April 2014
 
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Tuesday 1

April Fools' Day

Are you a ‘gowk’? Maybe you’re a ‘cuckoo’ or even an ‘April Fish’? These are all names given to people who are fooled on 1 April. (In Britain you’re an ‘April Fool’ of course.) Also called ‘Noddy Day’ by some people – Big Ears, perhaps? Writer Mark Twain said, ‘This is the day when we are reminded of what we are on the other 364 days.’

Wednesday 2

Taily Day

Kircaldy, Scotland. After April Fool’s Day comes this jolly joke day for some Scots children. They try to pin tails to people’s backs with messages on them like ‘Kick me’ or ‘Kiss me quick’. WARNING: Do not try this on someone unless (a) they like a joke, and (b) they’re smaller than you.

Thursday 3

1367

England. Henry IV is born and grows up to be England’s most miserable king. Henry suffered an illness like leprosy. A monk said, ‘He was tormented for five years by a rotting of the flesh, by a drying up of the eyes and by a rupture of the intestines.’ He also had so many lice on his head that his hair dropped out. That’s lousy luck – hair today, gone tomorrow.

Friday 4

1968

Tennessee, USA. Martin Luther King tried to kill himself twice when he was 12 years old. He jumped out of his bedroom window. Today, he is a 39-year-old, famous for fighting for the rights of black people. He steps on to the balcony of his hotel room – for a chat, not to jump – and he is shot dead.

Saturday 5

1242

Lake Peipus, Russia. A German army tries to invade Russia but comes to an icy end on the frozen Lake Peipus. (It’s a bit like the Winter Olympics with sword blades instead of ice-skate blades.) Strangely enough in exactly 700 years’ time another German army commanded by Adolf Hitler will try to attack the Russians and be beaten by the freezing conditions.

Sunday 6

1909

North Pole. US hero, Robert E Peary, becomes the first man to reach the North Pole, although a later expedition says he could have been 50 miles from his target. Everyone forgets that black American Matthew Henson was with him. On 6 April 1988 Henson’s body is moved to a hero’s grave.

Monday 7

1739

York, England. The famous highwayman Dick Turpin is hanged today. His old teacher recognized his handwriting and betrayed him. Would your teacher do that to you?

Tuesday 8

AD 217

Rome. Emperor Caracalla is stabbed to death . . . but don’t feel too sorry for him. He shared the empire with brother Geta until he had Geta’s throat cut as he lay in their mother’s arms.

Wednesday 9

1747

London. 80-year-old Baron Lovat is the last man to be publicly beheaded in Britain. He is executed for treason. So many people turn up to watch that a stand collapses and kills 20 spectators. This gives Baron Lovat a good laugh. But the man with the axe has the last laugh.

Thursday 10

1336

Uzbekistan, Asia. Tamerlane is born. When he grows up he will be a powerful ruler, loving arts, learning, religion, chess . . . and mass destruction. Enemy towns are given a choice: surrender now and be spared, or fight and be massacred. One city hesitates so he attacks it, cuts off 30,000 heads then has fun arranging them in a pile in the market place.

Friday 11

1865

USA. The American Civil War ends today. President Abraham Lincoln has led the North to a victory over the South. But one southern supporter is a very bad loser. He’s an actor called John Wilkes Booth and in three days’ time he will shoot Lincoln . . . in a theatre, of course.

Saturday 12

1861

Fort Sumter, USA. Americans go to war today – against the Americans! In the next 4 years more than a million Americans will be killed or wounded in the American Civil War – North against South, often brother against brother. Many will die in vicious battles – but four times as many will die from hunger and disease!

Sunday 13

1919

Amritsar, India. Many Indians object to the British running their country – Britain has enough trouble running Britain! The Indian people hold a demonstration today and the Brit Army commander, Brigadier Dyer, decides to put a stop to it. 379 Indian men, women and children stop protesting when the army shoots them dead.

Monday 14

1912

Atlantic Ocean. Captain Lord of SS Californian stops because of dangerous icebergs in the area. But another ship steams past him at full speed. ‘Warn that ship of the danger!’ Captain Lord tells his wireless operator. But the other ship doesn’t listen. That ship is the Titanic. In the contest between the Titanic and an iceberg there is only going to be one winner.

Tuesday 15

1591

Scotland. The Earl of Bothwell is accused of trying to kill King James VI . . . by witchcraft. Old Both sent witches out to sea in a sieve to cause a storm to wreck James’s ship. They did this by throwing bits of dead bodies into the sea. James, wisely, did not name his ship Titanic and he survives.

Wednesday 16

1850

London. The well-known model-maker, Madame Tussaud dies today. When the French Revolution started cutting noble heads off on the guillotine she had a cheerful little job. She picked up the heads and made a quick wax impression of the face before the victim was buried. Today Madame Tussaud’s wax museum makes wax models of the rich and famous without waiting for their heads to be cut off.

Thursday 17

1961

Cuba. A group of revolutionaries land at the Bay of Pigs and try to recapture their country of Cuba. With the help of the USA they should have won, but they make a bit of a pig’s ear of the whole attempt. A Bay-of-Pig’s ear, in fact.

Friday 18

1775

Lexington, USA. Paul Revere is famous for riding to Concord to warn the Americans that the British soldiers were attacking. The stirring tale is remembered in Longfellow’s long poem about the midnight ride – except it isn’t quite true! Revere is arrested before he ever gets to Concord. Still, it’s a shame to let the truth spoil a good story.

Saturday 19

1587

Cadiz Harbour, Spain. English Captain Francis Drake has heard about Spain preparing a huge navy to attack England. Why hang around and wait for the attack? He sails to their harbour and sinks 30 large ships, dozens of small ones and ruins tons of supplies. Drake then ducks out.

Sunday 20

1914

Ludlow, Colorado, USA. There have been 30 years of bitterness between coal miners and coalfield owners. The Ludlow miners are on strike so they have been thrown out of their houses and now live in tents. A gunfight breaks out with soldiers sent to drive the miners out. But, when the tents are burned, it’s 13 sheltering women and children who die.

Monday 21

1918

France. Baron von Richthofen is a German ace fighter-pilot. His band of merry mid-air murderers are called von Richthofen’s Circus. He rides around in a bright red plane so everyone knows who he is: the Red Baron. Today he is finally shot down. No safety nets in this circus.

Tuesday 22

Arbor Day

Nebraska, USA. That’s a day set aside for planting trees. In Nebraska it’s a public holiday . . . why not tell your teacher you want a day off to plant a tree?

Wednesday 23

1564

Stratford, England. Britain’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare, is born on this day. He grows up to write comedies and tragedies. But the greatest tragedy is that he also dies on this day in 1616! Imagine that! He probably never even got to open his prezzies.

Thursday 24

St Mark's Eve

Attention all unmarried women! Leave a flower in the porch of your local church, then go back after midnight and pick it up. You will not only see a wedding procession but will also see the ghost of your future husband! But who wants to marry a ghost anyway? Creepy!

Friday 25

Anzac Day

That’s short for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. In 1915, during World War I, the Anzacs attack Gallipoli in Turkey. Half of the 400,000 attackers are killed or wounded over the next 8 months of disaster.

Saturday 26

AD 121

Rome, Italy. Marcus Aurelius is born and will become Roman Emperor. His first act as emperor amazes everyone – he offers to share the empire with his brother. For the first time the Roman empire has two Caesars. Maybe they carved up the empire using a pair of Caesars. (Pair of scissors – geddit? Oh, never mind).

Sunday 27

1520

South America. Ferdinand Magellan sails round Cape Horn to be the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean after crossing the Atlantic. There will be just 15 survivors of the 265 who left Spain . . . and old Ferdy won’t be one of them. He is killed in a punch-up with a Pacific Island tribe. That’s a nice death compared to the other 249 men hanged (for mutiny), or who starved, drowned in shipwrecks or died from diseases.

Monday 28

1789

Pacific Ocean. Cruel Captain Bligh is captain of The Bounty (the ship, not the chocolate bar). He is so nasty to his crew that today they pack him off in a lifeboat. Nasty Bligh survives an incredible 3618 mile journey and lives to become Governor of New South Wales, Australia.

Tuesday 29

1916

Dublin, Ireland. Rebel Irish decide to stamp out British rule so they attack what? The Dublin Post Office, of course. Where else would you go for a stamp? When the British bring in the big guns the Post Office catches fire. In five days 450 are dead and 3000 injured. That’s what happens when you stick to your post.

Wednesday 30

1945

Berlin, Germany. Adolf Hitler married his girlfriend, Eva Braun yesterday. Today he shoots her then he shoots himself. Not so much a tragic death – more a tragedy that he was ever born. He led Germany into World War II. Britain and her allies (especially Russia) suffered enormous losses of 44 million, while Germany and her allies lost 11 million.