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A dyer dying here has died and thus dyed for the last time

That was the last line of an epic poem written by my grandfather about a fatal accident in a dye plant in Dyersburg, Tennessee. So, ummm…Hugh Massingberd, obituary writer for the Daily Telegraph, died on Christmas Day. The obits are my favorite part of the Telegraph, and (though I didn’t know it) Massingberd is the reason why. He reinvented the genre from the ground up, turning dry just-the-facts into swashbuckling and slightly loopy shortstories.

The military ones are the BEST. Here’s Mark Steyn recalling a few of his favorites:

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Sanders, who accepted an invitation to lunch from the same Waziri tribesman who a few days earlier had blown him up and cost him his right arm; Bunny Roger, the Mayfair “aesthete” who marched through German lines brandishing a rolled-up copy of Vogue; Warrant Officer “Muscles” Strong, who interrupted his Chinese captors’ lectures on western imperialism with cries of “Bollocks!”; Sir “Honker” Henniker, Bt., an Indian Army brigadier who enjoyed being saluted by his elephants; Charles Upham, the New Zealander who charged two German machine-gun nests singlehanded and is one of only three men in history to be awarded two Victoria Crosses. When my wife’s uncle died, the paper noted that, before leaving for Normandy by glider on D-Day to seize the bridges over the River Orne, he purchased a newsboy’s entire supply of the first edition of the London Evening Standard so that the men who’d landed before dawn would be able to read press accounts of their exploits on the very same day. The Telegraph’s anthologies of military obituaries (edited by David Twiston-Davies) are highly recommended, and a very moving parade of astonishing courage punctuated by dotty elan.

On further search, though, it turns out the one I remember best wasn’t an obit at all. It’s an excerpt from the journal of Capt Robert McLaren, who operated behind Japanese lines in the second World War, and it appeared in the health section under do-it-yourself-appendectomy:

“Made incision through skin, spread the muscle layers with the end of the spoon, bared the appendix, tied off and buried the stump. Healed in three days. Japs pushed in. Took to the hills.”

Some people make you feel like a COMPLETE waste of human skin,
don’t they?


Comment from Dawn
Time: December 28, 2007, 2:01 pm

If he is one and the same as this fellow http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A150300b.htm
he was a veteranarian.

Imagine surving the Japanese only to be killed by a tree.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: December 28, 2007, 6:49 pm

Ha! I bet that is him. Good catch. He would be a veterinarian; those guys are worth three doctors.

Survives giving himself an appendectomy with a spoon in the jungles of Borneo only to back into a tree and drop it on himself.

It’s like a Roadrunner cartoon.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: December 29, 2007, 7:08 am

“Some people make you feel like a COMPLETE waste of human skin, don’t they?

Sorry – I was busy correcting the orbits of Mercury and Venus, while considering some time-travel for a few well-placed changes to Mans past history.

What was the question again?

Comment from Gibby Haynes
Time: December 29, 2007, 11:05 am

You leave the orbits of Mercury and Venus alone you big bully.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: December 29, 2007, 11:30 am

I don’t fix ’em right now we’re gonna be hip-deep in li’l planetoids – and then the neighborhood’ll go downhill, and they’ll be trashing the lawns, and….

Comment from Gibby Haynes
Time: December 29, 2007, 11:43 am

Ah, li’l plantoids – they’re so cute until they grow up.
I just sent an inquiry to an electric greenhouse heater company about one of their models, and I gave my name and company as General David H. Petraeus and United States Army respectively. Life is good.

Comment from Gibby Haynes
Time: December 29, 2007, 11:44 am

Damnit, that was meant to be planetoids obviously. This crack must be tainted or something.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: December 29, 2007, 11:56 am

Are they assuring you that no surge will occur with their heaters?

BTW: I’ve always taken delight at filling in false information on occasions like that. It’s part of life’s gravy…

Comment from Gibby Haynes
Time: December 29, 2007, 12:08 pm

They’re not saying shit so far. If there was a surge – in this case a power surge – I’m sure they’d say it’s not working.
‘Your lousy greenhouse heater is surging.’
‘ZOMG, the surge isn’t working!!1!’
‘Oh, the surge is working, it’s your shiteating heater that’s not working. I want my money back you commies.’
And so on.

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