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Subject: ‘Famous news stories’

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‘Great God! This is an awful place . . .’ so wrote Captain Scott

Posted in Disasters, Exploration, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about Scott of the Antarctic first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 598 published on 30 June 1973.

Captain Scott,  picture, image, illustration
Scott reached the Pole only to find that he had been beaten by Amundsen, by Angus McBride

The race to the South Pole was on! Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN, had not wanted a race, but now he had no choice. The great Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, was out to reach the Pole first, having switched his plans to try and be the first man to reach the North Pole!

Captain Scott was leader of the 60-strong British Antarctic Expedition, which had headed south from New Zealand aboard the Terra Nova, surviving a terrible battering in heavy seas to reach the mighty southern continent on the last day of 1910. Scott was following up an earlier expedition to the fabulous, majestic land of ice and snows, a land of awe-inspiring, desolate beauty, of stupendous mountains and glaciers, of deadly danger and many other wonders to behold.

He and his men had come to learn first and reach the Pole second in an unhurried way. Now he had to decide at once whether or not to challenge Amundsen, for news had just reached him that the Norwegian had landed at the Bay of Wales, 60 miles nearer the Pole than he was, and Amundsen was interested in success, not science, and had more than 100 dogs to get him to the Pole.

Scott made up his mind. They would “go forward and do our best for the honour of the country without fear or panic.” From his base at McMurdo Sound it was 923 miles to the Pole. He decided to use motor sledges at first, then the ponies they had brought with them, then dogs. For the last lap, Scott and a few picked men would drag a single sledge to the Pole, having left the dogs and supplies at a depot for the return journey.

They started on November 1st, 1911, after the Polar winter was over, in high spirits and sure of success. The motor sledges had gone on ahead and they marched with the ponies and the dog-drawn sledges to One Ton Depot, which they had built the previous autumn. Twelve men, 10 ponies and a dog-team reached the depot on November 15th.

Then things started to go wrong. First the cylinders of the motor sledges cracked and they had to be abandoned. Then the ponies, despite every effort of Captain Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, began to die. And the weather, which should have been good, turned nightmarish, with blinding blizzards and glaring sun in between them which caused snow-blindness. Twelve miles from the great Beardmore Glacier they were brought to a standstill and remained trapped in a camp for days.

Even Captain Scott confessed his deep depression to his diary, though to none of his men. By December 7th, there was hardly any food for the ponies and the men were eating into their advance rations. Then at last the wind dropped.

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Lincoln’s assassin may have escaped the Yankee soldier’s bullet

Posted in America, Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about Abraham Lincoln first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,  picture, image, illustration
The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

The crackling upsurge of flame as the back of the tobacco shed was set on fire, the sharp crack of the rifle shot, the piercing cry of the man as he was hit, had taken, in all, no more than 15 seconds.

The secret service men stood gazing down at their victim as he lay sprawled and dying on the mud floor. The face was greying, already gaunt with pain, and the onlookers could not be absolutely sure that this was John Wilkes Booth, the most hated man in America.

Paradoxically, Booth, a member of a renowned acting family, was also the most lauded and admired.

It could hardly have been otherwise in a country just emerged from a terrible civil war that had scarred with hate the hearts of the losers, the Confederates of the American South.

From their point of view, it was justice, not murder, when Booth crept into President Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, on 14th April, 1865, and shot him in the back of the head.

Abraham Lincoln was the President who had just harried the South to defeat, and many southerners silently echoed Booth’s theatrical cry of “Sic semper tyrannis!” “Thus all tyrants! The South is avenged!” as he leapt from the box on to the stage, brandishing a huge knife.

The gesture was spoiled, though. Booth caught his foot in the flags draping the President’s box and fell, breaking a bone in his left leg. Somehow, in all the screaming and confusion that followed the killing, he managed to scramble through the stage door and out into the street, where his horse was waiting.

Booth made his way in the only logical direction, towards the South.

On April 22nd, eight days after killing Lincoln, he crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Virginia had been one of the most prominent of the eleven states comprising the former “Confederacy” of the South, and it was here that Booth met three Confederate soldiers who agreed to help him.

They hid him in a tobacco shed on a lonely farm near the town of Bowling Green. However, it seems that Booth got no further. Trapped inside the shed by his pursuers on April 26th he was shot in the head and died three hours later.

That, at least, is what most people believed until 1910, when a writer called F. L. Bates suggested that a certain David George, who killed himself in Oklahoma in 1902, was in reality Lincoln’s murderer.

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The Hungarian Uprising was put down by Russian tanks

Posted in Communism, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Revolution on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about the Hungarian Uprising first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

Hungarian Uprising,  picture, image, illustration
Soviet tanks and troops rolled into Budapest and the heroic but futile street fighting began by Graham Coton

Two young men climbed to the top of the massive metal statue and dragged up a heavy cable which they attached to its head. The crowd below roared its approval. Many hundreds of hands hauled on the rope but the statue did not budge. Then the three workers came with acetylene torches and began to cut into the statue’s knees. The crowd stood hushed as it began to topple. Then cheering broke out as Joseph Stalin pitched forward from his plinth and lay face-downwards in the square. The place was Budapest and the date the 23rd of October, 1956 – the Hungarian revolution had begun.

What had brought it about? Hungary had emerged from the war in moral and political confusion. She had officially been an ally of Germany but had bred a spirited resistance movement as well. In 1947 the communists seized power and eventually the country was governed by Matyas Rakosi. Rakosi reproduced in Hungary the tyranny which Stalin imposed on Russia and the country underwent a long period of privation and terror. The death of Stalin and his subsequent denunciation by the Russian leader, Krushchev, encouraged the Hungarians to overthrow Rakosi in July 1956. But there was little change under his successors. Nevertheless, the spirit of rebellion was abroad.

Students, dissatisfied with conditions in the universities, and factory workers, demanding high wages, joined forces; they were in turn joined by all those who resented the repressive system by which the country was governed. A series of strikes and rallies reached its climax in the destruction of the towering statue of Stalin which symbolised for the rebels the oppression and the exploitation which their country had suffered.

Their triumph swiftly turned to tragedy. The A.V.O., the Hungarian security police opened fire on the crowds and many were killed. But the police could not quell the defiant citizens for long, and more and more people flocked to demonstrate in the streets of Budapest.

Hungary turned for help to Russia. In the small hours of the following morning Russian tanks began to arrive in the city, but even they could not drive the people home. The Russian soldiers were, in fact, reluctant to attack the crowd at all; some wept when they saw the destruction which the A.V.O. meted out to its fellow-citizens.

The revolution gathered momentum and spread across the whole country. The government had to decide whether it should go on fighting the rebels or whether it should try to quieten them by giving in to their demands for a new leadership. In the end it decided on the latter course and Imre Nagy, a liberal politician who had been disgraced in the days of Stalin, was allowed to form a new government. Janos Kadar, who had also suffered under the Rakosi regime, joined the new government too.

Soon Nagy was able to announce that the Russians had withdrawn their troops from Budapest. But the withdrawal was really a clever piece of stage-management; as the tanks fell back, fresh Russian troops were moved towards eastern Hungary.

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The loss of H.M.S.Victoria stunned the entire nation

Posted in Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Ships on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about H.M.S.Victoria first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

HMS Victoria,  picture, image, illustration
The Loss of HMS "Victoria", the Men jumping from the Ship as she turned bottom upwards before going down

“Full speed astern!” roared Admiral Markham urgently, but it was too late. Only a few moments later his ship, H.M.S. Camperdown, rammed the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, H.M.S. Victoria, which went down in a few minutes with 359 officers and men.

One man and one man alone was responsible for this totally unnecessary catastrophe and he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet himself, Admiral Sir George Tyron, who went down with his ship, the Victoria. For it was not the fault of the Camperdown that the tragedy occurred. The date was 1893 and it was the greatest naval scandal of Queen Victoria’s reign.

1893. Great Britain ruled the waves of the world, as she had done ever since the Battle of Trafalgar. There had been no world wars since Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and throughout that time the Royal Navy had kept the sea lanes of the world safe for shipping.

The British Empire, protected by the Navy and Army, was at the height of its power. Soon, but not yet, rival navies, especially the German fleet, were to challenge British supremacy, but already there were signs that the world’s mightiest navy was not as good as it might be. The standard of gunnery was low and conditions for ordinary seamen were to remain poor until, in the early years of the 20th century, Admiral Fisher improved them and became affectionately known as “Jacky” by every Jack Tar.

Many warships were out-of-date, too, before he transformed the Navy. And in 1893, battle practice was not taken seriously enough because there had been no major sea battles for so long. The truth was that the rulers of the Navy were a little smug, like the British themselves!

Against this background the sinking of the Victoria came as a body blow. She had been launched in 1887 and was 340 feet long and 70 feet across at her widest. There were two 111 ton guns on a giant turret and many smaller ones, including twelve 6-inch ones. The battleship had plenty of armour plating, but a few critics, whose voices were drowned in the excitement of everyone else when the ship went into service, pointed out that only 162 feet of her 340 feet were, in fact, covered in armour.

On June 22, 1893, Admiral Tryon, on board Victoria, was leading his ships from Beirut to Tripoli. They were sailing in two columns, with Victoria on the column farthest from land, leading six other battleships and cruisers. The other column, led by Rear Admiral Hastings Markham, sailed parallel to them at the head of six more ships.

There were 718 men aboard Victoria, and the ship’s company were known as a happy, hard-working one. As for the Admiral, he had only just returned to sea duty after a long spell in posts ashore.

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The Suez Crisis damaged Britain’s international reputation

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Invasions, War on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about the Suez Crisis first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.

Suez Crisis,  picture, image, illustration
British tanks enter a street in the Egyptian town of Port Said in November 1958, after an Anglo-French bombardment has devastated buildings, by John Keay

In July 1956, the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, gave a formal dinner – an uncomfortable affair for the men, who had to wear strictly conventional attire. In the middle of the banquet, news was brought to the Prime Minister that President Nasser of Egypt had nationalised the Suez Canal. Eden got rid of his guests as quickly as politeness allowed and called an immediate meeting of his ministers. “The Egyptian,” he told them, “has his thumb on our wind-pipe.” It was in this mood of desperation that he committed an act of aggression which destroyed his reputation and that of his country for many years to come.

President Nasser had come to power following the expulsion of the ineffective and corrupt King Farouk from Egypt. He inherited an impoverished country which had lost face in its struggle with the new state of Israel and which badly needed a boost to its morale. A project to build a great dam – the Aswan dam – seemed to offer a chance to improve the country’s economy and to bolster its prestige: Nasser compared the project in importance to the building of the pyramids. At first the United States and Britain agreed to finance the scheme; but Nasser’s anti-western policy led them to withdraw their help. It was in retaliation for this act that the Egyptian President nationalised the Suez canal, intending to use its revenues to finance his dam.

Nasser’s action caused great alarm in Britain and France. Both countries felt certain that he would eventually close the canal to the oil supplies from the Persian gulf which were vital to Europe’s industrial development, and Nasser’s intemperate speeches did little to allay these fears. In both countries he was regarded as a second Hitler and neither government intended to trust him as Hitler had once been trusted. The French had a separate grievance: Egypt was an open supporter of the Algerians who had recently revolted against France.

Attempts were made to settle the crisis by diplomacy. The United States supported Britain and France, but without enthusiasm. America, after all, was much less dependent on the canal than Europe. A way had to be found, said the American John Foster Dulles, to make Nasser disgorge what he was attempting to swallow. Dulles was thinking of negotiation. Britain and France were thinking of force.

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The curse of Tutankhamen made frequent headlines

Posted in Archaeology, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, News, Superstition on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Tutankhamen first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.

Tutankhamen,  picture, image, illustration
Tutankhamen by John Millar Watt

Lord Carnarvon was laughing, his lean, lined, aristocratic face creasing with amusement at the joke. The archaeologist, Arthur Wiegall, frowned as he watched him. This was no way to act at such a solemn moment. Jokes and quips were hardly apt on the threshold of any tomb, and even less so at a time when everyone inside the antechamber might be standing on the brink of the greatest treasure ever excavated in Egypt.

Wiegall turned furiously to a journalist, standing nearby. “If he goes down in that spirit,” he muttered darkly, “I give him six weeks to live.”

Just over six weeks later, on 6th April 1923, Lord Carnarvon died. The leader of the famous expedition which discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings had been bitten by a mosquito. The bite turned septic, pneumonia developed and Carnarvon succumbed.

Naturally, the death of so prominent and newsworthy a man was a matter for the headlines. For five months, ever since Carnarvon’s partner, Howard Carter, had found Tutankhamen’s burial chamber, Carnarvon’s name had been constantly in print. In its sombre way, his death was merely the latest development in a fascinating tale of buried treasure. But it was also something more sinister. Wiegall’s remark, prompted by pique, now looked very much like a doom-laden prophecy come true.

It also gave colour and conviction to the warning issued to the dying Carnarvon by Marie Corelli, the popular writer of romantic melodramas. Two weeks before Carnarvon died, newspapers publicised Miss Corelli’s prediction that “the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb.”

This sort of thing was newsman’s gold, and there is no doubt that journalists made the most of it.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis was about not losing and saving face

Posted in America, Communism, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about the Cold War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.

Russian nuclear missile,  picture, image, illustration
Russian nuclear missile on a military parade in Red Square

On Sunday, 14th October 1962, a warm autumn day, an American U-2 plane returned from a reconnaissance flight over western Cuba. Rolls of negatives from its camera were rushed to processing laboratories and then to an interpretation centre where specialists peered at the blown-up photographs frame by frame.

By the next day, they had identified a launching pad, a series of buildings for ballistic missiles and a missile itself on the ground. At breakfast on Tuesday, John Kennedy, the American president saw the photographs They supported the reports of his intelligence agents, in Cuba and confirmed his worst fears. The Russians were installing nuclear weapons in Cuba.

How had the missiles come to be there? Since the revolution in Cuba which had brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba’s links with the East had grown stronger, while Castro himself had said of America: “Understanding is impossible.” But why should the Russians, who had never before placed nuclear missiles in another country, install them on an island many thousands of miles away from Russia, lying next to their main adversary, and governed by an avowed enemy of the United States?

It had been done as a trial of strength. For some time, a group of Russian leaders had been convinced that the Americans had become too rich, too soft and too liberal to fight; and that the Soviet Union could safely use its utmost nuclear force against them. Krushchev, the Soviet leader, did not agree with this view but he had to put it to the test. That was why he decided to install over sixty missiles with a range of up to 2,000 miles, right under the Americans’ noses.

This would double the Soviet potential striking force against America, and if America took no action in return, she would lose face throughout the world, particularly in other places, such as Berlin, where there was open confrontation between East and West.

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George Edalji was wrongfully convicted of butchering a pony

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about miscarriages of justice first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

Edalji case, picture, image, illustration
George Edalji was accused of killing animals despite a heavy police presence in the area

The family began to dread the sight of the postman. They had thought that the days of the cruel, unsigned poison-pen letters were over, but now the nightmare had begun all over again.

It had not been easy for the Reverend Edalji to settle down with his wife, daughter and son in the Staffordshire village of Great Wyrley, for he was an Indian in an area where hardly anyone had ever seen one. He had come to the village after marrying a local clergyman’s daughter.

At first, despite the villagers’ suspicion of him, there had been no actual trouble. But in 1888 the letters began to arrive. These original ones were not too alarming, and a servant later confessed to having written them. It was the ones that started arriving in 1892 that were so horrible.

The Edaljis were not the only people in the village to get them, but theirs were the worst. It was obvious that a local man was writing them and that he particularly hated their son, George, now a law student. The writer kept threatening him with death.

To make matters worse, junk was left in the Edalji’s garden, false advertisements were put in the paper about the family and then one morning they found the key of Walsall Grammar School on their doorstep!

The police had failed to track down the culprit, but their Chief Constable, the Hon. George Anson, was in no doubt. Anson wrote to George’s father and told him the letter-writer was his son.

He had no proof, and it was ludicrous to suppose that George would have threatened himself or risked his longed-for career by writing them, but that did not stop Anson making his accusations.

But Anson could not charge George and in 1895 the letters stopped. There was a lull of eight years until in February, 1903, a series of deadly night attacks on sheep, cattle and horses began and continued for 11 months, despite a growing number of police guards in the area. The letters began again too, some signed by “greatorex,” a local boy who could not have written them, as he was away at the time. The letters went to the Edaljis, other villagers and the police, and in them George was named as the leader of a gang of cattle killers, and the writer implied that he too, was in the gang and willing to inform. George was still living at home, but was now a respected and well liked Birmingham solicitor.

In August 1903, in the middle of the animal killing period, he was arrested and sentenced to prison for seven years for killing a pony several hundred yards from his house. Police “proof” included boots covered with black mud although the earth near the dead pony was reddish, and horsehairs on one of his jackets which they had flung into a sack with part of a horse’s hide in it!

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The great fire of 1861 at the Surrey Docks in Southwark

Posted in Architecture, Disasters, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, London on Friday, 14 March 2014

Tooley Street Fire,  picture, image, illustration
Front View of the Great Tooley Street Fire of 1861 at Surrey Docks in London

The Surrey Docks opened in 1807 and as the Empire grew this part of Southwark saw a huge expansion in trade and commerce coming into London from all corners of the globe. There was building expansion too, with scores of warehouses springing up in the area, vast brick caverns bursting with imports and exports of every description: animal, vegetable and mineral. It was in one of these buildings, Scovell’s warehouse at Cotton’s Wharf, that a fire broke out in a consignment of jute. It quickly spread throughout the vulnerable district and before long the whole Tooley Street area was ablaze. The fire raged for the two days it took to bring it under control and was not fully extinguished until after a fortnight. It was the greatest fire in London since the Great Fire itself, almost two hundred years earlier. This disaster confounded the insurance companies, who raised premiums substantially, and led to the creation of the London Fire Brigade by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1865.

Many more pictures relating to Southwark can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

George Archer-Shee and the case of the stolen postal order

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about George Archer-Shee first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Sir E H Carson,  picture, image, illustration
The Right Honourable Sir E H Carson, the brilliant defence barrister for George Archer-Shee

For three gruelling hours, Sir Edward Carson, the most famous and feared barrister in Britain, grilled the 13-year-old boy, while the youngster’s father and brother sat watching and listening intently. At the end of the ordeal Carson announced himself completely satisfied. George Archer-Shee was innocent.

And what was the crime that the boy had been “convicted” of without any sort of trial and then dismissed in disgrace from the Royal Naval College at Osborne? He had allegedly stolen a postal order worth five shillings, taken it to the local post office and forged the signature of its rightful owner. The vindication of this obscure young naval cadet was to be one of Carson’s greatest triumphs, and the case he was most pleased to have won.

George had been in his third term at Osborne, the college set in the grounds of Queen Victoria’s old home near Cowes in the Isle of Wight. It was a temporary home for cadets while the famous Naval College at Dartmouth was being built.

On October 7th, 1908, Cadet Terence Back received a five shilling postal order which that afternoon was stolen from his locker while he was out running. He reported the theft to the chief petty officer, who had given two cadets permission to go to the local Post Office that afternoon. One was George, who slept in the next bed to Back, the other was a boy called Arbuthnot. According to the Postmistress, Miss Tucker, Arbuthnot bought a postal order, then later, another cadet came in cashing a five shilling one, signing it Terence Back. And the same cadet asked for a postal order for fifteen and six.

George agreed about this last one, for he wanted it to send off to London for a model train. At an identity parade the Postmistress failed to pick out George or Arbuthnot; then George was made to write Back’s signature down. He had seen it often enough and did so.

The signature and the postal order then went to a so-called handwriting expert who – amazingly to those who have studied them – was able to state categorically that they were written by the same person.

So it was that Mr Archer-Shee, a distinguished banker, received ten days later a curt note from the Admiralty asking him to remove his son from Osborne. Though he believed in his son, he had to obey.

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