The Way it Was: Anniversaries in July


I love this Week in History- the five minute interlude that comes between news and other programmes on BBC News. It features important events that occurred in past years. I Googled July anniversaries and came across several for each day of the month! I have selected just a few to write about – the most significant, with three lending themselves to being connected as relevant to Sri Lanka at present times.

The first anniversary is the Independence Day of the USA, colloquially called the ‘Fourth of July’, which is one of the few holidays celebrated in that country. It however may be celebrated on another day close to July 4 as over there federal holidays are always on a Monday or Friday to facilitate a long weekend.

Declaration of Independence

The Fourth of July commemorates the Declaration of Independence , which was ratified by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, establishing the United States of America.“The Founding Father delegates of the Second Continental Congress declared that the thirteen Colonies were no longer subject (and subordinate) to the monarch of Britain, King George III, and were now united, free and independent states. The Congress voted to approve independence by passing the Lee Resolution on July 2 and adopted the Declaration of Independence two days later.” The day is celebrated with fireworks in New York harbour and much noise all over including barbecues, picnics, carnivals, baseball games and family reunions plus of course political speeches. Events celebrate the history, government and traditions of the US.

Bastille Day

July 14 is Bastille Day which in the year1789 was the start of the French Revolution with its cry of Liberté, Egalité, Fraterniti. The revolution ended with a democratic government in power in 1794. It saw the overthrow of the French monarchy with the capture of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their children. Aristocrats were trundled in tumbrils to be guillotined in a public square. The most famous novel about the start of the French Revolution is Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities with self – sacrificing Sydney Carton and Madame de Farge of the wine shop.

 Another series of novels is about a British member of the gentry with a double personality of being a flop at home and bravest man in France. He went across often to save French aristocrats and have them ferried to Britain. He signed letters of warning of his appearance with a picture of a red Scarlet Pimpernel and we as kids were thrilled by these adventure stories of Baroness Orczy.

I said some of the commemorated historical events had current resonance. One instance is the French Revolution’s storming of the strongest prison by masses of ordinary men. The entering of the President’s House by violent protestors recently was named after that event in long ago France.

A very tragic event remembered is the capture and murder of Czar Nicholas of Russia and his family by the Bolsheviks, mercilessly killed on July 17, 1918, while awaiting rescue.

Nicholas was a grandson of Queen Victoria and had appealed to his British cousin – king of England – to save him and his family. This was not to be – vetoed by the British Parliament.

 Our local Czar was not captured but had to flee in shame from Colombo through Male to Singapore. He has been given only a short reprieve in that country and refused a visa to the US. So he comes back. Protection will be given to him, but he will survive in constant fear and of course – shame.

Prince of Wales

In Britain July 1, 1969, celebrated the investiture of Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest son – Charles – as the Prince of Wales which means he is Heir to the Throne. The Queen pressed the tip of a gilt and bejeweled sword on the shoulders of the kneeling prince – very young and handsome then. It was at Caernarfon Castle in Wales.

A malicious reference is that Namal Rajapakse at the height of Rajapakse Power was deemed to be heir not only to immense wealth, which he too helped to build up, but successor to the power of the family. Shot through by peaceful protestors who finally, when people were at the end of their tether, led peaceful protests. Hope springs eternal in his breast; we feel, as another heir of a greedy couple in power, in 30 years, reclaimed being head of the Philippines.

July 29, 1981, witnessed the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, dubbed a fairy tale event. Unfortunately it soon ended in a tragic divorce and a year or two later, the most tragic death of Princess Di.

Wimbledon Tennis Championship

A happier event in England was the inauguration of the Wimbledon Tennis Championship on July 9, 1877. The first Women’s Rights Convention was organised by women in the Seneca Falls

Convention in New York on 19 and 20 July 1848. 300 attended and 68 women and 32 men signed the Declaration of Sentiments leading to the 19th Amendment in the US Constitution giving women the right to vote.