On this day in history….6th April 1975

On this day in history : 6th April 1975 – A plane carrying 99 Vietnamese orphans lands at Heathrow Airport as part of ‘Operation Babylift’ – rescuing children from war-torn Vietnam….

Manhhai via Flickr

US President Gerald Ford had announced on the 3rd of April that America would begin evacuating orphans as American troops prepared to pull out of South Vietnam…. After two decades of fighting the city of Da Nang had fallen to the Communist Vietcong and Saigon (later to be renamed Ho Chi Minh City) and was under attack…. Ford feared for the lives of the orphans – his concerns being that the victorious Vietcong would show little mercy to the orphaned children, especially those who had been fathered by American servicemen….

Gerald R Ford – Image : Presidential Library and Museum

In total more than 3,300 children were air-lifted out of Vietnam….more than 2,200 of those to the United States. Canada, Australia, France, West Germany and Britain all joined in the operation….

A3854-03A 600dpi scan from Negative
1975, April 5 – Aircraft at San Francisco International Airport – San Francisco, CA – Nurses, Refugee Children, Others – children buckled into seats on plane; nurses moving in the background; all not in frame – Vacation Trip to California – Arrival of Operation Babylift Plane from South Vietnam; Vietnam Refugee – San Francisco, California

Tragically the very first plane bound for the States crashed 12 minutes after take off; whilst attempting an emergency landing after a door had blown out…. 138 were killed, including 78 children….

The children brought to England arrived on a 747 chartered by the Daily Mail newspaper – among them two survivors from the air crash…. Doctors and nurses accompanied the orphans – many of whom were only a few months old – on the 18 hour flight from Saigon…. On arrival at Heathrow thirty of the children had been diagnosed with pneumonia and six had to be immediately hospitalised; three were sadly to die….

A3854-04A 600dpi scan from Negative
1975, April 5 – Aircraft at San Francisco International Airport – San Francisco, CA – Nurses, Refugee Children – seated on aircraft; all not in frame – Vacation Trip to California – Arrival of Operation Babylift Plane from South Vietnam; Vietnam Refugee – San Francisco, California

There were those who condemned the newspaper, accusing it of performing a publicity stunt. The Red Cross said inadequate provision had been made to look after the children in Britain and that care should have been given to them in their homeland…. A spokesperson for the British Council for Aid for Refugees said it may be in the best interest for some to return to Saigon, as there were bound to be legal problems in making sure they were genuine orphans….

Blind Vietnamese orphan Le Thanh Phung, aged 9, hugs her new sister Karen Sharp, aged 6 – on arriving at Heathrow Airport – image credit : Manhhai via Flickr

As it was, none of the children were returned to Vietnam…. 51 were adopted and the remainder grew up in homes run by the Ockenden Venture and the British Vietnamese Orphans Project – (compared to out of 2,204 children taken to the US who were nearly all adopted within a few months)….

As adults many have tried to discover their roots – (or are in the process of doing so) – having grown up in Britain not knowing their date of birth or even their real name – only having the one given to them by the orphanage….

Manhhai via Flickr

On this day in history….5th April 1847

On this day in history : 5th April 1847 – The opening of Birkenhead Park, Merseyside…. Designed by Sir Joseph Paxton it is the first publicly funded park in the World….

Birkenhead Park – Image credit: Benkid77 via flickr

The idea was to create a countryside landscape of open meadows, lakes and woodland – a green oasis in an urban landscape…. It was a turning point in social development at a time of poor health conditions as a result of the industrial revolution…. With its Roman Boathouse and Swiss Bridge it was meant as a ‘Park for the People’….

Public money was used to buy 226 acres of marshy grazing land….plots around the edge of the proposed park were sold off to help fund the project…. It took five years to complete – the design by Joseph Paxton but the building work supervised by Edward Kemp – both of whom had worked on the redesigning of the gardens at Chatsworth House…. The entrances, gateways, lodges and other structures were designed by architects Lewis Hornblower and John Robertson….

The Grand Entrance – ReptOn1x CC BY-SA 3.0

It was opened by Lord Morpeth, 7th Earl of Carlisle and around 10,000 people attended the opening…. The Park inspired the design of Central Park in New York….

Having been designated a conservation area in 1977 this was then upgraded by English Heritage to a Grade 1 listed historic landscape and conservation area in 1995…. By the end of the 20th century it had become rundown and neglected – and underwent an £11.5m renovation project which was completed in 2007…. Paths were improved, trees and shrubs replanted and the lakes emptied, cleaned and reshaped – restoring the Park to its former Victorian magnificence….

The Gabled Cricket Pavilion – ReptOn1x CC BY-SA 3.0

A new visitor’s centre and cafe were built and a children’s play area added…. It is home to two cricket clubs, a rugby club and has tennis courts, football pitches, bowling greens, two fishing lakes, a fitness trail and woodland walks…. Still a green oasis in an urban landscape….

Map of Birkenhead Park

On this day in history….4th April 1873

On this day in history : 4th April 1873 – The Kennel Club is founded; the World’s first official registry of thoroughbred dogs and regulation of canine activities, such as dog shows and field trials….

The first known dog show was held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1859 and soon became a very popular hobby among the Victorians…. Loved by both exhibitors and spectators alike it was a pastime accessible to all classes…. This was not quite the case with field trials, as these tended to be more for country gentlemen; the first trial was held in Southill in 1865 – and soon such trials had a huge following….

Sewallis E. Shirley, an exhibitor of fox terriers, became frustrated with the lack of consistent rules amongst the various dog shows. It prompted him and some colleagues to organise the First Grand Exhibition of Sporting and Other Dogs at the Crystal Palace in June 1870….and the seeds of the Kennel Club were sown….

Sewallis E Shirley – Public domain

Along with 12 other gentlemen Shirley produced a set of rules and regulations to make sure shows and trials were managed and run honestly, fairly and with the welfare of the dogs in mind…. In 1874 the first Kennel Club stud book was produced, listing results of all dog shows and field trials since 1859, along with a code of rules. It has been published every year since….

Spaniel field trail

At first the Kennel Club was run from a small three room flat – 2 Albert Mansions in Victoria Street, London – but in May 1877 moved to Pall Mall. The organisation now has its headquarters in Mayfair…. Its first ever patron was HRH The Prince of Wales (to become King Edward VII) who himself was a strong opposer of the practice of cropping dogs ears….

In 1880 the first monthly register of dogs names was printed – a registration to identify dogs individually…. It is this that over the years has provided the source of pedigree for all the breeders on the Kennel Club’s register….

Nowadays the Kennel Club licenses dog shows throughout the United Kingdom – but only runs one show itself…. In 1939, after the death of Charles Cruft it acquired Crufts Dog Show, which had been founded in 1891…. Held every March at the NEC in Birmingham it is the World’s most famous dog show….

On this day in history….3rd April 1993

On this day in history : 3rd April 1993 – After a series of events at the start, including protesters on the course, the Grand National ends in chaos and the race is declared void….

An estimated 300 million people around the World watched the shambles unfold live on television at the Aintree racecourse in Liverpool….img_2704

The problems had started even before the race had begun…. Fifteen animal rights protesters had managed to get on to the track near to the first fence…. After a delay, whilst the protesters were dealt with, the horses and riders were requested to line up again….

What then followed was farcical….two false starts caused by horses becoming tangled with the starting tape…. It was on the second false start that 30 out of 39 riders failed to realise what was happening…. Keith Brown, the starter – and who was officiating his last race before his retirement – had raised the red flag but it had not unfurled…. The crowd shouted to the jockeys to stop and officials attempted to flag them down….

Eleven riders completed the first circuit before realising…. Another seven carried on oblivious – completing the two laps of the four and a half mile gruelling race with its thirty obstacles….only realising their mistake on their finish….

Esha Ness, a 50-1 outsider ridden by John White, crossed the finishing line first….ironically in the second fastest time in the race’s history…. What would have been the 147th running of the Grand National was declared void by the Jockey Club – and the race was not rerun…. Bookmakers faced refunding £75m placed in bets….

An inquiry was launched leading to a number of changes to the starting and recall procedures of the Grand National….

On this day in history….2nd April 1801

On this day in history : 2nd April 1801 – The Battle of Copenhagen takes place – Admiral Horatio Nelson ignores orders to withdraw his forces and proceeds to sink the pro-French Danish fleet….

Christian August Lorentzen – Public domain

It was in early 1801, during the Napoleonic Wars, that Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Prussia formed a coalition to ensure free trade with France…. By joining forces to protect their own shipping against Britain they cut Britain’s vital supply of timber and other associated goods needed to sustain the Royal Navy…. Britain responded by sending a fleet to break the coalition….

The fleet, under the command of Admiral Hyde Parker with Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson as his second-in-command, reached Denmark on the 21st of March…. It had been essential to get there before the Baltic Sea thawed, allowing the Russian fleet to leave its bases in order to assist its Scandinavian allies….

Britain began negotiations with the Danes to try and come to an agreement – but the talks proved fruitless…. So, it was Nelson, onboard 74-gun HMS Elephant, who led 12 ships in an effort to gain entry into Copenhagen Harbour…. The Danes formed a blockade and so battle commenced – with a British attack on the Danish ships and land defences….

Nicholas Pocock – Public domain

It was a bold plan…. The waters being shallow and the British having no detailed charts of the area – it did not take long for three of the British ships to run aground….

Parker, observing from a far – with his view obscured by all the smoke – felt that Nelson was taking unnecessary risks…. At 1.30pm he ordered Nelson to retreat – his words to his flag captain… “I will make the signal to recall for Nelson’s sake…. If he is in condition to continue the action, he will disregard it; if he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat and no blame can be imputed to him”….

Nelson on seeing the signal flag joked to his own flag captain…. “You know, Foley, I only have one eye – I have the right to be blind sometimes”…. He then held his telescope up to his blind eye – the result of an old injury – and said…. “I really do not see the signal”…. He then ignored Parker’s command and carried on with the task in hand….

Christian Molsted – Public domain

By late afternoon the British had the upper-hand in the battle and the Danes were taking a thorough battering…. By the end of the fighting 12 Danish ships had been captured or destroyed, with 1,700 men dead or wounded; a further 2000 were captured…. Several British ships were grounded (but later re-floated) with 1,000 men dead or wounded….

Christian Molsted – Public domain

Negotiations were reopened – helped by the fact that Russia’s Czar Paul had been assassinated and his successor Czar Alexander was known to be far more sympathetic to the British…. Eventually an agreement was secured with the Danes….