On this day in 1066 the Battle of Hastings took place. Harold of Wessex realised he was unable to take William of Normandy by surprise. He therefore decided to position himself at Senlac Hill near Hastings. Harold selected a spot that was protected on each flank by marshy land. At his rear was a forest. The English housecarls provided a shield wall at the front of Harold's army. They carried large battle-axes and were considered to be the toughest fighters in Europe. The fyrd were placed behind the housecarls. The leaders of the fyrd, the thanes, had swords and javelins but the rest of the men were inexperienced fighters and carried weapons such as iron-studded clubs, scythes, reaping hooks and hay forks.
There are no accurate figures of the number of soldiers who took part at the Battle of Hastings. Historians have estimated that William had about 5,000 infantry and 3,000 knights while Harold had about 2,000 housecarls and 5,000 members of the fyrd. The Norman historian, William of Poitiers, claims that Harold held the advantage: "The English were greatly helped by the advantage of the high ground... also by their great number, and further, by their weapons which could easily find a way through shields and other defences."
The Norman army led by William now marched forward in three main groups. On the left were the Breton auxiliaries. On the right were a more miscellaneous body that included men from Poitou, Burgundy, Brittany and Flanders. In the centre was the main Norman contingent "with Duke William himself, relics round his neck, and the papal banner above his head".
On this day in 1322 Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeats King Edward II of England at Bannockburn, forcing Edward to accept Scotland's independence. The barons also became angry about Edward's poor military leadership. Supported by his new favourite, Hugh de Despenser, Edward arrested Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the leader of the barons, and had him executed. Edward's wife, Isabella of France, was also very critical of the way her husband was ruling the country. In 1322 she left Edward and went to live with her lover, Roger Mortimer, in France. In 1326 Isabella and Mortimer returned to England and with the support of the barons, forced Edward II to abdicate. Edward was imprisoned and Hugh de Despenser was executed. The following year Mortimer arranged for Edward to to be murdered in Berkeley Castle.
On this day in 1892 Arthur Conan Doyle publishes The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle set up as a doctor in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth. With very few patients, Conan Doyle attempted to make money by writing detective stories. His main character, Sherlock Holmes, was based on Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon and criminal psychologist, who lectured at Edinburgh Infirmary. In 1891 Conan Doyle published six Sherlock Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine. The following year he was paid £1,000 for a whole series on Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle really wanted to write historical novels like his hero, Sir Walter Scott, and in 1893 decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes in the story, The Final Problem. However, after coming under considerable pressure from his fans, he returned to write his best known detective story, The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902.
On this day in 1899 The Morning Post reporter Winston Churchill departed to South Africa to cover the Boer War. Churchill had negotiated a contract with the newspaper which made him the highest-paid war correspondent of the day, with a salary of £250 per month with all his expenses paid. A fellow journalist, John Black Atkins, who worked for the Manchester Guardian, commented: "He (Churchill) was slim, slightly reddish-haired, pale, lively.. when the prospects of a career like that of his father, Lord Randolph, excited him, then such a gleam shone from him that he was almost transfigured. I had not before encountered this sort of ambition, unabashed, frankly egotistical, communicating its excitement, and extorting sympathy."
On this day in 1918 General Nikolai Yudenich captured Gatchina, only 50 kilometres from Petrograd. It is estimated that there were 200,000 foreign soldiers supporting the anti-Bolshevik forces. Trotsky arrived to direct the defence of the capital. He was not very impressed and it is claimed that his first action was to order Ivan Pavlunovsky, chief of the special section of the Petrograd Cheka, "Comrade Pavlunovsky, I command you to arrest immediately and shoot the entire staff for the defence of Petrograd."
Trotsky made it clear to the people of Petrograd that the city would not be surrendered: "As soon as the masses began to feel that Petrograd was not to be surrendered, and if necessary would be defended from within, in the streets and squares, the spirit changed at once. The more courageous and self-sacrificing lifted up their heads. Detachments of men and women, with trenching-tools on their shoulders, filed out of the mills and factories.... The whole city was divided into sections, controlled by staffs of workers. The more important points were surrounded by barbed wire. A number of positions were chosen for artillery, with a firing range marked off in advance. About sixty guns were placed behind cover on the open squares and at the more important street-crossings. Canals, gardens; walls, fences and houses were fortified. Trenches were dug in the suburbs and along the Neva. The whole southern part of the city was transformed into a fortress. Barricades were raised on many of the streets and squares."
On this day in 1926 A. A. Milne's book Winnie-the-Pooh was published. It was a great success and it was followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928. These stories took place in Posingford Wood close to Milne's home. Milne contined to write plays and novels but they failed to make him any money, unlike his children stories. Claire Tomalin has pointed out that "his fame as a children's writer made it increasingly difficult for him to interest public, critics or publishers in the other, more serious work."
On this day in 1940 Balham tube station in London is bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. A 1400 kg fragmentation bomb fell on the road above the northern end of the platform tunnels, creating a large crater into which a double decker bus then crashed. The northbound platform tunnel partially collapsed and was filled with earth and water from the fractured water mains and sewers above. Although more than 400 managed to escape, 68 people died in the disaster, including the stationmaster, the ticket-office clerk and two porters. Many drowned as water and sewage from burst mains poured in, soon reaching a depth of three feet.
On this day in 1943 600 Jewish prisoners mount an uprising at the Nazi extermination camp in Sobibor, Poland. The commandant was Franz Stangl and according to one source 90,000-100,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor in the camp's first 90 days alone. The uprising was led by Alexander Pechersky, a captured member of the Red Army. About 320 Jews managed to make it outside of the camp in the ensuing melee. Eighty were killed in the escape and immediate aftermath. 170 were soon recaptured and killed, as were all the remaining inhabitants of the camp who had chosen to stay. Some escapees joined the partisans. Of these, ninety died in combat. Only nine of those who escaped, including Pechersky, survived the war.
On this day in 1949 14 leaders of the American Communist Party were convicted of sedition and charged under the Alien Registration Act. This included Eugene Dennis, the general secretary, Benjamin Davis, John Gates, Robert G. Thompson, Gus Hall, Benjamin Davis, Henry M. Winston, and Gil Green. This law, passed by Congress in 1940, made it illegal for anyone in the United States "to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government". They were sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Thompson, because of his war record, received only three years. They appealed to the Supreme Court but on 4th June, 1951, the judges ruled, 6-2, that the conviction was legal.
On this day in 1964, the Soviet Central Committee forced Nikita Khrushchev to resign.