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….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….


On this day in history….15th February 1971

On this day in history….15th February 1971 – Britain wakes up to ‘D-Day’ and a new currency – over the next 18 months the old pounds, shillings and pennies are to be phased out….


Known as Decimal Day it was the time to say goodbye to the currency system that had been with us for over 1,000 years…. the old system dated back to Roman times when a pound of silver was divided into 240 denarius – which is where we got the old ‘d’ for a penny….

12 pennies to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound was to be replaced by 100 pennies to a pound instead of the 240 pennies people were used to…. It was to be out with the guineas, crowns, half crowns and threepenny bits….to be superseded by a system inspired by Napoleonic France….

The USA and France had gone decimal in the 1790s…. Britain had considered doing so during the 1820s but had not proceeded…. The closest we got was when a florin worth 2 shillings was introduced in 1849 – 24d or 10 new pence…. It was followed by a double florin in 1887….

In the 1960s a number of commonwealth countries had gone decimal including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Although previous British governments had shied away from taking the plunge – because of the amount of disruption it would cause – in the end it took a conversation lasting just 20 seconds, between the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jim Callaghan, to start the ball rolling….

The decision was announced in Parliament in 1966 and a Decimal Currency Board was set up to manage the transition…. The DCB ran a public information campaign – and currency converters were made available to everybody….

From the Sainsbury Archive at the Museum of London, Docklands via Martin Deutsch via Flickr

The first coins were introduced in 1968 with the new 5p and 10p pieces, which were the same size and value as the old shilling and two-shilling coins…. As it was engineered to be a gradual change-over a further coin was introduced in 1969 – the 50p – to replace the ten bob (shilling) note….

Ten Bob note – Ian May via Flickr

People referred to it as the ‘ten shilling coin’…. Then on Decimal Day itself, 15th February 1971, the last of the new coins were brought in – the 0.5p, 1p and 2p….

14th October 1969 – New 50p coin. Credit: Bradford Timeline via Flickr

Banks closed for four days beforehand to prepare – and at first prices were shown in shops in both currencies….Some people had feared shopkeepers might use it as a way to increase prices…. The elderly generation especially found it more difficult to adapt….but generally the change-over went without a hitch….

The old penny, half penny and threepenny bit officially went out of circulation in August 1971….but there was one particular coin that stayed with us right up until 1980…. Such affection did the British public have for the sixpence that they campaigned to keep it….as it was deemed as being part of our heritage….

Sixpence – Anakin101 via Wikimedia


On this day in history….7th February 1974

On this day in history : 7th February 1974 – Prime Minister Edward Heath calls a snap general election and appeals to the miners to suspend their planned strike action….

The 1970s was a decade of power cuts and blackouts, it became a way of life; anything that depended on electricity, industrial or domestic, faced disruption….img_2350

It was a time of discontent throughout much of British industry…. The miners’ dispute had begun in 1971 with a disagreement with the Government over pay…. The National Union of Miners demanded a 43% pay increase, whilst the Government were offering between 7-8%…. In late 1971 the miners voted to take action if their demands were not met…. On the 5th of January 1972 the NUM rejected the pay offer made to them and four days later miners from all over the Country came out on strike….the first time they had done so since 1926….

To start with the miners were to picket coal power stations – but then started to target all power stations….along with coal depots, steelworks and ports…. Dockers supported them by refusing to unload coal from ships….

On the 9th of February 1972 s state of emergency was declared and a 3-day working week introduced to try and conserve electricity…. On the 19th, after much negotiation an agreement was reached with the Government – on the 25th of February the miners accepted an offer and returned to work three days later….

Markham Colliery – Image: Jabsco via Flickr

This now made the miners some of the highest paid industrial workers…. However, it did not take long for other industries to catch-up and overtake…. By 1973 the miners had gone down to 18th position in the industrial wages league….

The miners realised the strong position they were in – their previous action proving the importance of coal to the nation…. In addition, this time oil prices were soaring because of troubles in the Middle East – and the Unions were hostile towards the Government, who were trying to introduce pay freezes to help the economy….

In late 1973 the miners voted once again to take industrial action if their demands for a further pay increase were not met…. Talks reached stalemate – and with the severe economic circumstances of the Country at the time – Edward Heath was prompted to announce a general election for the 28th of February 1974….appealing at the same time to the miners to suspend their action….

Edward Heath – Open Media Ltd CC BY-SA 3.0

The miners walked out on strike (supported by other Unions) on the 9th of February; a state of emergency was declared and a 3-day working week reintroduced….

The general election saw a Conservative defeat, leaving Harold Wilson to lead a minority Labour Government…. The miners and new Government came to an agreement and the strike ended on the 19th of February…. The miners returned back to work on the 25th, victorious with a 29% pay deal….