It happened then
Historical highlights from the month of March. Compiled by Peter Sargent
80 years ago 1933
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” So said Franklin D Roosevelt, in his inauguration speech as President of the USA, on March 4. FDR took office as the Great Depression still held America in its grip, and immediately launched his reconstruction of America’s economy aimed at getting people back in work.
Roosevelt may have been less optimistic had he looked to events in Germany. After making gains in fresh elections, the Nazis tightened their grip on power. On March 23 the legislative body, the Reichstag, passed an Enabling Act, making Adolf Hitler dictator. A few days earlier Dachau concentration camp was opened for imprisoned opponents of the regime. At the end of the month Japan left the League of Nations. The storm clouds were gathering.
A somewhat less menacing figure was King Kong. The original movie version, starring Fay Wray, opened at Radio City Music Hall, New York.
70 years ago 1943
The Battle of the Atlantic stepped up a gear, ominously for the Allies. The largest U-boat ‘Wolf pack’ attack yet sunk a total of 22 ships of a large convoy taking vital supplies to Britain. This long running struggle was fast approaching its climax.
Oklahoma! the musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein opened on Broadway.
60 years ago 1953
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin died. Following an all-night drinking session with his cronies Lavrenty Beria, Georgi Malenkov and Nikita Krushchev, the Soviet Premier and First Secretary of the Communist Party, suffered a stroke. It was several hours before anyone dared disturb the dictator as he lay paralysed. One of the most feared men on the planet, the Soviet leader was 73 years old and had ruled the USSR with a rod of iron for nearly 30 years. Ten-mile queues formed in Moscow to see the man born Josef Vissariovich Djugashvili in 1879 lie in state in the House of Trade Unions. Behind the scenes an internal power battle waged for the succession.
A total of £8 million was pledged by the Government to improve coastal flood defences. The move came in the wake of the devastating East Anglian floods of early February. A further £5 million was promised to farmers and landowners in compensation for the damage caused.
Queen Mary, widow of King George V, died in her sleep at Marlborough House. She died two months before her 86th birthday and just 10 weeks before her granddaughter’s Coronation. In a lengthy tribute, the Eastern Daily Press praised her “graciousness and dignity” and pointed out her connections to the area, from stays at Sandringham to frequent visits to Norwich and King’s Lynn.
50 years ago 1963
Dr Richard Beeching, chairman of British Railways, published a report calling for sweeping cuts in Britain’s rail system. He proposed closing 2,000 stations and cutting 68,000 jobs in what was inevitably dubbed the Beeching Axe.
The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me.
Alcatraz Island, the notorious high security federal penitentiary off San Francisco, closed. US Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered the final 27 inmates transferred to other prisons.
40 years ago 1973
The last American soldiers left Vietnam. As the US troops made a low key exit from Saigon, the final 67 men on the PoW list were released by their North Vietnamese captors. But that still left some 2,500 missing personnel unaccounted for.
The Provisional IRA exploded bombs in a Whitehall Army Recruitment Office and the Old Bailey in London, bringing terror to mainland Britain. Some 200 people were hurt and one killed as car bombs exploded in the capital. In Northern Ireland there were a further 11 explosions. In a poll of the Province a massive majority voted to keep the links with the UK, but the vote was skewed by a Catholic boycott and many spoilt ballot papers.
It was, declared the EDP, “the biggest mass movement of people from East Anglia to the capital since the revolt of the Iceni”. Some 35,000 football fans travelled south as Norwich City faced Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the League Cup at Wembley Stadium. The Canaries, managed by the uncompromising Ron Saunders, lost 1-0 to a goal by Ralph Coates, of Spurs, in front of a crowd of 100,000 people.
30 years ago 1983
National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill pledged the “fight would go on” despite 61 per cent of his union members voting against a strike. Ian MacGregor was appointed chairman of the National Coal Board, with a mandate for pit closures.
First-time home buyers were offered low cost properties from just £20 per week. Under the Government’s Shared Ownership Scheme, money was made available to housing associations so that purchasers could buy 25, 50 or 75 per cent shares and rent the remainder from the associations. Properties were offered in Diss, North Walsham, King’s Lynn and Ditchingham.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher admitted she’d had “a bit of a battle”, but she emerged from a bruising EEC summit with a promise of further budget rebates for Britain. It staved off a major European financial crisis. Mrs Thatcher denied any rift with French leader Francois Miterrand.
Friday night television viewers could enjoy coverage of the Tolly Cobbold Snooker Classic between Jimmy White and Steve Davis in Ipswich on Anglia, while BBC1 showed US cop show Cagney and Lacey; Channel 4 music fans could watch Jools Holland on The Tube and BBC2 showed perennial favourite Gardeners’ World.
British Leyland launched its new Maestro car in early March. By the end of the month 5,000 workers at its Cowley plant were on strike.
1933 Mar 14 Michael Caine (Maurice Micklewhite), actor; 1943 Mar 8 Lynn Redgrave, actress, d 2010; 9th Bobby Fischer, American chess master, d 2008; Mar 29 John Major, former Prime Minister; Mar 29 Eric Idle, former Python; 1963 Mar 27 Quentin Tarantino, film director; 1973 Mar 17 Caroline Corr, singer, The Corrs.
1953 Mar 5 Sergei Prokofiev, Russian composer, b 1891; 1963 Mar 5 Patsy Cline, US singer, in a plane crash, b 1932; 1973 Mar 26 Noel Coward, playwright, b 1899; 1983 Anthony Blunt, spy, b 1907