We all know that war is a nasty, messy, vicious event. Nevertheless, sometimes war is necessary. Unfortunately, in our world, evil exists, and sometimes the evil is in the form of a dictator, a nation, or a religious group. Wars might be fought differently, but the end result is the same…death and destruction. Still, most wars have an ending point. One side surrenders, and admits defeat. That might seem like the end of the story, but it isn’t. All too often the process of cleaning up the mess after the war, takes far longer than the war itself. In fact, sometimes the cleanup never really happens at all. Such was the case with landmines in Angola. These mines are a legacy of over four decades of fighting during a 14 year war of independence against its former colonial ruler of Portugal and another 30 years of civil war. Like people who put signs up to advertise a garage sale, sometimes they don’t remember where all the landmines were, or maybe they did, and simply didn’t care. Either way, the landmines were killing and maiming people…innocent people. That was the mission my 16th cousin once removed, Princess Diana took upon herself. She wanted an international ban on landmines. Her comments, which were made during a January 15, 1997 visit to Angola to see for herself some of the victims of landmines, were seen as out of step with government policy by the Junior Defense Minister, Earl Howe, who described the princess as a “loose cannon”, ill-informed on the issue of anti-personnel landmines. Nevertheless, Diana was right about the weapons of war that were left behind. The task of cleaning up the mess may have been a daunting one, but the result of leaving them behind was gruesome.
Of course, these weren’t the only messes that needed to be cleaned up after a war. There were buildings to be rebuilt, the dead to bury, the economy to build up, and the government often had to be restructured. The country might have been the enemy, but if things weren’t handled right after the surrender, the same evil people might move right back into power. Of course, cleaning up the mess…often known as policing the nation that has now surrendered, is no easy task either. Most people don’t want the winning army there. Their country is nothing like it used to be. Some believe that is a good thing, but it was still their home, and now everything feels…wrong. Their homes are destroyed, food is can be scarce…water too. Everything they have known for their whole life is gone. No wonder they don’t want the army there…or maybe they secretly do, because their home has become just a very scary place. I suppose that is why a part of the surrender agreements include restoration of the country, and the new government and police.
One more part of cleaning up the mess is the task of trying the perpetrators for their war crimes. That was the main reason that Hitler took his own life. He knew that he would be tried and convicted of the crimes he had committed, and he couldn’t face what would follow. He would have been left to the mercy of his countrymen, and he would have ended up being hung, like Saddam Hussein was for his war crimes. A dictator can’t brutally kill the people who he is in power over and not be hated…truly hated, no matter what the people act like when they are forced to act loyal. The trials for war crimes in many ways seems to the world, as if one nation is trying to be the world police. The United States has been accused of this before, but the reality remains, that someone has to try these evil criminals, and someone has to clean up the mess. In the absence of another nation to step up, the job usually falls to the United States.
After Bob and I had the opportunity to view the old minesweeper, now located off Picnic Park near Edmonds, Washington, I have been curious about mines and minesweepers, in general. That said, I did a little research on them, and was surprised at what I found. Landmines have been in existence since the early Ming Dynasty in the 1400s. It seems such a strange thing to me to set explosives in areas where they could not only trigger an explosion when an enemy crosses paths with them, but they could also trigger explosions when their own citizens crossed paths with them. I suppose those accidental friendly hits would be considered collateral damage, and were acceptable losses in the grand scheme of things, but it still seems like a horrible way to guard an area. Still, it was definitely an effective way to guard and area, border, or waterway.
Nevertheless, I can understand why countries such as England, who is surrounded by water, and therefore vulnerable to certain types of attacks, especially during the earlier wars, like World War I and World War II, might have decided as they did in World War II, to lay mine traps to guard against movement by the German U-Boats in World War II. The U-Boats were feared by all their enemies, and considered one of the biggest dangers in the war by Winston Spencer Churchill. They made it almost impossible to have any prior knowledge of their presence, until it was too late to get away from them. Still, putting mines in the English Channel, where your own ships had to maneuver too, almost seems like taking a risk that would be greater than the benefit that it provided. Nevertheless, submarine traps were laid in the English Channel, and they served a purpose.
When considering a minesweeper in World War II, when ships were made of metal, I was curious as to why there would be a wooden hulled minesweeper in World War II. It has come to my attention that the minesweeper in Edmonds, may not have seen action at all. There seems to be a bit of confusion as to when it was built, and when it came to it’s final resting place in the Edmonds area. If it was indeed built for World War II, and never saw action, then my thought was why was it a wooden hull. I found the answer to that in my research on mines. There are several types of mines, as I mentioned earlier. Landmines were the earliest, but when it came to floating mines, they were mostly magnetic. Now when you put a metal minesweeper, or any other metal ship or submarine, near a magnetic mine…well, I’m sure you can get a picture of the seriousness of the problem they would have. A wooden hulled minesweeper on the other hand would have to actually come into contact with the mine to have that problem. Perhaps this was the reason for mines laid under the surface of the water and held in place by a cable. They were more invisible to the eye, and so created the ability to trigger the explosion when an unsuspecting ship or submarine found themselves in the wrong place. These mines blew a hole in the hull, rendering the ship or submarine helpless, as it took on water and quickly sunk.
There have been stories in the news over the years, of mines showing up on the shore years after they were laid. It was a big problem, as were the landmines that were left after the wars. No clear record were kept apparently, and so removal of the mines was never made a priority. I remember when Princess Diana made it one of her priorities to find a way to get those landmines removed. The injuries to so many people who wandered into a minefield just tore at her heart. In hearing about the stories of tragedies resulting from those minefields, my mind cringed at the thought of those injuries. I found myself thinking that her quest to remove them was such an important one. Because I love to hike, I can see how easy it could be to create a trail that would cross paths with a minefield that has been around for decades. Sometimes, the necessary weapons of our warfare bring such destruction, that you find yourself wondering why people and nations can’t just get along, but we all know that is not to be. As long as there has been life on Earth, there have been wars of one kind or another, and I don’t expect that to change now, so these weapons will continue to exist and to be a big problem.
Most people know that Princess Diana married Prince Charles, and for a lot of people that is the extent of the Spencer ties to the British Aristocracy. That assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. The Spencer family is one of Britain’s preeminent aristocratic families. In the family line, there have been knights, baronets, and members of the royal family. Hereditary titles include dukedom of Marlborough, earldom of Sunderland, as well as Spencer and Churchill viscountcy. Of course, the two most well known members were Sir Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, with the current addition of Princes William and Henry, and now George.
So the question remains, how did this family rise to wealth, or were they born into it? The answer is that the Spencer family rose to wealth from humble beginnings. A close relative of Henry Spencer who died in 1478, was John Spencer who in 1469 had become a feudal lord of Wormleighton in Warwickshire and a tenant of the now famous to most people, Altrop in Northamptonshire in 1486. His nephew, Sir John Spencer, who died in 1522, first made a living trading in livestock and other commodities. He was able to save enough money to purchase both the Wormleighton and Altrop lands, and the estate of Altrop with its moated house and several hundred acres of farmland. The family grazed sheep on the land. As time went on, he purchased more and more land. He then rebuilt the Altrop house in 1508 and it became the family home for the next nineteen generations. By the 16th century the Spencer family had entered Parliament in the person of Sir Robert Spencer (1570 – 1627) who represented Brackley in Parliament. He was made a Knight of the Garter and created Baron Spencer of Wormleighton in 1601. During the reign of King James I, Sir Robert Spencer was reputed to be the richest man in England.
There were those in the British aristocracy, such as the more established Howard and FitzAlan ancestors, who didn’t approve of the Spencer’s rise to wealth through sheep herding, and who tried to act more officially aristocratic, but they were shot down in a heated debate when Lord Spencer replied, “When my ancestors, as you say, were keeping sheep, your ancestors were plotting treason.” I’m sure this did not go over well, but apparently, they were not able to dispute that accusation, and so the subject was dropped. There have been countless other Spencers in the British Parliament, as well as the House of Commons. The Spencer family has been influential in much of the lawmaking in England, as well as in the area of British economics.
I guess I don’t quite understand why the other aristocratic families didn’t like the way that the Spencer family rose to wealth, but I think that in the area of wealth and politics, the old money and old political families often don’t like having new upstarts invading their supposed territory. I don’t think it is much different in any country. The wealthy families tend to like their power and prestige, and really don’t want to share those things much. I seriously doubt that they ever gave any thought to where their own wealth came from. Later, after the upstart families are established, they simply have to accept it. It reminds me of the unsinkable Molly Brown on the Titanic. The established money didn’t like her marrying into her money. They didn’t feel like she belonged, but she didn’t care, and she was nevertheless a force to be reckoned with, so they had to treat her with respect. That is what has had to happen with the Spencer family, and now, their aristocracy is no longer questioned by any of the British aristocratic families.
As very young girls, my sisters and I were well aware of our Spencer roots. We are among the descendants of Michael Spencer, who is one of the four Spencer brothers who, along with their sister, came to America together, leaving behind all they knew in England. Michael was our 8th great grandfather. The information about our English heritage was passed down from generation to generation. We knew that we were related to Winston Spencer Churchill. We knew that we were related to Princess Diana, who is our 18th cousin, and her children, William and Harry, and now William’s son George. We always knew about all of the things that tied our family to the Spencer line in England.
Mom and Dad were always very proud of our Spencer background…of anything Spencer, really. I remember as a little girl, being allowed to stay up late, even on a school night, to watch the movie “Spencer’s Mountain” whenever it came on. It always felt like it was a story written about our family, even though the number of children didn’t match, and there were no boys in our family. Our family values, and the closeness we all shared, just meshed so well with the family in the movie, that it really was like they were a part of our family. We watched the movie many times, and it was almost like they were our alter egos.
“Spencer’s Mountain” was not the only late night viewing, that occurred in my life, that had to do with the Spencer family, however. When Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, I stayed up late to watch the ceremony, and when Prince William married Kate Middleton, I stayed up late to watch the ceremony, which took place on my birthday…something I really liked. Could I have recorded these events for viewing at a more normal time of day? Yes, and I did record them, but that would never be the same as watching the event live. Maybe other people would think I was crazy, but to me, that’s what growing up Spencer was all about. These people are my family, and this was an important event in their lives. I wanted to watch…first hand. When it was announced that Princess Kate was in labor with George, I was glued to the television set. I couldn’t wait to hear the happy news. I know many people aren’t interested in the English Royals, and I wasn’t really either…until Princess Diana married into the family. That connected my family to the royal family…in modern times at least…the Spencer family has royal ties centuries back too, but I didn’t know of those and wasn’t around then anyway, so Princess Diana was the first royal I knew of.
Every time the name Spencer showed up in a product, movie, or even the phone book, we felt an immediate connection. In reality, for the people in the phone books at least, there is a real likelihood that we are related. I have run into many people over the years that bear the name Spencer, and I only wish that there had been a way to find out for sure what our relationship is. I know it would be something that would be of interest to all of us, because everyone becomes intrigued by the possibility of being related to someone they didn’t know about before. There are a number of Spencers in Casper, and I’m sure we are related, but it would take time to trace the ties and find the connection that I have no doubt exists. It is another aspect of growing up Spencer, that will have to wait for another day.
They say that children learn what they live, and we all know that is true in many ways. What I find interesting is that when there is a family that has political ties, often they extend way back. Of course, with new people being introduced into the family with marriages and births, things can change, and move away from the ties that had been there before, but often they continue on for generations. That is the case in the Knox family, which is one of the families my husband, Bob comes from. His mom and grandparents were very much not political, but in generations past, there were several presidents in his family, with the one most well known to us being James Knox Polk, who is Bob’s 2nd cousin 5 times removed. I know that is pretty distant, but then, he lived from 1795 to 1849, so it would have to be.
There are also, the presidents who are a little more distant, but still come from the Knox family. Presidents like Andrew Jackson, George HW Bush, and George W Bush. The connections are a little harder to find, because they involve the in-laws and their marriages, but they are nevertheless a familial connection. I suppose that if we go far enough back, we will find a president or some royalty in pretty much every family. It stands to reason when you consider the various family connections. As marriages and births occur, and family connections are formed, it becomes more and more a real possibility. For some of us, like Bob’s family’s political ties, and my family’s tie to Princess Diana and the British Royal Family, the connections are well known to us from the time we are children. For others, those connections are not discovered until much later on, and some never know that a connection exists. To me that is sad, because I have thoroughly enjoyed finding out who I am related to…and I have been very surprised too. Both Bob and I are related to Princess Diana and her children, so the birth of Prince George was particularly exciting to me. Even though the royal family is not exactly a political tie in the normal sense of the word, they are still the ruling family in England, and so political in that way.
I suppose that things can come full circle too, from a very political family to one that is not so political, and back to very political again. And in that way, I would certainly be one of the latter…and possibly the most politically inclined member of the current family…at least for the Knox/Schulenberg side. I doubt if anyone would dispute that. I have no intentions of running for political office. I might be considered more of an activist, in that I have very specific ideas of right and wrong, and I certainly don’t mind voicing my opinions on matters, as my friends can fully attest. What can I say, except that it takes all kinds of people to make this world what it is.
Coming from the house of Spencer, I have long known that Princess Diana was my distant cousin. Because of that, I have felt a bond of sorts with her sons, William and Harry, and with William’s wife, Catherine, or Kate as she will always be known, no matter what the Queen has decried. Yesterday, the royal couple, William and Kate have added a new member to our family…a baby boy. Of course, we don’t know his name yet, but I have my own ideas of what some good choices would be, and yes they, are in keeping with the British tradition of four names from the royal line, along with the possibility of some from Kate’s family. Like the rest of the world, I also, look forward with great anticipation to the announcement of the name of Prince…of Cambridge, as well as getting to see him for the first time.
I hear from friends and on television that many people think that there is too much hoopla over the Royals and that the people of the United States shouldn’t care about a baby in England, but I can’t help but be excited…because he is family, whether I ever get to meet him or not. I also suspect that there are many people in the United States who descend from the original four Spencer brothers who immigrated to the United States so long ago. Many people may not even know they are related. Sad for them, I say, because a baby…any baby is a wonderful thing. We get excited when a celebrity has a new baby, but somehow we are not supposed to with the Royals. Oh well, the choice is theirs. I choose to be very excited.
It is my hope that William and Kate will follow Diana’s parenting skills, because she did an amazing job with William and Harry, who are not stuffy like some other royals have been in the past. This baby boy is destined to be the King of England one day, and he should be loved by his people like his parents and uncle certainly are. The days and years that follow this royal birth will surely have William and Kate “seeing what the future brings” as William put it. I sincerely hope and fully believe that their future is very bright, and that this sweet little boy will bring them an extreme amount of joy, as will his future siblings.
I want to offer my congratulations to William and Kate and the rest of the royal family on this wonderful occasion. I can’t wait to hear your precious little boy’s name, and yes, I look forward to seeing his pictures in the future, because he is a special little boy, and I am honored to be his distant cousin.