Moments in history

The Execution of Leonard Siffleet

The Execution of Leonard Siffleet - Moments in history

Australian Sergeant Leonard Siffleet was part of a special forces reconnaissance unit in New Guinea, then occupied by Japanese Imperial forces. He and two Ambonese companions were captured by partisan tribesmen and handed over to the Japanese.

All three men were interrogated, tortured and confined for approximately two weeks before being taken down to Aitape Beach on the afternoon of 24 October 1943. Bound and blindfolded, surrounded by Japanese and native onlookers, they were forced to the ground and executed by beheading, on the orders of Vice-Admiral Michiaki Kamada. The officer who executed Siffleet detailed a private to photograph him in the act. The photograph of Siffleet's execution was discovered on the body of a dead Japanese soldier by American troops in April 1944.

As a part of a propaganda effort, it was published in many newspapers and in Life magazine but was thought to depict Flight Lieutenant Bill Newton, VC, who had been captured in Salamaua, Papua New Guinea, and beheaded on 29 March 1943. The photo became an enduring image of the war.

(Siffleet's executioner, Yasuno Chikao, has been variously reported as having died before the end of the war, and as having been captured and sentenced to be hanged, with his sentence subsequently commuted to 10 years imprisonment. In Europe, the mortality rate of the Allied prisoners of Germans was 1.1%, while it was 37% for the Allied prisoners of Japanese).

A Library Divided during the Partition of India

A Library Divided during the Partition of India - Moments in history

During the Partition of India, a librarian divides the books between two piles. The partition led to the creation of the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India on August 14-15, 1947 and included not only the geographical divisions but also the division of other assets, including the British Indian Army, the Indian Civil Service, the Indian railways, and the central treasury. This partition (Mountbatten Plan) was based on a misguided border secretly drawn by the London lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe from August 9-12, and the actual geographical details are not released until 2 days after the partition.

Radcliffe was to grant the majority Hindu regions to India and the majority Muslim areas to Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan came into being with two non-contiguous enclaves, East Pakistan (today Bangladesh) and West Pakistan, separated geographically by India. However, Radcliffe was not consistent in his division–he gave Chittagong to Pakistan, although the area was non-Muslim. Why he did so remain a mystery, since Radcliffe destroyed all of his records and Mountbatten expressly denied any special-knowledge or favouritism.

Nonetheless, the massive exoduses from both sides (about 14.5 million people in total) occurred in the months following Partition crossing the borders into the state of religious majority. The newly independent states were unable to keep public order in these exoduses. One of the largest population movements in recorded history was therefore subsequently followed by complete breakdown of law and order, riots, starvation and massacres.

The Arrest of Gavrilo Princip, the man who shoot Franz Ferdinand

The Arrest of Gavrilo Princip, the man who shoot Franz Ferdinand - Moments in history

Gavrilo Princip was unintentionally one of the most influential and notorious people of the last century, and he achieved this dubious infamy quite young. The discontented Bosnian-Serb student was just nineteen when he fatally shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and set the continent on course towards a world war, end of three powerful empires and inevitably towards the horrors the Nazis unleashed.

Yet, after two failed attempts on the Archduke's life earlier that day, Princip's success was an unlucky coincidence at best, very much like Franz Ferdinand's visit to the city on Vidov Dan, the anniversary of the Serbs' defeat at the Turkish hands in Kosovo in 1389. Dissolute Princip was at a sandwich shop when the Archduke's car made a wrong turn into the Plaza and was making a slow backing.

After shooting Franz Ferdinand and his consort Duchess Sophie, Princip — whose political goal was to cleave away Serbia from Austria-Hungary and to create an united pan-slavic country — tried to kill himself. A man behind him saw what he was doing, and seized Princip's right arm. A couple of policeman joined the struggle and Princip was arrested. The above photo, one of the earliest photodocumentary scoops of the century, was taken by one Milos Oberajger, a forestry engineer and amateur photographer. Doubt remains as to the identity of the man being arrested in the photo, however.

After a 12-day murder trial in Sarajevo in October 1914, Princip was sentenced to 20 years, the maximum penalty since he was younger than 20 when he committed his crime. Probably tubercular before his imprisonment, he had an arm amputated because the disease spread to the bone. He died in hospital in April 1918, failing to outlive the conflagration he had unleashed. In a final irony, the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th 1919, five years to the day of the assassination.

The Tenerife collision, the worst plane accident in history, 1977

The Tenerife collision, the worst plane accident in history, 1977 - Moments in history

The Tenerife collision is the worst plane accident since plane was invented. March 27, 1977: two Boeing 747 airliners (Pan American World Airways Flight 1763 and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight 4805) collided at Los Rodeos on the island of Tenerife, killing 583 people. KLM 4805 was taking off on the airport's only runway when it crashed into Pan Am 1736, taxiing on the same runway. A massive explosion happened, followed by a huge ball of fire. The sound was heard throughout the island.

Cultural Revolution in China

Cultural Revolution in China - Moments in history

Fifty years ago went out a short text that was to plague China for a decade. On May 16th 1966, after a secretive meeting of the Politburo, Mao Tse-Dong issued a document that denounced the enemies of the Communist cause that existed within the Chinese Communist Party itself. It heralded the beginning of what is known as the Cultural Revolution – a ten-year madness of purges and excesses in which temples are defaced, colleges were shut down, and mangoes are worshiped. The party debated changing traffic rules for ideological reasons (switching to driving on the left, and red traffic signals meant go).

The Revolution itself was a culmination of twenty years of tumult that began with the Communist takeover of China in 1949. During the first decade of the party's rule in China, five million people died due to land confiscations and 'death quotas'. This was followed by the tragedy of Great Leap Forward – a disastrous agricultural and industrial policy that led to forty-five million deaths.

Khodynka Field Tragedy, 1896, Moscow, Russian Empire

Khodynka Field Tragedy, 1896, Moscow, Russian Empire - Moments in history

On May 18, 1896, a mass panic occurred on Khodynka Field in Moscow, Russia during the festivities following the coronation of Nicholas II, the last Russian emperor.

Four days after Nicholas II was crowned Tsar of Russia, a banquet was to be held for the people. There had been rumors that the tsar would be giving away rich coronation gifts. On the eve of the celebration, people started to gather on the field in anticipation.

Suddenly, a rumor that there would not be enough presents for everybody spread. A stampede took place. Several thousands of people were caught in a catastrophic crush leaving 1,389 trampled to death and about 1,300 injured.

You might be very curious about the supposedly expensive gifts. It turned out that the gifts were a bread roll, gingerbread, a piece of sausage and a mug.

King David Hotel Bombing, Jerusalem, 1946

King David Hotel Bombing, Jerusalem, 1946 - Moments in history

The King David is the most famous hotel in Jerusalem. Opened not far from the Jaffa Gate in 1931, its pink sandstone has always been a conspicuous landmark of opulence; and with a clientele of political, military and wealthy international elites, it has been a de facto government building for whoever is in power. In 1946 the hotel was home to the British Secretariat.

It was a red rag to Irgun, the Stem Gang and Haganah, three underground Jewish groups with a track record of ruthless political violence. Whether you call them terrorists or freedom fighters depends on your point of view. Irgun's leader, the future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, paid lip service to avoiding 'individual terror' but was happy to kill indiscriminately to fight his 'war'. Briefly united as the 'Jewish Resistance Movement', the gangs feared British betrayal of the promise of an exclusive Jewish homeland. They were also unscrupulous about taking what they wanted at gunpoint. Their protest was to bomb the King David. Dressed as Arabs, they smuggled 225 kg (500 lb) of explosives in milk chums into the hotel basement. The blast brought down all seven stories of the south wing, crushing more staff and fellow Jews than British administrators.

The international response was universal disgust. The Jewish Agency, attempting to achieve some sort of parity at the negotiating table, called the gangs 'criminals', and Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion denounced Irgun as 'enemies of the people'. Ben-Gurion understood how the global confusion following World War II had delayed the peaceful resolution of legitimate Jewish aspirations.

Shanghai, 1948, people storming a bank for gold

Shanghai, 1948, people storming a bank for gold - Moments in history

CHINA. Shanghai. December 1948-January 1949. As the value of the paper money sank, the Kuomintang decided to distribute 40 grams of gold per person. With the gold rush, in December, thousands came out and waited in line for hours. The police, equipped with the remnants of the armies of the International Concession, made only a gesture toward maintaining order. Ten people were crushed to death.

Cutting off hands in Belgian Congo

Cutting off hands in Belgian Congo - Moments in history

The above photo shows a man named Nsala Wala with his daughter's hand and foot. Alice Harris, working as a missionary in the Congo, took the photo in May 1904, after he had come into her mission at Baringa with a small package containing the severed body parts. Both his wife and child had been killed and mutilated.

Cutting off hands was a common practice by the Force Publique, the police authorities of the Belgian Congo, to prevent theft and to terrorize the planters into harvesting more rubber. Deeply shocked to learn this, Alice and her husband John sent the photo back to Britain with a comment, "The photograph is most telling, and as a slide will rouse any audience to an outburst of rage."

Many at home dismissed the photo as an anomaly, practiced by a few bad apples. The Harrises sent back a few more photos. One showed two anonymous Congolese men — flanked by John Harris and his friend Stannard — holding the severed hands of their friends Bolenge and Lingomo. Another showed a young boy Epondo with his mutilated hand (below, rightmost) . The couple also toured Europe and America on a lecture tour denouncing Congo atrocities. They showed photos showing chicotte (whip made from hippopotamus hide) being used on laborers and and female hostages held in chains by a forest guard.

What followed was the first successful human rights campaign in history. The photos were reproduced in many papers and books, including Nsala's photo which appeared in a popular pamphlet by Mark Twain. King Leopold who owned the colony tried to discredit the photos by claiming that protestant Harris was ideologically motivated against his Catholic colonialism. In Epondo's case, the colonial officials claimed that his hand was amputated because of a gangrenous boar bite. However, the scale of photos spoke for themselves and the public opinion was vehemently against the practices in the Congo. Leopold finally relinquished the colony to the Belgian State in 1908.

Moments in history

On August 13, 1903, Gilbert Twigg opened fire during a concert in Winfield, Kansas, killing nine and injuring dozens. There was no motive. It is considered to be the first mass shooting in the USA.