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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?

December 28, 2007 — 9:56 am
Comments: 9