On the 27th March 1963, Chairman of the British Transport Commission Dr Richard Beeching published his report entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. The first of two documents that outlined his plans for the reduction and restructuring of the British railway network, the subsequent Beeching Cuts resulted in the closure of 2,128 stations, thousands of miles of track, and the loss of up to 70,000 jobs.
By the end of the Second World War, road transport had grown exponentially and many of the nation’s railway lines were in a poor state of repair. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became British Rail. However, economic recovery and the end of petrol rationing spurred a 10% annual increase in road vehicle mileage through to the 1960s, while railway income slowly fell below operating costs. By 1961 British Rail was operating at a loss of £300,000 per day.
Beeching was drafted in by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to make the railways profitable. His detailed analysis of rail traffic highlighted stations and lines that ran at a constant loss by raising very little income while their fixed operating costs remained high. He pointed out that stations and railway lines had broadly the same fixed costs whether they saw 1000 passengers a week or 6000.
Beeching’s report therefore recommended that 6,000 out of the existing 18,000 miles of railway line should be closed entirely, while others should only serve freight. Meanwhile 2,363 stations were to close. Not all the recommendations were implemented, but by the early 1970s thousands of miles of line, thousands of stations, and thousands of jobs had been cut.
At 9am on the 26th March 1945, the Battle of Iwo Jima ended as US Marines officially secured the island from the Japanese Imperial Army during the War in the Pacific. The US invasion of the 8 square mile island, known as “Operation Detachment”, led to five weeks of fierce fighting between around 21,000 Japanese troops and 110,000 Americans. The United States suffered 26,000 casualties of which nearly 7,000 died. Meanwhile the Japanese forces were virtually wiped out.
The objective of Operation Detachment was to capture Iwo Jima and its three airfields, in order to provide a base for US aircraft involved in attacks on the Japanese mainland. The island had been subjected to nine months of aerial bombings and naval bombardments prior to the US invasion, but the Japanese had dug an extensive network of tunnels beneath the volcanic island that provided shelter for much of the defence force.
The first Marines landed on the island on the 19th February and, despite facing little initial opposition, suffered significant casualties as they struggled to make their way inland. The strong Japanese defences meant that despite their superior numbers the Americans were sometimes only able to progress a few hundred metres a day.
However, Mount Suribachi was eventually captured and the iconic photograph of five Marines raising the United States flag was taken – albeit when a second, larger, flag was raised to replace the first. On the 16th March the island was declared secure, but sporadic fighting continued until the night of the 25th, when a final Japanese assault by 300 soldiers was defeated in a vicious 90-minute firefight.
On the 25th March 1957 the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the European Economic Community, was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The EEC, sometimes referred to as the Common Market, was formally established on the 1st January 1958 and survived, with some changes under the Maastricht Treaty, until 2009 when it was absorbed into the European Union.
The aim of the EEC was to establish economic integration between its members, such as a common market and customs union. However in reality the EEC operated beyond purely economic issues since it included organisations such as the European Atomic Energy Community that sought to generate and distribute nuclear energy to its member states.
The EEC was preceded by the European Coal and Steel Community, which came into force in 1952. The ECSC sought to amalgamate European coal and steel production in order to reconstruct Europe after the devastation of the Second World War and reduce the threat of a future conflict by establishing mutual economic reliance. Within just three years the idea of a customs union was being discussed, with the 1956 Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom establishing the parameters for the Treaty of Rome.
Over time the EEC expanded its membership with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining in 1973; the 1980s saw the addition of Greece, Spain and Portugal. With the creation of the European Union in 1993 and its absorption of the EEC in 2009 the union currently contains 28 states, the most recent member being Croatia in July 2013.
On the 24th March 1721, German composer Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated what were to become known as the Brandenburg Concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, the younger brother of King Frederick I of Prussia. The six works now rank among the world’s most famous pieces of orchestral music, and are widely considered to be some of the best compositions of the Baroque period.
Bach was born into a family of musicians and, from 1708, began to quickly earn a reputation as a talented organist and composer. It was while employed as the Kapellmeister, or director of music, for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen that he sent the bound manuscript of six concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig. Two years previously, in 1719, Bach had performed for him during a visit to Berlin after which he commissioned Bach to write him some music.
It’s unclear why Bach waited until 1721 to send the manuscript to the Margrave, especially as it’s generally accepted that the six pieces were drawn from compositions possibly dating back as far as 1708. What is clear, however, is that Bach never received any acknowledgement or pay from the Margrave. In fact the concertos may never have even been performed since Christian Ludwig didn’t have good enough musicians to perform the complex pieces.
The manuscript therefore languished in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734 when it once again disappeared. It was finally rediscovered over a century later, in 1849. However, the pieces only became known as the ‘Brandenburg Concertos’ after the term was coined by Philipp Spitta in his later 19th Century biography of the composer.
On the 23rd March 1540, Waltham Abbey in Essex became the last abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII. Henry had visited the abbey a number of times and is known to have stayed there with Queen Anne Boleyn in 1532. However, despite surviving for a number of years Waltham Abbey eventually succumbed to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This caused an economic disaster in the town, which had grown prosperous as a result of pilgrims visiting the abbey.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the more than 850 religious houses that existed in England at the start of Henry VIII’s reign disbanded and their property taken by the crown. Although only some of these were actual ‘monasteries’, England’s religious houses together owned between a quarter to a third of all the land in England. Furthermore, many of them were rumoured to tolerate decidedly un-monastic behaviour.
Having severed his ties with the Catholic Church in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry was free to deal with religious houses without needing approval from the Pope. Within two years his ministers began to shut down religious houses on financial grounds, and by 1540 all the abbeys except for Waltham had been closed. Abbot Robert Fuller surrendered the abbey and its property on the 23rd March 1540, and within just a few years all the buildings except for the parish nave were demolished or collapsed due to neglect. The Dissolution of the Monasteries was completed in less than four years, but brought Henry significant income as well as suppressing political opposition from those who might have sided with the Pope.
On the 22nd March 1621, Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius – also known as Hugo de Groot – escaped imprisonment in Loevestein Castle concealed inside a book chest. He had been given a life sentence for treason against Prince Maurice, the executive and military leader of the United Provinces, after the Prince orchestrated a coup d’état. Once outside the castle he then fled to Paris, apparently disguised as a mason, where he lived in exile.
Grotius is known as one of the founding fathers of international law for his written work in such masterpieces as “On the Law of War and Peace” and “The Freedom of the Seas” that applied natural law to international politics. Even as a teenager his intellectual ability had been noted by King Henry IV of France who referred to him as the “miracle of Holland”.
At the time, the United Provinces were engaged in an internal conflict between the tolerant Protestantism of the Remonstrants and the Counter-Remonstrants who advocated orthodox Calvinism. Shortly after the Counter-Remonstrant Prince Maurice launched a coup d’état in 1618 he ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Remonstrants, which included Grotius.
Grotius was permitted to have books sent to him in prison, which were transported in a large chest. Over time his guards became less vigilant regarding its contents, which led his wife and maid-servant to hatch a plan to smuggle him out by hiding him inside it. Having escaped his imprisonment, Grotius fled to France where he wrote his most famous works. He became Sweden’s ambassador to France in 1634 but died in 1645 after being shipwrecked.
On the 21st March 1556, Thomas Cranmer was executed heresy. As a leader of the English Reformation he had not only promoted Protestantism but had also established the first structures of the Church of England. Despite having signed a number of recantations or retractions of his Protestant faith, on the day of his execution he in turn recanted these recantations before being burned at the stake.
Cranmer’s early career had seen him present the case for Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Although his argument did not result in the Pope agreeing to annul the marriage, Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the King in March 1533 after which he quickly moved to declare Henry’s marriage to Catherine void. Within just a few years he also annulled the King’s marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and had begun to work with Thomas Cromwell to promote the publication of an English Bible.
Cranmer’s actions led to him developing a large and powerful opposition, which only grew under the reign of Edward VI. His support for the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as Edward’s successor, rather than his Catholic older sister Mary, ultimately led to him being put on trial for treason in 1553. Cranmer’s execution in 1556 for heresy and was intended to act as way to discredit Protestantism. However, his eleventh-hour rejection of his earlier recantations against the Reformist movement meant that his death ultimately undermined the Marian Counter-Reformation.
He died at the stake having placed his right hand, with which he had signed his recantation, into the fire first as a punishment for being “unworthy”.
On the 20th March 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany formally accepted Otto von Bismarck’s resignation. His resignation had been demanded by the Kaiser a few days earlier and was submitted on the 18th. Bismarck’s exit from office two days later ended his decades-long domination of German and European politics, and ushered in the new age of Weltpolitik.
As Minister President and Foreign Minister of Prussia, Bismarck had overseen the unification of Germany in 1871. He then continued as Chancellor of Germany for almost two decades, throughout which Germany dominated European politics, and controlled the balance of power to ensure peace.
However the death of Kaiser Wilhelm I, which was quickly and unexpectedly followed by his son Frederick III, led to the young and relatively inexperienced Wilhelm taking the throne. Rather than allow his Chancellor to govern as he had done for the previous few decades, Wilhelm preferred to rule as well as reign which led to confrontations between the two men in the tussle for control.
The situation came to a head in early 1890, when they disagreed over social policy. While Bismarck was keen to introduce permanent anti-socialist laws, Wilhelm preferred to be more moderate. The stark difference in their positions became most obvious when Bismarck said he sought a violent confrontation in order to suppress the socialists. Wilhelm later took offence at Bismarck negotiating a new political alliance without his knowledge.
With their relationship in tatters, Wilhelm insisted that the 75 year old Bismarck submit his resignation. He was succeeded by Leo von Caprivi, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing his memoirs.
On the 19th March 1962, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released his eponymous debut album.
Dylan had arrived in New York from Minnesota the previous year, but had quickly worked his way into the coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village. It was here that he became known to established folk singer Carolyn Hester who invited him to join her as a harmonica player. While rehearsing in her apartment in September, Dylan met Columbia Records’ talent scout John H. Hammond who stated he decided to sign Dylan “on the spot” although in reality the contract wasn’t finalised until the end of October.
The album was recorded over six hours of sessions on the 20th to the 22nd of November. Legend has it that the album cost $402 to produce, but this figure was only stated as a joke by John Hammond – the true cost is unknown. Although there were a couple of false starts, five of the final recordings were the first take as Dylan refused requests to do a second.
Only two tracks on Dylan’s debut album were his own compositions and it failed to hit the Billboard 100, selling less than 5,000 copies in its first year and earning Dylan the nickname “Hammond’s Folly” from record executives. Despite this set-back, however, he returned to the studio shortly after the release of his first album to begin work on his second, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which consisted almost entirely of original songs. Opening with the now-classic Blowin’ in the Wind, it was this album that established Dylan as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
On the 18th March 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was executed on the orders of King Philip IV. Although he had first been arrested in 1307, and the Order was formally abolished by Pope Clement V three years later, Molay’s execution secured his place as one of the most famous members of the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar had been the final defenders of Acre in 1291, and although little is known of Jacques de Molay’s early life he was almost certainly amongst their number. He was elected Grand Master the following year, but struggled to build support among Europe’s leaders for a new Crusade to reconquer the Holy Land.
By early 1307 Molay had landed in France, where he had been invited to attend a meeting with the Pope. However, this coincided with a series of accusations of sacrilege leveled against the Templars regarding their initiation ceremony. On the 13th October, the day after he served as a pallbearer at the funeral of Catherine of Courtenay, the sister-in-law of King Philip, Molay and numerous other Templar knights were arrested on the orders of the King.
Having been tortured into confessing to various sacrilegious acts, the knights began a protracted period of confession and retraction that lasted for a number of years. Finally, on the 18th March 1314 Molay and three other senior Templars were sentenced to indefinite imprisonment. However Molay and fellow Templar Geoffroi de Charney then professed their innocence, causing King Philip to declare them relapsed heretics and condemn them to death. They were burnt at the stake later that day.