Previously Posted: Lest We Forget

For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.

Lest We Forget (11.11.09)

This Remembrance Day go along to the corner of Clerkenwell Road and Hatton Garden. There you will find a blue plaque to Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (5 February, 1840 – 24 November, 1916) an American born inventor who emigrated to England and adopted British citizenship. He was the inventor of the Maxim gun, the first portable, fully automatic machine gun.

Maxim was reported to have said: “In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States. He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility”.

As a child, Maxim had been knocked over by a rifle’s recoil, and this inspired him to use that recoil force to automatically operate a gun. Between 1883 and 1885 Maxim patented gas, recoil and blow-back methods of operation. After moving to England, he settled in West Norwood where he developed his design for an automatic weapon. He thoughtfully ran announcements in the local press warning that he would be experimenting with the gun in his garden and that neighbours should keep their windows open to avoid the danger of broken glass.

Maxim founded an armaments company to produce his machine gun which later merged with Nordenfeldt and the Vickers Corporation in 1896, becoming ‘Vickers, Son & Maxim’. Their updated design was the standard British machine gun for many years. Sales of the Maxim gun were bought and used extensively by both sides during World War I.

The Battle of the Somme fought from July to November 1916, was among the largest battles of the First World War. With more than 1.5 million casualties, it is also one of the bloodiest military operations recorded. The Allied forces attempted to break through the German lines along a 12-mile front north and south of the River Somme in northern France. The battle is best remembered for its first day, 1 July 1916, on which the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead – the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

Maxim died four months after the start of the Battle of the Somme, profoundly deaf as his hearing had been damaged by years of exposure to the noise of experimenting with his gun.

If only he had stopped with his other weapon of mass destruction, history might have been different . . . the ubiquitous mouse trap.

As a curious footnote the building opposite the blue plaque was the Old Holborn tobacco factory, another purveyor of death.

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