Thursday, October 04, 2007



This is actually a posting that isn’t; an idea that didn’t work out. Still, it seemed like such a good idea at the time, that I feel compelled to write something, even if it’s basically nothing. Understand?

One day a thought popped into my head, “Just what pencil does Uncle Sam use?” Even better, “What mechanical pencil does the US Army use?” Surely there was a story here.

Well it turns out that as far as I can tell (from a long way away), there isn’t really any story here. From a few US folk I’ve asked, and the little I could find on the web, it appears that these days things have changed, that the Army doesn’t do big national deals on this sort of thing. They pretty much shop where you and I do, but they probably get the big bulk-buyer discount price, although apparently there are some nifty army camouflage pencils. But basically no story here.

So I changed tack a little and searched around for some pencil and local military links. Again not much of a relationship, although I did find a few snippets like this:

Major-General Horatio Gordon Robley, the “Soldier with a Pencil” who served with the British Army here in NZ in the mid-1860’s during the New Zealand Wars. He made many finely detailed drawings of colonial and Maori life which are an important historical archive. This is the front cover of a small publication of some of his drawings - it’s the facial tattoo of a Maori chief.

Another link I liked was of a comic story from the trenches of France / Belgium in World War One. A little light-hearted NZ colonial humour directed at the ‘superior minds’ of the (British) commanders, with their fancy pencils, multiplication tables and ready-reckoners.

“Hush!” said an orderly who entered stealthily. "Do not disturb him yet. He is engaged upon a mathematical calculation.""Good Lord!” I said. “Why does he tax his brains with such difficult work?”
It appeared that he was busy with a report to the Corps Commander. His pencil was working furiously. The problem was this: If two mules can draw two hundredweight of paté de foie gras on a trench tramway two feet wide with a grade of one in a hundred on a curve of one in fifty as laid down by a New Zealand engineer, what will be the weight of the two mules and the name of the muleteer? "Upon the solution of that problem," whispered the orderly, “will depend the feeding and the equipment of this Army for the next three years."

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