educators, mixing teaching with performing. Some are studying music composition and hope to establish themselves as composers. A few of the members are in non-music degree programs (e.g., business school, environmental science).”
All of the members are selected for the Jazz Ensemble by auditioning. There is a mixture of first year through graduate students in the program. A degree in the program usually takes about four years.
You can learn more by clicking on their website. Be sure to listen to their music on the Youtube site shown. www.music.uwo.ca
The London Jazz Society donates money regularly to Western's jazz program in honour of founder Doris Jackson.

Kevin Watson accepts $8,000 cheque from Barbara Wenman, president, London Jazz Society.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

WOOPS! SORRY, GOV. SIMCOE

According to London historian Dan Brock, Governor John Graves Simcoe actually wanted the capital of Upper Canada to be located where Wortley Village is now, rather than on the east side of the forks of the Thames River. But there are some local writers who would not agree.
In those days, there was a great deal of chaos. Of course, there was not much here, just a vast wilderness. Try to imagine that today.
According to Brock, the main east-west "road" was what is now Commissioner's Road. It followed the old trail the Indians used. Brock says it was comparable to Highway 401 today as a way of moving through the wilderness.
There were all kinds of situations where one set of plans over-ruled another. One example, a vast area was laid out for the Town of London, but no one could touch it at the time. Settlements just grew up around it, leaving London as the hole in a doughnut, he says.
During a recent lecture, he used images from old maps to make his point.
Historian Dan Brock.


Friday, February 7, 2014

LONDON'S FUGITIVE SLAVE CHAPEL

The Fugitive Slave Chapel (above) and today.


The Fugitive Slave Chapel shown above dates back to pre-Civil War days and slavery. London was once an important station in the Underground Railway, a mythical term for the trail to freedom in Canada from the horrors of slavery.
Escaping slaves, often whole families, made the frightening journey to freedom. The trip was no walk in the park. They were  trailed by men with bloodhounds, paid to bring them back dead or alive by the plantation owners. If they were caught, they were returned to their owners where they faced floggings and even death.
Once the lucky ones reached the area south of Buffalo, N.Y., they faced one last obstacle—the mighty Niagara River. Most had no money with which to pay the ferry toll to Canada. But sympathetic captains frequently took them across at no charge.
The Rev. Josiah Henson and his family are an example. The captain ferried them across at no cost. When they reached the Canadian shore, Henson fell to his knees and promised to use his freedom well. 
He was the primary figure in the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. You can see the cabin in Uncle Tom’s park near Dresden—a short drive along Highway 401. 
He assisted ex-slaves in London where he was involved in establishing a trade school for black boys and girls.
In early 2013, the owner of the property on which the chapel had stood for so many years, needed the space for additional parking for his business. A committee was formed to collect donations for the removal of the chapel.
Here is an update by chairman of the Fugitive Slave Chapel Preservation Project, George McNeish:
“We have raised just over $60,000 and have less than $5,000 to go to reach our phase one goal. The city is chipping in with a $60,000 grant that is for moving and stabilizing (Estimated cost of $165,000.) We should have enough now to get the building moved and the paperwork is being done to start construction of a basement/foundation to set it on. Once the paper work is done, construction should start very soon, weather permitting. We will still need an additional $45,000 to get the building stabilized and still more to do proper historically accurate renovations. Once we get the building moved, we can get some experts to look at it and give us advice on renovations. We should then be able to estimate a cost for this.” 
Click on this link to see very interesting information and illustrations about the project and history of the Thames St. area. http://www.http://www.fscpp.ca




Saturday, February 1, 2014

FIND BEST GAS PRICES IN LONDON

One of the most useful apps for motorists is this one. Key in your postal code and the app immediately provides a list of current gas prices for your area in London, according to the gas grade you select. It's not worth driving miles to save a cent or so per litre, but this app shows you the price by gasoline station not only within your area but within the confines of the city.
Prices are kept current by motorists who send current prices by their mobile devices.

This is only one of many apps for London. Please send others via Comments.

Monday, January 27, 2014

ANYONE REMEMBER THIS FIRE IN LONDON?

London's YMCA after fire in 1981.

Our YMCA after an arsonist set it on fire January 4, 1981. Cost: $1 million. The building was opened in 1897.  Citi Plaza now occupies the site on Wellington St.