QUESTION TIME FIRST!

1. An eminent American receives a knighthood from King George V for services to mankind?

2. Same man later enroute to Africa stops over in London and there dies of a stroke. He receives a ceremonial funeral in St Paul's Cathedral before his body is repatriated to the USA for burial?

3.  Although not an engineer, without him, one of the world's wonders, the Panama Canal would not have been built? NOTE: Have a read of this page http://www.godfreydykes.info/TWO%20CRUCIAL%20INTERNATIONAL%20MARITIME%20MEASUREMENTS.htm which shows how the Suez and the Panama canals work. However, since writing this page many years ago, both canals have been up-graded to allow for ever bigger ships some with huge draughts. Nevertheless, they are still in the same geographical place and follow the original basic engineering concepts. The brand new battleship [in 1896] U.S.S. Oregon has a part to play in this section.

Who was he ?

He was Major General William Crawford GORGAS  United States Army, not a fighting soldier but appointed as a medical scientist/doctor without peers in tropical diseases, as the Surgeon-Generalcy [correct in US lingo and not a typo ,  a promotion given to him in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson],  the Head of the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army, as of the date the U.S.A., entered the Great War [WW1] in April 1917.  His wife Marie called him Will, and in keeping with etiquette everybody referred to him as a General, in common with a lieutenant general and a general proper.

Now, do you remember this? It's my third pay book in my full career.

Do you remember this page showing all the jabs you had to allow you to travel the world on the drop of a hat and yet keep safe from diseases?

Because my new pay book started in 1958 when I was in the Mediterranean it starts with my 'Absorbed Tetanus Toxoid jab [A.T.T.] in HMS Phoenicia Manoel Island Malta followed by a Polio jab in HMS Drake Devonport Barracks. When serving in boats or small vessels all jabs were done in large nearby establishment or large ships with a sickbay staff. Six years later in 1964 I was re-jabbed for Tetanus in the submarine base HMS Dolphin Gosport. Then in preparation for service in the Far East [SM7]  in HM S/M Auriga. we had a Yellow Fever which lasted for ten years and Cholera jabs in our UK Depot ship HMS Adamant at Devonport repeated several times in our Singapore depot ship HMS Forth. I left submarines in early 1969 and in preparation for my draft to the frigate HMS Rothesay for East of Suez service  [Singapore, Hong Kong and Beira Patrol Indian Ocean] had more Cholera jabs. Over on the TAB page  = Typhoid A & B Vaccine, you can see Mercury, Dolphin, Adamant, Ambrose [SM6 in Halifax Nova Scotia Canada], Forth twice and again Mercury three times, two of which were Yellow Fever and Smallpox jabs. Back to the Far East in the cruiser Tiger for Group 6 deployment showing the flag for Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee to all parts of East Asia and the Antipodes. These jabs were again for Cholera and T.A.B. I left the navy before lining up for more jabs! For this story, the Yellow Fever jab is fully relevant. In 1968 we came home from the Far East [SM7] in S/M Auriga via the Panama Canal.

S.S. Kroonland [see picture below] was the first large passenger ship to navigate the completed canal in February 1915 although many smaller  vessels had preceded her through the canal since opening in August 1914. She was 560' feet long, had a gross registered tonnage [GRT] of 12760 tons, a beam of 60' and a draught of 42' although {?},  achieving 17 knots when fully ladened, and at that time, the largest vessel to be built in the States.

In other ways she was quite a famous ship, and before the U.S., entered WW1 she was stopped in Gibraltar as a neutral by the British and ordered to forfeit some of her suspect cargo - see this page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Kroonland That didn't go down well with the Yanks!

Note the dredger in the distant background

This is a good start to address question Three above viz, the Panama Canal.

At this point in the very early 1900's the American-Spanish war of 1898 was over and the Spaniards had been sent packing with their tails between their legs. Cuba [as was the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam]   was now freed from the Spanish yoke which enforced a cow-tow to Madrid by the Cubans  for 400 years. Cuba was the 'jewel in the Spanish crown and its finest asset as a colony. Whilst the war on land and sea with guns and bullets was won by the Americans, the greatest enemy wasn't and it killed at random countless thousands of people on this vast island. It was yellow fever known colloquially in all history books of the 19th century as the "Black Vomit" and which led to a horrible and gruesome death.  #  That, at all cost,  had to be resolved before the U.S., could help the Cubans before assuring their independence totally from Spain and from any eventual American grab. A secondary problem but much less so was Malaria. All thought that yellow fever [and possibly malaria] was caused by sheer filth and uncleanliness and many, Cuban, Spanish and American authorities were pre-occupied with a major clean up - Havana was said to be the cleanest city on the American continent. All was to no avail and the main island was a known death trap to be avoided at one's peril. Still great amounts of money were  spent chasing a wild dream until a new team of sanitist's [seemingly an American word dealing with sanitation and its many problems], arrived from the States thinking that they could enhance the efforts to-date of getting rid of yellow fever.  In this team was a certain man called William Crawford Gorgas, then a major in the U.S. Army, and at first he went along with the clean-up theory until he met an amiable old Cuban physician, Doctor Carlos. J. Finlay who claimed that he knew, from first hand observations, that cleanliness, although of course desirable and demonstrably helpful in general health matters, or in this case the lack of it, was not the cause of yellow fever, which was wholly due to a big mosquito which he called the Stegomyia, one of several species [in fact 800]  in the Caribbean and South America climes He was at first treated with suspicion some branding him some kind of a witch doctor! How was it possible that this humble doctor had been able to isolated the Stegomyia from all other mosquitoes as the culprit? Was Finlay a quack, a crank or the potential saviour of mankind from certain death?

#The 14th century plague which swept through Eurasia killing what is estimated to be 70 to 200 million people was called "The Black Death" As the black vomit was caused by and spread by mosquitos, and black death was caused by fleas living on ground rodents chiefly rats.

Bit by bit Gorgas [and but a few of his group] began to wonder about Finlay's claims and the apparent knowledge he had on medicine per se well befitting a doctor qualified at a fine U.S., university with proven ability in a practice. Not only did he know the cause of yellow fever but  that also of malaria [also by mosquito but of an entirely  different species and not relevant to this story].  He knew that throughout the Caribbean that there were two main types of mosquitoes, one, the worst of the two delivered a bite which led to yellow fever and almost certain death whilst the other, far from being innocuous but much less deadly, delivered malaria fever which could led to death. Fortunately they were easy to identify and separate in laboratory conditions. The yellow fever mosquito was of the Stegomyia species whilst malaria was of the Plasmodim species carried by five types of mosquito.

After a few years of experiments, in specially built laboratories which housed human guinea pigs, trials in-situ in known premises frequented by the dreaded Stegomyia mosquito in towns and cities, exposed men, Cubans and Americans [mainly volunteer soldiers but with generous bounties for Cuban civilians] many of whom died before being able to collect their bounty, personal sacrifices by several clinicians and doctors now remembered [and revered]  throughout the United States in hospitals  for their pioneering work and bravery, three men, Major Gorgas, army surgeon Walter Reed and  Doctor Finlay were grouped together as the scientists who found a staggering fact which was to change the whole world eventually, completely ridding it of yellow fever.

All species of mosquitoes [800 types as mentioned] except for one, the Stegomyia,  lived their whole lives away from civilisation [jungles, unclaimed land, swamps, etc] using stagnant water areas to replenish their stock, and delighting in rotting flesh and filth generally, in which they thrived. All bit and sucked blood from their victims and were a menace to both humans and domestic/wild animals. It was always desirable to destroy their habitats by removing stagnant water holes [draining] or spraying the surface of stagnant water with copious amounts of oil killing the hatching mosquitoes as they rose to the surface for air.

The Stegomyia was a one-off doing everything entirely different to the other 799 types.

What was to follow drove countless thousands of housewives almost crazy because it was discovered that the Stegomyia lived with us humans and that it had particularly domesticated instincts. It laid its eggs only in clean sweet water, contained in a jug, a pitcher, a water-barrel, a cistern or some domestic utensil. Gorgas prepared a card index in which every such receptacle was recorded. Inspectors, carrying sheafs of  the index cards, visited periodically every house in Havana. In their presence housewives were compelled to produce all utensils capable of holding water. Woe unto the housewife attempting to "hold out" on the inspectors! If a single receptacle were missing, a search would be begun which would not end until it had been found. Water-barrels, cesspools, cisterns, and other fairly large deposits of water were screened, and a film of oil deposited on them which smothered the "wrigglers" when they came to the top for air. The effects of the new campaign was sensational.  Reports of new cases dwindled from day to day.  From the time when Gorgas started his warfare against the Stegomyia, but five deaths from yellow fever were recorded. The day came in 1901 when, for the first time in centuries, there was not a single case of yellow fever in Havana.

The three men Gorgas, Reed and Finlay each went their own ways and continued to do good things for mankind, getting rid of pests and diseases in other areas..

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Slow reverse back to quite recent times to the American-Spanish was of 1898 with specific reference to the U.S. Navy. Before the war started, the Americans thought it a good idea [an olive branch if you want] if they were to send a warship to Havana as a showing the flag friendly visit, hoping that the Spanish authorities would accept that gesture. They did [surprisingly] and so the U.S.S Maine [a relatively new armoured cruiser classed as a second class pre Dreadnought battleship] was sent to Havana as a good will mission. Whilst there, for a reason never really proved despite the rhetoric and threatening war language, the Maine suffered a terrible explosion and sank at her moorings drowning two hundred and sixty six innocent souls out of a crew complement of 374: later she was raised and scuttled in deep water in the Straits of Florida.  All back home in the States except for the President, McKinley, and his closest aides, wanted an immediate retribution which could only be satisfied by bringing the threatened war with Spain to fruition. The President wanted peace but a huge coffer of cash from Madrid to compensate America for her dreadful loss which virtually all put down to Spanish skulduggery. The American people were not satisfied and forced the President's hand to war and immediate deployment and mobilisation. Fleets were sent south from various east coast bases, but it was considered that all U.S., naval units should be made ready and available especially modern big-gunned hitters. There was a problem! How long would it take for warships stationed in the Pacific west coast bases to get to the Atlantic and to the Caribbean? Twelve weeks was a conservative guess sailing around Cape Horn, and there was a particular modern ship that the Secretary of the Navy [Teddy Roosevelt] wanted, namely the modern [pre Dreadnought] powerful battleship USS Oregon 13" main armament] , newly built and newly commissioned: it was in San Francisco. It sailed as planned, and the public each and every day when reading their newspapers, first turned to read of the current position of USS Oregon. That it took a lifetime [seventy one days - Mar 19 to 1 June in total] to arrive was extremely disappointing for the masses who more or less lost interest. Clearly, if the American's had had a canal at Panama things would have been much less fraught not to mention embarrassing. See also this page  NELSON'S AMERICAN EQUIVALENT.  One of the reasons why all U.S., carriers are nuclear [well almost all] and the ten Nimitz vessels [many re-fuelling every ten years only]  cannot navigate the Panama Canal anyway, so when  necessary to join eastern fleets from western fleets via Cape Horn is no problem for the USN. For the RN with diesel-electric propulsion it would be a costly trip requiring at the very least one tanker somewhere near for re-fuelling with both proceeding at an economical speed to conserve fuel.

Gorgas continued his work, now with different teams in other parts of the Caribbean and central American continent where north meet south.

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Fast reverse into times gone by, and to 1869, thirty-odd years before what occurred in the main text story above.

The brilliant French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps had just said farewell to his time-consuming ten years of designing and building the Suez Canal .

It had for some years been desirous amongst industrious Americans to have a similar canal built on their continent, which of course would have to be at the narrowest part where south and north America met. Lots of assessments and financing models  had crossed the spreadsheets of those days, and little had happened until friend de Lesseps was dragged out of retirement twenty years after Suez [in the early 1880's]  to set to work designing and building the desired canal as a totally French project for their subsequent ownership whilst the Americans looked on, as perceived by the French an easy engineering task {?}.

Ferdinand de Lesseps started work in 1882  with much gusto, an army of engineers mostly Europeans and a great phalanx of male workers with pick and shovel,  Frenchmen with many South Americans, and in no small measure, Russians.. It wasn't long before this brilliant engineer packed his bags, abandoned  all, and returned to Paris to normality and peace with tranquility. Why? Because his losses to yellow fever [and less so to malaria] were such that the phalanx soon became a small collection, with mass death and for the fortunate mass desertion and paranoia.  This human aspect coupled with gross inefficiency, mind-blowing corruption and costs spiraling out of control led to the abject failure of the French attempt! The jungle vegetation  soon engulfed the poor progress made by these hapless men whose graves littered the area and were soon lost to the jungle. The attempt however was well recorded as far as it got with great emphasis devoted to the ravages of the dreaded yellow fever peril and the, as then unknown, Stegomyia  mosquito..

 

 

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Fast forward to 1904 just as the Naval Training Establishment at Shotley Gate was being developed for the shore training of naval boys,  the Americans themselves decided to bite-the-bullet and to dig the canal themselves for international use but their ownership! Much later on, a joint ownership of Panama and the U.S., proved successful and finally in 1999 the Panama government took full control and ownership. Since those days the Canal has grown in size and functionality beyond recognition of the original concept! Today [2017] it is estimated that in excess of 25,000 vessels pass through the canal per year compared with just 1000 on opening in 1914 with a transit time now of six hours.

At that stage it wasn't fully known that there was a difference in height of the Atlantic Ocean as compared with the Pacific Ocean. Back a few years in 1898 [the time of their war with Spain] there wasn't even a plan of what they intended to do down south, not even an agreement on the actual site as to where, literally, it would be built. but thought costly, bordering on the too-costly side of the equation unless the U.S., could go into a partnership with another country or that a budget-build [however achieved] was possible! One more thing at this point.  The land needed for the build was owned by several countries not all of them friendly. Great Britain  owned a huge chunk, and this became an embarrassment between us and the USA! It was the sinking of U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbour which was the catalyst to expedite the build of the canal and the first Canal, called the Isthmian, Commission was set-up in March 1899. Its first function was to negotiate with Great Britain about its ownership of land in or near the proposed build area. Great Britain was graceful and sold its rights of ownership. However, the French still owned the site and agreed to accept a cash payment of $40 million US dollars for it. Columbia, owner of the Canal strip itself,  took the U.S., proposal to its Congress for discussion, and during this period, Panama [then part of Columbia]  revolted and set up an independent government.  Within three days President [Teddy] Roosevelt recognised the new State of Panama and immediately negotiated a treaty with it for the land and rights to build the Canal. It took five years [1899 to 1904] for the U.S., to clear-the-decks and get the land, ownership and rights to allow the building work to proceed. In 1904, one sailor, one soldier and five engineers were tasked to "start digging" everybody convinced that for a nation that had bridged large areas of water and moved  mountains to make way for 200,000 miles of rail road track, it would be straight forward albeit an enormous engineering feat. How wrong they were to be? Hard to believe but it is recorded that U.S., Authorities were more apprehensive at the outcome with Great Britain over land ownership than with construction work itself! Rather like our 'SUN' newspaper, the U.S., paper headline was "Let the dirt fly".

The American Medical Association, with Gorgas a prominent member, looked on in true amazement. Surely the U.S., government could not forget Havana and the yellow fever or the 1882 French Canal adventure decimation by yellow fever whilst trying to build an Isthmian canal for themselves? They immediately demanding a meeting with the President to state that the team of one soldier, one sailor and five engineers had to have at least one medical member to advise on the tropical diseases in that part of the world. Roosevelt grudgingly agreed and Gorgas was duly added to the list of executives, but not as intended,  as a medical professional and advisor, but as a Commissioner without authority in the subordinate position of in charge of sanitation.

Thus began many years of wrangling when the authorities refused to listen that the project would be doomed if the problem of yellow fever was not dealt with as it had been dealt with in Cuba and subsequently elsewhere. Predictably, the deaths mounted up [by far the greatest numbers of gangers/labourers male and female, had come from the West Indies counted in tens upon tens of thousands, and Spain to help build the Canal], in this case with malaria also a much more potent disease than up in the Caribbean areas which lay very close to the U.S.A., mainland.  Despite his protestations which never ceased, the executive Commissioner would not listen and considered Gorgas a thorn in their side and his theories balderdash. The head of the Commission was Rear Admiral John G Walker who stated that Gorgas was wrong, all wrong. To Gorgas' utter amazement the Admiral had reverted back to Havana where deaths from yellow fever were unsustainable citing that  the cause of yellow fever had absolutely nothing to do with mosquitos but with filth, stagnant water, unburied garbage, dead cats, and unpainted houses {?} Gorgas was flabbergasted and utterly discouraged. He turned to a brilliant engineer responsible for the Washington Monument inter alia,  General George W Davies thinking that he might help his cause, but the general was unimpressed and sent him packing, telling Gorgas that on the mosquito case he was wildly wrong, so were his friends indeed anybody who subscribed to that theory was wild! Gorgas, an acclaimed physician and known scientific researcher of proven ability was on his own, powerless.

By 1905 in both Panama and Coln,  a fair-sized epidemic was under way and already many deaths from yellow fever had occurred. Now began the harvest of the bitter fruits of official stupidity and obstinacy. A panic seized upon construction forces. The one thought uppermost in the minds of all was to get away.  Even Chief Engineer John F Wallace, the one who in such an emergency should have heartened his followers by a brave show of intrepidity, intimated to Secretary of War Taft [soon to be the  President himself in 1909] his intention of resigning. No explanation  was given, but the dread of yellow fever was the cause that received wide-spread credence.  Desertion of the ship by the captain naturally did little to calm the crew. Everybody who could began to abandon their posts and money owed to them and new workers arriving by boat refused to leave the vessel. It looked very much as though a French 1880's-style cataclysmic failure was about to be revisited upon the Americans in the dreadful climate of the central America Continent. Washington was almost paralysed, and the money markets took a dive.

Stupidity clothed with authority is an odious bed-fellow, and the hapless Gorgas was in bed with the Panama Canal Commission. He could not  and would not resign, and throughout, as the member responsible for sanitation, he would be blamed for the epidemic now becoming rampant, this despite him repeatedly telling his superiors about the dangers to come.

During this period a doctor of great repute, Doctor Charles A L Reed of Cincinnati,  had visited the Canal site and observed the plight of Gorgas and his knowledgeable supporters . When back home in the States he had debriefed Roosevelt and immediately Roosevelt sacked all the Canal Commissioners and appointed a new Commission. The new head of Commission was a railroad builder from out west, Thomas P Shonts who was a pragmatist lacking in learning, rich in empirical  understanding and guided by his many experiences to get the job done, even taking into account that there were literally thousands without jobs willing and able to do manual work and ready to replace complaining and recalcitrant navvies. He had much to learn in the swamps and jungle down in the equatorial belt!  He took over in June 1905 just a Gorgas was getting the upper-hand on the epidemic. Given the reason why the Commission was disbanded, those remaining under the new Commission were struck dumb upon hearing that Shonts wanted rid of Gorgas because he hadn't controlled the epidemic properly. Moreover, Shonts wanted rid of all sanitation controllers on the Canal route who believed in the crackpot theory of mosquitos. After consultation with his trusted colleagues Roosevelt ordered Shonts to make friends with Gorgas and for both to get on with their jobs as appointed.

Gorgas did as he was told by the President and continued to kill off the Stegomyia mosquito as he had done previously in the large and busy city of Havana.  He also won the support of the Governors of Panama and Coln to get residents of those areas to be fined $5 for an infringement to his rules as explained above for the housewives of Havana.   Finally, on an afternoon in September  1905, Gorgas, in a buoyant mood entered the dissecting-room of the government hospital at Ancon, where a number of white-clad surgeons  were at work on a cadaver = a corpse. "Take a good look at this man, boys",  he told the surgeons "for it is the last case of yellow fever you will ever see.  There will never be any more deaths from this cause in Panama."   For twenty years after this was uttered, not one death had occurred in Panama or in Havana from yellow fever - note the book I am using doesn't cover a longer period! Had it not been  for Gorgas  it is probable that the Canal would never have been completed as in the case of the French led by Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1882. Note, the Suez Canal was a much easier task because the environment in that region was dry, flat  and almost total sand and there were no swamps or places to support mosquito life of the type which caused such linger, painful and dreaded death.

As it was, it is estimated that nearly 6,000 people died during the period of the American-build [1905-1914] of disease and accidents.

In order that the U.S., could interchange units of its various fleets, the largest ships were built to fit the locks in the Canal rather than than the locks built to fit all sizes. Today [2017] although hugely extended to allow the largest vessels in the world to use the Canal with great safety, modern day U.S., aircraft carriers with huge beams, deep draughts and very tall masthead heights have limitations on using the Canal, not so much for the Canal parameters themselves, but for the existing bridge built over the Canal [Bridge of Americas]  which does not afford the necessary headroom clearance required by these leviathans. The Nimitz class now numbering ten vessels cannot and will not use the Panama Canal. I saw recently in this year of 2017, the USS George W Bush anchored off Gosport on a recent visit to Portsmouth. It makes our carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth look like a toy, which by comparison it probably is and will continue to be so as the years go by! Sad but true!

This is a well known picture of what might be called a "tight fit?"

The USN battleship USS Missouri passing through a lock on the Panama Canal

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After the completion of the Panama Canal, Gorgas was summoned to South Africa to fight pneumonia in the gold and diamond mines. After four years the death rate was down from 350  per thousand to just 3 per thousand, and the death rate from all local diseases down to just 6 per thousand and falling as he left the continent.

On his way home to the States, Gorgas was given the greatest ovation ever given [then and now] to a medical man in London ergo, in Great Britain. Oxford was chose with Cambridge' acquiescence to bestow upon him the highest possible honours. London as a whole was very welcoming and gracious in its praise for the illustrious general. When the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was built in Kepple Street, twenty six names of outstanding world doctors were added to the upper decorative plinth which surrounds the building.  General Gorgas' name was one of them.

 

This is what the British newspaper The Daily Mail printed:-

A few years before Gorgas' time in South Africa, the famous American John D Rockefeller had formed the International Health Board, and now with Gorgas free and back home, he was asked to serve as the Ambassador  of the Board to all South American countries to rid them all of yellow fever. In 1916, having gathered a band of competent and trusted colleagues around him he set about his task with much enthusiasm, which eventually became a triumphal tour of all South America.

When the U.S.A., entered WW1 in April 1917, Gorgas was the head of the Medical Corps of the U.S., Army. Three days after signing the Armistice he reached retirement age and laid down his duties as surgeon-generalcy but with no plans for retirement. He went back to the International Health Board and got rid of yellow fever in Guayaquil in Ecuador after centuries of pestilence.

By this time [1919] the only place in the world still affected by yellow fever was in West Africa in the Belgian Congo. He meticulously planned for this immense task for many weeks and then finally on the 8th May 1920, sailed for Europe with his wife and his hand picked team of experts plus a few family friends - his daughter, their only child was Aileen, a married lady who did not join them. He wrote of this voyage as being over slow, the shipping company blaming "dirty coal", coal which had a high content of earth integral with the action over many years of the rotting process of trees, where progress [with dirt-free coal - Welsh for example] would have been 300 to 350 miles per day, his vessel covered only 200 miles. He was prone to seasickness although for the greater part of the journey the sea was kind.  The ship eventually arrived in Liverpool on the afternoon of the 19th May. For his first two weeks in Europe his feet never touched the ground, immediately on arrival travelling by train to London and after just a few hours rest but little sleep they were off next morning by train to Dover and the a cross channel ferry to Ostend where he would meet King Albert of the Belgians from whom he would receive a magnificent 'reward' - a special medal of his work on behalf of mankind.  Whilst in London he had planned to finesse the arrangement for the forthcoming voyage to Africa but took ill eventually suffering a paralytic [apoplexy] stroke. He was moved from his hotel to a nursing home for senior officers at Millbank London in the third quarter of May 1920. There on the 9th June His Majesty King George V visited the nursing home and there knighted General Gorgas with the KCMG [Knight  Commander of Saint Michael and Saint George] which very deeply affected this great man. The Order of St Michael and St George is Great Britain's fourth highest honour after the Garter, the Thistle and the Bath.

This is part of a letter written by Mrs Gorgas to a friend, now held by the Alabama University. It is written on hotel stationery [The Savoy, Strand, London, which might have been their hotel for the scheduled London short visit, but when General Gorgas took ill and was moved to a nursing home across town, Mrs Gorgas, perhaps in view of the long-haul ahead and the expense of a long stay at the Savoy,  relocated to the Grosvenor Hotel] with the Savoy details scored through and the words and date [Grosvenor Hotel, 9th June] added in ink to the letter-head. It says:-

"Dearest Dick, such a wonderful event happened yesterday afternoon. Will had been commanded to appear at Buckingham Palace to be decorated or knighted by the King.   The date was the 8th and as Will could not go, our Ambassador tried to arrange to have the date changed to the end of the month. King George said no, I will go to the hospital myself to see General Gorgas and to confer the decoration on him - if my visit will not him harm.  So about ten minutes to nine the sister in charge told me that the King was coming and he was so glad to do so - for Will had do so much for the world.  I am not clear of the exact words as he spoke rather low standing near to Will's bed - and I was back a little and perhaps somewhat flustered.  Was it gracious of the King? - a truly Kingly act! The decorations on Order of St Michael and St George is very beautiful. The next day the 10th June she continued with her letter mentioning that all would be clear in the press cuttings, but that little would be said about Will's failing health.  She goes on to say "that the King was as gracious and cordial as can be, and talked with Will fully five minutes. Spoke beautifully of his work and what he had done for mankind, and talked quite a bit with me."

 His condition worsened and in late June he was moved to the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital [also on Millbank,  immediately behind Tate Modern and adjacent to the River Thames, which opened in 1905 and closed in 1970].

LONDON, July. 3 1920 -- [By the Associated Press.] Maj. Gen. William C. Gorgas, former Surgeon-General of the United States Army, died at an early hour this morning. Gen. Gorgas's death was very peaceful. He was unconscious most of the time for the last few days, according to the hospital attendants, and was not even able to recognize Mrs. Gorgas or Brig.Gen. Noble, the only Americans present at the end.  He was 65.

 My comment. Many non  Brti's [not including any person from any country whose Head of State is the British monarch who are treated as if they were Brits] have received Knighthood for services to mankind, and fittingly so. The Knighthood is in all respects except one, exactly the same as that conferred upon a Brit or a member of a country whose Head of State is the British monarch, and should be treated thus. However, a technicality arises when the Knighthood is conferred upon members of other countries whose Head of State is not the British monarch. Bill Gates and Bob Geldof are good examples, and so too was the case of Terry Wogan before he became a naturalised Brit, no longer an Irishman by status although otherwise possibly very much so! These Knighthoods are known as 'honorary' and limit the recipient to using the initials of the Knighthood  as a post-nominal after their names but are not allowed to call themselves 'Sir' or 'Dame'.

This article was printed in The Times on Monday 5th July 1920:-

It had been planned that the Knighthood would have been conferred during his visit to England in the traditional manner by the King in Buckingham Palace but that was not to be. Such was the emotion derived from this great man's death in London, that a full ceremonial funeral was immediately planned to take place in St Paul's Cathedral giving this great man a funeral fit for a hero and a warrior, for that is what he was fighting an enemy for the good of all mankind on earth.

The Times tells us about the funeral arrangement and the funeral proper, with a relevant snippet added too. My comment.   Bearers at funerals are regularly misunderstood!  A pall bearer is an eminent person, usually the top of their field or a very close friend and direct colleague of the eminent person being buried: they are no longer used at ordinary funerals: when used, there is no cloth pall involved and therefore no poles and the pall bearers simply walk [or march] alongside the coffin. The pall of yore, was a piece of cloth stretched over poles carried by eminent people to stop the coffin from getting wet in case of rain or to protect the body from the heat of the sun especially in olden days! Coffin bearers are usually from the common ranks [in military funerals] having in addition an assigned warrant officer [non commissioned] and a commissioned officer to walk ahead and behind the coffin. Since a coffin always travels feet first, the warrant officer is at the foot end and the leader of the bearers, whilst the officer is at the head end and is in overall charge of the group. At normal funerals the coffin bearers are simply called  bearers,  and are either employees of the undertaker or male [usually] members or  friends of the deceased. The number of coffin bearers are either 6 or 8 depending?

There follows four Times leaders [in order of  date published] and between them, all your questions will be answered. Just in case we have any American visitors [and welcome aboard if we have] our monarch, King or Queen never attends private funerals, i.,e non-Royal funeral events. When an eminent person dies which in ordinary circumstances warrants the presence of a royal personage, the Royal will appoint a high ranking person to attend in lieu and to directly represent them. When that occurs, it could be taken that the Royal has attended the funeral in person and that the deceased is blessed and honoured accordingly.

General Gorgas's is repatriated for burial in the U.S.A.

BODY OF GEN. GORGAS SALUTED FROM FORT; Harbor Craft Join in Tribute to Late Surgeon General as the U.S.S. Pocahontas Arrives.

The body of Major Gen. William C. Gorgas, former Surgeon General of the United States Army, who died recently in England, arrived yesterday 12th August 1920 [40 days after his death date of the 3rd July]  on the United States Navy  transport, the U.S.S. Pocahontas, and was received with a salute from the fort as the vessel passed Governors Island on the way to Pier 4, Hudson River, down town New York.

NOTE:  The vessel  U.S.S. 'POCAHONTAS is named after -
Pocahontas (born Matoaka and later known as Rebecca Rolfe) was a Native American woman who is known for helping English colonists in America and for her role as an ambassador between the Powhatan Chiefdom and the Jamestown colony. Later having been captured, converted to Christianity and married to an Englishman, she is also remembered as an example of a Native American who assimilated to the English way of life, which was used as propaganda in the early 17th century.

The USS Pocahontas, a U.S. Navy transport ship, photographed in Dazzle camouflage, in 1918. The ship was originally a German passenger liner named the Prinzess Irene. She was docked in New York at the start of the war, and seized by the U.S. when it entered the conflict in April 1917, and re-christened Pocahontas.

Four days later on the 16th August, his Washington funeral took place. When I think of the splendour and dignity of British VIF [very important funerals] King Edward VII in 1909 for example, and of the journey from Millbank to St Paul's Cathedral for General GORGAS, and then compare it internationally with other foreign VIF's, I am always amazed at the difference. I think it fair to say that we lead the world in State Pageantry for all our big occasions. Without further comment but bearing in mind what we the Brit's did for General Gorgas in London ceremony, have a look at the funeral for him in Washington in 1920. I presume that what we are watching is the journey from a place of rest for his coffin enroute to a church for a formal ceremony, hoping that the ceremony from church to Arlington is a little better with more military swank and style! I have witnessed first hand a couple of Arlington funerals and to say the very least they are hugely impressive and immaculate. From that type of ceremony and that exercised daily for their tomb of their unknown warrior, we Brit's could learn a few things about dignified ceremony!

Have a look at this YouTube presentation of a film owned by Critical Past.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ldMfUdZ1dQ

He was repatriated back to America and there given a hero's  funeral in Washington on Monday the 16th August 1920 and subsequently  burial in the Washington Shrine, Arlington Cemetery, the burial ground of the famous and the brave and where some of the Presidents lie, latterly JF Kennedy assassinated in 1963 with his wife Jackie and some of their children! This is General Gorgas' grave stone, a grave in which his wife was later interred.

None of the Washington newspapers was enthusiastic about General Gorgas' Washington funeral of the 16th August 1920. Even now, I haven't been able to ascertain whether or not the Americans gave him a second splendid religious send off adding to London's, or was it just the ride on the shaky gun carriage with lots of snorting horses, though why, in August and no real exertion involved, I don't understand?  I also didn't understand the need to strap the coffin to the gun carriage platform which reminded me of a lorry driver strapping his awning which covers the lorry load against inclement weather and also for security, by pulling hard down on ropes and attaching them to cleats built-into the lorry's chasis. The nearest one to defining the progress of the funeral and its venue's if anywhere other than the streets and Arlington the other side of the river, was the Washington Herald which said in a small cutting "Hero of Science" and then said: -

"In its own way the funeral of General GORGAS yesterday was as impressive as the services in London, carried out with the historic symbolism of a martial empire and a venerable national church. Here old friends, high national officials, eminent scientists and representatives of peoples whose living and coming millions he had saved from terrible disease, formed the group of mourners.  The escort was from the arm of the national service which had gained additional renown by the scientists connected with it. The streets were lined with Americans sorrowing but proud. The grave found for the body worn out in service of humanity was in Valhalla on the nation on soil of a region identified historically with that of his native State. Even nature was in tune, it first wept and then smiled. "  The article continues to extol the virtues of this great man as he was finally laid to rest. Rather sad I think. However, given the land masses which were dominions administered by Great Britian and the millions of people living on them who were subjected to these diseases, it is probably true that we Brit's benefitted more from this man's scientific and medical knowledge than did most North Americans.  Fitting therefore that we did what we did in London pre and post his sad passing!

Thus ends a great story about a great man and a great time leading to, as the American mighty righty claim to be the ninth wonder of the world, the Panama Canal.

Goodbye

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                         

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