A woman of valour

Dorothea in the 1930's

Her full name was Christina Dorothea Dyer Greene, a remarkable woman whom I’ve only met via a loving memoire compiled by her two daughters.

This memoire is approximately 25,000 words – her daughters’, Dorothea’s and those of a relative few of the many thousands whose lives she had touched.

Somewhere in the non-virtual world there is a library which has a single copy of “A celebration of the life of Christina Dorothea Dyer Greene, 1889-1974“.

The provenance of my copy? I’m so glad you asked …

In late December 2009, through a rather serendipitous confluence of interests old and new, I had the privilege of a brief correspondence with one of her grandsons, Willis Eschenbach – a remarkable man in his own right. Amongst many other fortés, Willis has a talent for illuminating “the science” for those of us who are scientifically-challenged. His guest posts at Watts Up With That – recently voted the Best Science Weblog in the 2011 Bloggies – are always a pleasure to read. Not the least of which is an autobiographical essay he posted today … indisputably, a must read.

During our correspondence last year, Willis shared with me Dorothea’s story – which I believe (and he agreed) deserves a much wider audience. In the weeks and months ahead, I shall bring to the blogosphere A celebration of the life of Christina Dorothea Dyer Greene, 1889-1974.

By way of introduction here are some Afterwords … two recollections from Dorothea’s grandson, Willis Eschenbach:

She was an amazing woman, one of a generation of giants who preceded us and whose achievements we can only aspire to. She taught us kids that racism and religious hatred were unmitigated evils, and that the only human color that mattered was the color of someone’s blood. And her stories of what she had seen and what “her” DPs told her about what the Nazis had done made my blood run cold.

She told us one story about trying to track a missing trainload of Jewish kids. She followed the paper trail (the Germans do love their paperwork) from one place to another. She finally found out that they had been sent to a hospital, which gave her some hope. She went and talked to the doctor running the hospital. He checked his records, and said that the children had been there only for a short time, just to donate blood for wounded German soldiers.

“Where did you send them from here,” she asked?

“Mrs. Greene,” he replied, “what don’t you understand? I just told you. We needed their blood for the soldiers who were fighting for Germany.”

When his meaning finally sunk in, she said she turned around and left immediately, for fear that she would kill him on the spot.

She told us “I never hated the soldiers for what they had done, even when they broke the rules of war, they were just children who were trained to kill, that’s what soldiers do. I never wished that they would die even when they had done horrible things.

But that German “Herr Doktor” with his walls covered with his medical certificates, sitting there well fed and oh-so-proper and respectable, calmly telling me how he had murdered a whole train load of children for their blood, I would have gladly murdered him without a second thought.”


In some unspecified fashion during WWII, Dorothea had become involved with the fate of the Kurdish people. In her usual fashion she had rendered them some unknown great assistance, and a man she called the “King of the Kurds” put on a huge banquet in her honor. It was held in a large tent. The King and a couple dozen of his retinue of tribal leaders sat in a large circle, on cushions on the carpets. She was the only woman present.

At some point, as the meal was being served, they brought out the piece de resistance in a large pot and placed it in front of the King. The King stood up and gave a speech extolling her actions. He said that he was sure that the very great men Mister Winston Churchill and Mister Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be very proud of her. In honor of her achievements, the King said, she was to be accorded an honor never given to a woman in the history of the Kurdish people.

She was to be allowed to eat that most famous of Kurdish delicacies, the eye of the sheep. To demonstrate, he reached into the pot and picked out a sheep’s eye. He put it up to his mouth, sucked out the soft inner part, and tossed the discarded hard outer part into his dish.

“Yuck”, us kids chorused in unison. “What did you do?”

“I stood up and gave a speech of my own,” she said. “I said that I was very grateful for the banquet and the high honor that they were showing me. I said that I was proud to be of some assistance to the Kurdish people, however small, and they all applauded.”

“But did you eat the yuckie sheep’s eye?”, we wanted to know.

“Well, after the applause died down, I said that I was sure that Mister Winston Churchill and Mister Franklin Delano Roosevelt would not approve of me breaking the ancient customs of the Kurdish people, and that I was sure Mister Winston Churchill and Mister Franklin Delano Roosevelt would think it was not proper for a woman to be accorded that high an honor.

“I thanked the King for his most generous offer, and asked if he would do Mister Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Mister Winston Churchill the great honor of eating the sheep’s eye prepared for me. And the King and every man in the place laughed, and applauded wildly. The King ate another sheep’s eye, and passed the pot full of the famous Kurdish delicacy around, and the banquet continued.”

Dorothea was born in Southwest Louisiana. Her daughters, Shirley Smith and Marian Belden, begin the story with what I am calling* Chapter 1: Louisiana

* While I intend to remain faithful to the original text (and illustrations), I may not post in the same order as the original and am introducing Chapters and numbers (that were not included therein) along with the original headings and sub-headings (and others that I have introduced for clarity). For ease of reading via the web, I have also shortened some paragraphs and indented others via <blockquotes>

UPDATE: I had initially thought I would make these a series of posts, but have subsequently decided that “pages” would be more appropriate – with chapters listed and accessible from the top level menu item “Dorothea Greene”. Therefore the Chapter 1: Louisiana post that you may have seen earlier has been “converted” to a page.

4 thoughts on “A woman of valour

  1. Hilary,

    Hello, I arrived here via “Watts up with That”. I zipped around your site briefly over the New Years Holiday, or maybe it was the Christmas Weekend…I was busy in the real world, but also having fun causing trouble in the “WUWT O’Sphere”.

    I did not have time to look around at many of your musings or missives, at the time…

    …so here I am today…and somehow I got to this post within a few clicks. Then after three paragraphs I needed to comment…and as I fast forwarded down the page, I see more of what this story is actually about…(the story looks great, but your narrative is what caught my attention). Wow, Willis’s grandmother? It’s af if I am reading a ‘friends’ account of another ‘friends’ family history! I hope to begin my journey here later this evening, back at the top of this page.

    For now, let me just say hi, and maybe put a smile on your face.

    I must add a funny anecdote that a WUWT participant, such as yourself, might appreciate. During a recent family dinner I was attempting to describe one of may all time favorite movies, The Great Escape, to a woman who I didn’t think would be inclined to watch an ‘old’ war movie. I mentioned that the movie wasn’t so much a war movie as it was a great story that had Nazi’s as the bad guys…kinda like The Sound of Music. She responded with the money quote…”Oh, so the right amount of Nazi’s.”…it appears your story here will be following a tried and true formula.



    • Hi Andrew,

      Welcome to my quiet little corner of the blogsphere … and thanks for sharing that anecdote … it certainly did bring a smile to my face :-)

      Glad you’re enjoying Dorothea’s story! This will give me some added impetus to finish the webification I began last year (and should have long ago completed). But completion of this task is one of my New Year’s resolutions for this year!

      So you were “causing trouble” over at WUWT, eh?! Lemme guess … are you the chap who pointed to Robin Williams doin’ “Blame Canada” … along with recycling some pearls from Pachauri? ;-)


  2. Hello Hilary, Just dropping a line to say that I absolutely love your story about Christina Dorothea Dyer Greene and the chapters 1-4 about the Dyer family and Christina’s childhood in Louisiana. You have brought my Family History to life! Francis Edward Dyer (the Captain) was the brother of my great great grandmother, Harriet Bridget Dyer, who with her sister Margaret Anne Dyer, left England to live in Adelaide, South Australia. Harriet’s daughter, Zelinda, my great grandmother, married George Booth Hodgson in Sydney, NSW in 1909. The following year they left to live in New Zealand. Zelinda’s son, Colin, my grandfather always told us that his mother was from Brittany, France. So far I have not been able to prove this. My grandfather also told us that Harriet married a man called Thomas Rose. Unfortunately, I cannot find anything to prove this either, or what happened to Harriet and her children after 1909. Any information you have would be much appreciated. Anything you would like to know about the family ‘downunder’ just let me know. There are so many mysteries about this family I would like to solve. Keep up the great work. Kind regards Anne Marie Dennis PS Hope this finds you safe and well after the dreadful Hurricane Sandy – my prayers go out to all those affected – we are thinking of you all over here.

  3. Wanted to let you know I just came across your stories by searching info on Captain Frank Dyer. I am from Lake Arthur, LA where he lived and where Dorthea grew up. My aunt has a photo of one of his boats/ ferry he built called the White Lily. So glad I came across your writtwn stories.

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