Friday, July 25, 2014

Chapter 10 - Oh! Petawawa: Part 3 - Junior Inspector

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Korzybski also had to get quickly up to speed in his knowledge of artillery. When he wasn’t studying English, he spent much of the rest of his spare time reading artillery textbooks. The senior inspectors in the Russian Artillery Commission at Petawawa, Colonel Sachanow and Captain Goodima, were seasoned artillery men but in the main did not deal directly with the field guns. Although Korzybski had the title of junior inspector, his  responsibility was not inspecting the ammunition. Rather, his civilian job consisted of test-firing and maintaining the field guns, and seemed more military than not. Basically, he functioned as an artillery lieutenant and when at work he found it most convenient to wear one of his old uniforms.

His bosses would give him samples to test. These might include shells (empty shells, loaded high explosive shells, and shrapnel shells) or shell components (primers, brass casings, timed fuses for shrapnel, etc.). Korzybski supervised the test-firing and acted as range observer. When the gunner was sick, he would take his place and operate the gun, which could hit a target several miles away. Afterwards he would report the results to Sachanow and Goodima, who had chosen the test samples and were responsible for analyzing the results, passing or rejecting lots of ammunition, corresponding with the manufacturer, etc.

In order to deal with such correspondence, Sachanow and Goodima had a small office staff of immigrant clerks who would take their dictation in Russian and write the necessary letters in English. But Sachanow and Goodima soon found they needed someone with more linguistic and technical knowledge than what the clerks could offer. So Korzybski soon had additional work acting as their liaison with the Canadian Car and Foundry Company and with Colonel Mackie, the Officer in Charge at Petawawa Camp. 

If either Korzybski, Sachonow, or Goodima had wanted to do a little ‘business on the side’ they certainly had the opportunity even at Petawawa. The company could lose tens of thousands of dollars if dishonest inspectors rejected a carload of good ammunition. As grafters, the three men could easily have squeezed one or two thousand dollars out of the company in this way. But none of them had any inclination to do so. Canadian Car and Foundry behaved honestly as well, although Korzybski considered their prices high. For example, they might charge three times the production cost for a shrapnel fuse. Nonetheless, they had a low rejection rate for their products. They clearly were on the up and up and showed no interest in bribing the Russians to pass faulty ammunition. Indeed they seemed quite interested in cooperating with Sachanow and Goodima who would present Korzybski with advice in Russian on technical problems which Korzybski would then communicate in English or French to company representatives, engineers, etc., who seemed eager to improve their products. With Sachanow spending more and more of his time drinking and Goodima allowing Alfred a certain degree of independence, Alfred was using his abilities with language and troubleshooting once more.

As in his previous position as a “translator” in which he did intelligence work, Alfred’s title at Petawawa didn't accurately represent what he did there. Though officially a civilian  inspector, he inspected no ammunition. He spent his working time in a military role on the firing range supervising soldiers operating and maintaining field guns. And in the office, acting as a go-between, the ‘junior’ inspector was taking on responsibilities of the senior inspectors (with their permission).

Korzybski’s bosses depended on him for some of their informal obligations as well. Because of his language facility and his noble bearing, they designated him the “host” when visitors such as foreign military officers came to see the Russian operation. 
The practice in military circles of the time involved a ritual, with the host and guests trying to drink each other under the table. Korzybski had orders to be a good host and go along. Though not a non-drinker, he cheated:
I had a special bottle of whiskey which was just plain tea and my man, or orderly if you wish, was keeping my particular tea bottle, means whiskey bottle, filled with tea separately so I would not be caught red-handed… I had to be on my feet and personally I don’t like that kind of hell drinking.(5)

There were also a number of international military meetings, during which the French, British and Russians demonstrated their artillery. Although as a civilian it was not Korzybski’s role to do so, Sachanow and Goodima had him demonstrate the Russian guns wearing his old “private with a string” uniform. One day Korzybski was informed that the Duke of Connaught, one of Queen Victoria’s sons and the Governor General of Canada, would be coming within a few days to tour Petawawa with his daughter Patricia. Korzybski was ordered to take care of a royal parade and demonstration for the Duke at the proving ground. “My god. What did I know about that [?] Nothing. No instructions. Just orders to do it. So I had to take care of my side which means the troops, guns, shooting , etc.”(6) Alfred was certainly not overawed at the prospect of seeing the Duke. As a Count, he had been around nobility all of his life and he had encountered royalty. Besides, he had already met the Duke and his daughter on one of his visits to Ottawa and had seen and become friendly with them on subsequent visits. The royal parade came off well and they were ready for the artillery demonstration. Korzybski had been flirting with Patricia and did not notice a photographer who had placed himself directly in front of the muzzle of the field gun. Luckily, before giving the order to fire, Korzybski turned his eyes from the young woman long enough to see the man and get him out of the way. The Duke appeared impressed with Korzybski’s efforts and sent him copies of the photographs and an invitation to a garden party in Ottawa.

Artillery demonstration for Duke of Connaught, 1916
Korzybski seen toward left, behind wheel of field gun)  

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
5. Ibid., p. 163. 

6. Ibid., p.165. 

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