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The British-Jewish Pilot that accidentally made a 4300-strong Italian garrison surrender their island

In July 1943 the fascist regime in Italy fell. It ended Benito Mussolini’s 21 year-long fascist regime. The crucial external element in the toppling of Mussolini had been the allied landings in North Africa in November the year before. Besides the landings in North Africa, the allied powers also emerged victorious in their siege of Malta, an island to the south of Italy. They established a base there from which they used to dispatch Royal Air Force fighter planes over Italy and bombing raids over Axis-controlled territories.

Sydney Cohen

During such a flight mission on June 12th 1943, 22-year-old sergeant Sydney Cohen, a young Jewish RAF pilot from London, flew his Swordfish bi-plane back to the base in Malta. He had looked for, but failed to locate a supposedly crashed German aircraft in the Mediterranean sea. On his way back, Cohen got lost due to problems with his compass, however, and flew past Malta towards the North African coast. In Cohen’s words: ‘the compass had a fit of the gremlins.’ Realising his aircraft didn’t have enough fuel to return to Malta, it was necessary to find a landing base to refuel. As such, he made the emergency landing on an island much smaller and much further south than Malta: Lampedusa. 

 The island he stumbled upon had a large landing strip, and he managed to reach the ground safely. Now, Cohen didn’t yet know it, but the fact he ran out of fuel seemed to become the least of his worries. The thing with Lampedusa was that it wasn’t yet under allied control. A garrison of around 4300 Italians held the island despite constant allied bombings. Cohen made the emergency landing on Lampedusa, between “burnt-out aircraft everwhere.” He recounted there were big holes in the field, as a result from the constant bombing by allied aircraft. But as he got out of his plane, he was immediately approached by Italian soldiers, wearing a “Tyrolean hat, with long plumed feathers, a leather jacket, khaki shorts and high boots”, as Cohen recalled.

Cohen put his hands up in surrender. However, the Italians didn’t accept it. Instead, the Italian soldiers exclaimed, “no, no – we surrender!” A little bit baffled, Cohen was then led to the commander of the island. When Cohen arrived at the island’s headquarters, a dozen Lockheed P-38 Lightning came over for another bombing raid over the island. During that bombing raid, the harbour was destroyed, and Cohen could see why the Italians wanted to surrender: they were sitting ducks. The commander then confirmed the surrender by signing a scrap of paper, which he gave to Cohen. As Cohen refilled his Swordfish bi-plane another pattern bombing occurred, and four fighter-bombers zoomed over the island, saw the markings on Cohen’s aircraft and turned around. Eventually, Cohen managed to refuel his plane and take off. He didn’t fly to Malta, but to a United States base in Tunisia to officially deliver the document of surrender to Allied command.

When news reached the United Kingdom of this pilot that managed to force an island with 4300 Italian soldiers to surrender, the propaganda value obviously knew no bounds. Mainly because this happened during a time when morale was low. The News Chronicle, a British newspaper, titled Cohen the ‘King of Lampedusa’. The Sunday Pictorial ran the front-page headline “Lampedusa Gives in to Sgt. Cohen!” Basically, this mass surrender was one of the first victories in a much larger operation that would eventually lead to the demise of the Axis powers.

The joy of this event didn’t just remain in newspapers. Within the Jewish community, Cohen quickly became a well-known hero. S.J. Charendorf, a playwright, actually wrote a Yiddish play about Cohen’s story. Due to legal issues, the main character was named Sam Kagan, but the narrative was based on Cohen. The play, titled the King of Lampedusa, was one of the most successful Yiddish productions ever. There were 200 non-stop performances and was broadcast by the BBC, boosting British morale. The play didn’t go unnoticed in Germany either, and Lord Haw-Haw, the British Nazi propaganda broadcaster to the United Kingdom, even threatened the theatre in East End with Luftwaffe bombings if they continued to stage the play. Even Cohen himself saw the play in 1944 while on leave in Haifa. 

The film rights to this play were sold to director Walter Sistrom. Unfortunately, he died due to a burst appendix on a plane to Hollywood, and nobody knows what happened to the film rights he bought. As such, a film about Cohen’s adventure was never made. An article from 2001 reveals that director Arnold Schwartzman has been interested in the story of Cohen and wants to create both a documentary and a feature film about his story. According to his filmography, Schwartzman released the documentary “Anna and the King of Lampedusa” in 2006, 3 years after he initially planned it. As for the feature film, I cannot find anything on it. Schwartzman has done interviews with still-living people that knew Cohen and used newspaper articles for his story. It tracks Cohen, who was an orphan and became a tailor’s cutter, working in the sweatshops of the East End until he joined the RAF.

Unfortunately, Sidney Cohen himself couldn’t enjoy his new-found fame for too long. In August 1946, following the second world war, he disappeared over the straits of Dover. He most likely crashed because he was notorious for flying low and recklessly. And, well, that is the tale of the RAF soldier that, on his own, managed to force an entire Italian garrison to surrender and become somewhat of a war-hero in the process.

If you enjoy House of History and want to support my work consider checking me on Patreon. For just 1$ a month you will gain access to the exclusive Patreon series. If there is a person or event from the Second World War you would like to know more about, let me know your thoughts in a comment. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next time! 

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The Oldest Kiss in the World

Welcome to House of History. As I was researching this video, which is about the oldest kiss in the world, I stumbled upon the world record of the longest kiss in the world. Apparently, in 2011 a Thai couple has managed to establish the new record: 46 hours, 24 minutes and 9 seconds. They beat the record by two Germans from 2009 that spent 32 hours, 7 minutes and 14 seconds kissing. Right. I doubt you’d ever want to kiss again after such an experience, but okay. Now, today I’m not going to talk about people that kiss longer than most people have ever been awake in one go. I want to talk about the oldest kiss in the world. I’m talking about the so-called Hasanlu lovers, an incredible archaeological find. Excavated in 1972, this “kiss” is estimated to have lasted for 2800 years and still fascinates archaeologists and the world alike. We’ll also be looking at some other rare archaeological finds of remains discovered in a loving embrace.

Teppe Hasanlu is an ancient city located in north-western Iran. It was inhabited from approximately 6000 BC to 300 AD, and nowadays there are still attempts by institutions to get the entire site to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And that isn’t too odd; in fact, it is rather strange the site isn’t on the list already. The city was destroyed in a fire during the 9th century BC, in effect rendering an entire layer of the city frozen in time. Knowing this, archaeologists had a field day: pots and pans, skeletons, artefacts and constructions remain preserved in the layer to be studied. Now, between 1956 and 1974 a team of scientists and archaeologists of the Metropolitan Museum in New York in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania excavated the archaeological site. Already in 1957 the archaeologists Robert Dyson discovered the Golden bowl of Hasanlu. The bowl was of solid gold and preserved in a great state, and estimated to be well over 3200 years old!

Besides the bowl, it was this excavation that lasted for 18 years that led to another surprising discovery. In 1972 two human remains were found on the excavation site. Now, there were 246 skeletons found in total, so that isn’t too rare. No, what was really surprising was the position of the remains. Apparently, this couple had been lying there, embracing each other in a kissing position for thousands of years. They were nicknamed ‘the Lovers’ and upon discovery became famous throughout the world.

So do we know what happened in the lead up to their deaths? It is assumed the couple died during a battle for control over Teppe Hasanlu during the 8th century BC. The 246 other skeletons found at the site and the injuries they sustained support that thesis. The Lovers, I’ll call them, sought refuge in a hole which must have collapsed on top of them leading to suffocation. They died together in an endearing embrace. Carbon-dating confirms them passing away around 800 before Christ, so a bit over 2800 years ago. The right skeleton was confirmed as being a man because of his pelvis structure. For a long time, it was assumed the way the man is positioned makes it seem he protected his lover as she was kissing him. 

New research shows that the body on the right is a young adult between the age of 19 and 22, whereas the other skeleton is between 30 and 35. This skeleton’s gender cannot be determined for sure, but there are studies that state both skeletons were male. And because no scientific research has conclusively confirmed the gender of the skeleton on the left, there is still an ongoing debate what the relationship between the remains was. 

Although the Lovers of Hansalu are technically the “oldest kiss” in the world, there are more examples, although they are rare, of skeletons excavated in a romantic position. The Lovers of Valdaro, for instance. Excavated in 2007 in San Giorgio near Mantua, Italy, human remains from the Neolithic era were found. Now to put that into perspective: archaeologists concluded the remains were over 6000 years old! Two skeletons appear to be embracing each other, looking in each other’s eyes as they died. The remains were of a man and woman, around 20 years old, face to face with their arms and legs intertwined. Thing is, these so-called double burials, where a couple is buried together were rare, if not unique during the Neolithic period. Certainly for Italy: this is the only double-burial from this era discovered. The region the couple was discovered was great for preservation: it consisted of marshland and rivers, which is why the skeletons were preserved so well. 

Lovers of Valdaro

So then there is the big question: how did they die? It is a bit of irony, but Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is situated in Verona, very closeby to where the lovers were found. Unfortunately, their deaths were probably a bit less romantic than in Shakespeare’s work. Well, the man had an arrow in his spinal column and the woman had an arrowhead in her side. The head archaeologist, Elena Maria Menotti, had this to say about the discovery: “We have never found a man and a woman embraced before and this is a unique find. We have found plenty of women embracing children but never a couple. Much less a couple hugging΄and they really are hugging. It’s possible that the man died first and then the woman was killed in sacrifice to accompany his soul. From an initial examination they appear young as their teeth are not worn down but we have sent the remains to a laboratory to establish their age at the time of death. They are face to face and their arms and legs are entwined and they are really hugging.”

If you’re interested, the skeletons are on permanent display in their own rooms in the Archaeological Museum of Mantua! 

Alright, so the last example I want to talk about is an interesting one as well. Closeby our previous example, in Modena, Italy, a couple was found that had been holding hands for 1600 years! These “lovers of Modena” were unearthed in 2009 and the media’s attention was drawn to it because of their seemingly romantic position. The skeletons had degraded to a point where archaeologists had difficulty establishing the gender of both skeletons. In 2019 a team of scientists ran teeth-analysis on the couple in order to determine their gender. Both skeleton’s teeth contained a protein called amelogenin isoform Y, a protein that is only found in the teeth of men. In the study, the scientists wrote “We suggest that the ‘Lovers of Modena’ burial represents a voluntary expression of commitment between two individuals,” and that they were uncertain if the reason for their position was romantic or not. 

It could very well have been the two were war friends. 11 other skeletons were found at the excavated site, all of them with injuries suggestion they died during a war. These two bodies could have been friends and have been lumped together in a grave because of that, according to the researchers. Or they could have been cousins or brothers due to their age, sharing the grave because of their family bond. The researchers reasoned that they could not be sure the two weren’t in a romantic relationship, but it is unlikely that [the] people who buried them decided to show such [a] bond by positioning their bodies hand in hand.” Many of the people in the region had converted to Christianity by the time the men were buried, and authorities held a negative view of same-sex relationships, although admittedly Greek and Roman culture did allow for very intimate bonds between men to be expressed, and even encouraged.

Now as for the Hasanlu Lovers debate will continue about the gender of the skeletons since there cannot be a conclusive decision on the left skeleton. Nevertheless, it makes for a fascinating archaeological find and all three cases are, in my opinion, incredibly interesting.

I would like to thank all my Patrons for their generous support. If you enjoy House of History and want to support my work consider checking me on Patreon. For just 1$ a month you will gain access to the exclusive Patreon series. If there is a person or event from the Second World War you would like to know more about, let me know your thoughts in a comment. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next time! 

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History of Barbed Wire

During the twentieth century, barbed wire became the symbol of war, death, destruction and human suffering. We all know the imagery from the First World War, the no-mans-land littered with barbed wire and bodies hanging in it. But it didn’t just remain in the First World War, after all, barbed wire is insanely effective and cost-efficient. During the Second World War, the Germans eagerly used it for concentration camps, and after the war, the iron curtain and the primitive version of the Berlin wall consisted of barbed wire. 

And it is still used to protect borders and to imprison dangers to society even today. But the invention of this symbol of war wasn’t out of any military necessity. During the late 19th century a businessman and cattle-rancher from the United States wanted to keep his cattle in a particular area and did some experimenting. Little did he know his invention would not just change his personal fortune, but the history of the United States and the entire world. His invention brought an end to the Wild West, and greatly influenced the way warfare was conducted in the century afterwards. There is a reason why Native Americans referred to barbed wire as the ‘Devil’s rope.’

Early versions

Barbed wire was invented in 1874 by the American businessman and rancher Joseph Farwell Glidden. It is the type of barbed wire we still know today, robust, sturdy and cost-efficient. It’s effective in its simplicity: two steel wires wrapped along with barbs at regular intervals. Glidden initially invented it as a way to enclose cattle on massive American ranches and to mark private property. 

Before we get to Glidden’s version of barbed wire we know today, I want to take a quick look at its earlier versions. 

Because in 1860 Léonce Eugène Grassin-Baledan, a French inventor received a patent for his version of barbed wire. He created a form that was used to protect trees against wildlife and animals. It is said this version did what it was meant to do, but it was challenging to produce and use on a large scale. Farmers and ranchers didn’t necessarily see a use for it yet. Seven years later Lucien B. Smith obtained a patent on his version of barbed wire, which he named “thorny wire”,  although that too didn’t see any mass-production or use. According to a Popular Science article, between 1867 and 1874 over 200 different patents for “spiked fencing” were processed. There were variations in the design; some had alternating spikes or wood with studded tips. But all of these types of barbed wire were still made by hand, thus making it inefficient for mass production.

Now, as for Joseph Glidden, his success was in part thanks to the favourable circumstances. His timing was perfect and his product was better than that of his competitors because it could be mechanically-produced. As for the timing, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act opened up millions of acres. Any adult could apply and claim 160 hectares if they were willing to settle on, and farm the land. But because of the rough conditions, there was a lack of trees, and wooden fences weren’t that efficient to close off land. 

In the little American town of Dekalb in Illinois, Glidden purchased 243 hectares of ground where he wanted to establish a cattle ranch. It was challenging to keep the cattle in the enclosed area; the story goes that the cattle regularly broke out, only to start grazing in the vegetable garden his wife tended to. After some brainstorming Joseph thought of a solution: he bought multiple rolls of iron wire. He then used a coffee mill to wrap the wire tightly around barbs, and used a second wire to keep the barbs in place. The final product was very effective. It kept the cattle in check and at the same time was a great way to mark his lands. 

He patented barbed wire in 1874, but before long questions arose about its originality. Glidden ended up involved in a legal dispute, which was not settled until 1892. You can view the original case of 1892 on the official website, of which the link is in the description. Already before Glidden won the case he established the “Barb’s Fence Company” in DeKalb. It led to him rapidly earning enough to become a wealthy and affluent businessman. Glidden ended up with five patents on barbed wire and by 1877 he was already producing three million pounds of barbed wire annually. 

Because of its simplicity news rapidly spread and in the region dozens of barbed wire factories sprung up. Not all of these factories held the patent, and as such, the illegal production of barbed wire too increased. One of the best examples is that of John “Bet-A-Million” Warne Gates. According to the Texas State Historical Association, he built the largest manufacturer and distributor of unlicensed non-patented, so-called moonshine, barbed wire, earning him quite the fortune.

The popularity of barbed wire grew across the nation, and as news about this efficient method to keep cattle enclosed spread throughout the United States, everyone wanted a piece. The wire, at first glance, didn’t seem as sturdy as a wooden fence. So imagine the surprise when a cheap and seemingly weak wire managed to stop cattle from breaking out. It only added to the enthusiasm surrounding the product.

To give you an idea: in 1884 the newspaper ‘The Prairie Farmer’ published a special edition about the ‘phenomenon that in industrialised history has met no equal.’ And the sales numbers backed that up. In 1882 the same newspaper published some statistics about barbed wire: that year 82 million kilos were sold, an 18000-fold increase since 1874. Joseph Gidden managed to become a millionaire, a rare feat at the time. Throughout the years he became, besides a businessman, the sheriff, member of the Board of Supervisors of Dekalb County and member of the executive committee of agriculture. In 1876 he even was the candidate for the democratic party for the US Senate elections. At the time of Glidden’s death in 1906, he was among the richest men of the United States, having a net worth of around a million dollars including the Glidden House Hotel, the DeKalb Rolling Mill, a factory, the DeKalb Chronicle newspaper and farming grounds in Illinois and Texas. The little town Glidden in Iowa is named after him.

Barbed Wire in War

The invention of barbed wire did influence the history of the United States significantly, and world history as well. As for the United States, it led to the rapid progression of the final stage of colonisation and the trek westward. Barbed wire made it incredibly easy to enclose private territory, which led to an end of the real Wild West. 

The volume of confrontations between farmers and cattle ranchers increased. Farmers that marked their territory with barbed wire in effect closing it off to third parties, and made it impossible for other cattle to graze on it. There even is a Lucky Luke story about this development: Barbed Wire on the Prairie. In effect, the cowboys and cattle ranchers had to start sharing the Wild West with farmers. Because of the ability to fence off property, the gap between landless and landowning-classes became more apparent than it had been. 

By 1885, only 11 years after Glidden started the mass-production of barbed wire, the entire Texas Panhandle was wired. Its effects, aside from clashes between cattle ranchers and farmers, was disastrous for wildlife. Suddenly many animals could not exploit their natural habitat anymore, losing meadows they grazed on or springs they used to drink out of. Wild buffalo, known for having impaired vision, could not see the wire and often became entangled in it, dying of hunger, thirst or their wounds. It was the reason Native Americans referred to it as the devil’s rope.

Aside from the Wild West, barbed wire became an icon of the horrors of the First World War. . Aside from the trenches, it was used to close off borders. One of the notorious examples is the Dodendraad, the wire of death: a lethal electric fence put up by the German military to control the Dutch-Belgian border during the First World War. These fences were put up to prevent smuggling and military desertions. The wire of death on the border caused dozens of deaths between 1915 and 1918, often killing smugglers, but occasionally unaware citizens too. 

But the Dodendraad is a pretty uncommon example for the use of barbed wire. Because trench warfare and the no man’s land between the German and French trenches are more potent icons of the misery of the First World War. Over a million miles of barbed wire was laid out on the Western front during the war. Everyone knows the photographs of bodies hanging in it. During this war barbed wire became a symbol of the hopelessness of trench warfare and the millions of lives wasted on the frontlines, in suicidal charges. 

Yet although it was deadly and used for those horrors, we cannot deny its success. A testament to the success of barbed wire is the incredible amount of variations of it. In Jack Glover’s ‘The Bobbed Wire Bible’, published in 1972, over 700 types of barbed wire knots are listed. And even nowadays developments aren’t finished yet. In the 1980s the substance of the steel wires was mixed with carbon fibre, creating more flexible, yet still strong and durable wires. By subjecting the wires to extreme heat the carbon molecules crystallised. Evoking this chemical reaction, in short drastically decreases the weight of the wire whilst maintaining its strength. In addition, during the early 21st century, the contents of the coating of anti-rust for the wire changed. This led to the tripling, if not quadrupling of the life expectancy of barbed wire. As such even though officially barbed wire entered the stage during the 19th century, and it changed the entire world, even today it is still not done developing.

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The Millionaire that pranked Canada from beyond the grave

Hey, welcome to House of History. Today I’m going to tell you about Charles Vance Millar, who definitely is one of the most colourful characters in Canada’s history, but only truly managed to rise to fame, or perhaps infamy, after his death. During Millar’s lifetime, he already made a name for himself. He was a Canadian corporation lawyer and financier and for that time he amassed a considerable fortune. He was part-owner of the O’Keefe Brewery, acquired BC Express Company, gained the government mail delivery contracts in Northern British Columbia and he was an avid fan of horse-racing, owning several horses himself. All in all, he was a rather successful man. Now, during his lifetime, Millar’s became known as quite the practical joker, and he was notorious for connecting his humorous jokes to the price of people’s ethics. Some anecdotes state that he would often leave money on the sidewalk and enjoy to see people rush and pick it up, and other small innocent pranks like that.

Charles Vance Millar

But his final prank was undoubtedly his greatest. In order for it to be successful, he required quite a bit of patience, and he wouldn’t even be there to enjoy the end results. Honestly, I believe Millar’s elaborately planned prank easily make him one of the greatest pranksters of history. So what did he do? Well, on the 7th of June 1921 at the age of 68 he wrote his will. After a poor relationship as a young man, he never married and he didn’t have children. His parents had passed away long before him and as such he probably figured he could play a prank with the businesses and capital he would leave after he passes. In his will, Millar bequeathed his entire estate, but it would take five more years for anyone to find out to whom, and on what conditions.

Millar died of a heart attack on the 31st of October 1926, at the age of 73. The will was filed with Ontario’s Surrogate’s Court, and the opening passage revealed the general tendency of the entire inheritance:

“This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependants or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death, and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime”.

Alright, so there were 4 bequests that were humorous in the short term and one that I’ll leave for last, that basically rocked the entire province of Ontario and Canada as a whole for an entire decade. 

Part of Millars will

To begin with, Millar owned a vacation home on the island of Jamaica. As a lawyer, over the years he met several other lawyers that he knew detested each other. In his will, Millar bequeathed his Jamaica holiday home to all three lawyers who shared joint lifetime tenancy. After their deaths, the property would be sold and the proceeds would be distributed among the poor of the city. But until that moment these three lawyers now were joint owners of a holiday home. During his lifetime Millar had already sold his home and as such we’ll never find out how this would have went on.

The next bequest was about his shares of the O’Keefe brewery stock. He gave each practising Protestant minister and every Orange Lodge member, an international Protestant fraternity, in Toronto a share, but only if they participated in its management and drew on its dividends. Now, that shouldn’t be a problem, should it? Thing is, the O’Keefe brewery was a Catholic business. But that’s not all, it was Protestant ministers that led the Temperance movement, a movement that propagates the abstinence from alcohol. A practical problem within the company’s structure prevented the legates from receiving their money initially, until the brewery was sold for 1.35 million dollars in 1928. Every protestant minister and Orange Lodger that accepted the bequest ended up receiving 56 dollars and 38 cents. 

As for his very valuable stocks of the Ontario Jockey Club, the horseracing track, Millar bequeathed these to two very vocal opponents of horse racing, William Raney and reverend Samuel Chown. These men were known as moral pillars of the community. A third man who hated the Ontario Jockey Club, Abe Orpen, received shares as well. Orpen owned several horse-racing tracks in Canada and due to his shady reputation was not allowed to become a member of this Jockey Club, his competitor. He thus received a share of his most important rival. But there was a catch: all three men had to become shareholders within three years. Contrary to most reports only Orpen accepted his share, once again proving Millar’s notion that some men’s morals have their price. Still, Raney and Chown’s shares were supposedly given to charity.

Lastly Millar left one stock of the Kenilworth Jockey Club to each practising ministers of three towns close to Ontario. Obviously accepting the stocks would go against a certain moral conviction for these ministers, and there was quite a public struggle on whether they would accept the stock or not. Thing is, the Kenilworth Jockey Club wasn’t publicly traded, and after the embarrassing public struggle it turned out the share was worth around half a cent. 

But although these clauses were funny in itself and caused a public uproar, it was clause 9 that really did the trick and dominated the news for a long time to come. Basically, Millar left the rest of his estate to the mother that would be able to give birth to the most children in the ten years following his death. As such, the Great Stork Derby began. Clause 9 read: 

All the rest and residue of my property wheresoever situate I give, devise and bequeath unto my Executors and Trustees named below in Trust to convert into money as they deem advisable and invest all the money until the expiration of nine years from my death and then call in and convert it all into money and at the expiration of ten years from my death to give it and its accumulations to the Mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children as shown by the Registrations under the Vital Statistics Act. If one or more mothers have equal highest number of registrations under the said Act to divide the said moneys and accumulations equally between them.

In short: the woman in Toronto that would in the ten years after Millar’s death have the most babies would receive the remainder of Millar’s estate. Right, so some other things were set in motion during these ten years that Millar could not have known about. For one, the great depression from 1929 led to a massive unemployment wave in Canada. Jobs were very scarce and families often were fully unemployed: around a quarter and a third of all working-age Canadians were out of work in 1933. As such, by 1929 some families started to seriously consider the Great Stork Derby as an only viable way to survive and have any income. 

The thing is, due to a fortunate sequence of events the value of Millar’s left-over estate increased significantly. He had made some long-term investments, for example, in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. He invested 2 dollars, but his share would be worth over 100.000 dollars by the time the Stork derby was over. His entire estate was valued at around 750.000 dollars by the time the derby was over. Considering the minimum wage was 12 dollar 50 for a 60-hour workweek, even a fraction of Millar’s estate could lift many families out of poverty.

Throughout the years, several mothers that were ‘competing’ became famous in Canada and the Derby itself became famous around the world. Though many women that were in the race didn’t necessarily have their children because of it, and would probably have had large families if it wasn’t for the derby either. Anyway, after a decade of a media spectacle, the Great Depression and an ever-increasing estate, by 1936 the results were in.

Four women eventually tied “first place” with nine babies each. All four received 125.000 dollars each. In the aftermath of the great depression, this windfall obviously was lifechanging. Two other women were awarded 12500 dollars after a court battle. One of them had an uncertain claim because of two stillborn children when Millar’s will expressly stated ‘live children’. A very sad and grim twist to an otherwise funny and curious event. The other woman simply cheated on her husband and bore several illegitimate children.

All in all, Charles Vance Millar ended up indirectly fathering 36 children, and another 16 of the two women with disqualified claims. Not bad for someone that never had any children himself. According to a news article, the four families that won the fortune spent it in a very responsible manner. They bought a home and a car and provided a proper education for their children. As for Millar, 10 years after his death and during the worst economic crisis in history, he managed to improve the lives of six families with his final and incredibly sensational practical joke.

If you enjoy House of History and want to support my work consider checking me on Patreon. For just 1$ a month you will gain access to the exclusive Patreon series. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next time! 

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The Last Missing Japanese Soldier to be found after World War 2

Welcome to House of History. Today I want to talk about one of the longest missing, presumed dead, Japanese soldiers that turned up alive. Now the aftermath of the Second World War was incredibly chaotic and missing Japanese soldiers that turned up years later weren’t that rare initially. One of the most curious cases must have been that of Hiroo Onoda, one of the last Japanese soldiers to surrender after the Second World War. He held out for close to another 30 years after the war ended and astonished the world by emerging in 1974, still wearing the uniform he wore during the war. If you haven’t heard of him, don’t worry: I’ll link my video about him in the description.

Ishinosuke Uwano

But today I want to talk about another bizarre case, one that arguably is more bizarre than Onoda’s case. Ishinosuke Uwano was last seen by his family when he went off to fight in the Second World War. Uwano was drafted to the Imperial Japanese Army as a teenager and in 1943 he was sent to Sakhalin Island, to the north of Japan. The northern part was occupied by the Soviets, with the Japanese on the south. When in august 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, they rapidly invaded and seized the remaining half of the island. All Japanese soldiers that surrendered were forced into a prisoner of war camps, frequently spending decades in these gulags.

And as for Uwano, well, after the Second World War ended, he didn’t come home. Now, it wasn’t rare for the Soviet Union to send captured Japanese off to labour camps which was assumed had happened to him. And Uwano wasn’t a rare case of a missing soldier either; there were thousands of Japanese that were either left stranded on islands in the pacific, perished in gulags or were never found again and probably killed in action. The last part did not happen to Uwano for sure because the last confirmed sighting of him was on the Sakhalin island in 1958. Other sources state that year was the last time he had been in touch with his family. Either way: it was certain he was alive by 1958. One theory goes that once he found himself behind enemy lines on the island, he tried to survive in the wilderness of Sakhalin. After realising Japan had lost the war he must have surrendered himself to the Soviet Union. Even today the Sakhalin island remains Russian territory, so it isn’t too odd for Uwano to surrender himself after realising there would be no Japanese counter-offensive.

Uwano during the Second World War, ca. 1943

Now it is certain Uwano was put in a forced labour camp for several years, if not decades after the war. But it is blurry what exactly happened after 1945 and after 1958. What is certain is that in 1965 Uwano somehow ended up in Ukraine, probably after he was allowed to resettle by the former Soviet government. He moved to Zhytomyr, a city in central Ukraine. Over there, he married a local woman and raised three children, living his life closed-off from his past for multiple decades. Considering the last sighting was in 1958, his family tried their best to locate him in the following decades, but without any success. In 2000 they gave up hope of ever finding him alive, assuming he probably perished in a forced labour camp. Even the Japanese health ministry, which was tasked with finding missing overseas veterans, said they believed Uwano had died. So imagine the surprise when the Japanese embassy in Ukraine contacted them in 2006 saying that Uwano came to them and asked them to locate his surviving family in Japan.

So why didn’t he reach out to them earlier? According to Uwano, the Soviet government prevented him from contacting his family and considering the circumstances that is very likely. The Soviet Union was notorious for being secretive. Since Uwano seems to have been both captured and moved to Ukraine at the height of the Cold War, it is understandable the Soviet Union didn’t feel like informing the Japanese government, let alone Uwano’s family. When the Japanese embassy of Ukraine reached out to the family, the Japanese government prepared for Uwano to come over to Japan. It finally happened in 2006, when Uwano was 83 years old, as he arrived at Tokyo airport to meet his family he hadn’t seen in over 60 years. His Japanese was rusty, which is understandable, after all, he hadn’t spoken Japanese in 6 decades. Because he was declared legally dead in 2000, he could only visit Japan as a Ukrainian tourist instead of an actual citizen, something the Japanese government promised to resolve. 

I wish I could tell you more about Uwano, but literally all sources are of his visit from 2006, which lasted for 9 days. I don’t think there has been an English news-outlet that has done a follow-up article. It is curious, because even today, 14 years later, Uwano is still alive. He is currently 97 years old and although the Japanese government said that they would try to give him back his Japanese citizenship, I assume he is still living in Ukraine. 

Although Uwano is the last missing Japanese soldier to turn up, the year previous to his discovery there was another fascinating case. In 2005 a media-craze erupted about supposedly missing Japanese soldiers. On the island of Mindanao two men, Yashio Yamawa who was  87 years old and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, who was 85 years old, claimed they had been Japanese soldiers during the second world war. It seems these men knew the war was over but decided to remain on the island to start a new life. Not quite for any easy reasons though: according to the men they had stayed on the island for 60 years because they feared returning home. It was because of their fear of being court-martialed for getting lost from their division during the fighting. Now, if you’re interested in Hidoo Orona, the soldier that emerged from the jungle in 1974 to surrender his weapons finally, then make sure you watch that video after this one. I’ll link it here.