15 February 1971

The decimalisation of British coinage is completed on Decimal Day.

February 15, 1971 All change as Britain switches to decimal currency
Britain said farewell to pounds, shillings and pence and hello to the new penny, the seven-sided 50p piece and the ‘tiddler’ as Decimal Day finally arrived.

The biggest change to Britain’s currency for more than a thousand years took place on this day in 1971 when the system of pounds, shillings and pence made way for a decimal system that divided the pound into 100 new pence.

Although the decimal debate dated back as far as the 17th century, Britain had resisted change from the old system of 240 pennies to the pound even though most of the world had adopted currency systems based around units of 10, 100 or 1,000.

A 1963 report by the Halsbury Committee recommended a switch to a decimal currency, and in March 1966 Chancellor of the Exchequer James Callaghan told the House of Commons that Britain would go decimal in 1971. The Decimal Currency Act wouldn’t be passed until May 1969, but by then the Decimal Currency Board, under Lord Fiske, was well established and the first decimal coins – versions of the shilling and two-shilling, or florin, bearing the 5p and 10p legends – had already reached the high street.

Decimal Currency Board chairman Lord Fiske on Decimal Day

The new 50p coin followed in October 1969, so that by Decimal Day itself, the population was already familiar with three of the six new coins – the ½p, 1p and 2p coins were introduced on ‘D Day’ itself.

Banks were closed from Thursday February 11 to give them time to clear cheques written in ‘old money’ and convert balances to decimal, while railway companies began accepting the new coins a day early to ease the process. Large stores opened special counters where shoppers could exchange their £sd for a handful of the 4,140 million new coins in circulation.

Thanks to a three-year education campaign which included a TV drama called Granny Gets the Point, free ready-reckoners and rudimentary conversion calculators and even a song by Max Bygraves extolling the virtues of the new coinage, fears of galloping inflation, crafty retailers rounding up prices or public rejection never came to pass, and the transition to the new decimal currency was hailed a success.

14 February 1929

Seven people, six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone’s gang, are murdered in Chicago in what became know as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Fourmen dressed as police officers enter gangster Bugs Moran’s headquarters on North Clark Street in Chicago, line seven of Moran’s henchmen against a wall, and shoot them to death. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as it is now called, was the culmination of a gang war between arch rivals Al Capone and Bugs Moran.

George “Bugs” Moran was a career criminal who ran the North Side gang in Chicago during the bootlegging era of the 1920s. He fought bitterly with “Scarface” Al Capone for control of smuggling and trafficking operations in the Windy City. Throughout the 1920s, both survived several attempted murders. On one notorious occasion, Moran and his associates drovesix cars past a hotel in Cicero, Illionis, where Capone and his associates were having lunch and showered the building with more than 1,000 bullets.

A $50,000 bounty on Capone’s head was the final straw for the gangster. He ordered that Moran’s gang be destroyed. On February 14, a delivery of bootleg whiskey was expected at Moran’s headquarters. But Moran was late and happened to see police officers entering his establishment. Moran waited outside, thinking that his gunmen inside were being arrested in a raid. However, the disguised assassins were actually killing the seven men inside.

The murdered men included Moran’s best killers, Frank and Pete Gusenberg. Reportedly Frank was still alive when real officers appeared on the scene. When asked who had shot him, the mortally wounded Gusenberg kept his code of silence, responding, “No one, nobody shot me.”

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre actually proved to be the last confrontation for both Capone and Moran. Capone was jailed in 1931 and Moran lost so many important men that he could no longer control his territory. On the seventh anniversary of the massacre, Jack McGurn, one of the Valentine’s Day hit men,was killed him in a crowded bowling alley with a burst of machine-gun fire.

McGurn’s killer remains unidentified, but was likely Moran, though hewas never charged with the murder. Moran was relegated to small-time robberies until he was sent to jail in 1946. He died in Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1957 of lung cancer.

13 February 1955

Israel gets four of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

On February 13, 1955, Israels prime minister, Moshe Sharett, held a press conference to announce that the country had acquired four more of the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls, an acquisition of sterling importance to scholars of ancient Judaism and early Christianity and a real coup for the fledgling states national pride.

The initial discovery of what came to be known collectively as the Dead Sea Scrolls — referring to whole documents and fragments of some 950 parchment scrolls, dating to the period between the 3rd century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E. — was in 1946. Thats when three Bedouin of the Taamra tribe happened upon the first part of a cache of seven rolled-up pieces of parchment, stored for over 2,000 years in clay jars in a cave in the hills overlooking the western shore of the Dead Sea, adjacent to the site known as Qumran, north of Ein Gedi.

The Bedouin quickly recognized that these artifacts might be of significant historical value. One of the antiquities dealers with whom they consulted was in touch with an archaeologist at the American School of Oriental Research, today the Albright Institute, in Jerusalem. This contact soon led to a scientific expedition which surveyed a number of the caves in the area, in search of additional documents and information about the finds.

Unknown apocalyptic text

In December 1947, as the clouds of war were gathering over the region, Eliezer Lipa Sukenik, professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University, succeeded in purchasing three of those seven scrolls from a dealer in Bethlehem. They included a partial manuscript of the biblical Book of Isaiah, and two scrolls that were dubbed the Thanksgiving Scroll, and the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.

12 February 1961

The Soviet Union launches Venera 1 to fly to the planet, Venus.

Venera 1, the first spacecraft to fly past Venus, was launched by the Soviet Union on February 12, 1961.

It was the second attempt by the Soviet Union to launch a craft toward Venus that month. Its sister ship, Venera-1VA No.1, failed to leave Earth orbit when launched on February 4, 1961 due to a problem with its upper stage.

The Soviets were still moving at a good speed in the Space Race and had been enjoying accomplishments with the Sputnik and Luna programs. The February 4 failure would not hold them back.

Venera 1 was launched using a Molniya carrier rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The spacecraft’s 11D33 engine was the first staged-combustion-cycle rocket engine, and also the first use of an ullage engine.

Three successful telemetry sessions were conducted that gathered solar-wind and cosmic-ray data near Earth, at the outer limit of Earth’s magnetosphere, and at a distance of 1,900,000 km. After discovering the solar wind with Luna 2, Venera 1 provided the first verification that this plasma was uniformly present in deep space.

Unfortunately, just a week after making this discovery, Venera 1’s next scheduled telemetry session failed to occur and communication was lost. It is believed that the failure was due to the overheating of a solar-direction sensor.

On May 19 and 20, 1961, Venera 1 passed within 100,000 km of Venus. With the help of a British radio telescope, some weak signals from Venera 1 may have been detected in June but, overall, communication with the spacecraft was considered ended and any data transmitted at that point is considered lost.

11 February 1942

The Battle of Bukit Timah is fought in Singapore during World War II.

The Battle of Bukit Timah, which took place on the 11 February 1942, was part of the final stage of the Japan Imperial of Singapore during World War Two. By 10 February, the Japanese had landed on Singapore. They controlled the entire western region of Singapore and much of the north. Their next target was Bukit Timah and the capture of vital water, food, ammunition, and vehicles, machine parts and other supplies. Now, full with success, the Japanese again advanced in full strength.

Japanese troops assaulting Bukit Timah hill

On the night of 11 February 1942, the Japanese 5th Division, supported by tanks, advanced down Choa Chu Kang Road. The 12th Indian Brigade and some British troops under Major Angus MacDonald and Captain Mike Blackwood blocked the road and opened fire with an anti-tank gun, destroying one Japanese tank, but this was merely one of 40 tanks.
There followed some hand-to-hand combat, as well as bayonet charges from both sides. The poorly trained and equipped members of Dalforce were armed only with parangs, grenades, rifles and shotguns normally used for hunting, and suffered heavy injuries. By midnight, the Japanese had defeated the defenders and conquered Bukit Timah.
The British launched an attack the following morning with two brigades.However, faced with strong Japanese resistance, the attack failed.
The next day, the Japanese Imperial Guards advanced from the north, outflanking the British defenders and forcing them to retreat. In the ensuing battle, the Chinese members of Dalforce fought bravely, some to their deaths. Here, the Japanese suffered some of their heaviest casualties in the campaign to occupy Singapore.For revenge, they massacred Chinese men, women and children living in a nearby village.

10 February 1996

The IBM supercomputer, Deep Blue, defeats Garry Kasparov in chess.

Deep Blue and Kasparov played each other on two occasions. The first match began on 10 February 1996, in which Deep Blue became the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion under regular time controls. However, Kasparov won three and drew two of the following five games, beating Deep Blue by a score of 4–2. The match concluded on 17 February 1996.

Deep Blue was then heavily upgraded and played Kasparov again in May 1997, winning the six-game rematch 3½–2½, ending on 11 May. Deep Blue won the deciding game six after Kasparov made a mistake in the opening, becoming the first computer system to defeat a reigning world champion in a match under standard chess tournament time controls.

The system derived its playing strength mainly from brute force computing power. It was a massively parallel, RS/6000 SP Thin P2SC-based system with 30 nodes, with each node containing a 120 MHz P2SC microprocessor, enhanced with 480 special purpose VLSI chess chips. Its chess playing program was written in C and ran under the AIX operating system. It was capable of evaluating 200 million positions per second, twice as fast as the 1996 version. In June 1997, Deep Blue was the 259th most powerful supercomputer according to the TOP500 list, achieving 11.38 GFLOPS on the High-Performance LINPACK benchmark.

The Deep Blue chess computer that defeated Kasparov in 1997 would typically search to a depth of between six and eight moves to a maximum of twenty or even more moves in some situations. David Levy and Monty Newborn estimate that one additional ply increases the playing strength 50 to 70 Elo points.

Deep Blue’s evaluation function was initially written in a generalized form, with many to-be-determined parameters. The optimal values for these parameters were then determined by the system itself, by analyzing thousands of master games. The evaluation function had been split into 8,000 parts, many of them designed for special positions. In the opening book there were over 4,000 positions and 700,000 grandmaster games. The endgame database contained many six piece endgames and five or fewer piece positions. Before the second match, the chess knowledge of the program was fine tuned by grandmaster Joel Benjamin. The opening library was provided by grandmasters Miguel Illescas, John Fedorowicz, and Nick de Firmian. When Kasparov requested that he be allowed to study other games that Deep Blue had played so as to better understand his opponent, IBM refused. However, Kasparov did study many popular PC games to become familiar with computer game play in general.

Writer Nate Silver suggests that a bug in Deep Blue’s software led to a seemingly random move which Kasparov misattributed to “superior intelligence”. Subsequently, Kasparov experienced a drop in performance due to anxiety in the following game.

9 February 1900

The Davis Cup competition is set up in tennis.

On February 9, 1900, the solid silver trophy known today as the Davis Cup is first put up for competition when American collegian Dwight Filley Davis challenges British tennis players to come across the Atlantic and compete against his Harvard team.

Davis, born in St. Louis, Missouri, won the intercollegiate tennis singles championship in 1899. In the summer of that year, he and his Harvard teammates traveled to the West Coast to play against some of California’s best players. Impressed by the enthusiasm with which spectators greeted the national competition, Davis decided to propose an international tennis event. He won the support of the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association and personally spent $750 on the construction of an elegant silver trophy bowl, 13 inches high and 18 inches in diameter. In February 1900, Davis put the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy up for competition.

Great Britain, regarded as the world’s leading tennis power, answered Davis’ challenge, and on August 8, 1900, three top British players came to the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, to compete against Davis and his all-Harvard team.

Davis had devised a three-day format for the event that still exists today: two singles matches on the first and third days, and a doubles match on the second day. He was captain of the U.S. team and on August 8 received serve on the very first Davis Cup point, which he hit out. He ended up triumphing in the singles match, however, and the next day with Holcombe Ward defeated the British doubles team. Rain forced the cancellation of two of the singles matches, and the first Davis Cup ended with a 3-0 Harvard sweep.

Davis was famous for his powerful left-handed serve and concentrated on a risky net play strategy that won him brilliant victories and unexpected defeats. With Ward, he won the U.S. doubles title in 1900 and 1901, and he was ranked fourth nationally in 1902. That year, the British returned for a Davis Cup rematch in New York, and the star American doubles team succumbed to the ascendant Doherty brothers–Laurie and Reggie. The United States pulled ahead in singles, however, and kept the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy with a 3-2 overall victory.

The next year, the Doherty brothers helped take the trophy back to England for the first time. In 1904, Belgium and France entered the Davis Cup competition, and soon after, Australia and New Zealand, whose players played collectively as Australasia. The trophy did not return to the U.S. until 1913 and then stayed only for a year before departing for Australasia.

After receiving a law degree, Dwight Davis returned to St. Louis and became involved in local politics. Beginning in 1911, he served as public parks commissioner and built the first municipal tennis courts in the United States. He fought in World War I and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery. In 1920, he made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate but the next year traveled to Washington nonetheless as director of the War Finance Corporation. Beginning in 1923, he served as assistant secretary of war under President Calvin Coolidge and in 1925 was made secretary of war proper. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover appointed him governor-general of the Philippines, and he served in this post–which essentially made him the ruler of the Philippines–for the next four years.

Throughout his distinguished career as a statesman, Davis remained involved in tennis as both an avid recreational player and an administrator. In 1923, he served as president of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. When the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy ran out of room for names, he donated a large silver tray to go with the bowl.

Today, the Davis Cup, as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge Trophy is commonly known, is the premier trophy of international team tennis. Each year, dozens of nations compete for the right to advance to the finals. Shortly before his death in 1945, David said of the growing prestige of the Davis Cup, “If I had known of its coming significance, it would have been cast in gold.”

8 February 1879

The England cricket team is attacked during a riot during a match in Sydney.

February 8, 1879. Riots broke out at the Sydney Association Ground over a decision against the home team during a match between New South Wales and the visiting Englishmen. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the sensational events that led to the cancellation of the Test match that was scheduled to follow.

George Robert Canning, the fourth Lord Harris, captain of the England cricket team to Australia In 1878-79, later Governor of Bombay and perhaps the most influential person in English cricket for half a century.

During the unfortunate tour Down Under at the helm of a very ordinary England side, this very same Lord Harris found himself plunged into the centre of tumultuous controversies. He was struck with a stick, surrounded by a rioting mob and finally became instrumental behind the cancellation of the second scheduled Test match. It has gone down in the pages of history as the first Test match to be cancelled because of problems with bookmakers. And we must remember that had it been played, it would have been only the fourth ever Test match. The history of the noble game is actually as murky as it gets.

Gathering clouds

After being humiliated in the Test match at Melbourne, the England team played a few easy tour matches, the only tough game coming against New South Wales in which they triumphed by five wickets. On February 7, they returned to Sydney to play their return match against strong New South Wales outfit led by Dave Gregory, the captain of Australia. The setting was the Association Ground, soon to be renamed and renowned as the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The match was besieged by controversy even before it started. Gregory was physically and mentally exhausted after travelling around four countries and playing cricket non-stop for over fifteen months. He had been dropped from the side during the first match against England after missing practice and failing to supply an adequate reason. When he returned, he was both tired and bitter. Additionally, after his many rather ugly confrontations with umpires around the world, he now had to face the dubious decision making of George Coulthard. This staff bowler from MCG had been travelling around Australia as an umpire engaged by England.

Harris himself was shocked when he saw the ground. He later recalled: “The turf was so rotten that special arrangements were made to avoid playing on the same wicket all through a match. A parallelogram was marked and within that each Captain would choose a new wicket.”

The match got off to an inauspicious start. First Harris was given not out by Coulthard after an obvious snick was taken behind the wicket. Even the sober papers of the day reported it as ‘admittedly a mistake.’ When Harris was finally bowled for 41, he did not really endear himself to the crowd by throwing his bat across the length of the pavilion. It does seem incredible now that this very same Lord Harris later became a leading snake oil salesman peddling the curious make-believe myths surrounding the supposed glorious spirit of the game.

England scored a respectable 267 against Fred Spofforth and Edwin Evans, thanks mainly to the start given by AN ‘Monkey’ Hornby and Bunny Lucas. Billy Murdoch responded by carrying his bat scoring 82 not out, but the home team could manage just 177 as Tom Emmett, the Yorkshire professional, bagged eight wickets. The partisan crowd sat dismayed and rather disgruntled. Much of their chagrin stemmed from the large amounts they had staked on their own cricketers. Betting was carried out openly inside the pavilion, although according to the emphatic signs planted around the ground, such practices were strictly prohibited.

The riots

According to the rules of the day the New South Welshmen had to follow on since they trailed by more than 80 runs. In the second innings, Murdoch and Charles Bannerman started solidly enough. But at 19, Murdoch, who looked like the only batsman capable of putting up a fight, was run out. The fateful finger was once again raised by Coulthard.

Emmett later recalled, “Murdoch walked away like a man.” However, the decision sparked off an unprecedented saga of incidents. The gamblers had staked heavily on Murdoch and now they demanded their pound of flesh. Coulthard the umpire was the centre of their ire. Firstly, he had given Harris not out, next he had given Murdoch out and, most importantly, he was a Victorian.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “there was a large betting element and it was from that quarter that the first shouts of ‘not out’ proceeded… the player, who had quietly accepted the obnoxious decision, was greeted with shouts of ‘go back’.” The version of George Ulyett however says that Murdoch was run out by a good two yards.

As Murdoch made his way to the dressing room, a furious Gregory came out and stood at the door, blocking his way. “Go back, you are not out,” he said, much to the consternation of the batsman.

The English players meanwhile waited in the field with the other batsman Charles Bannerman, and the two umpires. Along with Coulthard, the other umpire for the match was Edmund Barton. Twenty-two years down the line, even as Victor Trumper would spread runs and magic around the cricket world, Burton would become Australia’s first Prime Minister.

Now, as Murdoch waited in confusion and no new batsman emerged, Harris walked purposefully to the fence and asked Gregory if he was going to send out a new man. The New South Wales captain’s answer was short and negative.

On being asked the grounds for his displeasure, Gregory cited incompetence of the umpiring in no uncertain terms. Harris later said, “I implored Gregory as a friend, and for the sake of the New South Wales Cricket Association

And suddenly confusion and chaos cascaded around the field. Hundreds jumped over the picket fence and advanced towards the players. Harris ran towards Coulthard, the man most likely to be attacked. And now some larrikin struck the peer from behind his back with a stick. Ulyett, the second Yorkshire professional in the team, rushed to his aid and implored, “Let me have a go at him my lord,” but Harris responded, “No no, George, we are going to do nothing wrong.

However, AN ‘Monkey’ Hornby, standing close at hand, sought no such permission. He grabbed the lout and carried him to the pavilion. But an associate of the man struck Hornby on the face, and some others nearly tore the shirt off his back. Hornby, however, was made of sterner stuff. He carried the assailant to the pavilion and put him in custody of the committee members.

The version of Ulyett’s fellow Yorkshire professional, however, adds an interesting facet to the scene. According to him, after being struck on the head, “I saw his Lordship let go with his fist.”

For a long time Harris and his men remained surrounded by the mob. Some of them barracked the players, asking them to go back to the pavilion. Even some well-wishers in the crowd advised the same. But, Harris and his men stood firm on the ground. The crowd on the field swelled, but the Englishmen did not budge. Harris later said, “I was determined to obey the laws of cricket.”

The English captain did not think that Gregory would forfeit the match. Negotiations continued between the skippers, not all of it carried out with the spirit that Harris would bestow on the era later in his life. Within the next hour and a half, the police had cleared the ground of invaders — most of them rowdy young locals. At the same time, there were also some members identified among the throng of troublemakers. The youth who had struck Harris with his stick had been locked up in the committee room.

The Englishmen even discussed whether they should reinstate Murdoch at the wicket. Not many were willing, though. Emmett was particularly vehement, “Not likely. We ought to go straight home if we did and never play another match.”

Harris informed Gregory about his team’s unanimous decision. And Gregory responded exclaiming, “The game is at an end.”

Barton now stepped in, honing his diplomatic skills, informing Gregory with polite firmness that they stood the risk of forfeiting the match. It worked. Gregory’s competitive instincts were piqued. He sent out Nat Thompson. But, just as the game was about to resume, the crowd came rushing into the field once again. The batsmen rushed to the shelter of the pavilion.

After waiting for aeons after the crowd had been cleared for the second time, Harris now asked Barton if they could claim a victory. The future Prime Minister replied, “I’ll give it to you in two minutes if [the batsmen] don’t return.”

By this time, Gregory and Harris were no longer on speaking terms. They started using Barton as the messenger for communication. Barton ran to Gregory saying Harris had asked what he intended to do. Then he rushed back with the message that the Australian captain had said that the batsmen would resume. As Bannerman and Thompson walked out again, the crowd rushed in for the third time. Harris and his men remained surrounded till the stumps were drawn.

What followed?

A fuming Harris wrote his report to Lord’s during Sunday’s rest that followed, informing the headquarters about the atrocious incident. According to his account, the riot was started by the bookmakers and accelerated by Gregory. The attitude of New South Wales Cricket Association was dismissed as ‘uncricketlike’.

Rain poured through Sunday night — perhaps heaven’s way of dealing with the red-hot situation. New South Wales had to resume their innings on an atrocious sticky on Monday morning. Nat Thomson fell without another run being added. The side was bundled out, losing the last 6 wickets with the score unwaveringly fixed on 49. Five batsmen fell for ducks.

Emmett was vocal about the divine justice. According to him, the riot had saved England from likely defeat. If New South Wales had batted through the last part of Saturday and set England a target of 80 or so, “… eleven Graces could not have got them on that wicket … it was another instance of an unruly mob doing harm to the side they desire should succeed.” Ulyett and Emmett, the two professional bowlers in the side, had significantly more reasons to be happy. They had put £20 at 2-1 on an England win, placing their bet with the very same bookmakers in the pavilion so vehemently criticised by Harris.

However, another incident followed after the match was over. A couple of hundred miscreants stormed in to ambush Coulthard. The umpire asked the Englishmen to stand behind him as he prepared to fight the best man in the crowd. An old fashioned bare knuckle duel was about to commence. It was at this juncture that the Sydney Commodore’s men, placed in the crowd in groups of twenties as a precautionary measure, poured out in a coordinated wave and fell upon the hoodlums. The trouble-makers were beaten out of the ground with fists that carried the weight of relish and authority. There was no further trouble for the umpire or the players.

The Sydney Morning Herald called the incident on Saturday ‘a national humiliation.’ The front pages of the papers were full of condemnation of the rioters. The Herald continued to say that a large majority of the public were deeply humiliated by what had happened, especially because it had originated among the members.

Steps were taken against the bookmakers. Betting was banned at the ground. Two men, one of them a bookie from Victoria, were charged and banned from the venue. What made the situation particularly murky was the allegation that Gregory had egged the rioters on because of some association with the bookmakers himself. According to a Sydney Mail reporter: “I believed Gregory was coerced by certain persons in the pavilion not to send another man in when Murdoch was given out.” The same was alleged by Charles Abolsom, the Kent and England all-rounder.

NSWCA were in a placating mood. Referring repeatedly to the kindly hospitality showered on the Australian cricketers in England, they expressed deep regret that Lord Harris and his team should have suffered such a traumatic experience. An NSWCA delegation was sent to apologise to Harris, but the captain refused to be mollified. He was adamant that England would not play the scheduled second Test. The match was cancelled — the first ever Test to fall victim to perennial problems surrounding bookmakers. Through the remaining tour, Harris remained petulant, refusing to play after 6 PM against Victoria, citing bad light as the rather flimsy reason.

Later many Australians did venture opinions that Harris had overreacted. The target of the mob had always been the umpire and never the English players. They had cried, “Let an Englishman stand umpire … we won’t have a Victorian.”

Fred ‘Demon’ Spofforth, who later became a close friend of Harris, observed that he doubted, “if Englishmen would ever understand the spirit of rivalry that runs high between the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. The spirit is not limited to the field, it extends to politics, to society, to every side of life, indeed, in which the two are brought into contact with one another.”

However, Emmett was one Englishman who seemed to comprehend the curious dynamics between the two colonies. “If it were a game of marbles they would fight over it almost to the death,” he said.

There were also allegations that the crowd had been provoked by offensive remarks from some members of the English eleven. The taunts had predictably run: “sons of b**** convicts.”The report sent by Harris, which was later published and made available, had branded the NSWCA authorities as irresponsible. This was not appreciated by the committee members who had taken every step to smooth things over with the English peer.

The refusal to play a second Test match was seen as unsporting and rather unnecessary. The report of Harris was widely adjudged to be a document that could prevent the resumption of international matches for a long time.

Fortunately, Harris played the Australians when they toured in 1880, and with this gesture Test cricket managed to overcome this early stumble.

7 February 2009

Bushfires in Victoria leave 173 dead in the worst natural disaster in Australia.

The road into the Victorian town of Kinglake is treacherous at the best of times. It is absurdly narrow and winding, with a maximum speed of 20km/h and grim signs saying “Sheer Drop: No Safety Barriers” as you circumnavigate your way to the township on the mountain peak at the northern end of the Yarra Valley.

If the road into Kinglake is scary on a sunny afternoon, God knows what it would have been like on that most awful day, February 7, 2009, when 173 people died in Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, the deadliest natural disaster in Australian history.

The majority of them died in and around Kinglake and Kilmore East, many meeting their fate on that shocking road as they tried to escape when it was far too late, their cars colliding with trees, other fleeing vehicles, or rolling into the burning ravine in the afternoon darkness.

I attended two weddings over summer, both of which said something about Australia and its ongoing relationship with bushfire.

The first was in the Yarra Valley, which took us to Kinglake. The second was on top of Adelaide’s tallest hill, Mt Lofty, on January 3, the day that the Sampson Flat bushfire was burning out of control to the city’s northeast.

That fire was truly terrifying. It was burning out of control in every direction. It was stinking hot and the northerly wind was blowing a gale by 1pm, right across town.

As I was putting my tie on there was an almighty crash at the back of our suburban home; a 5m-long branch had fallen off the neighbour’s gum tree and smashed his back fence. There were lightning forecasts for late afternoon, prompting warnings that more fires could start across the ranges.

The fire ended up burning out 125,000ha, destroying 27 homes, and came so close to the city that residents were evacuated in Golden Grove, a place so urban and so typical of Australian suburbia that no-one who lives there had ever dreamt of drawing up a fire plan.

Every cat and dozens of dogs at a boarding kennel died when the premises burnt to the ground.

But not one person lost their life.

Why the difference between what happened in Victoria in 2009 and in South Australia last month, on a day which authorities were validly likening to SA’s Ash Wednesday disaster of 1983, when 75 people died?

A major investigation is underway into how the Sampson Flat fire was fought and, crucially, how the affected communities responded to it. The investigation involves experts from across Australia, men and women who have studied bushfires from WA to Canberra and Tassie to NSW. The anecdotal and media reports so far suggest one clear difference between Victoria in 2009 and SA in 2015.

Almost everybody got the hell out of there.

The so-called “stay and defend” policy was the subject of much debate after Victoria in 2009. This week I read a report by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authority Council, which was based on interviews with 1914 people who survived the Victorian fires. The survey found that 50 per cent of people intended to stay and defend their property that day, and 19 per cent intended to leave early or before they came under threat.

The remaining 31 per cent were undecided or had no strategy, with 17 per cent saying they intended to stay and defend but leave if they felt threatened, 9 per cent saying they intended to wait until the fire arrived and then come up with the plan, and 5 per cent not citing a plan.

Talk about a margin for error. The only group that had what I would regard as a viable plan was the 19 per cent who got out in advance.

One leading Australian fire expert, Dr Richard Thornton, said in an interview during the week that 2009 demonstrated so tragically that many people were simply cutting it way too fine. He also questioned whether people who intended to stay and defend were psychologically and physically prepared for the onslaught.

The wedding at Mt Lofty was almost cancelled that day. It wasn’t until late morning that we got confirmation that it was still going ahead. It started at 4pm. It was a creepy drive up the hill, so much wind and electricity in the air, to the very mountain that was left black by the big blaze of 1983.

After nightfall, I was standing on the lawn at the back of the function centre, looking over the escarpment to the northeast of the ranges. A thick red line of fire stretched across the horizon. It was 40km away but it was so vast and so intense that, every so often, the red would glow deeper as the wind blew, reaching higher into the air.

“Our house is over there,” a bloke called Luke told me over a beer. He and his wife live in Lobethal, one of several towns where residents had been advised to leave the day before as the fire intensified.

They had taken their kids to the grandparents and, figuring that there was nothing they could do, decided to come to their mate’s wedding anyway and have a good time. At that stage they thought it would be days before they got to enter the fire zone to see if their house was still standing.

“Still,” Luke said, “it’s only a f—ing house.”

It was a laconic Australian way of putting it, and one which makes a hell of a lot more sense than stay and defend.

6 February 1951

The Canadian Army enters combat in the Korean War.

Lieutenant General Charles Foulkes, then Chief of the General Staff was in favour of Canada providing an infantry brigade for the 1st Commonwealth Division. Since Foulkes favoured keeping the Canadian Army’s Mobile Striking Force intact for the defence of North America, he recommended recruiting a separate Special Force for the Korean War.

Recruits for the Special Force were enlisted for a period of eighteen months with recruits coming from both the Active Force, World War II veterans and adventure seeking young men. The normal recruitment standards were lowered since “the army would not wish to retain the ‘soldier of fortune’ type of personnel on a long term basis'”. Units of the Special Force would be second battalions of the existing three Permanent Force regiments.

On 15 August 1950, the 2nd Battalion was created within Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a component of the Canadian Army Special Force in response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea. The new battalion trained in Calgary and at CFB Wainwright, before boarding the USS Private Joe P. Martinez on 25 November 1950, to Pusan in South Korea. The battalion landed in Korea in December and trained in the mountains for eight weeks before finally taking part in the war on 6 February, becoming a component of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade of the IX Corps in the 8th US Army. The 2nd Battalion of the PPCLI was the first Canadian infantry unit to take part in the Korean War.

Special Force Second Battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment and Royal 22nd Regiment were formed and sent to Korea in 1951.

By spring 1951, 8500 Canadians troops were supporting the United Nations, alongside 12,500 British, 5000 Filipino troops and 5000 Turkish troops.

Two Canadian officers Lt. Green and Captain Claxton Ray in Korea

Area of operations.
From the summer of 1951 to the end of the war, most of the Canadian involvement centered on a small area north of Seoul “between the 38th parallel on the south and the town of Chorwon on the north, and from the Sami-Chon River east to Chail-li”.

The Canadian war front was about 30 miles across and was a section of the United Nations front occupied by British Commonwealth forces. Most of the Canadians’ combat missions took place on the 30 mile zone. The Canadians’ two main adversaries during the war were the North Korean army and the Chinese in the Battle of Kapyong. Canada’s military objective was to give military support towards the resolution of the war on the central front, which was central Korea.