This article is one of an 8-part series about Charlotte Fairbairn, and was written by our patron, John Fairbairn. To read the intro by the editor and see links to the other 7 parts of the story, refer to the Table of Contents page. On to the story—
Then Pearl Harbor happened. Instantly, the nation was at war, and no one had time or money for print advertising. All focus turned to supporting the War Effort. Edward was out of a job. He was refused entry into the service due to kidney damage from childhood scarlet fever, and because of incipient emphysema. While he still was able to get some work in photography and display design, it was not sufficient. Finally, through David McMillan, he found an opportunity to get into the advertising department of O’Sullivan Rubber Company of Winchester VA. The family moved there in June of 1942.
Of course, being a woman and not otherwise employed, Charlotte held down the home front, keeping their household a happy one that was quiet and well-run. At first, they lived in a home that Tommy knew as the English House. There were many advantages to that building. For one thing, it was large inside, giving a small boy ample room to romp and wear off energy. It also had a sizable yard where he could play at will in the fresh air with the neighborhood children, a luxury he had not had in their apartment in Cairo.
R.J. Funkhouser, the Chief Executive Officer of O’Sullivan, required that all his senior executive employees must know the business from bottom to top. To that end, as a beginning, Edward initially worked for three weeks in the Receiving Department, literally shoveling black crude rubber from trucks and rail cars into the receiving hoppers, from which it was fed to the processing machinery. He came home at night covered with gooey, black, sticky raw rubber. Charlotte rigged a screened area on the porch where he could bathe before entering the house. For weeks, she hauled buckets of hot water to that outdoor tub, and helped him to scrub himself clean so he was immaculate when he went to work the next day.
Edward moved on through other departments in the company, learning the operation of each. The young couple resumed their innovative collaboration. After discussing his thoughts with Charlotte, Edward made frequent suggestions to department supervisors for ways to improve operations, morale, and safety. Almost all of these recommendations were accepted and implemented. At the end of five months, he finally moved into the Advertising Department. By the end of 1942, he was promoted to Advertising Manager.
Because of the War, they forbore to have any more children. Edward was adamant about this. “I do not wish to bring more children into the world when there is such uncertainty about whether this country will survive the coming years.” Though saddened and more than a bit frightened by it, Charlotte agreed with his assessment.
“The Army moves on O’Sullivan Rubber Heels!”
He and Charlotte played some very important roles in the winning of the war. During most of the remainder of World War II, Edward served his company and his country in several interesting ways. Most of them involved considerable cooperative invention. In one venue, at Charlotte’s suggestion, Edward lifted company morale by starting the world’s first company newspaper – the O’Sullivan Kidder, modeled on Tide Magazine. When managers at O’Sullivan expressed a need for a fresh approach to gaining national recognition for its rubber products, the pair dreamed up the first international company logo character – the O’Sullivan Fighting Kangaroo. Charlotte had the idea, and Edward did the cartoon drawing. The company then asked for a slogan that expressed the basic company contribution to the War Effort. They responded with “The Army moves on O’Sullivan Rubber Heels!”, which was modified to “The nation moves…” after the end of the war.
Perhaps their most important venue was in the field of diplomacy. Edward had a knack for convincing people to work toward a common cause. It was during this period that Edward’s job as the advertising manager for O’Sullivan took an unexpected turn. With the advances of the Japanese into Borneo and Sumatra, much of the world’s supply of natural crude rubber became unavailable to the Allied nations. O’Sullivan struggled to find ways to circumvent the problem. Some rubber did come from South America, from plantations in the Equatorial belt. Buna artificial rubber was developed, but could not meet the demand. Other natural resources that were important for the conduct of war were tin, bauxite, chrome, a wide variety of woods, lead, copper, zinc and iron. The latter four were available in sufficient quantity from within the United States borders. However, the first three and many of the varieties of woods were not.
When the German Diplomatic Corps began using threats, bribes, and terrorism to disrupt and paralyze South American nations in an effort to stop the flow of raw materials to the United States, one of the first items affected was rubber. This was crucial, because by then the Japanese had control of the raw rubber sources in Southeast Asia. In early 1943, Edward was sent to South America to see if he could negotiate partnership agreements that would keep the raw material coming to the United States. Then, as the Department of State learned of his business trips from his passport use, he was asked to become an unofficial diplomatic courier, and to intercede regarding other raw materials – tin from Bolivia, beef and leather from Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, copper, nitrates, and oil from Chile, Peru, and Venezuela, silk and coffee from Bolivia and Honduras, sugar and cacao from Dominica and Cuba, and gold and silver from several countries. At this time, he was traveling almost as much as he was home. His efforts were successful … so much so that several times he became the target of attempts on his life by assassins.
Of course, those trips were kept strictly secret. To make his trips as brief as possible, Edward took a train to Washington DC, and then flew in a DC-3 chartered by the State Department from there to Florida and thence to South America. Home life had to appear normal, and Charlotte managed that. Without being deceitful, she simply told people that her husband was “traveling on business” and studiously deflected all other questions. She was so closed-mouthed about this period that it was not until the mid-1960s that her children heard about their father’s work during the war. Meanwhile, when Edward was at home, Charlotte helped him recover from the debilitating effects of his trips.
In the midst of the War and its rationing, she found and purchased at scrap-metal prices two adult-sized touring bicycles that needed considerable revitalizing. With skills learned from her father, she repaired both.
Charlotte ran their home smoothly. She always was ready to see that Edward was allowed time and opportunity to engage in relaxing recreation. From the time that they moved to Winchester, Charlotte and Edward rode around on bicycles in order to help conserve fuel, rubber, and other scarce materials, as well as for the health benefits. In the midst of the War and its rationing, she found and purchased at scrap-metal prices two adult-sized touring bicycles that needed considerable revitalizing. With skills learned from her father, she repaired both, and Edward devised a little bracket that could mount a second seat on the bars of one of them, between the adult rider’s legs. They went bicycling along the Skyline Drive in Virginia, with Edward providing the power for the bike that had Tommy’s seat. To his dying day, Tommy still could recall the thrill of spinning down the hillsides on that marvelous contraption, the wind whistling by and blowing through his curls. He also vividly recalled the agony of getting his foot caught in the spokes of the front wheel, before his father devised a foot rest for him.
Failing health due to increased stress on Edward’s kidneys augmented the debilitating effects of his trips. When he contracted pneumonia in late 1943, the damage to his lungs was such that he no longer could do the amount of effort required to pedal the bicycles of that time. They moved to a smaller house that was closer to his office, from which he could walk comfortably to work.
Tommy came to know this home as the Orchard House, where the live orchard out back was planted with “upside-down trees”. These were apple trees that had been uprooted as seven-foot saplings and literally replanted with the branches in the ground. As a result, the trees remained stunted, but bore fruit heavily on willow-like curving branches that swept toward the ground. They were a small boy’s delight, with the fruit easily available to a short person.
In the waning days of the war, Charlotte and Edward decided that it was time to expand their family. At last, by the end of February of 1944, the geopolitical status seemed to turn. These were some of the events about which they read in the newspapers:
- 1: The keels of USS Tarawa and USS Kearsarge were laid down. Anti-fascist strikes occurred in northern Italy. Leningrad Front initiated the Narva Offensive, March 1–4
- 6: Wingate’s Chindits made several successful forays in Burma. The Soviet Air Force bombed Narva, the city was destroyed. After the air attack, the Leningrad Front continued the Narva Offensive, March 6–24
- 7: Japanese forces began an unsuccessful invasion of India, stalled near Imphal.
- 8: Japanese troops attacked American forces on Hill 700 on Bougainville Island, the largest of the Solomon Islands archipelago in Melanesia; the battle lasted five days. A Red Army offensive on a wide front west of the Dnieper in the Ukraine forced the Germans into a major retreat.
- 9: The Soviet Long Range Aviation carried out an air raid on Tallinn, Estonia.
- 12: The Greeks created the Political Committee of National Liberation.
- 13: On Bougainville, Japanese troops failed in the assault on American forces at Hill 700.
- 15: The National Council of the French Resistance approved the Resistance program. The “third” Battle of Cassino began, with the small town of Cassino destroyed. Americans took Manus Island in the Admiralty chain.
- 16: United States XI Corps arrived in the Pacific Theater.
- 17: Heavy bombing of Vienna occurred.
- 18: German forces occupied Hungary as the Red Army approached the Romanian border.
- 19: Yugoslav partisans attacked Trieste, on the border of Italy and Croatia.
- 20: Red Army continued its advances in the Ukraine with widespread success.
- 21: Finland rejected Soviet peace terms.
- 22: Japanese forces crossed the Indian border all along the Imphal front. Frankfurt was bombed with heavy civilian losses.
- 24: The Fosse Ardeatine massacre occurred in Rome Italy. 335 Italians were killed, including 75 Jews and over 200 members of various Italian Resistance groups; this was a heavy-handed German response to a bomb blast that killed 33 German troops. The action stimulated vicious and widespread Italian resistance. Heavy bombings of German cities at various strategic locations lasted for 24 hours.
They could see that the tide had turned and thought that the war would be won. Charlotte and Edward decided to start another pregnancy, anticipating the war’s end.
Next week Charlotte and Edward welcome another son to the world. The pregancy and birth process was very difficult and led to unfortunate and rather gruesome-sounding post-partum care for Charlotte.
Link to “A New Baby …with Complications” to be published October 3, 2017