Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Bodkin and the Prince

I have always had a deep interest in medieval history.  English medieval to be more exact.  During the last few years I have done a great deal of research on the material culture of the era to help me in writing, The Archer's Son.  This is a middle grade story about a young boy who is part of a company of archers during King Henry V's 1415 campaign into France during the Hundred Years War.  Of course, the novel will climax at the bloody battle of Agincourt.  I'm almost finished with the first draft :)

Most of Henry's portraits are profiles from his
left side. Was he hiding a ghastly scar?
Henry's providential success at Agincourt against overwhelming French odds, and his later campaigns in France, have overshadowed an earlier chapter of his life.  Life, that is what Prince Hal almost lost on 21 July, 1403 at the battle of Shrewsbury England.
I'll not go into the details of the revolt of the Hotspur Percy.  You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Shrewsbury

Henry, or Prince Hal as he was often called before he became king, was a warrior at heart.  At the age of 16 he commanded an entire wing of his father's army when it brought battle to the Percy's at Shrewsbury in 1403.  The teenage prince was an agressive commander and performed well on the field of battle.   As the fight raged in close quarters, an enemy arrow struck the young prince in the face next to his nose and lodged six inches deep into bone and muscle.  The wooden shaft was wrenched free, either by Henry himself or one of his retainers. 

An exhibit from the Shrewsbury Museum
Courtesy Nicky Hughes
Remarkably, Prince Hal fought on until the victory was secured, with a one ounce iron arrowhead lodged deep in his head!

The victory did not end the threat to Henry's life.  As his wound began to fester, the heir to the throne and the fate of the English Crown was in jeopardy.   The prince was taken to Kenilworth Castle as his condition worsened.  Eventually, London doctor John Bradmore arrived to care for the heir to the throne.  Although Bradmore may have been stranded in an era of medical ignorance and superstition regarding the treatment of illnesses, he understood the intricacies of treating wounds.  Bradmore's account of treating this wound survives in his medical tract Philomena.

". . . struck by an arrow next to his nose on the left side during the battle of Shrewsbury. The which arrow entered at an angle (ex traverso), and after the arrow shaft was extracted, the head of the aforesaid arrow remained in the furthermost part of the bone of the skull for the depth of six inches."

Bradmore devised a instrument for extracting the arrow head.

"First, I made small probes from the pith of an elder, well dried and well stitched in purified linen [made to] the length of the wound. These probes were infused with rose honey. And after that, I made larger and longer probes, and so I continued to always enlarge these probes until I had the width and depth of the wound as I wished it. And after the wound was as enlarged and deep enough so that, by my reckoning, the probes reached the bottom of the wound, I prepared anew some little tongs, small and hollow, and with the width of an arrow. A screw ran through the middle of the tongs, whose ends were well rounded both on the inside and outside, and even the end of the screw, which was entered into the middle, was well rounded overall in the way of a screw, so that it should grip better and more strongly."

The design of medieval arrowheads made extraction more difficult. They have an open "socket" where the wooden shaft is inserted.  Bradmore's device couldn't just grab the arrow head, it had to be inserted into the socket and expanded to properly grip it.

A recreation of Bradmore's device
It is believed that the iron arrow head came to rest to one side of the spine just under the base of the skull.  There was no anesthesia as we know it.  The pain that the teenage prince experience during the extraction process must have been horrendous.  After preparing the wound channel over the course of a day, Bradmore successfully removed the arrow head.  The prince survived to become King Henry V. 

Here is an excellent video recreation of how John Bradmore extracted the arrow head and saved the prince's life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8Nef1siUus

This would not have been possible, even with Bradmore's treatment, had the arrow head in question have been a broadhead instead of a bodkin.  What is the difference?  A bodkin is a narrow point designed to pierce armor.  It has no barbs.  A broadhead is wide with a large cutting surface designed to inflict maximum damage to the flesh of men and horses.  Broadheads are barbed and difficult to remove through the wound channel that they inflict

A recreated Bodkin arrowhead

A broadhead. 
The barbs make extraction almost impossible

There is some controversy as to which side of  Henry's face was hit by the arrow.  Bradmore says the left side next to the nose.  It was most certainly the left side as one is looking at the face.  Not the left side from Henry's point of view.  Later in life almost all of Henry's portraits are in profile, showing only his left side.  Could he have been hiding a ghastly scar on his right cheek?   It is also interesting that none of the film versions of Henry V, have portrayed him with a scarred cheek, a scar that he most certainly bore for the rest of his short life.

Tom Hiddleston, the most recent Henry in "The Hollow Crown" (2012). 
Like his movie predicessors, Hiddleston bears no scar.

Kenneth Branagh, in "Henry V" (1989)
Sir Laureance Olivier, "Henry V" (1944)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Mary Rose Archers

I’ve been researching Medieval English archers for several years.  The culture that evolved around the bow and the men who mastered that weapon, fascinate me.  The research has also helped me in writing The Archer’s Son, a middle grade novel that should be completed in draft form soon.   

The Mary Rose is also a historical subject that captured my imagination.  I visited the Mary Rose museum in Plymouth England in 2008.  It was late afternoon, near closing time and we only had a short time to visit.  The new Mary Rose Museum opens soon, with much more of the ship’s artifacts on display.  I look forward to visiting again! 

This article is reblogged from Rita Roberts excellent archaeology blog: http://ritaroberts.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/the-archers-that-crewed-the-mary-rose/#comment-1716

By Rita Roberts, 18May 2013

When the Mary Rose was raised from the Solent in 1982 the skeletons of 92 men were recovered. Historical sources record that a company of longbowmen were on board when the vessel sank, but until now it has not been possible to isolate which of the skeletons might have belonged to this group.

Now Sports scientists, osteologists and modern technology have joined forces to help identify the archers that crewed the Mary Rose., Henry Vlll’s flagship sank in l545.

Nick Owen, a Sport and Exersize Biomechanist from Swansea University, has been examining bones from the wreck to see if any show signs of the repetitive, strenuous actions associated with archery.. The Mary Rose Trust contacted Nick to help with this research because he works with modern elete athletes’, Nick said that the Longbow archers were the elete athletes of their day. They used very powerful bows, some of which required a lifetime of training and immense strength as the archers had to pull weights of up to 200lbs’.

The Mary Rose Longbows. Courtesy of Murray Sanders.

In order to determine which bones might show the effect of regularly firing heavy bows, Nick set out to establish where the greatest bilateral difference in forces acting on the muscles would occur. Modern- day longbow archers were brought into the lab and marked up with motion-capture equipment to see exactly which parts of the body were used when firing the bows. This helped to establish the radius needed.

Nine pairs of arms and shoulders were analysed, carefully matched by an osteologist, of which three had both radii. When these were examined the heads of the bones showed differences in surface area of up to 46%

The next stage of the project will see the analysis of DNA from the skeletal material, to help match the bones more exactly, and to shed light on the individuals who made up the ill-fated flagships crew.

Watch this space for more about the Archers of the Mary Rose.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Citizen Soldier Wins the Navy Cross


By Mark Hubbs
I had intended to post this blog on April 29, the birthday of the hero in this story.  However, travel away home distracted me.  Here is the story of Dr. Shank.
Lawton Ely Shank is one of America’s forgotten heroes.  The Indiana doctor is the only civilian, and, to my knowledge, the only Army Reservist to receive the Navy Cross.
The Navy Cross
Lawton Shank was born in the little town of Angola, Indiana in 1907 to Lyle and Lulu Shank.  After medical school he worked in a local hospital where he met his future wife.  He was only married for four years to the former Ruby Ricker before he left the hospital to work for Pan American Airways.  This was near the end of the Great Depression, and we can only surmise that the airline offered pay and travel they he could never expect to enjoy in small town Indiana.
Shank's first assignment was in Canton China, the terminus of the Pan American’s China Clipper route.  In early 1941 he was reassigned to tiny Wake Atoll on at the Pan American layover station in the mid-Pacific.  Pan Am maintained a four star hotel on Peale Island at Wake Atoll.  The China and Philippine Clippers of the Pan Am fleet made over night stops at Wake during trans-Pacific flights to Asia.  The wealthy passengers paid dearly for their seats on the clippers and demanded the finest lodgings during layovers at Wake.

The Pan American China Clipper at the seaplane dock on Peale Island, Wake Atoll c.1937.
 From: http://www.flysfo.com/web/page/sfo_museum/exhibitions/aviation_museum_exhibitions/K3_archive/china_clipper/03.html#top
War clouds were gathering in the Pacific.  The US military began to fortify several islands in the Pacific to serve as a first line of defense should Japan flex its military muscle.  A consortium of several construction companies formed the Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases (CPNAB) to construct naval and airbases and Wake and other remote locations.  Civilian construction contractors, mostly employed by the Morrison-Knudson Company - part of the CPNAB,  began deploying to Wake Atoll soon after Shank arrived on the island.  Although his Pan Am duties included caring for sick passengers and workers at the Pan Am Hotel, the doctor was also "loaned" to CPNAB to care for their workers until a physician could be hired and brought to the island.  Within a few months, over 1,000 CPNAB workers were busy building a new submarine, seaplane and airfield on the atoll.
Dr. Shank left his Pan Am job and Wake Island for home in July 1941.  Remarkably, he was back in just three months later, this time on the payroll of the CPNAB.  As the threat of war intensified, the military presence on the island also grew.  By November, over four hundred Marines and sailors were assigned to Wake. 
The predictions were correct and war came on December 8th, 1941.  Within a few hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Island flew 600 miles north to bomb Wake.  Wake is east of the International Date Line, so it was a day later than Hawaii.  This was the first of a series of almost daily air and sea assaults from Japanese forces. 
Dr. Lawton Shank, "Lew" as his friends called him, was the only medical doctor on the atoll.  Almost 1,600 hundred men, civilian and military, would rely on him in the days to come.  He and his small staff were ill prepared for war.  Scores of men were killed and wounded on the first day, and the makeshift hospital that was established to care for them was bombed on the second day.  The care that Dr. Shank provided for his patients, usually under fire in the worst conditions possible, earned him the respect of every man who knew him.  Below is the citation for the Navy Cross awarded posthumously to Dr. Shank after the war.

To All Who Shall See These Presents Greeting:
This is to Certify that The President of the United States of America Takes Pleasure in Presenting
Citation: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Dr. Lawton E. Shank, Civilian (U.S. Army Reserve), U.S. Civilian, for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy as Physician to American Contractors, Naval Air Station, Wake Island, while associated with the naval defenses on Wake Island on 9 December 1941. At about 1100, while in the camp hospital, during an intensive bombing and strafing attack in the course of which the hospital was completely destroyed and several persons therein killed or wounded, Doctor Shank remained at his post and supervised the evacuation of the patients and equipment. With absolute disregard for his own safety, and displaying great presence of mind, he was thus enabled to save those still living and to establish a new hospital in an empty magazine. Doctor Shank's display of outstanding courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. Born: April 29, 1907 at Steuben County, Indiana Home Town: Angola, Indiana

An American ammunition bunker near the north end of Wake Island.  This is probably the bunker that
Dr. Shank used to shield his patients. Photo by author.
The garrison endured daily air attacks and on December 11th repelled a naval and amphibious assault with its heavy seacoast guns. A larger, more determined invasion force arrived two days before Christmas and the well-trained force of Japanese Special Landing Force troops finally overwhelmed the garrison after heavy fighting. In the dawning hours of 23 December 1941, the Japanese captured 1,621 Americans with the fall of the atoll.
All but 360 of the Americans were transported to POW camps in China three weeks after the surrender.  Lew Shank stayed behind to care for those me who were put to work building island defenses for the Japanese.  In September, 1942 another 260 Americans were transported to Japan from Wake Island.  Lew Shank volunteered to stay behind and provide medical care for the remaining 98 POWs.  Dentist James Cunha, and a surgical nurse named Henry Dreyer also stayed to assist Dr. Shank.  Lew Shank was mentioned and praised by many men who knew of his dedication during the battle and during those first few months in captivity.  However, all that we know of Lew and the other 97 POWs left on Wake Island in September, 1942 comes from testimony during war crimes trials that occurred after the war.
Dr. Shank and 97 other American Civilians were murdered by the Japanese on October 7th, 1943. 

The beach where Dr. Shank and 96 other American civilians were murdered by the Japanese in October, 1943. 
Photo by author.
When the war was over, the murders had occurred more than three years previously.  The public had already been outraged with the news of similar massacres in the Philippines and in the European Theater.  No national acknowledgement of the Wake Island massacre ever materialized.  However, Wake Island commander Winfield Scott Cunningham did not forget the heroism displayed by Lew Shank and recommended the doctor for the Navy Cross.  The posthumous award was issued on May 6, 1947.
In Section G of the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu there is a large, flat, marble gravestone. At 5 by 10 feet it is the largest in the cemetery. On it are listed the names of 178 men. This common grave holds the remains of all the unidentified military and civilian burials repatriated from Wake Island in 1946.  Many of these men were killed during the siege, and circumstances did not allow proper burial and identification. Of these names, 98 represent the men who were murdered by the Japanese in October 1943.  Dr. Lawton "Lew" Shank lies mingled among them.
The memorial stone marking the unknown dead of Wake Island at the Punchbowl Cemetary, Honolulu. 
Photo by author.
Dr. Shank's parents lived long after World War II.  The family added a memorial to Lew Shank on their headstone in Angola, Indiana.  From: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=31644842
For more details about the ordeal of American POWs at Wake Island, see a series of previous blog entries that start here:    http://erasgone.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-wake-island-helmet-part-one-dodging.html