April 30th 1789: Washington inaugurated


Inauguration of Washington 1789


On this day in 1789 the leading general of the War of Independence and one of the framers of the Constitution, George Washington, was inaugurated first President of the United States on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. He was unanimously chosen President by the Electoral College and the runner-up, John Adams, became Vice President. At his inauguration, Washington set the first of many precedents in making an inaugural address. In office, he created a stable and strong national government with a cabinet system and ensured neutrality in the European wars. Washington was re-elected in 1792 but stepped down after two terms, thus setting the precedent that Presidents usually served two terms (this became part of the Constitution with the 22nd Amendment in 1951).



George Washington (1732 – 1799)

“Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”
– New York Chancellor Livingston upon swearing in the President


Federal Hall in New York where Washington was inaugurated


Washington is still considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, President in history for his systematic, effective and thoughtful leadership. All future presidencies have been influenced by the legacy of the ‘father of the country’. His inaugural address, addition of ‘so help me God’ to the oath of office, and two terms in office, are all precedents set by Washington that are still followed today. He has become the standard by which all politicians are compared, and has become a mythical hero in the grand story of America’s founding; a Romulus for the New World. He was not a perfect man (ostensibly standing for liberty and freedom but a slaveowner himself), nor was he a perfect President, but none of his successors have been either. Americans have a tendency to expect perfection from their leaders, and Washington is therefore held up as an ideal type of politician. Whilst he had his flaws, the general who united the states does deserve his esteemed standing in the history books, if only for the precedents he set for years to come.


April 29th 1945: Hitler marries Eva Braun


Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun


On this day in 1945, as Germany’s defeat in the Second World War became imminent, Adolf Hitler married his lover Eva Braun; the two committed suicide the next day. Hitler’s National Socialist Party, more commonly referred to as Nazis, came to power in 1933 with Hitler as Chancellor. He immediately set about consolidating his power and establishing a dictatorship in Germany, making himself Führer. An ardent nationalist, Hitler targeted groups he considered a threat to Germany, including Jews, communists, gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled. His regime committed atrocities on an unprecedented scale; the Holocaust saw the deaths of six million Jews and World War Two, which Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy precipitated, was the most destructive war in history. Hitler’s relationship with Eva Braun predated his rise to power, but they never married as Hitler feared it would damage his image. Their relationship was thus kept quiet, but was nonetheless apparently affectionate. Hitler was one of the greatest monsters history has ever seen but he was still a human, and Eva Braun has therefore been an object of fascination since the extent of their relationship was realised after the war.



Exterior of the Führerbunker in Berlin, where the wedding and following suicide took place (source: http://www.ww2incolor.com/german_leadership/FB2.html)


At the end of the war, as the Allied forces moved on Berlin and defeat seemed all but certain, Hitler (along with some of his advisers and Braun herself) relocated to the Führerbunker. In the early hours of the morning on April 29th 1945 the pair got married in a small civil ceremony in the bunker, the culmination of a relationship that had lasted over ten years. The newlyweds hosted a modest wedding breakfast, attended by the bunker’s fellow residents such as Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and promptly made their wills. The next day, April 30th 1945, the couple committed suicide together, with Braun ingesting a cyanide capsule and Hitler shooting himself. In one fell swoop their love affair was over, as was Hitler’s brutal dictatorship and the war that had plagued Europe since 1939.



Newspapers herald the news of the Führer’s death


“From our first meeting I swore to follow you anywhere even unto death. I live only for your love”
– Eva Braun in a letter to Hitler, after the July 1944 attempt on his life

April 28th 1945: Mussolini killed


Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)


On this day in 1945 the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were executed by members of the Italian resistance movement. Mussolini became Prime Minister in 1922 and became head of government and ‘Il Duce’ in 1925. Mussolini’s Italy was a dictatorial and ruthless totalitarian state. He took Italy into World War Two in 1940 on the side of Germany, but by 1943 support for him had dwindled and he was defeated in a vote at the Grand Council of Fascism and was arrested by the King. He managed to escape but was soon captured and executed on April 28th. When Petacci was shot, Mussolini told the shooters to kill him also. His body was taken to Milan and hung for public viewing.



Site in Mezzegra where he was shot


“Look at his face, the emotions on his face don’t suit him.”
– Mussolini’s executioner after shooting the dictator

April 27th 1810: Beethoven composes Für Elise


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)


On this day in 1810, the famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven composed his piano piece Für Elise. Over the course of his life the deaf musician composed nine symphonies, five piano concertos, thirty-two piano sonatas and sixteen string quartets. This piece was not published until 1867, long after Beethoven’s death, as the manuscript had been lost. However when it was recovered, Beethoven’s manuscript for the composition was dated 27th April 1810. Für Elise translates as ‘For Elise’, and scholars have long debated the identity of the woman who inspired Beethoven to write this beautiful piece.



Opening lines of Für Elise



It is now one of the most famous piano pieces of all time and one of Beethoven’s best known works. Every adult or child who begins to learn how to play the piano remembers this tune and hopes that a way down the line they will be able to play Für Elise. This piece is also particularly remarkable as it came towards the end of Beethoven’s life when he was almost certainly completely deaf, or at least heavily impaired. It is a true testament to his genius that he could compose such a piece without ever being able to hear it out loud; that is what makes Beethoven one of the greats.

April 26th 1937: Bombing of Guernica


Soldiers walk through the destroyed streets of Guernica


On this day in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the Basque  town of Guernica was bombed by the German Luftwaffe. The attack was planned to fall on a market day, when they knew there would be a lot of people on the streets of Guernica. Guernica had little strategic value, but was a cultural centre of the Basque people who had been resisting Franco’s Nationalist forces. Over the course of three hours, over twenty five planes dropped one hundred thousand pounds of bombs, reducing the beautiful town to rubble. Those who tried to escape were shot down by the guns on the fighter planes. Final death tolls are unclear – most sources suggest around 1,500 were killed, however recent calculations have put the figure as under 400. The incident has become immortalised in the famous anti-war painting by Spaniard Pablo Picasso, which helped bring the atrocities of the civil war to international attention. The bombing served as a testing ground for Hitler’s military and the concept of ‘total war’, in which civilians are considered combatants and thus attacks on them are justified. The Guernica attack was indeed one of the first air raids and inaugurated the widespread use of aerial attacks in warfare. Just two years after the devastation of Guernica, World War Two broke out and the world experienced its first truly ‘total’ war.



Guernica by Pablo Picasso


“We were still a good ten miles away when I saw the reflection of Guernica’s flames in the sky. As we drew nearer, on both sides of the road, men, women and children were sitting, dazed. I saw a priest in one group. I stopped the car and went up to him. ‘What happened, Father?’ I asked. His face was blackened, his clothes in tatters. He couldn’t talk. He just pointed to the flames, still about four miles away, then whispered: ‘Aviones…bombas’…mucho, mucho.’
– recollections of Noel Monks, the first journalist on the scene

April 25th 1945: Elbe Day


East meets West at the Elbe


On this day in 1945, during the Second World War, Soviet and American troops met at the River Elbe in Germany – the day is now known as Elbe Day. The event was a momentous show of unity of the Allied Powers as the war drew to a close while the Allies advanced towards Berlin. The first contact was between an American delegation led by First Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue of the 3rd Battalion, 273rd Infantry, 69th Infantry Division, who took his men across the river and were greeted by Russian Lt Col Alexander Gardiev, Commander of the 175th Rifle Regiment of the 58th Guards Division, 34th Corps. The two groups agreed on a formal handshake to be photographed the next day.



Official, staged, picture commemorating the meeting on the Elbe. 2nd Lieutenant William Robertson (US) and Lt. Alexander Sylvashko (USSR) shake hands


Each side commended the other, with Moscow holding a gun salute and US General Omar Bradley praising the Soviet success in pushing the Germans back from Russia. A few days after the Elbe meeting, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler committed suicide and Germany soon surrendered – the war was finally over.



Two soldiers pose during Elbe Day


“We meet in true and victorious comradeship and with inflexible resolve to fulfil our purpose and our duty. Let all march forward upon the foe.”
– British Prime Minister Winston Churchill

“This is not the hour of final victory in Europe, but the hour draws near, the hour for which all the American people, all the British people and all the Soviet people have toiled and prayed so long.”
– US President Harry Truman

“Our task and our duty are to complete the destruction of the enemy to force him to lay down his arms and surrender unconditionally. The Red Army will fulfill to the end this task and this duty to our people and to all freedom-loving peoples.”
– Soviet leader Joseph Stalin


British newspapers celebrated the news of the end of the war in Europe – May 8th 1945


Elbe Day became a powerful symbol of unity between the East and the West as post-war relations between the former allies soured and descended into Cold War. Those who opposed the conflict between the communist and capitalist blocs (led by the Soviet Union and United States respectively), used this event as a reminder that both sides are just human, and do have the capacity to co-exist peacefully. If the ‘spirit of the Elbe’ persisted, the 1950s and 60s need not have been characterised by constant fear of nuclear annihilation by an ideological opponent, and perhaps even the bloodshed of proxy wars like Korea and Vietnam could have been avoided. Like the German and British troops playing football together on No Man’s Land on Christmas Day during World War One, Elbe Day is a potent reminder that humanity is inclined towards peace; what unites us is more powerful than what divides us.

April 24th 1980: Operation Eagle Claw


The wreckage of a US helicopter from the failed Operation Eagle Claw


On this day in 1980, the American military operation named Operation Eagle Claw to try to end the Iran Hostage Crisis was launched. 52 Americans had been taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.



US hostages in Iran


The operation was intended to save the captives by sending helicopters into Iran. However many of the helicopters were damaged and some crashed, killing 8 servicemen.



Memorial to Eagle Claw victims in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia


When the scale of the catastrophe became apparent, President Carter aborted the mission. Upon discovery of the attempt, the hostages were scattered across Iran to make a second rescue attempt impossible. The debacle was humiliating for the Carter administration and contributed to Carter’s defeat in the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. The hostages were eventually released after extensive diplomatic negotiations on January 20th 1981, Carter’s last day in office.


Free After 444 Days

The hostages coming home


The absolute failure of Operation Eagle Claw has tarred all memory of the Carter presidency. Most presidencies are often reduced to a single event that came to dominate their place in history over all their other achievements. For Johnson it was Vietnam, for Nixon it was Watergate, for Ford it was pardoning Nixon, for Reagan it was the Cold War, for Clinton it was Lewinsky, for Bush it was the War on Terror, and Carter is remembered for the hostage crisis. The fact that the hostages were freed on his last day in office, the day Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States, meant his accomplishment was overshadowed. It lent credence to the battle cry of the conservative right, who finally had a candidate who spoke for them, that Reagan was a saviour figure who would fix all of America’s problems. Whilst Eagle Claw was indeed a catastrophe, the Carter administration did redeem itself by successfully negotiating the release of the hostages. However, as this fell on the day of Reagan’s inauguration, Carter’s achievement has been lost to history.

April 23rd 1616: William Shakespeare dies



William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)


On this day in 1616, the famous English poet and playwright William Shakespeare passed away on his 52nd birthday. Shakespeare, from Stratford-upon-Avon,  became famous for his plays including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear; he wrote around 38 plays and 154 sonnets. He was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway and had three children. In his will he left most of his estate to his eldest daughter Susanna and to his wife left “my second best bed”. He was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church.



His birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon


Today, on the 450thS anniversary of his birth, Shakespeare is still considered one of the greatest writers of the English language in history. School children and university students across the globe study his work, and his plays continue to draw huge crowds. Big-name actors still feel most at home performing a Shakespeare play – just take the recent success of David Tennant’s Hamlet and Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus.



Shakespeare’s grave


“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake, forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blessed be the man that spares these stones
And cursed he that moves my bones.”
– Shakespeare’s epitaph

April 21st 1989: Game Boy released


Game Boy, released in 1989


On this day in 1989, the original Game Boy was released in Japan. It was later released in North America in August and in Europe in September 1990. The device was one of the first handheld gaming consoles, making it a groundbreaking invention that revolutionised the concept of videogames by allowing for them to be played on-the-go. The Game Boy was relatively cheap compared to rivals on the market (costing ¥12,500 at launch) and was a huge success, selling almost 120 million units. The designers of the console, the same team who gave us the Game & Watch series, ensured the device handled in a similar way to the familiar Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) with its eight-way D-pad controller and four buttons.



Super Mario Land screenshot


Some of the most popular original Game Boy games included: Super Mario Land, which sold over 18 million copies; Tetris, which sold 35 million copies; and the first Pokémon games, released in 1996.



Tetris screenshot


Nintendo continues to produce handheld game consoles and the popularity of the Mario and Pokémon franchises endures.



Pokemon Red screenshot


The most recent handheld was the Nintendo 3DS, which features touch screen control and 3D graphics; technology only dreamed of in 1989. Nintendo has struggled in recent years to keep up with competitors, and sales of the 3DS and the latest home console the WiiU have been under expectations. I am a loyal Nintendo fan, owning every handheld console since the Game Boy Colour, but I can see why they are having problems. Personally I love the 3DS, but I can understand that the novelty of handheld gaming which was so successful in 1989 is being overshadowed by mobile gaming. Anyone with a smartphone can now play games on-the-go without the need to buy an expensive separate console; the face of the videogame industry has changed drastically from 1989. However this is not the place to overly lament Nintendo’s plight, but to celebrate the 25th birthday of the Game Boy. No matter where Nintendo stand now, they have historically been an incredibly successful and innovative company. So happy birthday Game Boy, thanks for the hours I spent as a kid and still as an adult trying to save the princess and catch em’ all!



Nintendo 3DS, released in 2011

25 years ago today

April 19th 1956: Wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier


Wedding portrait of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, 1956


On this day in 1956, the American actress Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco, Rainier III. Kelly was a successful established actress, having won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, when she met Prince Rainier. The couple met at the Cannes Film Festival, stayed in contact, and soon were engaged to be married. It was important for Rainier to marry and produce an heir as a 1918 treaty provided that if there was no heir Monaco would return to France.



Prince Rainier III of Monaco (1923 – 2005)


The wedding was an elaborate fanfare, with many calling it ‘the wedding of the century’. The civil ceremony took place the day before the April 19th wedding, but the church affair the next day was the real spectacle, with around 30 million people watching on television. Kelly soon retired from acting to focus on her duties in Monaco and as a mother to the couple’s three children.



Grace Kelly (1929 – 1982)


Princess Grace died in 1982 aged 52 after suffering a stroke while driving, which led to her crashing the vehicle. It was a tragedy for Monaco and the world, and her funeral received the same calibre of distinguished guests as her wedding had 26 years earlier. Prince Rainier did not remarry and was buried alongside her when he died in 2005.