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  • Unluckiest in History June 12, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback











    Beachcombing has had one of those extraordinarily bad days where everything went wrong from birdsong onwards: broken computers, screaming infants, rude emails, income tax threats, temperamental car, vomiting wife (don’t ask)… In celebration of this he thought that he would muse on the unluckiest person in history: a man or woman who ended up in the wrong place and at the wrong time at least twice. For example, many British infantry fought at the battle of the Somme in 1916 – the worst western battle in the First World War. Some survived. And a handful were young and unlucky enough to end up fighting at Monte Cassino, the worst western battle of the Second World War.

    Looking around the net Beachcombing must say that he is not convinced by some of the most frequently nominated candidates. Take William Carter who allegedly survived the sinking of the Titanic, the Empress of Ireland and the Lusitania. This story has some holes in it – for the details see an excellent  (perhaps optimistic?) article by Senan Molony, who tries his hand at darning.  Even if the story is genuine Beachcombing would say that being sunk three times cannot be that rare. Indeed, Beachcombing’s venerable grandfather managed two and a half in one twentieth-century conflict. Carter, if his story is genuine, stands out because of the fame of his boats. Still rather Carter than Beachcombing or his readers…

    Another candidate is, initially, more convincing. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who died this very year (Jan 2010), had the misfortune to be in Hiroshima when Little Boy came down in August 1945. He then, badly burned, returned home to Nagasaki (!) where two days later Fat Man was dropped. Beachcombing does not like to spoil a story with the truth, but he was left uninjured by the second bomb. Unlucky and a bit then. And TY made it to 93 when stomach cancer finally did for him.

    A frequently mentioned ‘unlucky couple’ is also worth taking down. The Daily Telegraph – not always the best British paper in terms of fact checking – claimed (21 Dec 2008) that Jason and Jenny Cairns-Lawrence, from Dudley, West Midlands were in New York Sept 11th 2001 for the Twin Towers, in London July 7th 2005 for the underground bombs and then Mumbai for the Islamist attacks of 2008. But the couple had no real contact with the killing: this was the stuff of therapy groups rather than ambulances and sirens. (Having said that Beachcombing will be checking the Cairns-Lawrence’s movements before planning his next vacation…)

    Beachcombing would provisionally choose as his winners an unlucky group rather than an unlucky individual, namely the Soviet soldiers taken prisoner by the Nazis in the Second World War. Not only were millions of those who the Germans allowed to surrender – thousands were shot walking towards German lines – murdered in the camps. But then the few ‘lucky’ ones were sent back to Russia as criminals for Soviet war order 270 (1941) had forbidden surrender: as Stalin winningly put it ‘there are no Soviet POWs only traitors’. Back in the USSR, most were ‘let off’ with a short time in prison or re-education. A worrying number though (15% to 20%) were sent to the gulags where only a  few survived to be released in the mid 1950s.

    To make this brutally vivid think of the 92 Soviet POWs  from Auschwitz, the only ones of about 15000 Soviet servicemen to make it through from this camp. They had months of terrifying roll-calls with the stench of burnt human flesh permanently in their nostrils and had to put up with furious German guards strutting around. Then, after being sent home, about 20 – see the statistics above –will have been bundled onto the freezing trains to Siberia.

    Auschwitz and the Archipelago: Beachcombing would have taken his chances on the Titanic or at Nagasaki.

    This is a subject Beachcombing will be coming back to. Any suggestions? [drbeachcombing[AT]yahoo[DOT]com].