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This month in history

As I was reading and Googling about September as a Month in History, I noticed how busy this month seems to be, but mainly nasties like wars and threats of war. I wondered about this and came to the conclusion that it might have something to do with statesman, refreshed and up for it, returning from their summer holidays. Well it is reasonable, itís statesmen (aka politicians) who actually declare war and if they come back in September then, hey hoe, itís wartime again.


The first and most momentous event, I think, must be the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, followed eagerly by Russia on the 17th. Our own declaration of war was on 3 September. More people died in that war than any other  in human history. The middle of this month, in 1940 of course, saw the climax of the Battle of Britain, celebrated by us all as the moment when we overcame the only existential threat to our national existence since Elizabethan times. The whole awful catastrophe came to an end on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.


I would like to avoid too much of this sort of thing but history demands otherwise. On the second of September in 31BC Augustus beat Mark Anthony in the naval battle of Actium, giving a huge boost to his campaign to take over the Roman Empire. The pity of war is also demonstrated in the Battle of Antietam in the US Civil War. On the 17th, the bloodiest day in US military history, 26,000 soldiers were killed wounded and missing during the battle. And thatís without 21st century armaments such as air power, drones and the like.


Well, nearly over regarding the bad stuff but a few things still demand mention. On the 22nd in 1862 Bismarck became Premier of Prussia, leading pretty directly to the Franco Prussian war of 1870, when Napoleon III (yes, itís in the family) surrendered at Sedan on the 2nd, which more or less finished off that war. Of course we shouldnít forget 1812 when the real Napoleon entered Moscow on the 14th, amongst other things inspiring Tchaikovsky.


Diligent research did however persuade me that September can produce good things. The first Elizabeth was born in 1533, as were Agatha Christie in 1890, Greta Garbo in 1905, Michael Faraday in 1791 (without whom no Chronicle and much else besides), Scott Fitzgerald (whose books you always mean to read) in 1896, TS Eliot (ditto) in 1888, George Gershwin (Porgy and Bess etc) in 1898 and Enrico Fermi in 1901 (nuclear power etc. I like it but many donít). We lost some people as well, Mao of China fame in 1976, Princess Grace (1982) and James Dean in 1955. Oh and a lot of London in 1666 (the Great Fire).


Intriguingly, John Kennedy got married (to Jacqueline Bouvier) on the same day (the 12th) that Nikita Kruschev became leader of Russia. They all met in Vienna in 1961, the glamour of Kennedy perhaps still overshadowing our memories of his role in saving us from WW3 in 1962. Kruschev certainly underestimated how cool and tough Kennedy would be under pressure.


Well there are still one or two goodies to come. Neville Chamberlain and his piece of paper returned from Munich in the 30th, promising peace in our time. Handel managed to write the whole of the Messiah in 23 days, finishing on 14 September 1741 (about the same time as it took me to write this article).

Peter Craig

 Issue 394

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