July 01, 2021

#ThrowbackThursday – 1 July

We are often told that in life, we have to take the good with the bad. Many things require that we accept both its positive and negative aspects. History is no different, filled with prominent moments of positivity interspersed with prominent points of negativity. Occasionally, one will give rise to the other, and vice-versa.

These five events that took place on 1 July certainly prove these statements true:

1859 – Up, Up and Away

One hundred and sixty-two years ago, one of the greatest cross-country voyages took place … in a hot-air balloon!

Piloted by John Wise, the balloon – named “Atlantic” – launched on the evening of 1 July at St. Louis, Missouri. Writing in his logbook, Wise recorded a few poetic observations of his journey: “The feeble shimmer of the new moon was now mantling the earth beneath in a mellow light, and the western horizon was painted with gold and purple. Nothing could exceed the solemn grandeur of the scene.”

For five days, the aeronaut and his crew flew 809 miles (over 1 300 kilometres) until “Atlantic” landed in Henderson, New York. The voyage went down in the history books as one of the longest balloon trips in the world.

Twenty years later, Wise took what would have been a less adventurous balloon trip over Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the winds were strong that day, and the 71-year-old aeronaut disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. One can only hope that he disappeared into the similarly mellow light of the sky that he wrote about in his logbook.

1908 – The Origin of SOS

When there’s trouble, know that you can always rely on (· · · — · · ·).

Before 1908, the Morse code signal, “CQD” (- · – · – · – ·), was used by seagoing vessels that were in distress. The signal was transmitted by their wireless telegraphic operators to nearby ships and coastal stations.

However, in order to make it easier for these operators to send out distress calls, (· · · — · · ·) – which stands for “SOS” – was introduced on this day. Many people think it stands for “Save Our Souls” or “Save Our Ship”, but in reality the letter combination was chosen purely because of its simplicity.

It was first used by the RMS “Slavonia” on 10 June 1909. Three years later, the RMS “Titanic” sent a combination CQD and SOS signals after striking an iceberg. Soon enough, the SOS signal was adopted worldwide by other maritime organisations.

1916 – “Strung Out Like Wreckage”

The Battle of the Somme during World War I claimed nearly two million lives; out of that amount, 19 240 British soldiers were killed and more than 38 000 wounded on the first day alone.

Earlier that day, divisions of the British Army began advancing on a 24-kilometre front north of the Somme River. Simultaneously, five divisions from the French Army advanced on a 13-mile front to the south. It was the Allies’ hope to bombard the German forces and progress further into occupied territory.

Alas, as 100 000 British soldiers climbed out of their trenches and began to advance, the German forces opened fire with machine guns and heavy artillery.

George Coppard, a British soldier who partook in the battle, wrote in his memoirs: “Our attack had been brutally repulsed. Hundreds of dead were strung out like wreckage washed up to a high water-mark. Quite as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish caught in the net.”

The battle ended on 18 November that year – despite lasting 141 days, it proved to be one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.

1916 – Attack of the Jersey Man-Eater

As the Battle of the Somme was being fought, something else was happening across the pond: a deep-sea menace began terrorising the coast of New Jersey.

Between 1 July and 12 July, four people were killed after they were attacked by a shark. The first victim was Charles Vansant, a 28-year-old man who had been swimming at Beach Haven when a shark began biting his legs. He passed away from blood loss at the Engleside Hotel.

This attack, along with three others, caused widespread panic among the public, and it prompted resort communities along the coast to petition the federal government to help protect beaches and hunt for the “Jersey man-eater”. 

Scientists, witnesses and the public began questioning what kind of shark occupied the waters of the Jersey Shore, with its theorised species ranging from Great White to Sandbar. Whatever it was, the attacks ceased on 12 July, and from then, sharks were no longer viewed as harmless – instead, they were seen as vicious, bloodthirsty predators, a viewpoint that still stands today.

2007 – Happy Birthday, Princess Diana

Ten years ago, Diana, Princess of Wales, celebrated her 36th birthday. A month later, she died in a car crash in Paris, France.

To honour their mother on what would have been her 46th birthday, her sons Princes William and Harry organised a benefit concert titled “Concert for Diana”. The sold-out event took place at Wembley Stadium in London, England, and was broadcast to an audience of approximately 500 million.

The concert had a star-studded line-up of performers: Elton John, Andrea Bocelli, Nelly Furtado, Natasha Beddingfield, Kanye West and Rod Stewart, among other big names. Speakers included Ryan Seacrest, Ricky Gevais, Nelson Mandela, and William and Harry themselves, praising Princess Diana for her charitable endeavours.

Proceeds from the concert went towards charities chosen by the princes, including the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, as well as Centrepoint and Sentebale.