On this day you should stick a Maypole up on your village green and dance around it. If you haven’t got a village green then a traffic island will do. This day is known as Dipping Day in Cornwall, when people collect dew water and sprinkle others for luck. Why not collect a bucketful for your favourite teacher?
Africa. King Leopold of Belgium sets up the Congo Free State in Africa – but most of the people are not free. They are forced to work for the Belgians, carrying huge loads of ivory and rubber. The Congo slaves are chained by the neck and whipped. Those who rebel are killed and have their hands lopped off.
Rome, Italy. The Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, welcomes the German dictator, Adolf Hitler, to Rome. These two buddies have a lot in common – they’re cruel, destructive and power mad for a start. Benito started young – he was expelled from school for stabbing another pupil in the bum.
London. British politicians are nervous. The new prime minister enters Parliament carrying . . . a handbag! That’s right. This is Britain’s first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Acre, Middle East. A year ago the drunken Crusaders murdered everyone in the city who looked like a non-Christian. Now the Moslem army has recaptured Acre after a long siege. The Crusaders scramble for the boats to flee to safety. The ones who don’t make it are sold as slaves.
New Jersey, USA. The giant German airship, The Hindenberg, is coming in to land when it suddenly bursts into flames and crashes to the ground. 33 die yet an incredible 64 survive. But was it really an accident . . .?
The Irish Coast. Twelve hundred men, women and children go to the bottom of the Atlantic when the liner Lusitania is sunk by a German submarine. 128 of the victims are American and this sinking pushes America into the First World War on Britain’s side. The Germans say the Lusitania was carrying weapons to Britain – and they could be right.
Missouri, USA. Harry S Truman’s birthday. The US President is born on this day . . . and is christened Harry S Truman a few days later. His two grandfathers were called Shippe and Solomon and both wanted Harry to be named after him. To keep them both happy the baby’s parents gave him the middle name ‘S’ – just the letter.
The Tower of London, England. A daring attempt to steal the Crown Jewels almost succeeds. Colonel Blood leads a gang of thieves who flatten the crown and try to saw the sceptre in half. King Charles II not only forgives Blood – he likes the man’s cheek so much he gives him land and money.
London. A German air-raid destroys the Houses of Parliament. Some unknown German pilot succeeds where Guy Fawkes failed. Of course, old Guy didn’t have the Luftwaffe (the German air force) to help him.
London. People keep assassinating American presidents, but today sees the only assassination of a British prime minister, Spencer Perceval. He is shot in Parliament by John Bellingham. Bellingham is executed.
France. The Knights Templars are sort of fighting monks. They are also very rich and King Philip the Fair fancies getting his hands on their money. He has the Knights Templars arrested and tortured till they admit terrible crimes. This gives him an excuse to burn 57 of them at the stake on this day. As the Grand Master of the Templars dies he cries, ‘God will avenge our deaths!’ Sure enough, eight months later Philip the Fair dies. Fair enough.
Massachusetts, USA. Margaret Jones is a pain in the neck. She causes pain and sickness wherever she goes. She gives sick people medicines and they get worse. Margaret is arrested and found guilty of witchcraft. The punishment – a real pain in the neck – she is hanged.
Paris, France. King Henry IV goes for a ride in his carriage and is caught in a traffic jam. Suddenly a mad monk called Francois jumps on to the carriage and stabs the king. Henry dies crying, ‘I have been stabbed.’ As famous last words go these are pretty pathetic.
Virginia, USA. Indian Princess Pocahontas marries a European settler. Everyone hopes this will bring lasting peace – it lasts just 8 years. The Europeans give Pocahontas a new Christian name, Rebecca, then they give her a trip to London. Finally they give her smallpox which kills her.
Ruhr Valley, Germany. British inventor, Barnes Wallis, invents a new weapon. Today British bombers drop ‘bouncing’ bombs and smash German dams. 300 million gallons of water are lost. WARNING: Do not try this with a bar of soap in your bath.
Mafeking, South Africa. A thousand British soldiers have been trapped in the town for seven months by the South African Boer Army. Today the town is ‘relieved’ by forces led by Robert Baden-Powell. He goes on to found the Boy Scouts – and many parents will be ‘relieved’ to get rid of their kids for a week’s summer camp.
Mount St Helens, USA. Everyone knew the volcano was going to blow – but 61 people die today when it finally does. Instead of running away, they go to the mountain for a closer look. Curiosity killed the cat.
Moscow. Phoney Tsar Dmitri is captured while escaping from the royal palace. (Since he breaks both his legs jumping from a window, it isn’t too hard to capture him.) He is executed and cremated, then his ashes are blown from a cannon.
Lisbon, Spain. The Armada of 132 ships sets sail to invade England. Only 60 will return. Final score: England 1 Spain 0. English Sea Captain Francis Drake is a real hero after this.
Northumbria, England. The great king of Northumbria, Ecgfrith, dies in a battle with the Picts from north of the border. Ecgfrith and his men follow the Picts into a narrow valley where they disappear into a mist. The road is blocked by a huge boulder. The Picts come out of the mist and annihilate the Northumbrians. One man escapes.
Quintinshill, Scotland. A little local train stands at the platform. The signalman lets the Glasgow Express come through . . . on the same line! He forgot about the local train! Crash number 1. The wreckage and survivors are scattered across the other line so when the 600-ton London Express arrives . . . crash number 2. Hundreds die because of the signalman’s slip of memory.
Prague, Bohemia. The royal palace is attacked by a mob and three servants are thrown out of a window. The first cries, ‘Holy Mary! Help!’ And she does! The three men land in a rubbish tip . . . and live smellily ever after.
Nineteenth & Early Twentieth Centuries
The British Empire. The Victorian Brits celebrate their control over a quarter of the world on this day – the controlled quarter of the world is not so keen to celebrate. The Victorians call this day ‘Empire Day’, the Empire calls it ‘Victoria Day’ and Victoria simply calls it ‘my birthday’. Nowadays nobody calls it anything.
Jarrow, England. The monk-historian Bede dies today. He wrote long books with goose-feather pens on skin from the belly of a calf. (The calf was dead at the time). Bede was superstitious and he heard reports that the moon turned the colour of blood and blood rained down from the skies. ‘A sign that I will die soon,’ he predicted. Raining blood is worse than raining cats and dogs.
Newgate Prison, London. Michael Barrett goes down in history. Unfortunately he goes down with a rope round his neck when he becomes the last man to be executed in public in England. Michael probably doesn’t enjoy his moment of glory. He’s too upset – really choked in fact.
New York, USA. Amelia Jenks Bloomer is born today. She goes on to be a great fighter for women’s rights. She gives lectures dressed in trousers tied at the ankle, worn under a short skirt. They become known as ‘bloomers’. How would you like your name remembered as a piece of underclothing, like ‘Jason Underpants’ or ‘Sharon Knickers’?
France. The French unpleasant peasants decide they’ve had enough and start hacking the nobles to pieces. These rebels are known as Jacquerie. Reports say they captured a knight, roasted him over a fire and forced his wife to eat the flesh. (She probably became a vegetarian after this.) The knights fight back, defeat the peasants – but don’t eat them.
England. This day sees celebrations for the escape of Charles II from Roundhead soldiers. Charles hid in an oak tree. In some villages children still wear oak leaves in remembrance today, which is known as Royal Oak Day.
Paris, France. Joan of Arc led the French into battle against the English. Now she is finally captured, the English want rid of her for good. They can’t murder a prisoner of war (it’s not cricket). But they can try her as a witch! She is found guilty (surprise, surprise!) and burned to death at the stake today. The English lose the war in the end, which serves them right.
The North Sea. Some people call today’s naval fight at Jutland ‘the greatest sea battle in history’. The Germans say they’ve sunk the British – the British claim to have wiped out the Germans. Nobody has won – the dead are the real losers.