The Somme, France. One of the bloodiest battles in history starts on this day. To inspire the East Surrey regiment their Captain Nevill has bought four footballs. He offers a prize to the first team to ‘score’ with a football in an enemy trench. Nevill is one of 21,000 killed in the first 30 minutes of the battle. Match abandoned.
England. Battle of Marston Moor in the English Civil War. Cavalier leader Prince Rupert’s white poodle is killed, and his black dog is captured by the enemy Roundheads. Their reporter writes, ‘Our officers have cut his ears and made him a Round Head.’ (He no longer comes when they call, ‘Ear, boy’!)
The Middle East. The Crusaders set out to do battle with the Saracens. But, on the sun-scorched plains they soon run out of water. The Saracens surround them and torment them by pouring water into the sands. They light fires that blow smoke at the thirsty knights. End of Crusade. Knights in armour in a desert are like tins of beans . . . or baked beings!
Italy. Giuseppe Garibaldi born. He grows up to be a rebel who will fight to make the states of Italy one country. Famous for saying, ‘Rome or die!’ Wins after many bloody battles and is a hero in Italy. The rest of the world thinks of Garibaldi as a biscuit.
Britain. The world’s first speed limit is set today. It’s 4 miles an hour and a man with a red flag has to walk in front of the vehicle. In 1896 Walter Arnold speeds past a police station. A constable grabs his helmet and his bike and gives chase. After five miles he catches him. Walter is the first motorist convicted for speeding. The fine is 5p.
London. Sir Thomas More has upset his friend King Henry VIII and goes to his execution today. His head is boiled to preserve it then stuck on a pole on London Bridge.
London. Edward I dies today. The king was so tall he was known as ‘Longshanks’. He ordered that, after death, his body should be boiled and his bones carried into battles against the hated Scots.
England. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is founded today. The good news is that neglected children can be helped. The bad news is that teachers will continue to beat kids with canes and straps for another 100 years, and the NSPCC don’t seem to mind. Nowadays, teachers need an NSPCT!
Urbino, Italy. Saint Veronica Giuliani is born today. On Good Friday 1697 wounds appear on her body as if nails had pierced her hands and feet – what most people think of as Christ’s wounds on the cross. But the truth is the Bible never mentions that Jesus had his feet nailed to the cross. So is Veronica a saint – or a fake?
France. King Henry II has organized a great tournament. Of course, big-head Henry has to be the star. He smashes knight after knight but ends up with a lance in his head. Big-head becomes dead-head.
Spain. The great warrior, El Cid, leads his soldiers to a glorious victory. Quite remarkable, since he is dead at the moment. His mummified body is strapped to a horse and sent on to the battlefield to encourage his men. Stuffed Cid stuffs enemy.
Corsica. British Admiral Horatio Nelson loses his eye in the siege of Calvi. This is useful when he wants to ignore an order to retreat at Copenhagen five years later. He puts his telescope to his blind eye and says he can’t see the signal. Strangely the Brit sea-hero loses an eye in a land battle and an arm at another land battle. He loses his life at sea, of course, so that’s all right.
London. Queen Victoria is the first Brit monarch to move into Buckingham Palace . . . and it is a real mess. The chimneys smoke constantly, the walls are damp and the stench of rotten food drifts up from the cellar. Still, it’s slightly better than the slums most of her subjects live in.
Paris, France. A mob of citizens attack the Bastille Prison and let the prisoners free . . . all seven of them. They also pinch a supply of weapons, kill the governor and stick his head on a pole. This event is still celebrated today in France as the start of the French revolution.
France. Mix beef fat, skimmed milk and pork with flavourings and what have you got? Gut ache? No – ‘margarine’. Napoleon III of France held a competition for inventors to come up with a cheap butter for the poor of France. The margarine produced on this day is white, greasy . . . and a success! Urggggh!
Ekaterinberg, Russia. The Russians were doing badly in World War I so the Tsar Nicholas II took command of the army . . . and things got worse. The Russians blame Nick so they shoot him on this night. They also decide to blame his wife and children. This hardly seems fair, but they are shot too. It’s tough at the top.
Castillon, France. The English lose the battle of Castillon to the French and this brings an end to the Hundred Years War. It’s been going on for 116 years. Clearly the 15th-century historians weren’t very good at sums.
Unpopular Tsar Peter III used to stick his tongue out at priests in church. Not any more. Today he dies in a scuffle at the dinner table.
Rome, Italy. Emperor Nero fiddles while Rome burns . . . at least that’s the popular story. Rumour says that Nutty Nero started the fire that devastates the city. Highly unlikely. He does, however, put tar-soaked leather jerkins on his enemies, stick them on poles and set fire to them as human torches. Nasty Nero ordered countless executions. He ends up being murdered himself.
Portsmouth, England. There is a rush to send out the new warship, Mary Rose to attack the French fleet. King Henry VIII watches as the great ship is loaded with cannon, soldiers and sailors. A cross wind makes Mary Rose roll over – a cross king watches as she rolls down to the bottom of the sea. In a minute she has sunk and 500 men drown. It’s thought that the portholes were left open. Oooops!
The moon. American astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to walk on the moon. Neil finds it’s not made of green cheese but grey sand. Unfortunately he left his bucket and spade back on Earth so he can’t build a sand-castle. He has remembered the American flag and plonks it into the ground.
Chicago, USA. John Dillinger makes a date with Anna Sage to take her to the cinema. Big mistake, John. He is a bank-robber known as ‘Public Enemy Number 1’. Anna tells the FBI where the gangster will be, and they fill him full of bullets as he leaves the cinema. Poor Anna has lost a boyfriend – but gained a $10,000 reward so she’s not crying too much.
Belgium. Philip the Handsome is born. After his death his wife keeps his corpse and sleeps with it beside her on the bed for three years. By this time Philip is no longer very handsome. His wife’s name? Joanna the Mad. Guess why.
Kilwa, East Africa. Portuguese sailor, Francisco de Almeida, arrives and expects King Ibrahim to welcome him. The King makes an excuse. Now de Almeida has an excuse – to shoot the Africans and take lots of precious loot.
Vietnam. One of the aircraft on a US ship shoots another aircraft and blows it up. 134 men are killed. But the crew will swear it is the fault of an evil ghost called George who haunts the ship. Sometimes, they say, George pulls at their legs as they climb ladders. Or are the crew pulling our legs?
St Anne's Day
On this day girls should take a pod containing nine peas and place it on their doorstep. Put this message next to it: ‘Come in my dear and do not fear.’ The first man to enter the door will become your husband. (WARNING: Look through the letterbox before opening the door!)
The Atlantic Ocean. A ship spots the SS Waratah heading for London. No one ever sees the Waratah, or the 211 people on board, again. But one passenger, Claude Sawyer, has dreamed about a bloodstained figure crying ‘Waratah!’ Cautious Claude saw this as a sign of doom and left the ship at its last port of call. He lived.
London. Henry VIII marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. What he doesn’t know is that young Cath had a few boy-friends before she met Henry. When he finds out he goes off his head with rage – in fact he goes, ‘Off with Cath’s head!’
Pacific Ocean. Worst ever disaster for a US ship when the cruiser Indianapolis is hit by a Japanese torpedo and sinks. 800 survive the explosion but only 300 will be rescued five days later. Hunger and thirst kill a lot . . . while the sharks make a picnic of the rest.
USA. Henry Ford is born and goes on to make millions of cars which, strangely enough, are also called Fords! Unfortunately Henry has some wacky ideas, like making peace with his hero, Adolf Hitler. Then, during World War II Henry built the bombers that finally flattened his hero!
Canada. The SS Montrose docks in Canada and a quiet little man called Doctor Crippen steps ashore. He is arrested. The Captain suspected that his passenger was a wanted man and radioed ahead for the police to be waiting. This is the first time wireless has been used in a murder hunt. Little Crippen has poisoned his wife, cut her into bits and buried the bits in the cellar of their home.