Britain. Today is known simply as ‘The First’ by some people. They mean, ‘The first day of the year that hunters are allowed to murder partridges.’ So, if you’re a partridge, duck. And if you’re a duck, duck (in case some short-sighted killer can’t tell the difference).
The World. Calendars are going to pot because Leap Years aren’t quite keeping them in line with the sun. In fact, the shortest day of the year is now 11 days away from when it should be – 21 December. So the world has to ‘lose’ 11 days. Simple. After 2 September 1752 the next day will be 14 September 1752. But thousands of people think they are being robbed of 11 days from their lives. There are riots in the streets of many cities! People cry, ‘Give us back our 11 days!’ (They don’t get them.)
London. It’s World War II and a ‘blackout’ of all lights is needed so German bombers can’t see the cities. PC George Southworth sees a light in a third-floor window, knocks on the front door but gets no answer. He climbs the drainpipe to reach the room and put the light out himself. He slips – splatt! The first of Britain’s half-million war deaths.
Arizona, USA. Apache Indian leader, Geronimo, surrenders. For the last 10 years he’s been fighting a guerrilla war against the settlers. He’s been trying to persuade them to let the Apaches live in peace. The settlers (and the US Cavalry) have finally won. Final score: Guerrillas 0 – Gorillas 1.
France. The great king Louis XIV dies today aged 77. He is probably pretty pleased, because doctors damaged his mouth when they tried to take some rotten teeth out. Eating was painful for many years and bits of food often came down his nose. (S’not very nice to have a meal with Big Louis.)
New York Bay, USA. The British warship, Eagle, lies waiting for the American enemy. But when the attack comes from the American Turtle, the crew of the Eagle never see it. That’s because the Turtle is a submarine making the first ever submarine attack. It’s not successful. Lucky Eagle.
Northumberland, England. 22-year-old Grace Darling and her dad set off in a little lifeboat to rescue the crew of the shipwrecked Forfarshire. Grace gets a darling little medal but dies four years later.
Oxford, England. Richard I is born. He becomes a legend . . . but which legend? Richard is a brave and noble Crusader – or is he a cruel soldier who keeps a supply of prisoners handy so he’ll always have someone to eat?!
Atlantic Ocean. Sir Humphrey Gilbert dies. Sir who? The man who planted the first English flag in Newfoundland – which is a great name for a new-found land. Imaginative, eh? Old Humph claimed America for Elizabeth I but today, on the way home, his ship The Squirrel sinks. What a calf-lolly (as Tudor sailors would say). Fancy trying to cross the Atlantic on a squirrel.
London. George Smith is a taxi driver. Today he drives his electric cab to 165 Bond Street. Unfortunately he doesn’t stop there. He drives over the pavement and into the front of number 165. He admits to the police that he’s been drinking and becomes the first person to be convicted of drunken driving in Britain. Sadly he won’t be the last.
Brandywine Creek, USA. American hero George Washington fights the British – and loses! Nobody’s perfect. George was moody, unfriendly and big-headed. He had wooden false teeth. He must have been terrified of meeting a hungry woodpecker.
North America. Henry Hudson in his ship the Half Moon, discovers a river unknown to Europeans. He could call it Half Moon River or James River (after his king) but, no. He calls it after himself! Hudson River. Wonder if the Dead Sea was discovered by Mr Dead?
Marathon, Greece. Persia invades Greece with a huge force. The Spartans can’t come to the battle today – they’re too busy having a religious ceremony! The little Athenian army faces the might of Persia alone. Amazingly, the Athenians win a famous victory. A messenger runs 26 miles to take the good news back to Athens then drops dead. People are still doing this. (Running 26-mile ‘marathons’ and dropping dead!)
Old England. Nutting Day, when children skip through the fields and go nutting. (The lazy ones stay at home and do nutting.) This was an excuse for a day off school in Old England. Maybe you can try it on a teacher today?
Liverpool, England. The grand opening of the new Liverpool to Manchester railway. All the great men of England are there for the celebration and thousands line the route. The Duke of Wellington sees his friend William Huskisson and calls him over. Huskisson steps on to the track . . . and into the path of the Rocket locomotive. Crunch! The Rocket isn’t damaged but Huskisson’s death spoils the party just a bit.
Spain. Happy birthday to Tomas de Torquemada. But instead of birthday candles Tom burns people. Tom is a monk with the job of sorting out people who are a danger to the Church in Spain. Tom will burn 2000 and torture many thousands more by stretching on the rack. A monk of nasty habits.
USA. Everyone remembers that Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first men to fly in an aeroplane (23 June 1905). Most people forget Lieutenant Selfridge. On this day Orville takes Selfridge up for a spin to show his wonderful aeroplane to the US Army. A propeller cracks and they crash. Selfridge becomes the first person to die in an air crash. Orville survives but never flies again.
St Joseph's Day
There is more chance of being kicked to death by a donkey than being killed in an air crash. This could be due to Saint Joe, the patron saint of air travellers. Joseph of Copertino was a monk who amazed everyone with his very useful ability to float in the air.
Poitiers, France. In the Hundred Years War the English face the French at Poitiers. A Scotsman advises the French knights to get off their horses and attack on foot. English knights (on horses) knock them over like skittles and win. Whap! Good knight, sleep tight.
Macedon. Alexander the Great born. He takes over power in Macedon when his dad is murdered. In fact, ruthless Alex might have had something to do with his dad’s death! He goes on to conquer lots of people like Greeks and Persians. At the age of 32 Alexander the Great becomes Alex the Late.
New York, USA. Rene Fonck sets off today to be the first to fly from New York to Paris. He needs a super-light plane. Rene’s machine has a cabin lined with Spanish leather and mahogany wood, a celebration dinner for the French President and lots of prezzies. It races down the runway, the wheels collapse and it disintegrates, killing two passengers. The French President never gets that dinner.
Holland. Anne of Cleves is born. The Dutch send her picture to Henry VIII and he decides to make her his fourth wife. When he sees her in the flesh he thinks she looks more like a horse than a woman. He has a bit of a nerve since he wouldn’t win any beauty contests himself.
Salamis, Greece. The Greeks meet the Persians in a sea battle. Some Greek captains begin to run away till they meet a ghostly ship which tells them to go back and they will win. They believe the ghost, go back to the battle and send the Persians packing. Amazing . . . but true?
China. The river Hwang Ho breaks free and sends huge flood waves across the plains. It is probably the world’s greatest disaster ever. As many as 7 million die.
London. Britain sees its first cremation because Honoretta Pratt has left orders that her body should be burned in its grave. She was worried that ‘vapours arising from graves may be harmful to the citizens’.
Balaclava Day. During the Crimean war the British ‘Light Brigade’ of horse soldiers are ordered to charge at the Russian guns. Not surprisingly, most of them die.
France. Young Prince Louis is born on this day. He will grow up to be Louis XIII. But he celebrates his seventh birthday (today in 1608) by having a bath. That’s unusual. It will be the first bath he has ever had in his life!
Britain. Crack-nut Night. (Not one word of a lie!) Also known as Nut-crack Night. (Honest.) To celebrate Michaelmas Day some people will roast nuts until they are cracked. (The nuts, not the people.)
Pack Rag Day
Britain. This is the day when servants and farm workers were hired – or fired. They would wrap their rags in a pack and move to their new home. A good day to change schools – sort of Pack Book Day.
English Channel. Rudolf Diesel was a great inventor. No prizes for guessing that he invented an engine! But today he is on a cross-channel steamer . . . and he vanishes! If Diesel ended up in the water surely there’d be an oil slick?