1812 Overture


 Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuted in Moscow 128 years ago today.

I first heard this during a cocnert in London’s Royal Albert Hall which included this in 1982. IRA bombings were common at the time and when the cannons went off I wasn’t sure if it was part of the performance or an attack.

Word of the day


Locavor – a person who tries to eat only locally grown or produced food

NZ’s Buchenwald hero


It wasn’t until I was compiling today’s history post that I learned a New Zealander was one of the heroes of Buchenwald concentration camp.

Phil Lamason, a Dannervirke farmer, was the senior officer among 168 allied airmen taken to Buchenwald.

Classified as Terrorflieger” (terror flier) they were treated not as Prisoners of War but as criminals and spies.

WIkipedia has the story here and there’s a video interview with him here.



7/10 in this week’s NZ History Online weekly quiz.

Public revulsion is the answer to alcohol problems


He is only 14 and admits he’s already on the edge of alcoholism”.

That was the opening line on a feature about a young drunk which I wrote for an alcohol awareness week nearly 30 years ago when the purchase age was 20.

The theory behind lowering the age to 18 was that it would reduce the scarcity excitement about drinking and result in a better attitude towards it.

It hasn’t worked and in response to growing public concern it is possible that the law will change again.

Raising the off-licence purchase age for alcohol to 20 while keeping the on-licence age at 18 may do a little to reduce the problem of  people who are younger than 18 getting access to alcohol.

But it won’t solve the real problem because it’s addressing a symptom not the cause.

The immature attitude too many have to alcohol and binge drinking is the real problem and changing that requires a change in culture.

We’re not the only country with an alcohol problem. Theodore Dalrymple writes in The Express:

. . .there is little doubt that public drunkenness in Britain now reduces the quality of life of millions of its citizens. Something that is tolerable in a few becomes intolerable and tiresome as a mass phenomenon. . . There is hardly the centre of a town or city in the country in which scenes of drunken debauchery are not enacted at the weekends, imposing a virtual curfew on those who wish  neither to participate in nor witness them (and this includes drinkers like me). . .

. . . In many European countries the British are now known mainly for the vileness of their drunken  behaviour. They are, in my view justifiably, held in hatred and contempt. . .

People in Britain often describe the night before as having been a really good one, the chief evidence for which is that they drank so much that they can remember nothing about it. But such brutish drunkenness is not a sign of people having enjoyed themselves, it is a sign that they do not know how to enjoy themselves, which is very sad. . .

The column is worth reading in full because it could just as easily have been written about New Zealanders and because Dalrymple has a lesson from history which could help us now.

He makes the point that in the second half of the 19th century drunkenness declined, not because of any action by government but because of public revulsion towards it.

It’s no longer socially acceptable to smoke in enclosed public spaces – and many private ones – nor to drive drunk. There is still a long way to go with both of these but a change in attitude towards both smoking and driving drunk is changing behaviour for the better. It could work for drunkenness and all the problems associated with it too.

Regardless of what changes are made to the purchase age, we won’t have a real improvement until we make it socially unacceptable to binge drink and indulge in other anti-social alcohol-fuelled behaviour.

The law change might address one or two symptoms but  it will take public revulsion to change the attitude and thereby address the cause.

August 20 in history


On August 20:

636  Battle of Yarmouk: Arab forces led by Khalid ibn al-Walid took control of Syria and Palestine , marking the first great wave of Muslim conquests and the rapid advance of Islam outside Arabia.

917  Battle of Acheloos: Tsar Simeon I of Bulgaria decisively defeated a Byzantine army.


1000  The foundation of the Hungarian state by Saint Stephen.


1083  Canonization of the first King of Hungary, Saint Stephen and his son Saint Emeric.

1391 Konrad von Wallenrode became the 24th Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order.


1672  Former Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis were murdered by an angry mob in The Hague.


1778 Bernardo O’Higgins, South American revolutionary, was born  (d. 1842).


1794  Battle of Fallen Timbers – American troops forced a confederacy of Shawnee, Mingo, Delaware, Wyandot, Miami, Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi warriors into a disorganised retreat.

Fallen timbers.jpg

1804  Lewis and Clark Expedition: the “Corps of Discovery”, exploring the Louisiana Purchase, suffered its only death when sergeant Charles Floyd died, apparently from acute appendicitis.


1858 Charles Darwin first published his theory of evolution in The Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, alongside Alfred Russel Wallace’s same theory.

Three quarter length studio photo showing Darwin's characteristic large forehead and bushy eyebrows with deep set eyes, pug nose and mouth set in a determined look. He is bald on top, with dark hair and long side whiskers but no beard or moustache. His jacket is dark, with very wide lapels, and his trousers are a light check pattern. His shirt has an upright wing collar, and his cravat is tucked into his waistcoat which is a light fine checked=

1866 President Andrew Johnson formally declared the American Civil War over.

1882 Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuted in Moscow.

A middle-aged man with grey hair and a beard, wearing a dark suit and staring intently at the viewer. 

1888  Mutineers imprisoned Emin Pasha at Dufile.


1900 Japan’s primary school law was amended to provide for four years of mandatory schooling.

1923  Jim Reeves, US country music singer, was born  (d.1964).

1926 Japan’s public broadcasting company, Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK) was established.


1927 Yootha Joyce, English actress, was born  (d. 1980).


1940 The New Zealand Shipping Company freighter Turakina was sunk by the Orion 260 nautical miles west of Taranaki, following a brief gun battle – the first ever fought in the Tasman Sea. Thirty-six members (some sources say 35) of its largely British crew were killed. Twenty survivors, many of them wounded, were rescued from the sea and taken prisoner. 

Turakina sunk by German raider in Tasman

1940 In Mexico City exiled Leon Trotsky was fatally wounded with an ice axe by Ramon Mercader.


1941 Dave Brock, British musician and founder of Hawkwind, was born.

1941 Slobodan Milošević, President of Serbia and of Yugoslavia (d. 2006).


1944 Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, was born (d. 1991).


1944  – 168 captured allied airmen, accused of being “terror fliers”, arrive at Buchenwald concentration camp. The senior officer was Phil Lamason of the RNZAF.

Phil Lamason.jpg

1944 The Battle of Romania began with a major Soviet offensive.

Eastern Front 1943-08 to 1944-12.png

1948 Robert Plant, British Musician (Led Zeppelin), was born.

1955 In Morocco, a force of Berbers  raided two rural settlements and killed 77 French nationals.

1960 Senegal broke from the Mali federation, declaring its independence.



1974 Amy Adams, American actress, was born.

Young, blond woman wearing a red strapless dress and ornate gemstone necklace, smiling and waving
Adams at the 81st Academy Awards in February 2009

1975  NASA launched the Viking 1 planetary probe toward Mars.

Viking spacecraft.jpg

1977 NASA launched Voyager 2.


1979  The East Coast Main Line rail route between England and Scotland was restored when the Penmanshiel Diversion opens.

1982 Lebanese Civil War: a multinational force landed in Beirut to oversee the PLO’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

1988  “Black Saturday” of the Yellowstone fire in Yellowstone National Park.


1988 – Iran–Iraq War: a cease-fire was agreed after almost eight years of war.

1989 The pleasure boat Marchioness sank on the River Thames following a collision, 51 people were killed.

1989 The O-Bahn in Adelaide, the world’s longest guided busway, opened.


1991  August Coup: more than 100,000 people rallied outside the Soviet Union’ss parliament building protesting the coup aiming to depose President Mikhail Gorbachev.

1991coup2 ST.jpg

1991 Estonia seceded from the Soviet Union.

1993 The Oslo Peace Accords were signed.

1997  Souhane massacre in Algeria; more than 60 people were killed and 15 kidnapped.

1998 The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec couldn’t legally secede from Canada without the federal government’s approval.

1998 The United States military launched cruise missile attacks against alleged al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical plant in Sudan in retaliation for the August 7 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

2008Spanair Flight 5022, from Madrid to Gran Canaria, skids off the runway and crashes at Barajas Airport. 146 people are killed in the crash, 8 more died afterwards. Only 18 people survived.


Sourced from NZ History Online & Wikipedia

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