Six degrees of separation: from sheep shears to Hitler’s telephone
History is much more complicated than you learned in school.
Absolutely everything is connected, and more intimately than you might expect.
In the spirit of muddying the waters of the past, we’re going to attempt to draw a link between a pair of shears awarded to a champion Australian sheep shearer and the telephone Adolf Hitler used to order the deaths of millions.
Buckle up, it's about to get tenuous.
1. Jackie Howe's sheep shears
If you don’t hail from the land down under, you’re unlikely to have ever heard of Jackie Howe.
He’s the holder of an unbeaten record set in 1892 for the most sheep sheared over a single week (1,437). He used to hold the daily record (321) up until 1950, when he was stripped of the title by Ted Reick – although it’s important to note that Reick used electric shears.
For his extraordinary achievement, Howe was awarded this set of shears, acquired by the National Museum of Australia for $46,000 in 2013.
2. Dan Kelly's pistol
While Howe was shearing his sheep, further down the coast Ned Kelly and his gang were putting the finishing touches on their homemade suits of armour.
Seasoned bank robbers and cop killers all, they’d been the bane of the Victoria police for years.
The armour, however, was new.
In June 1880, the gang made their last stand at the Glenrowan inn – stepping out against the police in bulletproof padding weighing well over 40 pounds apiece.
In the end, the police got the better of them. All were killed in the shootout, except for Ned. He was hanged days later.
This flintlock cavalry pistol was carried by Ned’s brother Dan.
Take a good look at the flintlock. You might just be able to make out a prancing lion. That’s the mark of the British East India Company...
3. An East India Company rupee
Founded in 1600, the East India Company was one of the main reasons Britain was able to become a global power.
Its ships sailed the globe, establishing trading outposts for exotic spices, gold and slaves.
India was a particularly lucrative target.
By the 1750s, the Company had become enormously powerful and began to take control of entire regions of India.
By 1757, it had total power over the nation. There followed a period of 100 years before India became an official part of the British empire.
During the colonial years the East India Company issued its own coins in India, like this 20 rupee here. It’s a token that indicates the company’s enormous power.
The British would remain in India until 1947.
One man in particular is credited with helping remove the country from its yoke.
4. Gandhi's spinning wheel
Gandhi’s policy of non-violent resistance has been adopted the world over.
Modern India credits him with uniting the country in throwing off its colonial shackles.
One of the ways he achieved this was through the use of the charka (or spinning wheel). He made his own clothes using fabric he’d spun himself. He intended to show the Indian people that they could be self sufficient.
In his early designs for the Indian flag, Gandhi included a spinning wheel. Later that was changed to the dharmachakra, the wheel representing the cycle of life and death.
Gandhi’s recognition of the importance of non-violence was hard won.
5. A 1914-1915 Star
Gandhi began pushing for Indian independence around 1915, while Britain was locked in trench warfare with Germany.
In 1918, despite his message of non-violence, he called on Indians to join the colonial forces in Europe. The war was not going well for Britain at the time. He hoped to win civil liberties with this act of good faith. But in the end, he was betrayed as the Raj introduced new laws to crack down on freedoms.
This 1914-1915 medal was awarded to Sepoy Mahmud, a member of the Indian Corps of Guides during the conflict.
In all 1m Indian troops fought during the war.
Their contribution helped turn the tide towards the British.
6. The pen that signed the Treaty of Versailles
In the end, the Allies emerged from the war triumphant.
The Treaty of Versailles, the agreement that ended the war in November 1918, was signed with this very pen – which can be seen today in the Palace of Versailles.
For many Germans (particularly former soldiers) the treaty was a national humiliation.
Germany was stripped of its former territories, banned from maintaining a large armed force and wrenched of its economic assets.
There were tough times.
Jobs disappeared, food was scarce and hyper-inflation made German marks worthless.
7. Hitler's telephone
In 1919, one of those former soldiers decided enough was enough.
He joined the German workers party, the DAP, and fought his way up through the ranks.
By 1921, he was head of the party – which he renamed the NSDAP.
The Nazis, as they became known, would become the largest political party in Germany. They took power in 1933.
The war of expansion that followed affected every nation on Earth.
And for the most part it was conducted from the mouthpiece of this telephone, which Hitler carried wherever he went.
It was recovered from his bunker in the closing days of the war and remains an object of breathtaking power.
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