On the 27th July 1942, Allied forces in North Africa stopped the advancing Axis powers in the First Battle of El Alamein. Having been defeated at the Battle of Gazala in Libya the previous month, the British Eighth Army had retreated first to the Egyptian town of Marsa Matrouh 100 miles inside the border and then to the more easily defended line at El Alamein just 80 miles away from the city of Alexandria. This was effectively the Allies’ final hope of protecting Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, the British headquarters in Cairo and, ultimately, the Suez Canal.
The Allied position at Alamein marked the narrowest defensible area between the sea and the Qattara Depression, which lay 20 miles to the south. The position ensured that Erwin Rommel, the German tank commander, would be unable to use his favoured form of attack which involved outflanking his enemy. Furthermore, the position stretched the Axis supply line perilously thin and so starved the advancing army of water, fuel and ammunition.
Despite these resource problems, Rommel ordered the 90th Light Infantry Division to begin its advance at 3am on the 1st July. Although the Axis did eventually succeed in breaking through, the advance took most of the day and gave the Allies time to organise more defences along the line. The battle continued for nearly 4 weeks, with both sides attacking and counter-attacking. However, in the end the battle ended in stalemate with both sides taking time to reorganise and re-equip. However, the Allies had succeeded in stopping the Axis advance.
The first ever women’s cricket match was played on Gosden Common near Guildford in Surrey.
The match was reported in The Reading Mercury and featured teams from the villages of Bramley and Hambledon. The newspaper made the point that all the players were dressed in all white, but those from Bramley wore blue ribbons while the Hambledon ‘maids’ wore red.
Although the identities of the players are unknown the final result, which saw the team from Hambledon beat Bramley with a score of 127 to 119, was recorded. Furthermore the article highlighted that, ‘the girls bowled, batted, ran and catched as well as most men could do in that game.’
The majority of early women’s cricket matches were local fixtures played in the communities around Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey. Often associated with heavy betting, the sport quickly spread and gained a level of respectability in 1777 when Elizabeth Smith-Stanley, the Countess of Derby, organised a match in which upper-class women made up the two teams.
Despite the growing popularity of women’s cricket, the first women’s cricket club wasn’t formed until 1887. The White Heather Club was established in North Yorkshire, and was followed three years later by the chronologically-confusingly named Original English Lady Cricketers. However, a national organisation for women’s cricket wasn’t established until 1926 when the Women’s Cricket Association was founded. Under its guidance the England team played its first series of test matches in Australia in 1934-5. The Women’s Cricket Association was eventually absorbed by the England and Wales Cricket Board in 1998.
On the 25th July 1965, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan performed at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric band. His dramatic shift away from his traditional instruments of acoustic guitar and harmonica was said to have, “electrified one half of his audience, and electrocuted the other”.
Dylan came to prominence in the early years of the 1960s with songs that chronicled the social situation in the USA at the time. Labelled as the “spokesman of a generation” by the media he had released four acoustic albums in the first three years of his recording career. But, in March 1965, Bringing It All Back Home indicated a new direction for Dylan. While one side of the record maintained his acoustic roots, the other side featured an electric backing band.
Dylan’s appearances at the Newport Folk Festival reflected his album releases. In 1963 and 64 he had been the poster boy of acoustic folk alongside female musician and on-off romantic partner Joan Baez, but on the night before his appearance at the 1965 festival he decided to go electric. Gathering together a group of musicians from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he frantically rehearsed a short four-song set that was performed on the Sunday evening.
Accounts of the performance, and the crowd’s reaction to it, differ. While some claim that the crowd were hostile to Dylan appearing with an electric guitar, others say that the booing was a response to the short set and poor sound system. Whatever the case, Dylan going electric marked a watershed moment for both the folk and rock music scenes.
Often referred to as the ‘lost city of the Incas’, Machu Picchu was constructed in the middle of the 15th century but was abandoned barely a century later in 1572. Believed by modern archaeologists to have been built as a retreat for Incan royalty, the city was never found by the Spanish conquistadors and its existence slowly became known only to those who lived in the local area.
Although there is evidence that the city had been visited by explorers before Bingham, he was the first to conduct an archaeological survey of the area and to secure worldwide publicity for it. He did so as a result of leading the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition, having visited the country three years previously on his way home from the First Pan American Scientific Congress.
Bingham’s expedition travelled down the Urubamba River, seeking local information about Inca ruins. Eventually he met Melchor Arteaga who led him up the Huayna Picchu mountain. Here the eleven-year-old Pablito, the son of a farmer, led him to the main Machu Picchu ruins.
Bingham first saw the site on 24 July, but the intricate stonework was covered in vegetation from five hundred years of disuse. Consequently he only conducted preliminary investigations before continuing the expedition along the river. He returned to the mountain the following year to clear the overgrowth and conduct an archaeological excavation with the support of Yale University and National Geographic. Artefacts taken from the site by Bingham have since been returned to Peru, and Machu Picchu continues to be one of the world’s leading tourist sites.
On the 23rd July 1914, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia specifically designed to be rejected and lead to war between the two countries. The ultimatum was delivered at 6pm by the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Belgrade, with a deadline of 48 hours within which the Serbian government had to respond. They accepted all but one of the numerous demands, which led Austria-Hungary to declare war three days later on 28th July.
Austria-Hungary had been concerned about the growing power of Serbia, and was keen to find a way to weaken the government and stop it taking over the Southern Slavic populations of the northern Balkans, and especially Bosnia, under the banner of pan-Slavism. To the government officials who favoured war, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on the 28th June was the perfect excuse.
Following the assassination, Germany had given Austria-Hungary assurances that it would support military action against Serbia, in what is known as the ‘Blank Cheque’ of 5th July. Acting with the knowledge that the strongest army in Europe was on their side, the Austro-Hungarian Crown Council began to discuss how best to justify a war against Serbia. They decided that an ultimatum containing unacceptable demands would be the best course of action, and finally agreed the wording on the 19th.
After Serbia’s refusal of the sixth point in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary declared war. Although it was intended to remain localised, the network of European alliances that had developed from the late 19th Century soon saw the conflict develop into the First World War.
Pablo Escobar became involved in the fledgling cocaine smuggling industry in the early 1970s. He expanded his operations from 1975 onwards and, by the 1980s, was the leading supplier of cocaine to the United States. He is estimated to have been responsible up to 80% of the entire world’s cocaine market at the height of his operation.
By 1990 Columbia had become the world’s murder capital due to the increasing number of killings by hitmen working for the drugs cartels. Determined to bring the situation under control the government under President César Gaviria negotiated Escobar’s surrender in 1991. With the promise that he would serve a maximum of five years and would not be extradited to the United States he was imprisoned in La Catedral prison, which had been built to his own specifications.
Referred to mockingly as ‘Hotel Escobar’, the prison was staffed by guards chosen by the drugs lord himself. Evidence soon emerged that Escobar was continuing to run his empire while behind bars, with one police report highlighting over 300 unauthorised visits including wanted criminals.
Such reports forced the government to act, leading to the decision to transfer him to a more conventional jail. Escobar, however, refused to go quietly and the operation soon turned violent. He and his henchmen seized hostages and, amidst fighting between cartel members and the Columbian army, Escobar escaped. He remained on the run for 16 months before being found and killed.
On the 21st July 1970, construction was completed on the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. Taking just over ten years to build, the High Dam cost nearly $1 billion. However, it’s estimated that this cost was recovered in less than five years thanks to income from increased agricultural production and hydroelectric generation, as well as savings from flood protection and improved navigation.
A dam had already been built across the Nile near the southern Egyptian city of Aswan in 1902. It was designed to store the Nile’s annual floodwater and release it during the dry season in order to irrigate the farms and settlements further downstream. However, despite being heightened twice by the 1930s it still did not provide enough water for future development. Consequently designs for a new dam were sought.
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 led by the Free Officers Movement, President Gamal Abdel Nasser began searching for funding for the new dam. The US, Britain and the USSR all initially offered financial support, but after the USSR promised funding at just 2% interest the other powers pulled out. Income from the Suez Canal following Nasser’s nationalisation of the waterway provided further funds for the construction of the dam.
The completed dam is almost 4km long and 111 metres tall. The 550km long reservoir created when it was flooded is known as Lake Nasser, and holds 132 cubic kilometres of water. The creation of the reservoir forced the relocation of over 100,000 people and a number of archaeological sites that would otherwise have been lost beneath the water.
Napoleon granted a patent for the Pyréolophore to Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude.
Nicéphore Niépce had fled France during the Revolution as he was the son of a wealthy lawyer who was suspected of having royalist sympathies. He later returned to France where he served in Napoleon’s army before resigning on health grounds and becoming the Administrator of the district of Nice.
By 1801 Niépce and his older brother Claude had returned to manage the family’s estate while conducting scientific research. It was here that they developed their internal combustion engine, which harnessed the power of hot air expanding during an explosion. Their first fuel was lycopodium powder, made of dried plant spores, which was ignited inside the airtight copper machine.
The brothers presented their internal combustion engine in a paper to the French National Commission of the Academy of Science in 1806. However, the engine’s major test came in 1807 when it was installed on a boat on the river Saône. Small amounts of fuel were released into a jet of air provided by mechanical bellows inside the machine. The pressure of the explosion forced water out of an exhaust pipe protruding from the boat’s rear. This in turn propelled the boat forward in short bursts, and successfully moved it upstream against the flow of the river.
Following the successful boat test, Napoleon granted a patent to the brothers. However, despite experiments with other fuel sources, they struggled to find a commercial use for their invention. Nicéphore instead turned his attention to photography, and became the first person to produce a permanent photographic image.
On the 19th July 1799, an announcement was made of the discovery of a slab of rock covered in carvings by French Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard in the area around Fort Julien near the Egyptian town of Rashid or, as it also known, Rosetta. The Rosetta Stone was soon identified as the key to understanding hieroglyphics, but it would be another twenty-five years before the ancient Egyptian language was actually deciphered.
Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt had begun the previous year with the dual aim of protecting French trade in the area and undermining Britain’s access to India. However, his force also included 167 scientists and scholars who had been tasked with various jobs including researching a possible Suez Canal and creating accurate maps of the country.
It was while some of the engineers were working with the army to strengthen Fort Julien that the granodiorite block we now know as the Rosetta Stone was uncovered. It was soon sent to the newly-created Institut d’Égypte in Cairo who announced the find and devised ways to make copies of the inscriptions which soon made their way to universities and museums around the world.
The inscription is a decree written in three different scripts that all say effectively the same thing: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. It is because the scripts effectively convey the same message that transliteration was able to take place.
When the British defeated the French army in 1801 they seized a large number of French finds, including the Rosetta Stone. It has been exhibited in the British Museum ever since.
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci scored the first ever perfect 10 in Olympic history on the uneven bars at the Summer Games in Montreal.
The International Federation of Gymnastics introduced a code of points to regulate scores in 1949. This allowed judges to determine a competitor’s overall score by taking into account such factors as the difficulty of the routine alongside deductions for poor form, execution, steps or other technical mistakes such as falls.
It had long been believed that a ‘perfect 10’ – a top score with no deductions – was impossible to achieve. Despite this, Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská scored perfect 10s at the 1967 European Championships. It still seemed such an unlikely outcome, however, that the International Olympic Committee ordered a scoreboard for the Montreal Games that could only show up to 9.99.
This was a massive oversight. On 18 July, Nadia Comăneci achieved a score of 10.00 on the uneven bars. Unable to show this on the scoreboard, confusion resulted after a score of 1.00 was displayed. The announcer was consequently forced to inform the crowd and competitors that the 14 year-old Romanian gymnast had in fact achieved a perfect 10.
Comăneci achieved a further three 10s on the uneven bars and another three 10s on the balance beam in the 1976 Games. She won the gold medal for both the individual all-around competition and the balance beam, in addition to a silver and bronze for the team all-around and floor exercise. She still holds the record for being the youngest Olympic gymnastics all-around gold medallist, because current rules now require competitors to turn 16 in the same calendar year as the competition.