In 1941 Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber at thirteen thousand feet to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he smothered the fire and returned along the wing to the aircraft's cabin. Winston Churchill, an admirer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Struck dumb with awe in Churchill's presence, Ward was unable to answer the prime minister's questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. "You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence," he said.
"Yes, sir," managed Ward.
"Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours," said Churchill.
His books having brought in little revenue, Anatole France was still a poor man when he was awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor. His friends sympathized with his plight; one of them suggested that it would have been more generous to have given the writer a cash prize instead of the cross, which served no useful purpose. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," said France. "When I wear the sash, it will cover the stain on my jacket. That's useful.
Photographer Yousuf Karsh and his wife were having lunch with astronaut Neil Armstrong after a photo session. Armstrong politely questioned the couple about the many different countries they had visited. "But, Mr. Armstrong," protested Mrs. Karsh, "you've walked on the moon. We want to hear about your travels."
"But that's the only place I've ever been," replied Armstrong apologetically.
On their return journey from the South Pole, Scott's party was beset by fearful blizzards. Oates suffered badly from frostbitten feet, which were turning gangrenous. He begged to be left behind so as not to slow up the others. His companions would not hear of it, and they struggled on for another day. The following morning the blizzard was still raging. Oates said, "I am just going outside and may be some time." He then walked out of the tent and vanished forever into the storm.
Frederick William was deeply disappointed by his son, the future Frederick the Great, who in his youth seemed more interested in French culture, music, and literature than in the military virtues. The father's disaffection turned to actual hatred, and his treatment became so harsh that the young prince decided to run away, with the aid of two accomplices, Lieutenants Katte and Keith. The plan was discovered; Keith escaped, but the prince and Katte were captured and court-martialed. Katte was sentenced to life imprisonment, Frederick to solitary confinement. Frederick William, deciding that Katte's sentence was too lenient, had him beheaded in the presence of Prince Frederick. This drastic measure had the desired effect; Frederick asked the king's pardon and began to apply himself to acquiring the Prussian military philosophy.