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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Timings


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Hello

I have notice in the war diaries that timings such as 3.5 am are used. I don't think these are sloppy mistakes as they simply happen too frequently and are often used again and again by the same diarist. They also appear in neatly written diaries indicating they were not written under time pressure. I would be interested to hear what people think this means: 3.05 am or 3:30 am? i.e does 0.5 in this context mean 'half'?

The reason I ask is that it is seen often and I can't imagine that so many things were timed simply as 5 minute past the hour. Pretty mundane events (not attacks) and interestingly one hardly sees 3:10.... 3:20 etc. It is the high incidence that makes me think that 3.5 am might mean 3:30.

Any thoughts? Any precedents or references? MG

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I'm not sure decimals were really in general usage then - I suspect few people would ahve automatically thought of 0.5 as being one half (or vice versa). Teaching tended to concentrate more on fractions, and of course British currency was not decimal then.

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I've seen some modern usage where .5 means half past - oddly all on Indian Hindu related pages - for example

"Portals of Badrinath shrine to reopen on May 5
5 months 4 days ago
Dehradun: The sacred portals of Badrinath shrine will be thrown open for devotees in the wee hours on May 5, after a five-month winter break. The doors of the Himalayan shrine will be opened at 4.5 AM on May 5, Badri-Kedar Temple Committee CEO Ganesh Godiyal"
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The only 3.10 I've ever seen was the timing for the mines at Messines. However, I would agree with David that it's 5 minutes past the hour, rather than half-past. Decimalisation doesn't really seem to fit with sixtieths. Now, if only they had been using the 24 hour clock system.....

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I'm not sure decimals were really in general usage then - I suspect few people would ahve automatically thought of 0.5 as being one half (or vice versa). Teaching tended to concentrate more on fractions, and of course British currency was not decimal then.

Modern form Decimal notation is said to have been invented by Simon Stevin in Bruges in about 1580 The modern decimal point was introduced in England in 1619. However it really took off in France and the Netherlands about the time of the French Revolution with the introduction of the Metric System. They even tried a metric time system and a metric calender

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I would suggest that the practice of putting a zero in front of a number from 1 to 9, i.e 3.05 in place of 3.5 is quite modern and may only date from the availability of computers which seem to need --/--/---- as a date and so on.

Old Tom

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Hello Martin

I think that sometimes "zero hour" was deliberately fixed at five or ten minutes past the hour so that the enemy, who might have been expecting an attack on the hour, had concluded that there would be no such attack until at least the half hour, and had relaxed their guard. Something similar was done at the capture of Meteren in 1918, when an attack at five TO the hour, after a short bombardment at the half hour, caught the Germans at breakfast.

Ron

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I would suggest that the practice of putting a zero in front of a number from 1 to 9, i.e 3.05 in place of 3.5 is quite modern and may only date from the availability of computers which seem to need --/--/---- as a date and so on.

Old Tom

Computing machines and devices such as log tables all date from the 17th century and all used decimal notation in so much as position is meaningful and 3.05 is very different from 3.5 Pascal built the first decimal mechanical calculating machine in the 17th century (1642 to be precise)

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Thanks... I think David's point that counting in base 10 was not particularly widespread is important. Base 12 was obviously more common then in both time (hours) and money (pennies in a shilling) and length (inches in a foot) the existence of the word 'dozen' might also be strong long term indicators that the way the British thought about numbers was not in base ten. Base ten seems to be rather absent from most British measuring benchmarks until decimalisation.

I have no doubt that zero hour was often an arbitrary number of minutes before/after the integer hours, but many of the examples were timings of really quite mundane events. Anyway, I have to date always transcribed as 3:05 and it is reassuring that no-one thinks it should be half past. I had been troubling me for some time. Thanks for your input. MG

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Centurion, Of course you are correct. However the point I was trying to make, probably too briefly, is that the 0 in 3.05 am is not decimal and that, in such cases (time and dates) it is not necessary but a convention.

Old Tom

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