The search for a soldier without a name (part 5)-the mystery.

The shell came in low and straight, eight hundred metres a second and closing.
It sped over the beach cutting between the loose formations of soldiers and slammed into its target-a Sherman tank.
The explosion shredded the tank’s track, leaving it dead in the sand.

A Sherman tank, during the invasion of Sicily

A Sherman tank, during the invasion of Sicily

Inside the protected armoured hull the crew were okay, but they knew they were in trouble.

Without a track, the vehicle wouldn’t move, a hulk of metal out in the open for all to see.
The crew, experienced with three years of war, would have known what would come next.
In a couple of seconds the German crew would reset the sights on their gun, rest the cross hairs on the tank and send another armour piercing shell downrange.
Perhaps in their last seconds the tank crew fumbled to undo the hatch.
Maybe they even got the hatch open.
Maybe a final prayer or two were mumbled.
Their lives ended when nine kilograms of high explosive slammed into the turret.

The type of artillery piece that most likely fired the shell, that took out the Sherman tank

The type of artillery piece that most likely fired the shell, that took out the Sherman tank

But one man survived.
His position in the hull of the tank shielded him from the worst of the explosion.
He was the driver and he was my grandfather.
The rescue crew pulled William Findlay Smillie from the burning wreck, unconscious and bleeding.

William Findlay Smillie

William Findlay Smillie

He had shrapnel wounds across his body and it appeared he would lose his arm.
My grandfather’s Sherman had been one of the first to the hit the beach on July 10, 1943.
That day was D-day, not the famous one rather the allied amphibious invasion of Sicily.
Years later my grandfather told me about that day. I wish I had asked more questions, perhaps took better notice.
This is what I remember.
And what I recall adds another mystery to the search of the identity of the Italian soldier in those photographs.
You see, that packet of photographs survived that burning tank to travel 70 years through time to end up in the draw of my desk.

Those photographs might have survived a couple of other misadventures on the way.

My grandfather fought with the Eighth army.

British troops head for the beach, on the first day  of the invasion of Sicily

British troops head for the beach, on the first day of the invasion of Sicily

He helped turn Rommel at the Battle of Alamein and had chased him through the desert, right to Tunisia.
Then he boarded a landing ship for Sicily.

He believed the shell that hit his tank on that beach was fired by a German 88.

This photograph was taken 80 years ago. I want to know who the Italian officer is

This photograph was taken 80 years ago. I want to know who the Italian officer is

The invasion didn’t go well. Paratroopers who were meant to secure the beach heads were blown off course.

The sea was choppy.

Then not long after getting onto the beach the 88 picked off my grandfather’s Sherman.
For my grandfather the war was now over.

But just where were those photographs?
Were they in the pocket of his tunic?

Surely they would have been taken when he reached the hospital.
But William Smillie’s war wasn’t over, just hours after been pulled from his burning tank, my grandfather headed for another brush with death.

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Galloping dung beetles

Look carefully and you will see them tearing up the desert on the hunt for dried turd.
This dung beetle does something none of their kin do-they gallop.
And why do they gallop?
That is the million dollar question the scientists want to answer.
They do have their suspicions; one of them is that the insect does it so it can keep count of its steps so it can find its way home.
But here is a video of the beetle in full stride.

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The search for a soldier without a name (part 4)-what a picture tells

I almost missed it.
At the time, Nelson Mandela was in hospital, and we in the media were expecting the worst.
So an anniversary slipped by without me noting it.
On June 26, eighty years ago a camera caught the black and white image of a young lieutenant in Turin, Italy.

This photograph was taken 80 years ago. I want to know who the Italian officer is

This photograph was taken 80 years ago. I want to know who the Italian officer is

He is all but a ghost now, a nameless man who looms large in my family’s lore.
All I have is a story, told by my grandfather William Findlay Smillie of how he had taken this photograph and nine others off an Italian prisoner of war in World War Two.
He said he never took personal effects from prisoners of war, but this Italian officer had pissed him off.
The officer had spat at him as he came to accept his surrender, and my grandfather had taken the butt of his rifle and slammed it against the man’s face.
My grandfather, William Findlay Smillie, in World War Two

My grandfather, William Findlay Smillie, in World War Two

That is all he told of this incident, that took place somewhere in the Western Desert.
And now I want to know who this man was, but finding him is proving difficult.
But there are clues to the man’s identity and they lie in that 80-year-old black and white photograph.
It took an expert to find them.
That expert was Hamish Paterson, a military historian at the Ditsong National Museum of Military History.
With magnifying glass in hand he picked up the threads of a story.
“What you have here is a newly minted lieutenant,” he said, “this picture was taken just after he was commissioned.”
From the number one on the man’s kepi, Hamish could tell that this new officer had been assigned to the 1st Divisional artillery regiment as a 2nd lieutenant.
The 1st Divisional artillery regiment, explained Hamish, were apart of the 22 Infantry Division Cacciatori delle Alpi
They were known as the Hunters of the Alps. During World War Two they served in France, Yugoslavia and Greece. Interestingly they weren’t in the Western Desert.
“What you are looking at here is a very special moment in someone’s life,” said Hamish.
Those looted photographs would have meant a lot to him
Back then in fascist Italy the young lieutenant, would have trained at the Military Academy of Infantry and Cavalry in Modena then would have spent two years at the Military Academy of Artillery and Engineers in Turin. He would have entered at the age of 17/18 and would have probably been 22 when the photograph was taken. The other man in the photograph, believes Hamish was his younger brother.
“Look at their noses, “they are the same.”
“By the outbreak of war, he was possibly a captain, by the time he was captured he might have been a major,” explained Hamish.
“There can’t be too many guys who graduated then.”
Find a photograph or a list of graduates from June 1933 and you find the man.

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Woodford distillery’s past comes to light with archaeology dig

Nice take on the rise of Bourbon in early 19 century Kentucky


Topic: Bourbon distillery; 1830’s

archaeological dig at early distillery yields valuable insights

Woodford distillery’s past comes to light with archaeology dig

VERSAILLES — One of Kentucky early distillers, Oscar Pepper, is making history again, this time about what early farm life was like in the Bluegrass.

Brown-Forman owns the Woodford Reserve Distillery near Versailles, on the site of the original Pepper distillery. Late this summer, archaeologists began excavating around the 1812 log cabin built by Elijah Pepper on a hill above Glenn’s Creek, where the first distillery and grist mill were built.

“We hoped to find any artifacts or architectural remains that would help fill in the picture of life there at the Pepper house,” said Dr. Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which is a partnership between the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology and the Kentucky Heritage Council.

McBride and the other archaeologists located an area…

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The Scottish Tourette’s mystery solved.

I get a phone call.
“Oh my God, switch on the TV.”
I flip stations until I get to the Nat Geo channel.
And there on the news room TV is the Tourette’s man.
The last time I saw Tourette’s man and his friend, he was walking down the aisles of a Spar supermarket, in the Scottish town of Arisaig, swearing to high heaven.

Paul Stevenson, on the left, is the man I believe I encountered in the Spar supermarket in Arisaig, Scotland

Paul Stevenson, on the left, is the man I believe I encountered in the Spar supermarket in Arisaig, Scotland

I thought he was looking for a fight, but then he apologised to me, saying he had Tourette’s syndrome.
But since I wrote a blog on my Tourette’s experience, I have been ridiculed, even laughed at.
Most doubted I encountered a Tourette’s suffer, let alone two.
It is a rare psychological disorder they told me.
“You fell for that, they were having you on Smillie,” said one arm chair psychologist.
“And everyone knows that only children can have Tourette’s syndrome,” explained a budding Dr Phil.
But here they were appearing on an episode of Strange Behaviours on the National Geographic channel.
The man, I believe, I encountered in the Spar supermarket that day was Paul Stevenson.
Now he, according to the programme, had come to the Highland town to find a secluded retreat, for Tourette sufferers.
He found it at the Arisaig camping site, where the owner’s daughter is a Tourette’s sufferer.
Since then Tourette sufferers have been coming here for a bit of R’nR and to juice up the town’s vocabulary.
Only wish they could have told us tourists about this.

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The grandmother of all newspaper corrections.

It is an embarrassing part of newspaper life.
But the New York Times took “for the record” writing to the extreme yesterday when they printed a correction for a story that appeared in their paper 136 years ago.
The correction is for the name of a police officer who was shot dead during a Saloon burglary.

The Times looked a little different 136 years ago

The Times looked a little different 136 years ago

The Times originally called him Officer McDonnell.
His name was McDowell.
According to their website, the error was noticed while researching a correction to a recent article about the history of the New York Yankees logo.
I guess the editor sending a snotty note to the offending journo is going to be challenging.

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Who killed George Harrison

Now this is a face that so easily could be staring at you from across the bar in a Highgate pub, a pint of London pride in his hand.

The face and the ball that did him in

The face and the ball that did him in

But modern he is not.
This is the facial reconstruction of a man exhumed from a 400-year-old grave.
He is also the face of America’s first whodunit.
For you see when they dug him up, archaeologists found a musket ball embedded in his leg.
But recently this murder mystery was solved and you can read about it here.

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The drug deal that almost happened

The plan was for a score.
Most us journos have had this assignment before.
Find a street corner where the view is unobstructed, so to allow a shooter to snap away, with a long lens, as the transaction goes down.

The Silkroad where everything is available

The Silkroad where everything is available

Hand the money over, and walk away with a bankie of weed.
Then back at the office bang out a 600 word story on the evils of drugs and how it has arrived at a street corner near you.
But this time it was going to be different.
I was going to have my editor’s credit card, to buy probably some black tar heroin.
This illicit exchange was to take place on a dark corner of the internet, on a website called The Silkroad.
For this transaction, we would have needed some bitcoins, and a monkey puzzle of a money trail to throw off any snooping narcs.
More merchandise

More merchandise

The Silkroad is a new drug market, where yuppies no longer have to climb out their bling cars and get their hands dirty on scummy street corners.
A little net savvy and a credit card is all that is needed to shop for any illegal drug known to man.
There would be other challenges to overcome. When you buy on The Silkroad the drug package gets to you courtesy of the global postal system. I would have to find a post box, where the police would be unable to set up a sting.
I thought about The Star’s mail room, as the drug drop. I would also need to get myself a good alias, and let the boys down there in the mail room know it was meant for me.
But our drug deal was never to be. On October 2, a man with a horse shoe porn moustache was tackled by squad of FBI agents in a San Francisco library. He turned out to be Ross Ulbricht, the alleged kingpin behind the Silkroad.
To the drug peddlers on The Silkroad he is better known as Dread Pirate Roberts.
Ross Ulbricht and his porn moustache

Ross Ulbricht and his porn moustache

So bang goes the story, but my guess is that soon there will be another shop setting up on that dark corner of the internet, all ready for a journalist drug buy.
Victory in the war against drugs. US authorities have now claimed the site

Victory in the war against drugs. US authorities have now claimed the site

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Hey w**ker, can I have some cheese with that, please.

F**k,” shouts Tattoo man.
“W**ker,” shouts his friend.
It is lunch time, and I am in a Spar supermarket in Arisaig, a port town on the West coast of Scotland.
From the sliding windows I can see a bay filled with yachts and beyond the bay are the craggy cliffs of the isle of Eigg.

The bay in Arisaig

The bay in Arisaig

Not much happens in Arisaig, until now.
I turn and see Tattoo man and his friend walking down an aisle. Tattoo man is carrying a shopping basket. Both have shaven heads and Tattoo man has tattoos inked on his worked arms. They are also wearing wife beater shirts.
Must be local soccer hooligans, those Brit tabloids always warn about, me thinks as I slip down the next aisle to avoid them.
Maybe they are here to score liquor before setting off to hunt down a football match.
Cheap Highland whisky to fuel a raid on the Arisaig Primary school soccer match, perhaps.
The sleepy town of Arisaig

The sleepy town of Arisaig

“Homosexual,” adds Tattoo man.
Could it be that homosexual is a swear word in Scotland.
“W**ker”, the friend says picking up a can of mushed peas.
“Homosexual”. Tattoo man is checking the price on a packet of crisps.
The other customers continue shopping as if deaf, oblivious to the rampage that is about to happen at their local football match.
I get to the till and, damn Tattoo man is ahead of me in the queue.
He eyes me and the two packs of sandwiches I hold in my hand.
“Would you like to go first?” He asks.
Okay, I say.
I get to the till.
I turn, slowly.
This is high noon time in the town of Arisaig.
“Sorry about that, we have Tourette’s syndrome,” he says.
He is blushing.
So all it is is just two guys with one of the rarest disorders in the world, doing a little shopping.

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Behind bars for ‘a sliver of green’

There was enough grass to roll a spliff the size of a toothpick.
Maybe half a toothpick. Not enough for a drag, or even to get high on.
But that sliver of green, clinging to the bottom of the stamp-sized bankie, was enough to get a man sent to jail on a day like this. And the only reason he was going to jail was because I was there watching him get arrested.

 Assuming the position...a couple of Westbury residents get an early morning frisk.

That old position again…a couple of Westbury residents get an early morning frisk.

This was a showboat arrest.
They were made famous back in the 1930s when crime fighter Eliot Ness would invite the press to watch him smash bottles of bootlegged booze with a sledgehammer.
He never did bring down that gangster Al Capone, but Eliot sure did get kilometres of column space in newspapers.
Now on the streets of Westbury, in the early morning light, Eliot’s ghost had to be smiling.
The SAPS’s flying squad were on the shakedown.
With arms stretched and palms pressed against garden walls, pedestrians assumed the stance.
They knew the drill, they had been searched countless times. Some smiled and laughed with the cops.
They even took off their shoes, to allow the cops to search for drugs hidden there.
These were working folk, part of the early morning rush. Why they would be carrying drugs on a cold winter’s morning beats me.
Everyone knows druggies rise late.
But the cops had to be seen to be doing something, for in two hours’ time Drug Watch, a LeadSA and Crime Line initiative, was to be launched at the Sophiatown police station.
Joburg was getting tough on drugs.
In the lead-up police would be conducting raids, tackling Westbury’s drug problem.
So with that, the suspect carrying the world’s smallest bankie was pulled over on Steytler Road.
Cameras clicked; the cops on this particular patrol had gotten their only drug bust of the morning.
Surely such a minuscule amount of weed wouldn’t stand up in court. Even if he had been released after a couple of hours in chookie, the damage could already have been done.
How do you tell your boss the reason you’re not at work is that you were caught with dagga? That is fireable stuff.
A drug user losing a job – isn’t that a pathway to crime?
Bankie man wasn’t alone.
Ten others were arrested with small amounts of drugs that morning on the streets of Westbury and Newclare.
But where were the drug dealers?
“Someone tipped them off,” said a bystander, who didn’t want to give his name.
He could point to at least a dozen drug dens and lolly lounges in the area. He knew the drug dealers by name, but everyone does in Westbury.
Later at the launch, Dereleen James warned about targeting the drug users.
Three months ago, James wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma pleading for his help in cleaning up Eldorado Park. She got her wish.
Her son is a drug user.
“The police during their operations need to be careful not to clamp down on the victims of drugs, but to go after the dealers,” she warned.
In those five days leading up to the launch of the campaign, there were 1 207 drug-related arrests in Gauteng.
Impressive numbers, but how many are users, the small fry in the drug network – the ones who need help?
If the guy with the bankie had been searched on the streets of Lisbon, he would not have gone to jail.
In 2001, the Portuguese government radically changed their drug laws. A new law kept drugs illegal but decriminalised the users.
A person can carry small amounts of drugs without fear of a criminal record.
The allowed weight for dagga is 25g.
If found to be in possession of small quantities of drugs, the user is issued with a summons. The suspect is then interviewed by a commission made up of a social worker, psychiatrist and an attorney.
There is no criminal record – the approach is to deal with the problem through therapy.
Drug dealers, however, are still prosecuted.
Ten years after the introduction of the new law, the Portuguese government noted a reduced burden of drug offenders on their criminal justice system.
There had also been an increase in the number of users taking up drug treatment while there was a drop in drug-related deaths. Drug seizures had also increased.
Ness may never have brought down Al Capone, the gangster who controlled illegal alcohol sales in Chicago.
However, his PR machine was so good that many believe he did.
Capone’s downfall came from good old-fashioned investigative grunt work – the only dogged approach that will bring the drug dealers to book and shut the lolly lounges for good.

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