1798 – France invades Egypt

Napoleon had grand dreams of empire when he embarked for the Middle East in 1798. And at first, they seemed warranted. His forces took Malta in June 1798, and then eluded the British Navy for nearly two weeks as they crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt. On July 1, the fleet landed at Alexandria, although Napoleon himself was still at sea.

Perhaps this is why his orders were ignored, and his forces invaded the city during the night, taking it with little resistance. Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was a mixed success: on land his forces triumphed over the Egyptians and ended the rule of the Mamelukes; at sea, they lost a disastrous engagement with the British. Undaunted, Napoleon continued with his plans to invade Syria, but a combination of harrying from the British at sea and the Ottomans on land, coupled with uprisings of the conquered (notably at Cairo in October 1798) eventually forced him to withdraw. The lasting results of his invasion were few: Egypt remained an Ottoman possession, although the decline of the Ottoman Empire was now undeniable; and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone led to great advances in archaeology, making it possible to translate hieroglyphics into modern languages.

Referenced in:
Done with Bonaparte – Mark Knopfler

1916 – the Battle of the Somme begins

The Somme river derives its name from a Celtic word meaning ‘tranquil’. Which just goes to show that the Celts were crap at predicting the future. It was at the mouth of the Somme that William the Conqueror’s forces assembled to invade England in 1066; the battles of Agincourt in 1415 and Crécy in 1346 were both connected to crossings of the river; and the valley was the site of some of the most important battles that halted the German Spring Offensive in 1918.

But the largest battle ever fought there was the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916 and November 18 the same year. It was an offensive mounted by British Empire and French combined forces against German emplacements in France. The Somme would be a landmark in many ways: it was the first battle to demonstrate the importance of air power in modern warfare; it saw the first battlefield deployment of a tank; and finally, it was the single bloodiest battle of the entire First World War, claiming upwards of a million lives in total. While it ended in victory for the Allied forces, the heavy cost in lives has made it a contentious issue in history ever since.

Referenced in:
Broken Heroes — Saxon
For King and Country — Eric Bogle

1942 – the first Battle of El Alamein begins

The first battle of El Alamein lasted for 27 days, and was one of the key battles of World War Two. It took place in Egypt, only 66 miles short of Alexandria, where British and Commonwealth forces (Indians, New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans) had retreated and dug in to strong defensive positions with the intent of stopping the German advance across the North African coast.

The British gamble paid off. The battle (and its sequel, three months later) was one of the war’s turning points. At the first battle of El Alamein, the German advance was eventually halted. At the second battle of El Alamein, the German lines were broken and pushed back – and after this, and the near simultaneous battle of Stalingrad – the Axis forces in Europe and Africa fought a defensive war that ended the only way it could, with their defeat.

Referenced in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

1952 – “The Liberace Show” is first broadcast

Liberace was one of the first of a new breed of entertainer in post war America. He saw that television would displace radio as the dominant medium, and that his own act, with its intensely visual aspects, would be well-suited to it. But his initial efforts to find success on the box did less well than he had hoped – guest spots on variety shows didn’t seem to help that much.

On July 1, 1952, he screened a fifteen minute first episode of “The Liberace Show”, which soon went on to become a syndicated series – and to net Liberace a small fortune (he got as much as 80% of the residuals in some markets). Soon, Władziu Valentino Liberace was a household name – or at least, his surname was, and he became one of the best known entertainers of his era, a legend in his own time.

Referenced in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1959 — Naked Lunch is first published

Naked Lunch – no The – was first published in Paris in 1959. (US publication would wait until three years later.) It was a breakthrough novel for William S. Burroughs, who had spent five years writing it, mostly in Tangier, and mostly under the influence of a variety of drugs, or withdrawal from the same. As a text, it is a challenging work, with Burroughs’ hallucinatory prose further made confusing by the application of the Cut Up Method. Classifying it into a genre is nigh impossible, although it could be argued that the work prefigures both magic realism and gonzo journalism.

The book was not well received in the US upon its publication. In Burroughs’ own words:

When I started writing Naked Lunch, people offered their opinions: “Disgusting,” they said. “Pornographic, un-American trash!” “Unpublishable.” Well, it came out in 1959, and it found an audience: town meetings, book burnings and an inquiry by the state Supreme Court. That book made quite a little impression…

Referenced in:

Atlantis to Interzone — Klaxons

1976 – Anneliese Michel dies of malnutrition

It’s apalling to think that things like this can still happen: that the combination of religious hysteria and medical mis-diagnosis can still have such dire effects, but even today, the series of events that led to the death of Anneliese Michel could still happen in most Western democracies.

When Anneliese Michel was 16, she had her first epileptic attack. Afterwards, she developed depression, and, as the years went by, began hearing voices, and became suicidal and intolerant of religious objects. It was this last that convinced the self-appointed experts in exorcism that her symptoms were actually those of possession. After a time, even Anneliese agreed with the diagnosis, and petitioned to be exoricsed.

Her death, after months of useless ritual, came from malnutrition and dehydration, and led to a huge public outcry. Her parents and the two priests who had performed the exorcisms were all charged with negligent homicide, and all were convicted of manslaughter. The priests claimed the exorcism as a success, saying that all six of the demons who allegedly possessed Anneliese Michel (including Nero, Adolf Hitler, Judas Iscariot and less famous demons) were banished before her death. In the wake of the case, the Catholic Church tightened both the criteria and the oversight of exorcisms, having belatedly realised that the medieval era was over.

Referenced in:

Annalisa — Public Image Limited