Posts Tagged ‘British Empire’

100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme

Battle of the Somme Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Battle of the Somme Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

July 1 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme during World War I.  More than one million men on both sides were killed or injured in the four-and-a-half month campaign.  The amount of bloodshed not only made the Somme the largest and bloodiest battle of World War I, but also one of the deadliest in all of history.  Professor Gary Sheffield aptly stated, “The Battle of the Somme is etched into our minds as the epitome of all that is ghastly and tragic about war.”

Planned by Allied leaders, French marshal Joseph Joffre and British commander Douglas Haig, the Battle of the Somme was a string of attacks made against German trench lines in northern France.  On the first day of battle, a few British leaders gave their soldiers footballs to kick around no man’s land as they advanced because they were so assured they would breach enemy lines.  After the British laid down a barrage of fire on the Germans, the Germans in the interim readied their machine guns. As young, inexperienced Brits raced to German positions in broad daylight, thousands were killed in what for many was the first and only battle they would fight.  Some were as young as age 15.  On July 1 alone almost 20,000 Brits were killed out of nearly 60,000 casualties total.  The French, on the other hand, were more experienced.  They attacked with heavier artillery, rushing the Germans more quickly, thus suffering fewer casualties.  The lesson learned that day was antiquated military tactics were no match for contemporary military weapons.  A new invention, the tank, would even more emphasize this lesson when it was used for the first time September 15, 1916.

The Somme, which was to be a definitive gain for the Allies, became a battle of attrition.  The battle ceased on November 18, 1916 despite the British and French not reaching their goal of breaking through German lines.  In the end the Allies gained only six miles of the front.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday (October 2nd)

Gandhi Research Topic

Gandhi Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Many of us may only know of Gandhi from the 1982 film featuring Ben Kingsley, but his is a life well worth studying and emulating. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born October 2, 1869. Revered the world over for his non-violent philosophy of passive resistance, Gandhi is known by his followers as “Mahatma,” or “the Great-Soul.” He is also called “Bapu” because he is considered the father of modern India. As a young man, he studied law and moved to South Africa where he lived for almost 20 years. Gandhi was appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant there. After World War I, he became the leading figure in India’s struggle to gain independence from Great Britain.

India Research Topic

India Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Gandhi lived modestly and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl. He was a vegetarian and a devout Hindu. He struggled to alleviate poverty, liberate women and put an end to the caste system, with the ultimate objective being self-rule for India. Gandhi was imprisoned several times during his pursuit of non-cooperation with British authorities. Gandhi began a series of hunger strikes in protest of the treatment of India’s so-called “untouchables” (the poorer classes), whom he renamed Harijans, or “children of God.” His fasting caused an uproar among his followers and resulted in swift reforms by the Hindu community and the government. Gandhi’s campaign of civil disobedience against British rule began with the Dandi Salt March of 1930, in which he and supporters completed a 20-day walk to the Arabian Sea in protest of the British salt tax.

Hinduism Research Topic

Hinduism Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Britain granted India independence in 1947, but split the country into 2 dominions: India (Hindu) and Pakistan (Muslim). Gandhi opposed partition, but later agreed to it. After Partition in 1947, he continued to work toward peace between Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi in January 1948 by Hindu fundamentalist Nathuram Godse. One million people followed the procession as Gandhi’s body was carried through the streets of Delhi and cremated on the banks of the Jumna (Yamuna) River. His birthday is a national holiday in India (Gandhi Jayanti) and is celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Non-Violence. Gandhi’s practice of non-violence has had a global impact, influencing such civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
This week would be a good time to use eLibrary to learn more about Gandhi and India’s struggle for self-rule.

So, What Is Victoria Day, Anyway?

ProQuest Research Topic page, via eLibrary

ProQuest Research Topic page, via eLibrary

On May 18, 2015, Canadians will celebrate Victoria Day, which commemorates the birthday of the popular British queen who gave permission for the creation of the Dominion of Canada, the result of  Canadian Confederation. Prior to this, it was just a collection of colonies of the British Empire.

Everyone would gather
On the twenty-fourth of May
Sitting in the sand
To watch the fireworks display

As referred to in this nostalgic lyric from the Canadian band Rush’s Lakeside Park, Victoria’s actual birthday is May 24. (Yes, that was an obviously desperate effort to get Rush into a blog entry.) Even back in the early days of Victoria’s reign, her birthday had been celebrated, and in 1845, the United Province of Canada (one of the colonies) passed the first legislation declaring May 24 to be a holiday. It wasn’t until 1952 that Canada made it so that it would always occur on the Monday before May 25. That was the year that Elizabeth II ascended to the British throne and the holiday was also declared to be the official celebration of the current queen’s birthday. In recent years, some have pushed for another change in the holiday to also honor the country’s First Nations.

So, why does Canada still celebrate the birthdays of British queens? Because it is a constitutional monarchy that, as part of the Commonwealth of Nations, recognizes the British monarch as its own, a system that has its supporters and detractors. But, that is a blog for a different day.

What about Victoria herself? She became queen in 1837 at the age of 18, and a couple of years later married her cousin, Prince Albert. They had nine children, who eventually married into royal families all around continent, providing Victoria with the nickname “Grandmother of Europe.” When Albert died of typhoid in 1861, she remained in mourning for the rest of her life. As queen, she reigned over and became a symbol of an expanding empire, and despite her gloominess, earned the devotion of her country. Among the landmarks that bear her name are Lake VictoriaVictoria Falls and Victoria, British Columbia.

There is much, much more in eLibrary on Victoria, her influence on culture and the events that occurred during her time as Britain’s longest-reigning member of the British Monarchy. For a start, see our Queen Victoria Research Topic page and the resources about her at the Victorian Web site, which is accessible through eLibrary.


So, What Is Boxing Day, Anyway?

What do these three things have in common?

Fox Hunting

Fox Hunting



Weird Stick Dancing

Weird Stick Dancing







They are all activities occurring on Boxing Day. Though our country used to be part of Britain, many of us in the U.S. don’t have a clue about the traditions and origins of this holiday, which is still celebrated in much of the former British Empire.

Boxing Day is a secular holiday observed in most years on the day after Christmas in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong and elsewhere. It has been linked to, and falls on the same day as, the religious holiday of St. Stephen’s Day, which honors the first martyr of Christianity. The name may come from boxes at Middle Ages churches collecting alms for the poor or from the boxes of gifts given to servants by their masters. While the origins of the holiday are murky, it became a day on which to give money to charity and service providers and to spend time with family. In modern times, it has become synonymous with shopping (much to the disappointment of some who want to return it from a focus on consumerism to a focus on charity) and sporting events, including fox hunting, cricket, rugby, horse racing and soccer … er … football.

To learn more about the holiday’s past and present, see our Research Topic page on Boxing Day. (You can also access it by searching “boxing day” in eLibrary or by browsing the Research Topics collection, a link for which is below the Basic Search area).

Happy Boxing Day!