The Arab Revolt began fully on June 10th 1916 when Grand Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the guardian of the holy city of Mecca, ordered his troops to attack the Ottoman Caliphate’s garrison in the city. Hussein’s troops, drawn from his tribe, significantly outnumbered the Ottoman soldiers but were considerably less well equipped. Consequently, despite impressive initial gains, Hussein’s troops were unable to win the battle until Egyptian troops sent by the British arrived to provide artillery support.
Through correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner of Egypt at the time, Hussein had become convinced that the Revolt would be rewarded with an independent Arabian empire stretching through the Middle East. The British supported the Revolt as it distracted tens of thousands of Ottoman troops from joining other fronts in the First World War.
Captain T. E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia for his involvement in the Revolt, did not join with the Arab forces until October 1916. Although he was just one of many British and French officers who worked closely with the Arabs during the Revolt, newspaper reports of his guerrilla tactics and close relationship with Hussein’s sons Faisal and Abdullah earned him fame.
The Revolt was an enormous success, but the outcome was not what was agreed in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. The British and French instead divided the land according to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement that they had negotiated between themselves in 1916. Hussein was given the Hejaz region in the Arabian Peninsula, but was defeated in 1925 by Ibn Saud.
In 1518 the English Cardinal Wolsey had negotiated the Treaty of London, a non-aggression pact that was signed by the twenty major European powers of the time. However, peace held for barely a year before two of the signatories went to war and Wolsey began to arrange meetings between Henry VIII and the other monarchs to salvage the agreement.
Francis I of France was barely three years younger than Henry and, like his English counterpart, was keen to display the grandeur of his court. Consequently both men approached their forthcoming meeting as an opportunity to outshine the other, resulting in a more than two week long festival of riches and entertainment.
The meeting took place between the communes of Ardres in France and Guîne, which at the time was under English rule. Both rulers erected lavish temporary palaces and pavilions due to the castles in the nearby communes being in a poor state of repair. The extensive use of cloth of gold, which was woven with real gold thread and silk, would later give the site of the meeting its name. The extravagance of the two kings knew no bounds, with Henry’s encampment featuring a gilt fountain that ran with wine and claret.
The event also featured such competitions as jousting and wrestling, with Henry being defeated by Francis in the latter. Yet despite the joviality provided by these games and other entertainment including banquets and exotic animals, the meeting ended on 24 June with little political progress. Less than three weeks later Henry signed an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Francis’ main rival on the continent.
The 6th June 1944 saw the largest seaborne invasion in history, when the Allied forces of the Second World War launched Operation Neptune – more commonly known as the D-Day landings. The amphibious landings in Normandy marked the start of the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Western Europe.
The invasion was focused on a 50-mile long stretch of Normandy coastline that had been divided into five codenamed sections known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the Desert Fox for his leadership of Italian and German forces in the North African campaign, commanded the Nazi defence along what was known as the Atlantic Wall.
Prior to the landings, an airborne force of 24,000 Allied troops had been dropped behind enemy lines to seize or destroy features such as bridges, crossroads and key gun batteries. Despite this, the work of the first seaborne divisions was still difficult as they fought to clear the beaches under heavy fire from the numerous smaller gun emplacements that overlooked them. Rommel had previously identified the Normandy beaches as a possible invasion point and so had installed a range of obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and anti-tank devices that slowed down the Allied landing.
The Allies failed to achieve all their objectives on the first day and suffered at least 10,000 casualties. However, they did successfully establish a foothold on the continent that was gradually expanded over the next few months and led to the liberation of France and the defeat of the Nazis in the West.
The first Orient Express train, known at the time as Express d’Orient, departed Paris.
The Orient Express was created by Georges Nagelmackers, a wealthy Belgian and the founder of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits that specialised in luxury travel. A number of biographers refer to him being inspired to create the trans-continental route after seeing George Pullman’s lavish sleeper cars in the United States.
Having returned to Belgium where he began work on his vision, Nagelmackers’ first successful long-distance railway journey saw him transport guests on a 2,000km return trip aboard the first ‘Train Eclair de luxe’ – the luxury lightning train – from Paris to Vienna in 1882. The success of this trip, on which passengers were served an array of extravagant foods including oysters and game in the sumptuous surroundings of the purpose-built carriages, led to the creation of a more regular timetable that operated as Express d’Orient from June the following year.
Although the first train only went as far as Vienna, by 1889 the route had been extended to Constantinople in Turkey. This direct route across the continent, combined with the train’s opulent furnishings, soon made it popular with royalty, diplomats and spies. It also provided the perfect backdrop for numerous creative works.
Although service was interrupted by both the First and Second World Wars, the Orient Express continued to operate for more than thirty years during the Communist period of eastern European history. However the train was eventually retired as a result of declining demand, with the last direct Paris–Istanbul service running on 19 May 1977.
Operation Dynamo, better known as the evacuation of Dunkirk, began.
Applauded by the British press as a heroic and miraculous rescue, Operation Dynamo saw an armada under the command of the Royal Navy successfully evacuate over 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches around the French port of Dunkirk.
The German army had invaded France on 10 May, and within just two weeks had cut off and surrounded a combined force of British, French and Belgian troops. Referred to by the recently-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘a colossal military disaster’ the only hope was to retreat to the port of Dunkirk and evacuate as many soldiers as possible.
Operation Dynamo was overseen by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay who reputedly worked in a room within the cliffs of Dover that once housed an electrical dynamo, though there is no reliable evidence for this claim. The order to begin the operation was received at 18:57 on 26 May, less than a week after planning began.
The operation is famous for the flotilla of ‘little ships’ that sailed from Britain to assist the evacuation. Most of these were used to ferry soldiers from the beaches to the large navy ships that would sail across the Channel, although the majority of soldiers boarded ships directly from the stone and concrete mole that protected the harbour.
The evacuation took place amidst ferocious attacks from German aircraft and artillery. In response the Royal Air Force sent all available aircraft to protect the operation. Churchill later praised the fact that hundreds of thousands of soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk, but in a speech on 4 June needed to warn the public that ‘Wars are not won by evacuations.’
On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition. Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was entirely defensive. Since Austria-Hungary had instigated hostilities against Serbia, Italy argued that the alliance was void.
Italy therefore remained neutral for the first nine months of the war. However, behind the scenes Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, were investigating which side would be the best to join. In a secret agreement signed on 26th April in London, Italy agreed to leave the Triple Alliance, join the Triple Entente, and declare war on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Assuming they won, Italy would in return receive large areas of territory from the Central Powers such as Italian-populated areas of Austria-Hungary and in the region of the Adriatic Sea.
Italy duly entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915. Despite superior numbers, the Italians struggled against Austria-Hungarians. However, they did emerge victorious and so Premier Vittorio Emanuele Orlando went as the Italian representative to the Paris Peace Conference. However, the offers of land were not as much as Italy had hoped for and so he left the Conference in a boycott.
On the 21st May 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to make a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic when he flew 3,600 miles from New York to Paris. On exactly the same date five years later, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic when she landed in Northern Ireland, having been forced to abandon her intended destination of Paris due to technical difficulties.
Lindbergh’s flight in The Spirit of St Louis earned him not only enormous fame but also the $25,000 Orteig Prize that had been offered by a French-born New York hotelier to the first person to make a non-stop flight between New York and Paris.
Earhart, meanwhile, did not fly in the hope of receiving prize money. She later said that she aimed to prove that women were just as good as men in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.” Interestingly, she already held the record as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, but she did that as a passenger in 1928.
It’s worth noting that the very first non-stop transatlantic flight occurred in 1919. Two British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whiten Brown, flew a modified Vickers Vimy bomber aircraft from Newfoundland to Ireland in just under 16 hours. Their achievement won them the £10,000 Daily Mail aviation prize for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They received their prize from the then Secretary of State for Air, and future World War 2 Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France, formally known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was ratified.
The agreement was designed to deal with the future of the Ottoman Empire, which had been known as ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the preceding years due to its declining power. After the Ottomans joined the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, the Allies began discussing policy towards their territory.
Britain and France had already agreed to Russia’s claim to Constantinople and the Straits of Dardanelles by the time representatives from the two countries began discussing further questions of territorial control in November 1915. The British diplomat Mark Sykes concluded negotiations with his French counterpart François Georges-Picot in March 1916 and the agreement was ratified in May, having secured Russian assent at the end of April.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement carved up the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence that conflicted directly with the promises Britain had made to Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, to secure Arab support against the Ottomans. When the secret agreement was published in November 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution, Sir Henry McMahon who had negotiated the Arab deal with Hussein resigned.
Over a century after its creation, the Sykes-Picot Agreement continues to be the focus of significant debate due to its lasting impact on the Middle East. It is often criticised for establishing ‘artificial’ borders in the region that ignored ethnic and sectarian characteristics, and which have caused almost continuous conflict in the region.
On the 7th May 1794, just a few weeks before the Law of 22nd Prairial that created the Great Terror, Maximilien Robespierre formally announced the creation of the Cult of the Supreme Being in a meeting of the National Convention.
The Cult had been devised almost exclusively by Robespierre, and followed a period of dramatic de-Christianisation that had seen the French Church stripped of its authority. The Republic had fought hard to remove the influence of the Church from politics, with even the calendar being changed to remove all religious connotations.
What made the Cult of the Supreme Being unique as the state religion was that it recognised that God had created the universe, but that he did not interfere or intervene in its operation. Therefore, humans were responsible for their own actions and destinies. In the words of Robespierre, the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul were, “constant reminders” of the virtuous way people should live their lives in the Republic.
A month later, on the 20th Prairial (otherwise known as the 8th June 1794), Robespierre ordered a national celebration known as the Festival of the Supreme Being. The most significant celebrations were in Paris, where a huge man-made papier-mâché mountain was built on the Champs de Mars. This event is seen by many as marking the pinnacle of Robespierre’s influence. However, within just 8 weeks the Thermidorian Reaction had removed him from power and executed him.
On the 27th April 1509, Pope Julius II excommunicated the entire republic of Venice. Having been elected pontiff six years previously, Julius II was determined to reclaim Italian territory that had been gradually taken by Venice throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Having joined together with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire to form the League of Cambrai in December 1508, the Papacy was ready to mount military action to seize control of the Romagne region from Venice. Shortly before invading, however, the Pope issued the interdict against the Republic that excommunicated every single one of its citizens.
The interdict deprived the Venetians of their spiritual salvation, and was therefore a formidable weapon. When Venetian forces were defeated at the Battle of Agnadello the following month, the Republic entered what was referred to by one contemporary as a ‘foul mood’.
Peace negotiations were concluded on February 24th the next year, at which point the interdict against Venice was lifted. France and the Holy Roman Empire, however, were keen to maintain their advance. Having underestimated his former allies, the Pope sought to stop the French advance that was threatening the Papal States. Amazingly he formed a new alliance with Venice and Spain, and placed France under papal interdict. By the time he died in 1513, Julius II had therefore fought and formed alliances with France, Spain, Venice and the Holy Roman Empire. That’s quite some diplomacy.