WTF Fun Fact 13046 – The Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years’ War

What’s now referred to as the Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years’ War was not really a war by modern standards. But technically it’s true that the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly (off the coast of Great Britain) were in a diplomatic state of war for 335 years. But it’s because they forgot to sign a peace treaty.

The longest “war’?

Also called the Dutch-Scilly War, the bloodless war didn’t officially end until 1986.

During the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians fought the Royalists for control of the government. When Cromwell took Cornwall, the Royalist Navy retreated from England into the Isles of Scilly.

At the time, the Dutch Navy was aligned with the Parliamentarians. They took heavy losses from the Royalist fleet. In 1651, Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp went to the Scilly Isles to demand payback for the Royalists’ attacks on their ships. But there was no agreement, and he declared war on the Isles of Scilly themselves.

How does a war last three hundred and thirty five years?

The Parliamentarians won the English Civil war, so the fact that the Dutch had declared their war on the Royalists on the Isles of Scilly meant very little after that. The Dutch left without ever firing a shot.

However, since the war was peripheral to the main event, they never declared peace either. Tromp’s declaration of war was so obscure and relatively meaningless that no one really noticed it was happening.

It wasn’t until a historian on the Isles of Scilly started researching the legend of the war that he realized it was technically still in effect. Roy Duncan wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London and that’s when everyone discovered there was no peace treaty.

As a result, Duncan invited the Dutch ambassador Jonkheer Rein Huydecoper to visit Scilly and declare peace on April 17, 1986, 335 years after the war began.

Huydecoper joked that it must have been terrifying to the residents of the island “to know we could have attacked at any moment.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Dutch Proclaim End of War Against Britain’s Scilly Isles” — New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 13033 – The Proposed U.S. Referendum on War

The request for a referendum on war has come up many times since WWI. But one of the more memorable proposals of a U.S. referendum on war came from a group of Nebraskans in 1916 who largely wanted to encourage either peace or isolationism. At the very least, they wanted the people who voted for war to walk to the walk.

A referendum on war

A 1987 article in the NYT (cited below) listed some of the amendments citizens have proposed over the years. Among them was one from a group of Nebraskans that tends to recirculate any time the U.S. appears to be about to engage in a war effort.

“The petition, sent to Washington by a group of Nebraska residents in 1916, proposed an amendment requiring a national referendum before Congress could declare war. To dissuade votes for war, the petition proposed that all those who voted in favor of the United States entering World War I be willing to enlist.”

The petition got so many signatures in the petitioner’s town that the US Archives noted that he had to add extra pieces of paper to accommodate them all.

The Ludlow Amendment

The 1916 attempt to give citizens the power to declare war wasn’t the only attempt.

The Ludlow Amendment was a constitutional amendment proposed in 1938 by Indiana Representative Louis Ludlow. According to the US House of Representatives Archives, it “called for a national referendum before the United States could enter a war, except in cases of invasion or attack on U.S. soil.” This would have removed the power to declare war from Congress in most cases.

A poll found that many people favored this amendment, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. “On December 8, the House of Representatives voted 388 to 1 to approve President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request to declare war on Japan, with the President signing the declaration later that day. On December 11, Congress approved war resolutions against Germany and Italy, with Roosevelt also signing them the day they were passed.” (Source)

 WTF fun facts

Source: “WASHINTON TALK; Letters to Congress: Amend the Constitution? Let Us Count the Ways” — NY Times Archives

WTF Fun Fact 12691 – The Roots of Memorial Day

In the U.S., Memorial Day honors all military personnel who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

While the Act of Congress establishing the holiday was passed in 1968 and enacted in 1971, the roots of Memorial Day date back to the years after the American Civil War. And while Waterloo, New York, was identified by the federal government as the “birthplace” of the holiday, records show the first Memorial Day commemoration happened much farther away. (Waterloo was chosen because it hosted the first widespread, formal, annual event where businesses were closed and people visited the graves of soldiers who died in battle.)

Less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered and the Civil War ended in 1865, a group of formerly enslaved people held a celebration in Charleston, South Carolina, in honor of fallen Union soldiers.

Years earlier, the newly-freed men and women had stayed behind in order to give a proper burial to the 260+ Union soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave outside a racetrack the Confederacy had turned into a prison. The Union soldiers died of disease and exposure and were hastily buried in pits. Yet these men and women chose to honor them instead of evacuating the badly damaged city, removing them from the mass graves, and creating new graves for each soldier in a new cemetery labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The commemoration event to honor them in 1865 involved nearly 10,000 people, mostly Black with a few white missionaries, who marched to the racetrack carrying flowers. Black regiments marched in the parade while ministers recited Bible verses and a children’s choir sang. (You can read about the event in the book Race and Reunion by David W. Blight – though people still question whether there’s enough evidence to say the parade happened.)

While a file in an archive labeled this event the “First Decoration Day,” a few years later, in 1868, May 30 was chosen by the leader of the Northern Civil War veterans organization as a day to remember fallen soldiers as well. General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Logan called the proposed holiday “Decoration Day” and chose the date because it didn’t commemorate any particular battle (thereby including everyone from both sides of the war in the memorial event).

Decoration Day was, indeed, celebrated long before there was a federal holiday called “Memorial Day.” General (later President) James Garfield made a speech while 5,000 participants decorated the resting places of the Civil War soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetary (which contained the graves of 20k soldiers).

Later, Northern states organized Decoration Day and began to hold it on the same day every year, all declaring it a state holiday by 1890. The Southern states honored their war dead as well, but they each chose a different date to celebrate it. No one mentioned the Charleston celebration at the time.

While Decoration Day was originally a day to honor the Civil War dead, after WWI, it became a day to celebrate all the people in the military who lost their lives while serving.

The Act of Congress that created “Memorial Day” fixed that date as the last Monday in May (rather than the 30th) and declared it a federal holiday. This made it part of a movement to create more three-day weekends.

However, the story of the freed slaves who commemorated Union soldiers was lost to time, and some still reject it as a part of the Memorial Day timeline. However, the graves of the soldiers have been found and moved to a new cemetery (the re-burial was not in doubt), and some local residents grew up hearing stories about the massive parade from their grandparents. Still, it will likely never be recognized as the “first Memorial Day” (even though the title may be less important than simply remembering the story). That’s because it was only written about once, as far as we can tell. Perhaps archives will reveal more evidence in time.

As a bonus fun fact, did you know that there is a national moment of remembrance each year at 3:00 p.m. local time each Memorial Day? If you can’t make it out for a formal remembrance but want to honor the dead, a 3 p.m. moment of silence is a simpler act of reverence for those who want to acknowledge the day.  WTF fun facts

Source: “One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies Was Held by Freed African Americans” —

WTF Fun Fact 12676 – The Ancient History of Ukraine

There’s nothing “fun” about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the fact is that war turns up some interesting things. In this case, more proof that Ukraine has its own unique history and culture.

Digging war trenches is not the same as digging for archaeological purposes. Nevertheless, that’s how some of Ukraine’s ancient artifacts are coming to light as they defend themselves from the invading Russians.

According to the Kyiv Independent, digging in the port city Odesa, located on the Black Sea has uncovered ancient amphorae. Odesa was once known as Odessus. Ancient sources say it was founded by the Milesians, who came from a city in what’s now modern-day Turkey. Ancient inscriptions show that it was likely under some form of democratic government shared by five ancient Greek states. It played an important role in ancient history because it was a port town, so it saw people and goods from all over the region. Its local money even had an image of the Egyptian god Serapis on it.

The modern soldiers of the Ukrainian 126th Territorial Defense found slightly more recent archaeological artifacts – ancient Roman amphorae, which have been dated to the 4th or 5th century CE. These are tall jars (and shards that often held wine or were used as decorative vessels). They shared the discovery on Facebook.

Russia has been targeting Odesa with missile strikes as well as a blockade of the port in order to disable the city’s vital operations in grain and wheat exports to the rest of the world.

If anything can be said to be “lucky” here, it’s that the amphorae are in excellent condition and have been turned over to the Odessa Archaeological Museum, which will hopefully be able to preserve this important part of the city’s history. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Ukrainian Soldiers Uncover Fourth-Century Urns While Digging Defense Trenches” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12663 – The Harlem Hellfighters

Plenty of history buffs think they know all there is to know about WWI, but it’s rare to meet someone who can tell you much about the all-Black 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard. Despite facing racism at every turn, they still fought for their country.

They called themselves the “Black Rattlers.” Even the French had a nickname for these brave heroes – the “Men of Bronze.”

Interestingly, it was the name the enemy forces in Germany gave them that stuck – the “Harlem Hellfighters.” They fought in the most hellish places on earth – down in the trenches – and they fought there longer than any American fighters.

And while stories of their heroism spread throughout the world, they were never genuinely rewarded for it. They came home to the same racism they left.

All-Black regiments were rare at the time – the military needed men but was hesitant to work alongside Black men. But New York’s governor at the time, Charles Whitman, agreed to form a unit, something Black political leaders had to fight for! Whitman put them under the command of his former campaign manager and former Nebraska National Guard colonel, William Hayward.

First known as the 5th New York National Guard Regiment, the youngest member was just 16. Hayward recruited both black and white officers to the unit, ensuring the white soldiers were ready to act as teammates, despite the potential for racial tension.

But in the eyes of the larger National Guard, they were not equal. They were given no resources to train with – no uniforms and no weapons. They practiced in their street clothes and with broomsticks.

Then, their real training began at a training ground in the Deep South – the most unfriendly place for Black soldiers, even if they were helping to fight for democracy in the same country as the white soldiers by their sides.

In Spartanburg, South Carolina, they were asked to deal with racism without regard or retaliation as they trained to potentially give their lives. At the same time, the mayor of Spartanburg declared:

“If any of those colored soldiers go in any of our soda stores and the like and ask to be served, they’ll be knocked down. We have our customs down here, and we aren’t going to alter them.”

The unit was forged in the fire of those racist taunts and threats in the Deep South. When they set for Europe in January 1918, they became the 369th Infantry Regiment.

At first, they were given no combat duties, only menial tasks. But the French needed more soldiers. The “Black Rattlers,” as they had named themselves, went into battle under French command and before any white unit, on April 15, 1918. Their heroics earned them accolades in France, including the Croix de Guerre.

There are dozens of stories of their bravery, and more are coming out as historians begin to focus on the evidence of what they ensured. The “Harlem Hellfighters,” as the Germans named them, spent 191 days in combat, which is longer than any other American unit.

But they didn’t all come back alive – over half of them were killed or wounded defending their country. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “The Story Of The Harlem Hellfighters, The Overlooked Black Heroes Of World War I” — All That’s Interesting

WTF Fun Fact 12424 – Marilyn Monroe’s Drone Skills

At 18-years-old, Norma Jeane Dougherty was the wife of a U.S. merchant seaman who worked in a factory for Radioplane in Burbank, California. Founded by actor Reginald Denny, the company made remote-controlled, pilotless aircraft – also known as drones.

Of course, in the 1940s, the word “drone” didn’t carry the baggage it does today. These drones were used to perfect the targeting skills of U.S. soldiers in the Army and Navy. Then came D-Day and Operation Aphrodite, in which similar drones were packed with explosives and used to bomb Nazi sites after the pilots ejected.

Back on the homefront, Norma Jean Dougherty ignored advice to quit her 10 hour/day drone factory job (where she sprayed and inspected parachutes) for fear it would ruin her hair and skin. Already a beauty, she was later named “Queen” of the company picnic and awarded a $50 war bond. She continued to work.

A year later, Norma Jean was photographed in color film (rare at the time) while holding a Radioplane propeller to show the role of women in the war effort. It’s part of what helped turn her into a star. She would soon change her name to Marilyn Monroe and leave the factory for Hollywood. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: Marilyn Monroe’s World War II Drone Program — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 12423 – The Hebrew Hobbit

In 1970, ten Israeli Air Force pilots and their comrades were captured during the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and their allies. The conflict lasted from 1967 to 1970, but the POWs were not released until 1973.

While in captivity, the men were eventually allowed to spend time together, albeit in a cramped cell. One distraction from their years-long nightmare came in the form of a book that one of the pilots was carrying. Yitzchak Fir’s brother had sent him a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again. However, the book was in English, and not all captives could read it.

That’s when four of the pilots who could read English decided to translate the book for their fellow captives. Avinoam Kaldes, Rami Harpaz, Menachem Eini, and Yitzchak Fir first translated select parts and expressions. But once they realized it gave them a sense of purpose and a means of distraction. So they decided to translate the entire book from beginning to end.

It was a difficult task (and if you’ve read The Hobbit, you know that the poems in the book make translation particularly difficult). But working in pairs and editing the final draft, they finally got it done in four months.

It’s by no means the best Hebrew translation of The Hobbit, but it has the most remarkable story behind it. Their translation was formally published in 1977 by Zmora Bitan Publishers (in part with funding from the Israeli Air Force). – WTF Fun Facts

Source: “Translating “The Hobbit” in Captivity” — The Librarians