The Sunday Section: This Week in History - May03-09

Apologies for not getting this up yesterday; was away for the weekend, and didn’t have time to post it.

May 03

1152 – Death of Matilda of Boulogne, wife of Stephen, King of England.  She was her husband’s strongest supporter in the civil war against Empress Matilda.


1765 – The first US medical school was proposed at the College of Philadelphia.

1906 – The Ottoman Porte, the central government of the Ottoman Empire, formally transfers the administration of the Sinai to Egypt, which was under the control of Britain.

1940 – Death of Henry Ossian Flipper, aged 84, the first African American to graduate from West Point in 1877.  The former slave earned a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army.

Henry Ossian Flipper

1945 – Sinking of the SS ‘Cap Arcona’, a German ocean liner being used as a prison ship.  She was transporting prisoners from concentration camps when the RAF sank her as part of general strikes on shipping in the Baltic Sea.  About 5,000 people died, the biggest single-incident maritime loss of life in WW2.


1471 – Battle of Tewkesbury, one of the decisive battles in the Wars of the Roses, one of the last that was genuinely York against Lancaster.  Edward IV and his Yorkist army beat the Lancastrian troops of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI.

1799 – Death of Tippoo Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, at his fortress-city of Seringapatam in Mysore.  Fearing an invasion of India by Napoleon, the British sent soldiers to take Mysore.  Surrounded by the British army, and despite the odds, Tippoo Sultan fought bravely.  Wounded, he was killed by an unidentified British soldier for his jewellery.

1859 – The Cornwall Railway opens, linking Plymouth in Devon to Falmouth in Cornwall.  The passenger trains will run across the newly constructed Royal Albert Bridge.

Royal Albert Bridge

1896 – First publication of the ‘Daily Mail’ at a cost of halfpenny compared to other London dailies, which cost 1 penny.

1904 – Charles Stewart Rolls meets Frederick Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester; they would go on to form Rolls-Royce Limited later in the year.

Charles Stewart Rolls (L) and Frederick Henry Royce

1932 – Al Capone begins serving his 11-years federal prison sentence at Atlanta Penitentiary, having been convicted of income tax evasion.

1942 – The Luftwaffe bomb Exeter as part of what came to be known as the Baedeker raids, referencing the eponymous popular travel guides.  These raids were in response to the RAF’s bombing offensive, which started with the bombing of Lúbeck in March 1942; so began a campaign of tit-for-tat bombing by the RAF and the Luftwaffe.  Exeter had already been bombed twice in April, followed by the bombing of Bath.  This coincided with the RAF’s offensive against Rostock.  After attacking Norwich and York, the Luftwaffe returned to Exeter, this time causing heavy damage to the city and 164 deaths.  “Exeter was the jewel of the West … We have destroyed that jewel, and the Luftwaffe will return to finish the job” – German radio report h May 1942.

Exeter after bombing

1942 – The Battle of the Coral Sea, a major naval battle in the Pacific, between the Japanese navy, and the naval and air forces of America and Australia.  If Japan had been victorious, they would have captured New Guinea, thus isolating Australia from Allied help and leaving it more open to a Japanese attack.  This was the first naval battle to be fought entirely by planes; no ship on either side made visual contact or fired directly upon the other. Both sides publicly claimed victory – Japan because of the extensive damage it had inflicted on the American navy; the Allies because they had succeeded in forcing the Japanese navy to abandon its objective.

Battle of the Coral Sea - explosion aboard USS Lexington

1945 – Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery takes the unconditional military surrender of German forces “in Holland, in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark … include[ing] all naval ships in these areas …

1979 – Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first woman prime minister after the Conservatives win the general election.

Margaret Thatcher - 4 May 1979 (Daily Telegraph)

1982 – HMS Sheffield has been hit by an Exocet missile, fired from an Argentinian fighter plane, in the Falklands War.  The destroyer was on a scouting mission off the Falklands Islands.  The missile did not detonate, but instead severed the high-pressure fire main on board.  The resultant fire ignited diesel oil from the ready-use tanks in the engine room.  20 of her crew died, and HMS Sheffield is now a recognised war grave.

HMS Sheffield on fire

1989 – NASA launches the ‘Magellan’ probe to map the surface of Venus.  It was the first interplanetary mission to be launched from a space shuttle, the Atlantis.

'Atlantis' with 'Magellan' on board (NASA)


1260 – Kublai Khan becomes ruler of the Mongol Empire.

Kublai Khan

1809 – Mary Dixon Kies becomes the first woman to be granted a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office, for a technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.

1821 – Death of Napoleon Bonaparte, aged 51, on the island of St Helena, off the coast of Africa, where he’d been exiled.  Longwood House, where he stayed, was in disrepair, damp, and unhealthy; his personal physician warned London that this was adversely affecting Bonaparte’s health.

Longwood House

1865 – The first US train robbery took place in North Bend, Ohio.  About a dozen men tore up the tracks to derail the train, then robbed over 100 passengers at gunpoint before blowing open the safes.  They fled across the Ohio River into Kentucky, and were never caught.

1891 – The ‘Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie’ has its official opening in New York, with a concert conducted by Walter Damrosch, and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky.  2 years later, the hall is renamed Carnegie Hall after board members persuade Andrew Carnegie, who funded its construction, to allow the use of his name.

Carnegie Hall 1890s

Andrew Carnegie

1893 – The New York Stock Exchange crashed in the ‘Panic of 1893’.  The economic depression witnessed a series of bank failures, brought about by the overbuilding and insecure financing of railroads.

1930 – Amy Johnson sets off from Croydon on a solo flight to Australia.  She landed in Darwin on the 24th May, a flight distance of 11,000 miles, becoming the first woman to fly alone to Australia.

1950 – Bhumibol Adulyadej is crowned King of Thailand.  Also known as Rama IX, his reign began in June 1946; he is the world’s longest serving current head of state, having already served for 68 years.

Bhumibol Adulyadej 1950

1961 – Alan Shepard becomes the second person, and the first American in space.  His flight, aboard the Freedom 7, lasted 15 minutes 28 seconds.

Alan Shepard

Alan Shepard during 'Freedom 7' flight

1981 – Death of Bobby Sands, aged 27, in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, after 66 days on hunger strike.  Sands had joined the Provisional IRA in 1972, and had already served a prison sentence.  He initiated the 1981 Irish hunger strike, then decided other prisoners should join the strike at staggered intervals.  The hunger strike centred on 5 demands – the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel each week; and full restoration of remission lost through the protest.  The prisoners wanted to be declared political prisoners, not criminals.

Bobby Sands


1859 – Death of Alexander von Humboldt, Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer, aged 89, in Berlin.

Alexander von Humboldt

1862 – Death of Henry David Thoreau, aged 44, in Massachusetts.

Henry Thoreau

1864 – General William T. Sherman begins advancing his Union troops to Atlanta, Georgia, the start of the Atlanta Campaign.  "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it ... we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hand of war ... We cannot change the hearts of those people of the South, but we can make war so terrible ... make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it."

General William Tecumseh Sherman

1910 – George, the Prince of Wales, becomes King George V, following the death of his father, Edward VII.  He became Edward’s heir after the unexpected death of George’s elder brother.  George wrote in his diary, “I have lost my best friend and the best of fathers … I never had a [cross] word with him in my life. I am heart-broken and overwhelmed with grief … May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task which has fallen on me.

King George V

1937 – The German passenger airship, LZ 129 ‘Hindenburg’, caught fire and was destroyed as it attempted to dock with its mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey.  35 of the 97 people on board were killed, including 1 worker on the ground.


1940 – John Steinbeck is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for ‘Grapes of Wrath’.

1945 – Hermann Goering is captured by the US Army.  He’d been placed under house arrest by Hitler, who mistakenly suspected Goering of treason.  Having escaped, Goering made his way to the American lines, preferring them to the Russians.

Hermann Goering 1945

1954 – Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student, has broken the 4 minute barrier, running a mile in 3min 59.4seconds.

Roger Bannister

1966 – Ian Brady and his lover, Myra Hindley, have been sentenced to life imprisonment for the Moors Murders.  They were tried for the killing of Edward Evans, 17, Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and John Kilbride, 12.  The bodies of the children were found on Saddleworth Moor in the Pennines.  Brady, aged 28, was given 3 concurrent life sentences; Hindley, 23, was given 2, having been found not guilty of the killing of John Kilbride.

Edward Evans

Lesley Anne Downey

John Kilbride

1970 –Yuichiro Miura becomes the first man to ski down Mount Everest.  He was not allowed to ski from the summit, but took off from South Col, a slightly lower pass.

Yuichiro Miura

1992 – Death of Marlene Dietrich, aged 90, in Paris.

Marlene Dietrich

1994 – Opening of the Channel Tunnel, linking Kent to northern France.  The rail tunnel runs beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover, and, at its lowest point, is 250ft deep.

Channel Tunnel

1997 – The Bank of England has been given independence from political control by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, 4 days after Labour’s election win.  This is the most significant change in the bank’s 300-year history.


1663 – Opening of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

Theatre Royal

1895 – Alexander Stepanovich Popov, a Russian physicist, presents a paper on his own invention, a wireless lightning detector that detects radio noise from lightning strikes.  He is regarded as the inventor of the radio in Russia and eastern European countries, and this day is celebrated as ‘Radio Day’ in the Russian Federation.

Alexander S. Popov

1915 – RMS Lusitania, en route from New York to Liverpool, has been torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, 11 miles off Kinsale, County Cork.  She sank in 18 minutes, resulting in over 1,000 deaths, over 100 of them American, and 761 surviving.  The sinking turned public opinion against Germany, and played a significant role in America entering the First World War. 

1945 – The German Instrument of Surrender is signed by representatives of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (‘Supreme Command of the Armed Forces’), the Allied Expeditionary Force, and the Soviet High Command, with the French representative signing as witness.

1954 – After a 57-day siege, the French have been defeated by Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces at the French stronghold at Dien Bien Phu, signalling the end of French colonial influence in Indochina.

1954 – US, Great Britain and France reject Russian membership in NATO.

1958 – USAF Major Howard Johnson sets a world aircraft altitude record in a F-104 (Lockheed Starfighter) at 27,810 meters.

1960 – Leonid Brezhnev is selected as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet equivalent to the presidency.

Leonid Brezhnev


1847 – Robert William Thompson, the Scottish inventor of the pneumatic tyre, patents his invention.

Robert W. Thompson

1873 – Death of John Stuart Mill, the philosopher, political economist and civil servant, aged 66.  His conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control.

John Stuart Mill

1902 – Mount Pélee, an active volcano in Martinique, erupts, wiping out the town of Saint-Pierre, about 4 miles south of the summit.

Remains of Saint-Pierre

1919 – Edward George Honey, an Australian soldier and journalist, proposes the idea of a moment of silence to commemorate the Armistice.  This leads to the creation of Remembrance Day.

1945 – VE Day in Europe, after Germany signs an unconditional surrender and the end of the Second World War is announced.

VE Day Picadilly Circus

1958 – The release of ‘Dracula’, starring Christopher Lee as the count, and Peter Cushing as van Helsing.

1980 – The World Health Organisation announces the eradication of smallpox.

1984 – The Thames Barrier, built to stop flooding in London, is officially opened by the Queen.

The Thames Barrier

1988 – Death of Robert A. Heinlein, aged 80, California.

Robert Heinlein

1994 – Death of George Peppard, aged 65, in Los Angeles.

George Peppard


1386 – The Treaty of Windsor is signed between Portugal and England.  This diplomatic alliance, which is still in force today, is the world’s oldest recorded allegiance between 2 nations.

1671 – Colonel Thomas Blood, an Anglo-Irish officer, attempts to steal the Crown Jewels.  Captured and taken before Charles II, he was inexplicably pardoned; the reasons for the king’s pardon remain unknown.

Thomas Blood

1904 – The ‘City of Truro’ steam locomotive becomes the first steam engine to exceed 100mph.

1945 – The Channel Islands are liberated by the British.

1962 – A laser beam is successfully bounced off the moon for the first time.

1978 – Death of Aldo Moro, aged 61.  Kidnapped by the Red Brigade on March 16th, they eventually murdered him as the government refused to negotiate.

1986 – Death of Tenzing Norgay, aged 71, in Darjeeling, India.  He and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first 2 people known to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Edmund Hillary (L) and Tenzing Norgay