The DeLorean DMC-12 sports car was later used as the time machine in Back to the Future.
The DeLorean Motor Company was founded by engineer and automobile executive John DeLorean in 1975. The prototype DeLorean Safety Vehicle was completed in October 1976 with initial investment from celebrities including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davies Jr. Meanwhile DeLorean secured significant financial incentives from the Northern Ireland Development Agency to build the manufacturing plant in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast, in an attempt to cut unemployment and curb sectarian violence.
The factory was built in 1978 with production of the car scheduled to begin the following year. Subsequent engineering delays and budget overruns meant that work on the first units didn’t actually begin until 1981. Built by an enthusiastic but largely inexperienced workforce, the first of the distinctively shaped DeLorean DMC-12s was completed on 21 January. Fitted with gull-wing doors and finished with stainless-steel body panels, the car’s appearance was expected to be a unique selling point.
However, by the time the first cars were available a recession had hit the United States that had a devastating effect on new car sales. Combined with mediocre reviews and customer complaints about the quality of the finished vehicles, it’s reported that at least half of the 7,000 cars produced by February 1982 had not been sold.
Although the company limped on for a few more months, the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt shortly after its owner was charged by the U.S. government with trafficking cocaine. Although he was later acquitted, DeLorean’s reputation was irreparably damaged.
The Brunner Mond chemical factory had been built in 1893 to manufacture caustic soda and soda crystals. However, declining demand for caustic soda meant that production ceased in 1912 and parts of the factory stood idle. Due to a crippling shell shortage following the onset of the First World War, the War Office chose to use the spare capacity at the Silvertown site to purify TNT for explosive shells.
The chief scientist at the factory described the purification process as “manifestly very dangerous” and the company bosses themselves tried to dissuade the government for going ahead with the plan. Despite these concerns, and the fact that the factory was situated in a highly populated area, the Silvertown plant began to produce TNT in September 1915 at a rate of approximately 9 long tons per day.
At 6.52pm on the evening of 19 January 1917, a fire that had broken out in another part of the factory reached the stores of TNT. Approximately 50 tonnes exploded, completely destroying the factory and many nearby buildings. The blast could be heard as far away as Sandringham in Norfolk while molten metal was strewn across several miles, some of which damaged a gasometer in Greenwich and caused a giant fireball as 200,000 cubic metres of gas caught fire.
Over 60,000 properties suffered some form of damage from the blast, but the loss of life was fortunately a lot lower than it could have been. The explosion took place in the early evening when there were not many people in the factory, and people had not yet gone to bed in the upstairs rooms of their homes that suffered the most damage.
The Battle of Monte Cassino began when Allied forces launched the first of four attacks against the Gustav Line in Italy.
The Gustav Line, which together with the Bernhardt and Hitler lines formed a series of defences known as the Winter Line, had been established by the Germans and Italians to defend Rome from a northern advance by the Allies. The Allied forces had secured a foothold in Italy in Operation Avalanche the previous September, having first captured Sicily.
By early January 1944 the Allies had advanced a long way north, but their progress had been stopped by poor weather that forced them to approach Rome along Highway 6 that ran from Naples through the Liri valley. The southern entrance to the valley was dominated by the town of Cassino and overlooked by the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino.
Although the German army did not position defensive units in the abbey itself, the natural topography gave them a notable advantage over the Allies. Combined with minefields that had been laid in advance, the strong German position withstood the first assault that lasted for two and a half weeks and involved troops under British, American and French command attacking the position from three sides.
German forces finally withdrew on 17 May, and the following morning soldiers from the Polish 12th Podolian Cavalry Regiment raised a Polish flag over the ruins. The four assaults that made up the Battle of Monte Cassino had led to 55,000 Allied casualities and destroyed the ancient abbey. The treasures it contained had been evacuated to Rome in November 1943.
On the 14th January 1943, the Casablanca Conference began in Morocco. Primarily a military meeting between the USA and Britain, the conference resulted in a declaration of the doctrine of “unconditional surrender”.
The conference saw the Combined Chiefs of Staff join American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss the future strategy for fighting the Second World War. Representing the Free French forces, Generals Charles de Gaulle, and Henri Giraud were also in attendance. Roosevelt’s attendance at the conference marked the first time a President had left American soil during wartime. Meanwhile the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin declined his invitation as he felt his presence was needed at home during the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad.
The conference saw the leaders agree to invade Sicily after the North African Campaign, as a way to pull Axis forces away from mainland Europe and weaken the German defence ahead of a later Allied invasion of France. In return, Churchill agreed to send more troops to the Pacific in order to help the American forces continue their fight against the Japanese. Meanwhile, they agreed to launch combined bombing missions against Germany and to destroy German U-boats in the Atlantic.
Details of the conference were kept from the public until the participants left Casablanca. However, a number of journalists were invited for a press conference on the 24th January where vague details of the discussions were announced by Roosevelt. He did, however, announce his demand for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers – an approach that had been discussed at the conference, but was not fully embraced by Churchill.
Dr William Brydon of the British East India Company Army was the only survivor of an army of 4,500 men and 12,000 camp followers to reach safety at Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
Although it later emerged that a further 115 British officers and soldiers, along with their wives and children, had survived as hostages Brydon was the only Briton to have escaped from Kabul without being captured.
Part of the First Anglo-Afghan War, British troops had maintained a garrison in Kabul since 1839 following the restoration of the British-supported Shuja Shah. On 2 November 1841 a group of locals, under the leadership of Akbar Khan, launched an uprising against the occupying forces. The British commander General William Elphinstone, who had been called “the most incompetent soldier who ever became general” by his contemporary General William Nott, did little to re-establish control and instead agreed to the British withdrawal to the garrison at Jalalabad.
Having handed over gunpowder, new muskets and canon to Akbar Khan in return for safe passage approximately 16,000 British soldiers and civilians left Kabul on 6 January 1842. They were soon set upon by Afghan tribes, and within three days 3,000 people had died while the column had only moved 25 miles. Freezing conditions and desertions further increased the losses so that by 11 January the army had been reduced to just 200 men. A final standoff at the Gandamak pass finished off much of the rest of the British army leaving only Brydon, who had earlier become separated from the remnants of the army, to make it to Jalalabad alone despite his own life-threatening injuries. On being asked what had happened to the rest of the army Brydon is said to have responded, “I am the army”.
On the 8th January 1918, United States President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress in which he outlined his principles for world peace, known as the Fourteen Points. Keen to distance the United States from nationalistic disputes that fuelled European rivalries, he sought a lasting peace by securing terms that avoided selfish ambitions of the victors.
Three days earlier, on the 5th January, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had outlined British war aims at the Caxton Hall conference of the Trades Union Congress. It was the first time any of the Allies had shared their post-war intentions and, as a result Woodrow Wilson considered abandoning his own speech since many of the points were similar. However, he was persuaded to deliver the speech anyway.
The Fourteen Points were greeted with some reluctance from France in particular. Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, is said to have remarked that, “The good Lord only had ten!” as a comparison to the Ten Commandments. However, the Fourteen Points speech became an instrument of propaganda that was widely circulated within Germany. Consequently it later served as a basis for the German armistice that was signed later that year.
However, France’s vastly different intentions meant that, when the time the Paris Peace Conference began on the 18th January 1919, there was significant tension between the negotiators. The fact that Wilson himself was physically ill meant that he was less able to argue for peace terms that reflected the Fourteen Points against Clemenceau – the Tiger – and his demands to cripple Germany. Consequently many Germans felt incredible anger over the final terms of the Treaty.
The first aerial crossing of the English Channel was conducted by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jeffries in a gas-filled balloon.
Born to a peasant family in Normandy, Blanchard fled to Paris as a teenager. Here he developed an interest in science and, following the Montgolfier brothers’ successful flight of a hot air balloon in 1783, turned his attention to the new craze. On 2 March the following year Blanchard made his first successful flight at the Champs de Mars in Paris using a hydrogen-filled balloon.
Desperate to achieve fame and fortune, Blanchard moved to London in August 1784 where the population had not yet become caught up in ‘balloonomania’. Blanchard quickly convinced a group of financiers to support him and, alongside the wealthy Dr John Jeffries, Blanchard planned the first aerial crossing of the Channel.
Having provided the necessary funds, Jeffries insisted that he should accompany Blanchard on the flight from Dover to Calais. Unwilling to share the certain fame Blanchard concealed lead weights in his clothes in an attempt to persuade Jeffries that the balloon would be too heavy to carry both of them, but the American discovered the deception and was able to take his place on board.
Soon after departing England, the pair were forced to throw out their ballast and cargo. This included a propeller and a set of oars with which they had hoped to ‘row’ through the air. Barely skimming the tops of the waves, they later urinated over the side in an attempt to reduce the weight before opting to discard their clothes. When they touched down in a forest near Calais, they were wearing nothing but their underwear and the cork life jackets that they had brought in case they crashed into the sea.
On the 19th December 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol was published in London by Chapman & Hall. Since first being published it has never been out of print and, despite the first run selling out within 6 days, Dickens was disappointed with the amount of money he made from the book.
A Christmas Carol was written in just six weeks from September 1843. Although released by an established publisher, Dickens was unwilling to take a lump-sum fee for the story and so instead published it at his own expense. However, the high production costs meant that the profits were smaller than he hoped for.
Despite this disappointing financial return for its author, A Christmas Carol is said to be responsible for establishing much of the modern interpretation of the Christmas holiday. Historian Ronald Hutton refers to the book’s theme of ‘social reconciliation’, and views the story as establishing the link between individuals, families and their place within the wider community as well as the importance of charitable giving.
Dickens’ tale is also responsible for introducing key terms into the English language of which the name “Scrooge”, and the phrase “Bah! Humbug!” are the most obvious. However, it is also responsible for popularising the phrase “Merry Christmas”. Although this greeting had been around since the 16th Century, by 1843 the meaning of the word ‘merry’ was changing – originally it simply meant ‘pleasant’, but by the time of Dickens’ book it had begun to mean ‘cheerful’ or ‘jolly’ and it is within this context that Scrooge uses the term extensively at the end of the story.
Kenya had been under British rule since the 19th Century, and since becoming a colony in 1920 African demands for a greater role in politics had grown. In the early 1950s a group of Kikuyus, the largest ethnic group in the country, formed the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. Better known as the Mao Mao, they began a violent organised campaign against colonial leaders and white settlers that culminated in the Mau Mau Uprising. By 1956 over 12,000 Mao Mao militants had been killed by the British in an attempt to suppress the uprising, although it’s important to note that both sides committed ruthless acts of violence.
The Uprising did, however, persuade the British of the need for concessions. From 1957 natives were allowed to be elected to the Legislative Council and, by 1960, they held a majority of the seats. Britain subsequently worked with the African politicians to prepare the transition to independence and, in May 1963, the Kenya African National Union secured the majority in both houses of the new bicameral legislature.
Independence was formally declared on 12 December 1963 with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. Jomo Kenyatta, the leader of the Kenya African National Union, became the country’s first Prime Minister despite having been imprisoned between 1953 and 1961 after being found guilty of being a Mau Mau leader. Historians have since cast doubt on his conviction.
Kenya’s independence is now marked in part by Jamhuri Day, a national holiday that celebrates Kenya’s admittance to the Commonwealth as a republic the following year.
On the 11th December 1936, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom announced his abdication in a worldwide radio broadcast. He had signed the Instruments of Abdication on the 10th, but it only became official when he gave royal assent to His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 after it was passed by Parliament the next day.
Edward abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Simpson had divorced her first husband in 1927, and was married to a second when her relationship with the then Prince of Wales began. Edward was in a serious relationship with Wallis when he became king following the death of his father on the 20th January 1936, but as the head of the Church of England faced a crisis since divorced people were forbidden from remarrying if their ex-spouses were still alive, as was the case with Wallis.
Wallis Simpson filed for divorce from her second husband in October 1936, which led to speculation in the American press that marriage to Edward was imminent. Although the British press remained silent on the matter, he was warned that this wouldn’t be the case for much longer and that he needed to address the issue. In the middle of November Edward told Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister, of his intention to marry Wallis. Baldwin gave the King three options: give up the idea of marriage; marry against his ministers’ wishes; or abdicate. He chose the latter.
Less than a month later his younger brother was proclaimed King George VI while Edward became Duke of Windsor. He married Wallis on the 3rd June 1937.