Saturday, 22 March 2014

Help Wanted.

It's been all quiet on the Day in History front for a couple of weeks and I apologise for that. In part it has been due to a family bereavement.

However, that's also given me an opportunity to rethink what I want to do with this whole concept. Looming on the horizon we have the centenary of the First World War.

I have the great fortune to own a complete set of The War Illustrated . One of the most moving elements of this magazine set was that each issue would include a page of photographs of the fallen and that got me to thinking.

In my journeys about the country I can often be found wandering around random churchyards. The architecture and history interests me a bit but I'm usually also keeping a weather eye out for individual Commonwealth War Graves. A good proportion of UK churchyards can boast a few. I always pause to read the names and the service branch or unit and reflect a little on who is buried there, and why. And that got me to thinking.

Most towns and villages have a war memorial tucked away somewhere. Again I tend to pause by these and take a look at the names. And again, that got me thinking.

And finally, many families like my own, do have some individuals who were actively involved in either of the world wars (and sometimes both). There are plenty of stories of one form or another. And that also got me thinking.

Going forward, each day, I'd like to take and an individual name, or unit or memorial and delve a little into the circumstances in which these forebears of ours died. And for that I am going to ask people to help. Send me photographs of graves or memorials or else details of individuals and units and I'll endeavour to do a little digging. I can't promise complete histories but I'd like to do something to commemorate the sacrifices that have gone before. And with your help I think we can do something quite special.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Death or Liberty; And a ship to take me home.

The Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 was a rebellion by convicts against colonial authority in the Castle Hill area of the British colony of New South Wales. The rebellion culminated in a battle fought between convicts and the Colonial forces of Australia on 5 March 1804 at Rouse Hill, dubbed the Battle of Vinegar Hill after the Battle of Vinegar Hill of 1798 in Ireland. It was the first and only major convict uprising in Australian history.

On 4 March 1804, 233 convicts led by Phillip Cunningham (a veteran of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, as well as mutiny on the convict transport ship Anne) escaped from a farm intent on capturing ships to sail to Ireland. In response, martial law was quickly declared in New South Wales. The mostly Irish rebels, having gathered reinforcements, were hunted by the colonial forces until they were sequestered on 5 March 1804 on a hillock nicknamed Vinegar Hill. 

A Major Johnston with Trooper Anlezark came  to parley, calling down the leaders Cunningham and Johnston from the hill. Demanding their surrender, he received the response from Cunningham 'Death or Liberty' and by some report added 'and a ship to take us home'. With the NSW Corps and Active Defence now formed up behind him Major Johnston and the trooper produced pistols and shepherded the two leaders back to unfriendly lines. Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas Laycock, on being given the order to engage, directed fifteen minutes of musket fire, then charged. The now leaderless rebels first tried to fire back, but then broke and ran.


During the short battle fifteen rebels had fallen, Major Johnston preventing more killings by threatening his troops with his pistol. Several convicts were captured and others killed in the pursuit which went up to Windsor all day until 9pm, with new arrivals of soldiers from Sydney joining in the search for rebels. Large parties of 50 and 70 who lost their way in the night turned themselves in under the Amnesty.

 Nine of the rebel leaders were executed and hundreds were punished before martial law was finally revoked on 12 March 1804.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Black Gold

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire continued to control or have a suzerainty over most of the peninsula. Subject to this suzerainty, Arabia was ruled by a patchwork of tribal rulers. In 1902, Ibn Saud took control of Riyadh in Nejd and brought the Al Saud back to Nejd Ibn Saud gained the support of the Ikhwan, a tribal army inspired by Wahhabism and led by Sultan ibn Bijad and Faisal Al-Dawish, and captured Hasa from the Ottomans in 1913.

In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain (which was fighting the Ottomans in World War I), the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, led a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire to create a united Arab state.[ Although the Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918 failed in its objective, the Allied victory in World War I resulted in the end of Ottoman suzerainty and control in Arabia. In 1932 the two kingdoms of the Hejaz and Nejd were united as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The new kingdom was one of the poorest countries in the world, reliant on limited agriculture and pilgrimage revenues. However, in 1938, vast reserves of oil were discovered in the Al-Hasa region along the coast of the Persian Gulf, and full-scale development of the oil fields began in 1941 under the US-controlled Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company). Oil provided Saudi Arabia with economic prosperity and substantial political leverage internationally. Cultural life rapidly developed, primarily in the Hejaz, which was the center for newspapers and radio. However, the large influx of foreigners to work in the oil industry increased the pre-existing propensity for xenophobia. At the same time, the government became increasingly wasteful and extravagant. By the 1950s this had led to large governmental deficits and excessive foreign borrowing.

By 1976 Saudi Arabia had become the largest oil producer in the world. Khalid's reign saw economic and social development progress at an extremely rapid rate, transforming the infrastructure and educational system of the country; in foreign policy, close ties with the US were developed. In 1979, two events occurred which greatly concerned the government, and had a long-term influence on Saudi foreign and domestic policy. The first was the Iranian Islamic Revolution. It was feared that the country's Shi'ite minority in the Eastern Province (which is also the location of the oil fields) might rebel under the influence of their Iranian co-religionists. In fact, there were several anti-government uprisings in the region in 1979 and 1980. The second event was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist extremists. Part of the response of the royal family was to enforce a much stricter observance of traditional religious and social norms in the country (for example, the closure of cinemas) and to give the Ulema a greater role in government. 

In 1980, Saudi Arabia took full control of Aramco from the US. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The "tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood"

King Kong is a 1933 American fantasy monster/adventure film directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose was from an idea conceived by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It stars Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong, and opened in New York City on March 2, 1933 to rave reviews.

The film tells of a gigantic, island-dwelling ape called Kong who dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman. Kong is distinguished for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and its musical score by Max Steiner. The film has been released to video, DVD, and Blu-ray Disc, and has been computer colorized. King Kong is often cited as one of the most iconic movies in the history of cinema. In 1991, it was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It has been remade twice: in 1976 and in 2005.

Fay Wray played bit parts in Hollywood until cast as the lead in Erich von Stroheim's 1928 silent film, The Wedding March. She met Kong co-directors Cooper and Schoedsack when cast as Ethne Eustace in The Four Feathers in 1929. Cooper cast her in 1932 as Eve Trowbridge in The Most Dangerous Game

After the RKO board approved the Kong test, Cooper decided a blonde would provide contrast to the gorilla's dark pelt. Dorothy Jordan, Jean Harlow, and Ginger Rogers were considered, but the role finally went to Wray who wore a blonde wig in the film and was inspired more by Cooper's enthusiasm than the script to accept the role. According to her autobiography, On the Other Hand, Wray recounts that Cooper had told her he planned to star her opposite the "tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood". She assumed he meant Clark Gable until he showed her a picture of Kong climbing the Empire State Building.

Wray recorded all her screams in one afternoon session during post-production. On the film's 50th anniversary in 1983, one New York theater held a Fay Wray scream-alike contest in its lobby, and, two days after her death on August 8, 2004, the lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes in her memory.

The film made approximately $2 million in its initial release, with an opening weekend estimated at $90,000. During the film's first run it made a profit of $650,000. It was re-released in 1938, 1942, 1946,1952, and 1956. After the 1952 re-release, Variety estimated the film had made $4 million in cumulative domestic rentals for that year.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

" I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second."

Joseph Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953), was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.

Stalin's health deteriorated towards the end of World War II. He suffered from atherosclerosis from his heavy smoking. He suffered a mild stroke around the time of the Victory Parade, and a severe heart attack in October 1945.

On the early morning hours of 1 March 1953, after an all-night dinner and a movie Stalin arrived at his Kuntsevo residence some 15 km west of Moscow centre with interior minister Lavrentiy Beria and future premiers Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev where he retired to his bedroom to sleep. At dawn, Stalin did not emerge from his room. Although his guards thought that it was odd for him not to rise at his usual time, they were under strict orders not to disturb him and left him alone the entire day. At around 10 p.m. he was discovered by Peter Lozgachev, the Deputy Commandant of Kuntsevo, who entered his bedroom to check up on him. Lozgachev used the bedroom telephone where he frantically called a few party officials telling them that Stalin may have had a stroke and asked them to send good doctors to the Kuntsevo residence immediately.  The bedridden Stalin died four days later, on 5 March 1953, at the age of 74, and was embalmed on 9 March.

His body was preserved in Lenin's Mausoleum until 31 October 1961, when his body was removed from the mausoleum and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.

Officially, Stalin died naturally due to a cerebral hemorrhage (massive stroke). However, in 2003, a joint group of Russian and American historians announced their view that Stalin had ingested flavorless warfarin, a powerful rat poison that inhibits coagulation of the blood and which predisposes the victim to hemorrhagic stroke (cerebral hemorrhage).

A more recently released autopsy stated that Stalin died naturally from a stroke induced by hypertensive hemorrhage. However, the report also noted cardiac, gastrointestinal and renal hemorrhaging which is inconsistent with a natural death; this is consistent with poisoning by warrfarin. Beria and Khrushchev were in a position to add the tasteless warfarin to Stalin's wine the evening before.

His demise certainly arrived at a convenient time for Lavrentiy Beria and others, who feared being swept away in yet another purge. It is believed that Stalin felt Beria's power was too great and threatened his own.

The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: "I took him out." Khrushchev wrote in his (unreliable) memoirs that Beria had, immediately after the stroke, gone about "spewing hatred against [Stalin] and mocking him", and then, when Stalin showed signs of consciousness, dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. When Stalin fell unconscious again, Beria immediately stood and spat.

It has also been suggested by Jože Pirjevec that Stalin was assassinated by the order of Josip Broz Tito in retaliation for assassination attempts on Tito. A letter was found in Stalin's office from Tito that read: "Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle ... If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second."
After Stalin's death a power struggle for his vacant position took place between the following eight senior members of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union listed according to the order of precedence presented formally on 5 March: Georgy Malenkov, Lavrentiy Beria, Vyacheslav Molotov, Klim Voroshilov, Nikita Khrushchev, Nikolai Bulganin, Lazar Kaganovich, Anastas Mikoyan.

This struggle lasted until 1958 and eventually Khrushchev won through, having defeated all his potential rivals in the Presidium.