10/ix mmxv

Mexican mole sauce can include chillies, cinnamon, garlic, chocolate, lard, and plantains.

Though Jones is the most common surname in Wales, there is no ‘J’ in the Welsh language.

A sheet of paper is a million atoms thick.

Sigmund Freud destroyed 14 years’ worth of notes, letters and manuscripts in order to confound future biographers.

The chance of cracking the enigma machine, used by the Germans to scramble their wartime messages, by chance is about the same as winning the lottery 11,000,000,000,000 times.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Chanson d’Automne

Autumn Song or Chanson d’automne is a famous poem by Paul Verlaine; one of the best known in the French language. It was published in Verlaine’s first collection, Poèmes saturniens, published in 1866.

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur

It translates as: “The long sobs / Of the violins / Of Autumn / Wound my heart / With a monotonous / Languor.”

The poem earned its place in history during World War II. In preparation for Operation Overlord, the British had signalled to the French Resistance that the opening lines of Chanson d’Automne were to indicate the start of D-Day operations. The first three lines of the poem, “Les sanglots longs / des violons / de l’automne”, meant that Operation Overlord was to start within two weeks.

These lines were broadcast on 1 June 1944.

The next set of lines, “Blessent mon coeur / d’une langueur / monotone”, meant that the main operation would start within 48 hours and that the French resistance should begin sabotage operations especially on the French railroad system.

These lines were broadcast on 5 June at 23:15 – the rest is history.

See other: Admin’s Choice Posts

Noms de Guerre and Cadre Names

In Ancien Régime France, Noms de guerre meaning names of war or war names were adopted by new recruits, or attributed by the captain of the company, as they enlist in the French army.

These nicknames had an official character and were the predecessor of identification numbers: soldiers were identified by their first names, their family names, and their noms de guerre. These pseudonyms were usually related to the soldier’s place of origin, for instance; Jean Deslandes dit Champigny, for a soldier coming from a town named Champigny, or related to a particular physical or psychological trait, for instance; Antoine Bonnet dit Prettaboire, for a soldier prêt-à-boire meaning ready-to-drink.

In 1716 noms de guerre were mandatory for every soldier. Officers on the other hand did not adopt noms de guerre as they considered them derogatory. In daily life, these aliases could replace the real family name.

V.I. Lenin in a wig and cap, August 11, 1917

Lenin wearing a wig and a cap, August 11, 1917

Noms de guerre were later adopted by members of the French resistance during World War II for security reasons. Such pseudonyms were and still are often adopted by military special forces soldiers, such as members of the SAS and other similar units, resistance fighters, terrorists, and guerrillas. This practice hides their identities and protects their families from reprisal; it may also be a form of dissociation from domestic life. For instance, in the French Foreign Legion, recruits can adopt a pseudonym to break with their past lives.

Also, within Communist parties and Trotskyist organisations, noms de guerre are usually known as party names or cadre names. While the practice originated during the revolutionary years after World War I, to conceal the identity of leaders, by the 1950s and 1960s, the practice was more of a tradition than an identity-concealment strategy. Some famous Communist Party names include Lenin, Vladimir Il’ich Ulyanov; Stalin, Yosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili; Pol Pot, Saloth Sar; Nahuel Moreno, Hugo Miguel Bressano; and Hua Guofeng, Su Zhu.

Mata Hari

Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida “Grietje” Zelle. She was born on August the 7th 1876, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, and died tragically on October 15th 1917 at Vincennes, France. Mata Hari was a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy, who was executed by firing squad in France for espionage for Germany during World War I.

Mata Hari

Margaretha Zelle alias Mata Hari

During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Margaretha Zelle was thus able to cross national borders freely. To avoid the battlefields, she travelled between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention.

In 1916 she was travelling by steamer from Spain when her ship called at the English port of Falmouth. There she was arrested and brought to London where she was interrogated at length by Sir Basil Thomson, Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard in charge of counter-espionage. He gave an account of this in his 1922 book comically named: Queer People, saying that she eventually admitted to working for French Intelligence.

Initially detained in Canon Street police station she was then released and stayed at the Savoy Hotel. A full transcript of the interview is in Britain’s National Archives and was broadcast with Mata Hari played by Eleanor Bron on the independent station London Broadcasting in 1980.

It is unclear if she lied on this occasion, believing the story made her sound more intriguing, or if French authorities were using her in such a way, but would not acknowledge her due to the embarrassment and international backlash it could cause.

In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. Unusually, the messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, leaving some historians to suspect that the messages were contrived.

Mata Hari

Mata Hari

On 13 February 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She was put on trial, accused of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. Although the French and British intelligence suspected her of spying for Germany, neither could produce definite evidence against her. Secret ink was found in her room, which was incriminating evidence in that period. She contended that it was part of her make-up. She wrote several letters to the Dutch Consul in Paris, claiming her innocence. “My international connections are due of my work as a dancer, nothing else […]. Because I really did not spy, it is terrible that I cannot defend myself.” Despite her pleas, she was found guilty and was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917, aged 41.

Pat Shipman’s biography Femme Fatale argues that Mata Hari was never a double agent, speculating that she was used as a scapegoat by the head of French counter-espionage. Georges Ladoux had been responsible for recruiting Mata Hari as a French spy and later was arrested for being a double agent himself. The facts of the case remain vague because the official case documents regarding the execution were sealed for 100 years, although, in 1985, biographer Russell Warren Howe managed to convince the French Minister of National Defence to break open the file, about 32 years early. It was revealed that Mata Hari was innocent of her charges of espionage.