French government gives land for British war cemeteries

On this day in 1915, the French National Assembly passes a law formally ceding the land that holds the British war cemeteries to Great Britain. The move ensured even as the war was being fought that its saddest and most sacred monuments would be forever protected.

The law stated that the land was “the free gift of the French people for a perpetual resting place of those who are laid there.” By the end of the war, it would apply to more than 1,200 cemeteries along the Western Front, the majority located near the battlefields in the Somme, Nord, and Pas-de-Calais regions. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, established in 1917 by a British royal charter, supervised the construction of the cemeteries and their monuments, which were designed by some of the most prominent British architects of the day. The last monument was put in place in 1938.

The French office of the commission is charged with the maintenance of these cemeteries; between 400 and 500 members of its staff tend the graves and the surrounding horticulture. In addition to the cemeteries, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission also tends to the numerous monuments that exist on the Western Front to commemorate the missing. One of the largest of these stands at Thiepval, on the Somme battlefield, and bears the names of 73,357 British and South African soldiers and officers who died there between July 1915 and March 1918 and whose final resting place is not known.


Worst air raid on London

On the evening of December 29, 1940, London suffers its most devastating air raid when Germans firebomb the city. Hundreds of fires caused by the exploding bombs engulfed areas of London, but firefighters showed a valiant indifference to the bombs falling around them and saved more

Texas enters the Union

Six months after the congress of the Republic of Texas accepts U.S. annexation of the territory, Texas is admitted into the United States as the 28th state. After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a more

The making of an English martyr

Archbishop Thomas Becket is brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights of King Henry II of England, apparently on orders of the king. In 1155, Henry II appointed Becket as chancellor, a high post in the English government. Becket proved a skilled diplomat and won more

U.S. Army massacres Indians at Wounded Knee

On this day in 1890, in the final chapter of America’s long Indian wars, the U.S. Cavalry kills 146 Sioux at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Throughout 1890, the U.S. government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance more

Germans raid London

On this day, German aircraft blanket incendiary bombs over London, setting both banks of the Thames ablaze and killing almost 3,600 British civilians. The German targeting of the English capital had begun back in August, payback for British attacks on Berlin. In September, a more

Andrew Johnson is born

On this day in 1808, future President Andrew Johnson is born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Johnson’s career took him from mayor of Greeneville (1834) to the Tennessee legislature (1835) and then to the U.S. House of Representatives (1843). He went home to serve as Tennessee’s more

Bridge collapses in Ohio

A bridge in Ashtabula, Ohio, collapses on this day in 1876, causing a train to fall into a gorge, killing 80 passengers. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway brought passengers into Chicago from points east. On December 29, a snow storm forced one of the trains (two more

The “Railway Rapist” commits his first murder

The “Railway Rapist” attacks 19-year-old Alison Day and abducts her from a London train. Her strangled body was recovered two weeks later. Although the perpetrator had attacked and raped many women since 1982, this was his first murder. The Railway Rapist had a distinctive method more

Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs

On this day in 1862, at the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs, Union General William T. Sherman is thwarted in his attempt to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, when he orders a frontal assault on entrenched Rebels. Chickasaw Bluffs was part of Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to more