This Day in History (24-Dec-1914) – The “Christmas Truce” of World War I Begins

During World War I, a battle line was drawn at the Western Front – stretching from Lorraine in the south to the English Channel in the north. Soldiers dug trenches and erected barbed wire to hold their positions. In places, the trenches were just yards apart and, as the soldiers realised that neither side was going to make any rapid victories or progress, the trenches became more fortified. The opposing forces now had time to regroup and strengthen their lines with more men. The proximity of the enemies also allowed men to shout out to their opponents or stick up signs on wooden boards. After a particularly heavy barrage of missiles or bullets, the soldiers might shout out “Missed” or “Left a bit”.

For much of December it had been wet but on Christmas Eve the temperature dropped and a sharp frost enveloped the landscape. The shouting between troops turned into something more during Christmas Eve. Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24 more than they do on the day itself (in Britain and France, December 25 is the main day of celebration). So on the Western Front on Christmas Eve, German soldiers began to sing carols and place Christmas trees lit with lanterns above the trenches.

As written in one of the British soldier’s letter, “On Christmas Eve the Germans entrenched opposite us began calling out to us ‘Cigarettes’, ‘Pudding’, ‘A Happy Christmas’ and ‘English – means good’, so two of our fellows climbed over the parapet of the trench and went towards the German trenches. Half-way they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back I went out with some more of our fellows and we were met by about 30 Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows. I got one of them to write his name and address on a postcard as a souvenir. All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us and one played ‘God Save the King’ on a mouth organ.”

The enduring legacy of the informal ‘Christmas truce’ has been positive and it’s looked upon today as a wonderful example of humanity during an dreadfully dark hour of man’s history.

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/december-24-1914-the-christmas-truce-of-world-war-i-begins

http://www.christmastruce.co.uk/article.html

This Day in History (11-Dec-1913) – “Mona Lisa”, stolen from the Louvre Museum in 1911, recovered

On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world, was stolen right off the wall of the Louvre (famous museum in Paris, France). The Louvre was closed for a week to aid the investigation. Police found the plate of glass which was placed on the painting and Mona Lisa’s frame lying in a staircase. But investigation headed nowhere.

In the Autumn of 1913, a well-known antique dealer, Alfredo Geri, innocently placed an ad in several Italian newspapers which stated that he was “a buyer at good prices of art objects.” Soon after he placed the ad, Geri received a letter dated November 29 (1913), that stated the writer was in possession of the stolen Mona Lisa. The letter had a post office box in Paris as a return address and had been signed only as “Leonardo.” Geri contacted Commendatore Giovanni Poggi, museum director of the Uffizi (museum in Florence, Italy). Geri replied showing interest. Another letter came almost immediately asking Geri to go to Paris to see the painting. Geri replied, stating that he could not go to Paris, but, instead, arranged for “Leonardo” to meet him in Milan.

On December 10, 1913, an Italian man appeared stating he was Leonardo Vincenzo and that he had the Mona Lisa back in his hotel room. Leonardo explained that he had stolen the painting in order to restore to Italy what had been stolen from it by Napoleon. Thus, Leonardo made the stipulation that the Mona Lisa was to be hung at the Uffizi and never given back to France. Upon his leaving, Geri contacted the police and the Uffizi. The following day, Geri and Poggi (the museum director) appeared at Leonardo’s hotel room. Leonardo pulled out a wooden trunk. After opening the trunk, Leonardo pulled out a pair of underwear, some old shoes, and a shirt. Then Leonardo removed a false bottom — and there lay the Mona Lisa. The museum director said that he would need to compare the painting with other works by Leonardo da Vinci. They then walked out with the painting. Leonardo Vincenzo, whose real name was Vincenzo Peruggia, was arrested. Peruggia hadn’t had a plan to dispose of the painting; his only goal was to return it to Italy. The painting was displayed throughout Italy before it was returned to France on December 30, 1913.

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/december/11

http://history1900s.about.com/od/famouscrimesscandals/a/monalisa.htm

This Day in History (1-Dec-1990) – Chunnel makes breakthrough

The idea of tunneling beneath the English Channel began circulating in the early 19th century. In 1986, Britain and France signed a treaty authorizing the construction of a tunnel running between Folkestone, England, and Calais, France. Construction on the Chunnel (channel-tunnel) began in 1988. On December 1, 1990, 132 feet below the English Channel, workers drill an opening the size of a car through a wall of rock. This was no ordinary hole–it connected the two ends of an underwater tunnel linking Great Britain with the European mainland for the first time in more than 8,000 years. After workers drilled that final hole, they exchanged French and British flags and toasted each other with champagne.

Over the next four years, nearly 13,000 workers dug 95 miles of tunnels at an average depth of 150 feet below sea level. Eight million cubic meters of soil were removed, at a rate of some 2,400 tons per hour. The completed Chunnel would have three interconnected tubes, including one rail track in each direction and one service tunnel. At a cost of over $21 billion, the 31.4 mile-long Channel Tunnel was completed in 1994, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand. With regular maintenance and upkeep, the Chunnel allows for millions of passengers travel between London and Paris each year – both for business and pleasure!

A company called Eurotunnel won the 55-year concession to operate the Chunnel, which is the crucial stretch of the Eurostar high-speed rail link between London and Paris. The regular shuttle train through the tunnel runs 31 miles in total–23 of those underwater–and takes 20 minutes, with an additional 15-minute loop to turn the train around. The Chunnel is the second-longest rail tunnel in the world, after the Seikan Tunnel in Japan.

The Channel tunnel was one of the largest construction projects of the 20th century and remains a marvel of engineering even today. It was selected by American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 1996.

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chunnel–makes-breakthrough

http://www.chunnel.com/

http://www.unmuseum.org/7wonders/chunnel.htm

This Day in History (19-Nov-1969) – Pele scores 1,000th goal

Edson Arantes do Nascimento or Pelé, grew up in poverty. The origin of the “Pelé” nickname is unclear, though he recalled despising it when his friends first referred to him. Pelé signed with Santos professional soccer club when he was 15. He scored the first professional goal of his career before he turned 16, led the league in goals in his first full season and was recruited in the Brazilian national team.

The world was officially introduced to Pelé in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Displaying remarkable speed, athleticism and field vision, the 17-year-old erupted to score three goals in a 5-2 semifinal win over France, then netted two more in the finals, a 5-2 win over the host country. The young superstar received hefty offers to play for European clubs, and Brazilian President Jânio Quadros eventually had Pelé declared a national treasure, making it legally difficult for him to play in another country.

Pelé aggravated a groin injury two games into the 1962 World Cup in Chile, sitting out the final rounds while Brazil went on to claim its second straight title. Four years later, in England, a series of brutal attacks by opposing defenders again forced him to the sidelines with leg injuries, and Brazil was bounced from the World Cup after one round. Despite the disappointment on the world stage, the legend of Pelé continued to grow. In the late 1960s, the two factions in the Nigerian Civil War reportedly agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire so they could watch Pelé play in an exhibition game in Lagos.

The 1970 World Cup in Mexico marked a triumphant return to glory for Pelé and Brazil. Headlining a formidable squad, Pelé scored four goals in the tournament, including one in the final to give Brazil a 4-1 victory over Italy. Pelé announced his retirement from soccer in 1974, but he was lured back to the field the following year to play for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League, and temporarily helped make the NASL a big attraction. He played his final game in an exhibition between New York and Santos in October 1977, competing for both sides, and retired with a total of 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, holding ‘most career goals (football)’ record in Guiness World Records. Pelé was named FIFA’s “Co-Player of the Century” in 1999, along with Argentine Diego Maradona.

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pele-scores-1000th-goal

http://www.biography.com/people/pel%C3%A9-39221#synopsis

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-3000/most-career-goals-(football)/

This Day in History (11-Nov-1918) – World War I Ends at the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia’s ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium’s ally, to declare war against Germany.  Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months.

By summer of 1918, assaults by the British and French rolled back the German opposition. As September ended, it became clear to German officers that the time to sue for peace had come. On November 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm officially stepped down from the German throne as part of the conditions for the cease-fire. Orders were soon shipped through to commanders near the front lines on both sides: fighting would officially come to an end at November 11, 1918 at 11am. The end of combat operations was greeted with cheers from all angles.

World War I had resulted in an estimated 30 million deaths and injuries among the troops, with an additional 10 million civilian casualties. The advent of new technologies to deal death — tanks, airplanes equipped with bombs, mustard gas — wreaked destruction on unprecedented levels. Saddling the Germans with heavy responsibility and extensive financial obligations, the Treaty of Versailles announced on June 28, 1919, triggered the World War II.

 

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/november-11-1918-ce-world-war-i-ends-at-the-eleventh-hour-of-the-eleventh-day-of-the-eleventh-month

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/world-war-i-ends

This Day in History (23-Sep-1846) – Astronomers Discover Neptune

After first being sighted in the night sky by Galileo in 1612, it took well over two centuries for scientists to determine the bright object near Jupiter in the famous Italian’s notes was not a star.  Urbain Le Verrier and Johann Gottfried Galle, working together on the European continent, and John Couch Adams, making calculations independently in England, learned the heavenly body was actually the planet Neptune on September 23, 1846.

Alexis Bouvard, attempting to determine the orbits of the planets in 1821, realized the planet Uranus seemed to be swayed and theorized another large object nearby might be affecting it. Two decades later, Adams focused his energies on the same issue.  Unsatisfied with the limited data he had managed to gather, he made an inquiry with the Astronomer Royal, George Airy, in search of more information to help him with his search for a new planet.  Upon receiving a large number of observations in February 1844, he spent two-and-a-half years attempting to determine where this unknown celestial body might be.

At the same time, Le Verrier focused his attention on determining what Bouvard had found.  Unable to muster much in the way of interest, he published a series of estimates in June 1846.  Le Verrier, struggling to find scientists in his own country willing to pay attention and collaborate, wrote a letter to Galle at the Berlin Observatory detailing his findings.  Arriving on the morning of September 23, 1846, Le Verrier’s note proved to be the final catalyst to the discovery of Neptune.  After nightfall, Galle located the planet just one degree away from where Le Verrier had predicted it would be and 12 degrees away from Adams’ calculated location.  The eighth planet in Earth’s solar system had been officially discovered. After the discovery, there was rivalry between England and France about who should get credit for finding Neptune, Adams or Le Verrier. The international astronomy community agreed that the two astronomers should share credit for the discovery.

Late in 1846, the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences pushed Le Verrier’s first suggestion for name — Neptune — to the fore.  Honoring the Roman god of the sea, it remains the farthest planet from the sun.

 

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/september-23-1846-ce-astronomers-discover-neptune

http://www.universetoday.com/21621/who-discovered-neptune/

This Day in History (19-Aug-1900) – Start of the one & only Olympic cricket match, in Paris

Cricket was also originally scheduled as an Olympic sport in 1896. Owing to insufficient entries, what would have been the only team sport at the first Modern Olympics was not held. Originally, teams representing Belgium, France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands were scheduled to compete in the 1900 tournament. Belgium and the Netherlands pulled out of the competition, leaving Great Britain to play France. In keeping with the informal nature of the Paris Games, two teams were enough to make an Olympic competition, which remains unique in Olympic history. The game was played at the Municipal Velodrome de Vincennes, which is still in use today, and the banked cycling track formed an unusual boundary for the cricket pitch.

France, the hosts, drew the team from just two clubs: the now defunct Union Club and the Standard Athletic Club which had been formed in 1890 by English workmen imported to construct the Eiffel Tower. Majority of the “French” team were, in fact, English expatriates. The visitors were the “Devon & Somerset Wanderers Cricket Club” a well established touring side. The match was originally arranged with the usual eleven players in each team but, an additional player was brought into each team at the last minute. Although the game was essentially between two club sides, posters and handbills give the occasion a flavor by announcing that it was a match between France and England.

The visitors were all out for 117 runs. The host team replied with a score of 78. With an overnight lead of 39 the “Wanderers” gave a vastly improved batting display in the second innings and declared their innings closed at 145 runs for 5 wickets. Needing 185 runs to win, the French batting completely fell apart in the second innings. “Wanderers” finally won by 158 runs with five minutes to spare. The Great Britain team was awarded silver medals and the French team bronze medals. The match was formally recognised as being an Olympic contest in 1912, and the medals were later reassigned as gold and silver.

 

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/august/19

http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1900/CRI/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cricket_at_the_1900_Summer_Olympics