History is often stranger than fiction.
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we discover bizarre and unbelievable ‘twists’ and turns through history.
From people who had incredible luck (or bad luck, depending on how you see it), to bears recruited as soldiers, here are some strange things that happened, believe it or not:
1. Soldier bear
During World War II, Polish soldiers found a bear cub on the side of the road – its mother had been killed by hunters. One of the soldiers took in the bear and named him Wojtek, and trained him. The bear cub was enlisted as a soldier in the Polish army and even received his own paybook, serial number and rank (he was a private). Interestingly, it wasn’t a courtesy assignment – the bear earned his keep by helping transport supplies, including large, heavy boxes of ammunition. He often slept in bunks with other soldiers. After the war, Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland became his home, where he lived until he died at age 21.
As a stewardess aboard the RMS Olympic – the Titanic’s sister ship – a woman named Violet Jessop was in the middle of the action when the Olympic collided with another ship in September 1911. Although it took some damage, the ship returned to port with no casualties. Jessop then embarked on the Titanic on its maiden voyage less than six months later, and survived when it sank. Following her second ordeal, she became a stewardess for the British Red Cross and was on board the HMS Britannic during World War I. In an incredible stroke of bad luck, an unexplained explosion – historians think it was a deep-sea mine – blew a hole through the boat and caused it to sink quickly. Jessop had to evacuate her lifeboat in order to avoid being sucked into the ship’s propellors, and received a head injury. Despite all her bad luck with boats, she returned after a hiatus of four years to the same shipping company for work.
3. Killer surgeon
British surgeon Robert Liston gained acclaim in the 1800s for being one of the fastest surgeons alive. His skill mattered at the time, since anesthesia didn’t exist yet – patients were awake for the entire procedure, so the quicker the ordeal was over, the better. However, in one instance, Liston performed a leg amputation so fast, he accidentally cut off two fingers on his assistant’s hand. Both the patient and assistant later died of gangrene, likely due to the saw being unclean. In the same surgery, Liston accidentally swiped an elderly doctor with a blade, slicing part of his suit coat. Thinking he had been cut open, the doctor went into shock and died of a subsequent heart attack. So, Liston had a 300 per cent mortality rate in a single operation – three people died rather than a single patient being saved.