Pens in war and peace
By Dr. S. S. L. Hettiarachchi
British Prime Minister Tony Blair may have signed the approval of use of force in Iraq with a pen gifted to him by French President Jacques Chirac, a staunch opponent of war on Iraq, according to a newspaper report.

A list published by the Prime Minster's office details the gifts received by him in his official capacity. Most of these items are in the safe custody of the state. But in a few cases, the Prime Minister has exercised his right to purchase the gifts for himself and his family. If the Prime Minister wishes to use these gifts and retain them, he has no option but to purchase them.

According to the news report, his recent single biggest purchase from the list was a 500 pound (US $ 800) fountain pen given by President Chirac. The report does not specify the date of purchase nor the brand of the pen. It may have been a top of the range Waterman or Dupont, icons of French writing instruments. On the other hand, it may well have been a special pen manufactured by a jeweller-cum-pen-specialist, a French speciality.

It is equally interesting to note, as reported in a French pen journal, Le Stylographe, that last year Tony Blair presented a Conway Stewart fountain pen, the Churchill model in marble brown to Jacques Chirac for his 70th birthday which fell on November 29. The pen was given at the NATO summit in Prague and it was expected that the gift of the pen would lead to reconciliation of differences between the two leaders.

Conway Stewart is a respected British brand which began manufacturing pens in 1905. They ceased manufacturing in the 70s but were revived in the 90s and now produce exquisite pens worthy of recognition. One of the models they produced recently commemorates the former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill who used a Conway Stewart pen throughout the war. This limited edition pen is hand crafted from a solid rod of acrylic resin, enhanced with an 18kt gold nib. The pen is presented in its own special limited edition box, complete with a book of quotations by the great leader, a Churchill size cigar and a bottle of ink (not whisky!). It was one of these pens that was gifted to President Chirac by Tony Blair. The pen is priced around US$ 400.

Pens at war
The modern world is heavily dependent on electronic communication whether in peace or at war. During the first press conference from the field headquarters, the present US Commander of the Gulf forces General Tommy Franks referred to an e-mail anniversary wish sent by his wife. Over the last century, the world has progressed tremendously in the field of communication. But readers would be surprised to note that during the First World War, dominated by land based large armies, the only option available for the soldiers to communicate was pen and paper.

The only pens available were fountain pens. It was long before the development of the ball point pen (of the '40s) and roller balls (of the '60s). The military authorities made every possible effort to ensure the smooth exchange of letters between the battlefront and families at home to ensure high morale. Many movies depicting that era and even that of the Second World War have moving scenes of soldiers and their families receiving letters of joy or sadness.

The First World War saw a high demand from soldiers who wanted pens, to use during breaks in the rather static trench warfare. The fountain pen industry itself was rather young - just over 25 years. The Parker Pen Company under the leadership of George Parker made rapid advances in developing reliable and innovative mechanisms to meet the demand. Parker developed the trench pen which proved to be effective and popular. Instead of using liquid ink (which would have been most inconvenient for the soldiers to carry) the pen was designed to use ink pellets (tablets) to which water could be added. The tablets were contained in the blind cap at the end of the barrel.

Parker advertisements from 1918 offer ink tablets for a soldiers’s kit in place of fluid ink. Parker also proudly stated the fact that damage to the 'self filling mechanism' of the pen does not terminate its life but the pen automatically changes from a 'self filling pen' to ' non-self filling pen' without any interruption of active service, a remarkable achievement for that era.

On an agreement reached between the War Office and the Parker Company, a huge quantity of these pens was made available to the soldiers to write to their families. It certainly enhanced the reputation and fame of Parker as being reliable even on the battlefront. An advertisement from a Red Cross magazine of 1917 illustrates the story of pens in war.

Another manufacturer of reliable war-time pens was the Waterman Pen Company whose pens were widely used in the trenches. An American paper, The Times Union of April 20, 1996 reported a fascinating story (WES Journal Spring 2001) of a farmer of the village of Loos-en-Gohelle in Northern France ploughing a field when he found the remains of a soldier. Around the bones were a number of items, including his pipe, pocket knife, wallet, military belt and a gold-nibbed fountain pen imprinted 'Waterman's Fountain Pen NY, USA. Aug 4, 1908'. If this was not remarkable enough, the pen was found to be full of ink and, after a few attempts, it wrote - 81 years after its owner was killed in action!

Pens in peace
During war, people pray for peace. When it came to placing signatures on some of the most significant peace treaties and resolution of conflicts of the 20th century, Parker pens were the preferred choice with only a few exceptions.

As far back as 1899, a Parker 'Jointless' was used to sign the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War. Judge Day, President of the American Peace Commission placed his signature on this famous Treaty of Peace signed in Paris on February 10. At the conclusion of World War I hostilities, a peace treaty was signed at Versailles on June 28, 1919. British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George signed the treaty using a Waterman Ideal Fountain Pen - a pen with a high reputation.

The Parker '51', which enjoys a reputation among users and collectors as the best pen ever made, continued to play an important role at signing ceremonies on several occasions after the Second World War. On May 7, 1945, in Rheims, France, General Dwight Eisenhower used two ‘51s’ to sign the treaty that ended World War II in Europe. Incidentally, the General refused to be in the same room with the Nazi generals, thus he sent his pens for signing but did not accompany them. Perhaps it must be one of the few occasions when the General and his pens were not enjoying each other's company. It was a well known fact that the General was a great admirer of the Parker ‘51’. On June 6, 1945, in Berlin, Field Marshal Montgomery used a Parker ‘51’ to sign the treaty of Germany's surrender.

Another historic event of World War II was the signing of the Japanese surrender aboard the Battleship Missouri on September 2, 1945, in Tokyo Harbour. General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral C.W. Nimitz used a Parker Duofold and a Parker '51' respectively.

Prior to introducing a pen, Parker conducted extensive research on its reliability and durability. Therefore, it was not surprising that a user would continue to write with a particular model for decades in spite of the availability of new models with improved features. General MacArthur used his 20-year-old Duofold for the signing ceremony. Fifty years later in 1995, Parker honoured the General by releasing a limited edition of this model, the Duofold MacArthur.

Although signatures were placed to sign the treaty which ended the war in Europe, the Japanese Peace Treaty itself was not signed until September 8, 1951. On this occasion too a Parker ‘51’ was used. It was a special gold-capped model with an engraved barrel. On July 27, 1953, in Mun San, Korea, General Mark Clark signed the Korean Armistice with a Parker '51' Flighter (the full stainless steel model). He actually used five, all engraved 'Korea - 1953'.

The Parker ‘51’, a totally reliable fountain pen of stylistic triumph, was 10 years ahead of its time when introduced to the market in 1939. Its global acceptance was so high that US servicemen were able to use it as currency along with nylons and chocolate in war-torn Europe.

Parker pens have continued to be chosen by world leaders (or on their behalf) to commemorate some of the most significant events in history. In the more recent past Parker '75', another Parker icon introduced originally in the early '60s, succeeded the Parker '51' as the preferred pen of statesmen and Parker often made special models for such occasions. In 1987 and 1991, Parker '75' pens were used for signing treaties and agreements on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and Strategic Arms Reduction (START). It is not surprising that Parker in one of their advertisements carried the message “the pen most often chosen to record history has also been known to make it”. If ever a pen company could use, on its proven track record, the famous words of Bulwer-Lytton “the pen is mightier than the sword”, it had to be Parker and it did so proudly after the signing of the INF treaty in 1987.

Parker pens have made further landmark contributions to peace. On many occasions it has succeeded in eliminating and restricting the use of the most dangerous weapons and firearms. These include, the signing of the Vietnam Peace Treaty by Secretary of State Rogers (1973), Camp David agreements (1978), G7 Economic Summits of Industrialised Nations (1988,1990), Soviet-American Treaties on chemical armaments (1990) and on strategic arsenal (1992), a profile worthy of respect and recognition.

Pens for abdication
Another historic event of the last century was the abdication of King Edward VIII. On December 10, 1936, in the octagonal room at Fort Belverdere, in the presence of his three brothers, the King signed the Instrument of Abdication. Although a man of style and elegance, he used an unassuming Waterman desk pen to place his signature, following which the pen was given to the Comptroller of Fort Belvedere. Around 1999, this pen fetched approximately 7000 pounds at an auction.

(Dr. S. S. L. Hettiarachchi is an Associate Professor in Civil Engineering of the University of Moratuwa. He is also a researcher in the History of Writing Instruments and a member of the Writing Equipment Society of the UK. The illustrations have been reproduced from Parker advertisements.)

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