Tuesday, April 11, 2017

War Watch by Karla Stover




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 bwlauthors.blogspot.com karla stover

April 1917--on the 6th, to be exact, the United States entered World War I. As wars are want to do, this one gave us a number of new inventions: hydrophones, pilot- less drones, air traffic control, tanks, flame throwers, poison gas, tracer bullets, interpreter gear, depth charges, aircraft carriers, mobile x-ray machines, wrist watches, camouflage, tube socks, and sanitary napkins.

In 1914, the Kinberly-Clark Company used processed wood to create "an absorbent wadding. "It was five times as absorbent as cotton and cost only half was much to produce; the product was dubbed Cellucotton. Kimberly-Clark gave up its profits and made Cellucotton available to the War Department at cost. After the war (1919), and faced the question of what to do with Cellucotton, the company hit upon the notion of marketing disposable sanitary napkins.

However, this blog is about wrist watches.

A 1916 New York Times article went as follows: “Until recently, the bracelet watch has been looked upon by Americans as more or less of a joke. Vaudeville artists and moving-picture actors have utilized it as a fun maker, as a ‘silly ass’ fad.”

Americans may have been looking at wrist watches as a joke, but not so men who fought in the Boer War. Soldiers jerry-rigged pocket watches to their wrists, making it possible to synchronize military moves. Then the war ended and a watch on a wrist became a female accoutrement. In 1912, that observer of all-things-feminine, the Times wrote that “The wrist watch is the fashion of the hour in Paris. It is worn over here by women who have to work as well as those who play. Not only that, but “it is the most useful piece of jewelry that has been invented for many decades. …"

Less than two years after the above comments on ladies' fashions, World War I began and a new type of watch evolved — trench watches, also called tank watches or campaign watches. They had enamel dials, wide white numerals on a black background, and a luminescent hour hand. Like its ancestor, the pocket watch, the trench watch had hinged front and back covers. They eventually became the look of the day for men’s fashions.

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, and telephone and signal services, which played important parts in modern warfare, made wearing a watch obligatory. By the time the Great Depression came on, wristwatch production had eclipsed pocket-watch production; by World War II, the pocket watch was obsolete.  As one newspaper pointed out, “The Great War in 1919 made the world safe for men who wear wrist-watches.” For historical fiction writers like me, knowing little details such as these is imperative. My book, Murder, When One Isn't Enough should have included a bibliography. My bad. However, in my defense, my family has deep roots on Hood Canal where the book takes place. Many now-deceased family members who lived there had friends older than they, and who told stories of their days fishing and  logging. We hiked all over the hills and fished in many of the lakes. My descriptions, observations, and dialogues are as accurate as possible. To me, historical accuracy is important.  A recent article in the Guardian, a British daily newspaper, tackled the question. It quotes author Sarah Churchwell, who claimed that some historical novelists use "poetic license" as an excuse for sloppy or minimal research, and novelist Sarah Dunant, "who argued forcefully that authors have a responsibility to not present readers with deliberately false information about a historical character or period, and to make clear how much they have invented." However, S. J. Parris felt differently. "Although I do agree with Churchwell on the paramount importance of meticulous research," he told the Guardian, ."novelists are not history teachers. It's not our job to educate people, and if we start using words like "duty" and "responsibility" about historical fiction – or any fiction – we're in danger of leaching all the vigour (sic) out of it with a sense of worthiness." Apparently, historical accuracy is whether the writer wants to do the research and whether the book buyers care about accuracy. As an historian, that laissez faire  attitude makes me crazy.


 
 








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