On this day in history….15th June 1971

On this day in history : 15th June 1971 – Opposition grows to Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher’s plans to end free school milk for the over sevens…. Some councils threaten to defy the ban….

Ministry of Information Photo Division – Public domain

School children began to receive a third of a pint of milk per day in 1946 with the advent of the welfare state…. However, the Labour Government had already stopped milk for secondary schools by 1968…. When the Conservatives came to power it was to a bleak economic situation – but election promises on tax had to be met….

Margaret Thatcher knew how controversial stopping the free milk would be – and she was absolutely horrified when Health Secretary Ken Clarke suggested it also be stopped for nursery school children…. She had considered other measures, such as charging admission to museums, or charging to borrow library books….but in the end it was with reluctance that she put forward the proposal…. The Bill received a second reading on the 14th of June and was passed by 281 votes to 248….

Local authorities were urged not to break the law by deliberately going against government policy…. Some Labour councils had threatened to put up rates in order to fund school milk…. It was argued that withdrawing milk could potentially harm children’s diets and health…. Thatcher reasoned that the money saved could be spent in other ways, such as on school buildings…. Indeed the milk bill was coming in at £14m a year – double the amount being spent on books….

Margaret Thatcher -Public domain

Needless to say the political storm raged on – and the public also showed their anger…. The playground taunt ‘Thatcher, Thatcher milk snatcher!’ was heard far and wide…. In fact the cuts did not stop there – with various measures put into place with regards to education funding…. A £200m package was approved in September 1971, which also saw the cost of school dinners raised….

On this day in history….30th May 1972

On this day in history : 30th May 1972 – The Angry Brigade goes on trial for a series of 25 bombings throughout the United Kingdom…. It is to be one of the longest criminal trials in English history….

Angry Brigade logo – Fair use

The Angry Brigade, a far left, militant anarchist group, often referred to as urban guerrillas, were discontent with Tory cuts, high unemployment, the general state of the economy and just about every other political issue going-on at the time…. Their wish was to bring about an uprising and they decided to launch a campaign using small bombs…. The aim was to get as much media coverage as possible to expose their demands….

The campaign began in August 1970 and was to continue for a year before any arrests were made…. Their targets were varied – from the homes of Conservative MPs, banks, property speculators….to the embassies of far right regimes – they even targeted a BBC mobile broadcasting unit being used to broadcast the 1970 Miss World contest…. Bombs mostly caused damage to property and throughout the campaign only one person received minor injuries…. Each bombing was followed by a printed statement explaining the reason for the attack….whether it was for the government’s policies, the situation in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, sexism – or whatever other grievance they had at the time….

The arrests began in 1971 with Jake Prescott…. Although he was cleared of direct involvement in the bombings he admitted having addressed three envelopes for letter bombs…. Prescott was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by Judge Milford Stevenson – this was later reduced to 10 years on appeal….

Sir Melford Stevenson – Fair use

The 30th of May 1972 saw the trial begin at the Old Bailey of another eight members of the group….known as the ‘Stoke Newington Eight’ – after the area of London they came from…. The group were prosecuted for carrying out the bombings and the trial was to go on until the 6th of December 1972…. Four members, John Barker, Jim Greenfield, Hilary Creek and Anna Mendelssohn were sentenced to ten years each…. The other members were acquitted…. The explosions were to lead to the formation of the Bomb Squad – now the Antiterrorist Branch….

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) 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….20th March 1974

On this day in history : 20th March 1974 – An attempt is made to kidnap Princess Anne as she and her husband Captain Mark Phillips are being driven down Pall Mall….

Princess Anne 1974 – Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives and Museum via Flickr

The 23-year-old Princess and her husband were being chauffeur-driven back to Buckingham Palace after attending a charity event…. It was around 8pm when a white Ford Escort blocked their way, forcing the Rolls Royce to stop…. A man got out of the Ford, brandishing two handguns…. The Princess’s body-guard, Inspector James Beaton and the chauffeur, Alex Callender attempted to apprehend the man – but both were shot…. Despite his injuries Inspector Beaton got to his feet to try and stop the gunman again – and again….in total he was shot three times…. Also shot was a passer-by who tried to help – tabloid journalist, Brian McConnell….

The gunman then forced his way into the Rolls Royce…. He ordered Princess Anne out – to which she replied….“not bloody likely”…. She did eventually get out though and as the gunman followed after her another passer-by, former boxer Ron Russell, who had positioned his car to stop the Ford from escaping, struck the gunman on the back of the head…. Russell was then able to lead the Princess to safety….

Meanwhile, after hearing gun shots PC Michael Hills had rushed to the scene – he tried to detain the gunman – but was himself to be shot in the stomach…. The gunman attempted to run but was pursued by Detective Constable Peter Edmonds, who brought him to the ground and managed to disarm him….

The gunman was Ian Ball, a 26-year-old unemployed labourer, who suffered from a mental illness…. When his car was searched handcuffs, tranquillisers and a ransom note were found…. The note was addressed to the Queen and demanded that £2 million be paid to the National Health Service…. Ball later claimed he did it to highlight the lack of mental health care available…. He was prosecuted for attempted murder and received a sentence of life imprisonment – and was placed in a psychiatric hospital…. His remains the closest attempt anyone has ever made on abducting a member of the royal family….

All four men who were shot thankfully recovered…. Inspector James Beaton later received the George Cross….whilst PC Michael Hills and Ron Russell were given the George Medal…. Chauffeur Alex Callender, journalist Brian McConnell and Detective Constable Peter Edmonds were all awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for their bravery….

Russell later revealed that the Queen had said to him as he received his award….“The medal is from the Queen, the thank you is from Anne’s mother”….


On this day in history….1st March 1978

On this day in history : 1st March 1978 – The coffin of Charlie Chaplin is stolen from his grave in a Swiss cemetery….

Chaplin had spent the last few years of his life in Switzerland with his fourth wife, Oona…. He died peacefully at his home in Corsier-sur-Vevey by Lake Geneva on Christmas Day 1977, he was 88….

Charlie Chaplain – Image credit: Imsomnia Cured Here via Flickr

Four days later a simple family funeral service was held at the Anglican Church in Vevey, attended by his wife and eight children…. Afterwards Chaplain was laid to rest in the churchyard….

Two months later the grave was discovered empty…. The media had a field day with speculation…. It was claimed fans had stolen the body….or local anti-semites objected to a Jew being buried in a Christian graveyard – even that it was revenge by neo-Nazis for Chaplain’s film ‘The Great Dictator’….

But then the ransom demand came…. 600,000 Swiss francs for the body to be returned – the grave robbers also threatened to harm Chaplin’s younger children if the demands were not met…. Oona was having none of it and refused to pay up….“my husband is in Heaven and in my heart”….

Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplain KBE and Oona 1965. Dutch National Archives – Public domain

Her phone was tapped – along with all 200 of the public phone booths in the area – and monitored by the police…. It worked – and the culprits were caught. Two Eastern European political refugees were responsible, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev – both motor mechanics….

The pair showed police where they had buried the coffin in a cornfield…. Eleven weeks after it had disappeared the coffin of the British star of silent movies and early talkies was found, still intact – and it was re-buried in the original grave in the churchyard…. This time a concrete casing was placed over it….

Charlie Chaplian’s grave Image: Giramondo1 via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

The perpetrators were prosecuted for grave robbery and attempted extortion…. Wardas was the ‘brains’ behind the plot and for that he received four years in prison – whereas Ganev got away with an 18-month suspended sentence….