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Thursday, July 19, 2012

V for Victory Anniversary July 25

Hilda van Stockum, The Mitchells, Cover
The Mitchells, 1945 [Click here for link]

On July 25, 1941, the New York Times reported, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced a plan to take back Europe from Hitler, called "V for Victory".

This was also the subtitle of Hilda van Stockum's book The Mitchells, which is about the World War II effort as seen through the eyes of her five children growing up in Washington, DC.

We were in Washington because my father E.R. "Spike" Marlin, HvS's husband, was an early recruit to the management ranks of FDR's New Deal, via a competitive Civil Service exam he took in 1933 after FDR's administration had taken over. He worked for the Farm Credit Administration, the Civil Service Commission, and the Budget Bureau before the war broke out. After the war he want back to the Budget Bureau.

How did the war affect the Mitchell and Marlin families? The reality was quite close to the fictionalized story, with some important differences. Here are ten of the ways the war affected the family as described in the first 26 pages of the book, with some comments on the reality of the story:

1. On page 1, Joan is teary-eyed because Daddy is leaving to be drafted. The five children and Grannie are at Union Station to see them off. Uncle Jim has already been drafted. Fact: Daddy was exempted from the draft because he was working for the Federal Government already. But he was  taken away from Washington work for the OSS in Dublin and then London, after a period of training with firearms and OSS protocols.

2. Daddy is described as an electrical engineer. Fact: He actually concentrated in history and political science at Trinity College, Dublin. He was recruited by the OSS because he had many Irish friends and his first post was in Ireland where he worked with the Irish and British intelligence services on the activities of the German and Japanese representatives in Ireland.

3. Uncle Jim had already enlisted. Fact: Dr. Willem Jacob van Stockum, HvS's brother, who was teaching at the University of Maryland, was subject to the draft although a Dutch citizen. WvS got a deferral to complete his academic year at Maryland. The American military apparently wanted him to work on the bomb and he wanted to see action, so WvS volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he became a bomber flying instructor and then a pilot of a Halifax bomber.

4. To skip to the end of the book - both Daddy and Uncle Jim return. Fact:  HvS's husband returned from the war, but her brother Willem perished after a series of successful bombing runs on German-occupied France during the week of the Normandy landing, June 1944. He flew with the Royal Air Force in 1943 and 1944, and was shot down over Laval, France on June 10, 1944. He is buried with the other six members of his crew and with the seven members of another Halifax bomber on the same mission.

5. On page 10, Peter makes the point that in a war people have to leave home, even if it isn't safe.

6. On page 11, the taxi driver explains that he is too old to be drafted, but has two sons in Italy.

7. On page 20, Uncle Jim is described by the children as braver than Daddy because Uncle Jim enlisted. Mother explains: "Uncle Jim had no one else to worry about while Daddy has all of you as well as Grannie and me."

The NYTimes Story
on V for Victory
8. On pages 21-22 the three eldest children discuss the fact that Mother is not looking so well and wonder what they can do to help her and help win the war. Prices have risen and military pay is not as good as private-company pay. The "V for Victory" (Five for Victory) idea is something they come up with as the name of a club to make a contribution to the war effort. Their first ideas were to earn war stamps and save scrap. Fact:  The V for Victory slogan was picked up in the United States - Victory Gardens were one manifestation. Prices did rise a lot during World War II, but were kept down by (1) sale of Victory Bonds via stamps sold in denominations as small at ten cents, which took purchasing power out of the economy, and (2) price controls.

9. On page 25, the two club songs of the V for Victory club are "Anchors Aweigh" for Daddy and "Into the Wild Blue Yonder" for Uncle Jim. Fact:
Daddy was in the OSS (the World War II-era U.S. intelligence service, succeeded by the CIA), but two of his brothers were in the Navy; both returned. Uncle Willem was in the air force, but not the U.S. Air Force.

10. The Five for Victory Club on page 26 shows how the club got money for turning in (recycling, we would say today) bottles. Peter took the money and bought stamps toward a V for Victory bond. Fact: The Savings Bonds were a brilliant idea for financing the war effort.

Hilda van Stockum wrote three books about World War II. The Mitchells is about an American family in the United States. The Winged Watchman is about a Dutch family in German-occupied rural Holland. The Borrowed House is about a German couple that goes to a Dutch city, Amsterdam, to entertain the troops (the SS and the Wehrmacht), and their daughter Janna, who is shocked to find that the Dutch do not welcome their German invaders.

The Mitchells is usually grouped with two later stories about the family in Canada. But the three books about World War II make their own trilogy. As a group, for me they are the centerpiece of Hilda van Stockum's work. It is remarkable to have these family-oriented perspectives on that terrible war. Someone once asked: "Who is the protagonist in The Mitchells?"  If you had to pick a single person, it would have to be Mother. But my mother's answer to the question was: "The Family is the protagonist. It is the Family that must cope with all the disruptions and threats."

The two books about the Dutch occupation are among the top dozen books about World War II for children (out of 125 listed). The Mitchells is among the top 40 on the same list.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

MONTESSORI | Missing Book Discovered

Maria Montessori
My mother, Hilda van Stockum, often spoke about Maria Montessori and the course she took with her, I believe in Dublin, Ireland. Her mother Olga Boissevain van Stockum was also Montessori-trained. My sister Sheila O'Neill heads up a Montessori school at High Elms in Garston, near Watford, UK, and all four of her daughters are trained Montessori teachers.

One of the things HvS did as part of her Montessori training was prepare a curriculum book. This was a labor of love for my mother and Mrs. Montessori was - my mother told me - very impressed with it. HvS told me she loaned it to a nun who was interested in the Montessori method and it was never returned.

As HvS's executor, I have been hunting for this book in order to reprint it for use in Montessori schools and and for perusal by those interested in the history and practice of the Montessori method. Recently some Montessori School files were cleaned out in London and a copy of the missing book was retrieved - a long and interesting story that got the information to me via someone in Nairobi - and I therefore now have it,

However, I am still trying to track down the original book, because the copy is in black and white whereas the original was in color.