So, what did our ancestors and forebears get up to on the Ninth of May? Well, for a start off and as far back as 1457 BC, the Battle of Megiddo was fought between Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III and the King of Kadesh with his large following of Canaanite rebels. This is generally known as “the Battle of Megiddo (15th Century BC)” as there were other battles there in 609 BC and again in 1918. The site may have lent its name (which means “strong” or “place of crowds”) to Armageddon (from har Megiddo, har meaning “mount” or “hill,” though it is only a hill because people have been building there for so long). Whilst our Battle of Megiddo may not have been the original instance of actual warring amongst neighbours, it is the first one to have been recorded in what is accepted as relatively reliable detail, including a body count. It is not known for certain, but not long after this must surely have seen the first appearance of the phrase “since records began.”
In 1662, the day gave Sam Pepys something to note down in his diary when he spotted the prototype Mr Punch getting up to his antics in a show in Covent Garden, though at that time Punch was a marionette rather than a glove puppet. Not the most PC of gentlemen, counting wife-beating amongst his pursuits, Punch did possess a stick known as a slapstick and thus provided the name for a whole genre of comedy, and he also gave us the phrase “pleased as Punch,” meaning smugly self-satisfied. The day itself is known as Mr Punch’s Birthday in this country.
Another event also came well in time to make the Pepys notebook (he was on the go until 1703, aged 70) in 1671, thanks to the efforts of one Colonel Blood (though the “Colonel” bit was a lie, as he was never promoted above lieutenant). Whether or not you believe in nominal determinism, with a name like that, let’s face it, he was almost bound to be getting into some kind of bother or other. Which he did, quite spectacularly, by attempting to steal the Crown Jewels whilst disguised as a clergyman.
By 1788, the English Parliament had finally decided to do something about the slave trade when William Pitt (the Younger) ordered an investigation into it and asked William Wilberforce to begin the debate but, by May of that year, the Privy Council had still not produced its report and so, on May 9, Pitt introduced a motion to the House along the lines of, “Do you think we ought to wait a bit to do this, just until we’ve got more time?”
May 9 1941 sees the capture of the German submarine U-110 during the curiously entitled Operation Primrose. On board is the latest Enigma cryptography machine which boffins at Bletchley Park will later use to break coded German messages and thus substantially shorten the conflict. The list of names of those associated with Bletchley Park is a long and impressive one and even includes that of Roy Jenkins.
Same day, same war but now we’re in 1944 and back on dry land as the Russians recapture Crimea by taking Sevastopol. Which may have rather a familiar ring to it, even today. The fact is that the place has been changing hands for as long as there has been a Crimea and occupiers have included ancient Greeks and Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Cimmerians, Scythians, Goths, Bulgars, Huns, Khazars, Kipchaks, and the Golden Horde (Mongols). In 1783, under Catherine the Great, the Russians got hold of it and in 1921 it became part of the Soviet Union. The Nazis had it for a while, around 1941-42 and then it was retaken by the Soviets who transferred it to Ukraine in 1954, eventually becoming the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in 1991, which it (supposedly) still is today, with the somewhat overoptimistic motto of "Prosperity in Unity."
Finally, and at the same time leaving out more of May 9 than we’ve had room to include, on this day in 1962, whilst the not-yet-Fab-Four Beatles were signing their first recording contract with Parlophone, a laser beam was being bounced off the moon for the first time by a team of scientists from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thus pioneering uses for the laser beyond the previous ones confined to cutting, and thereby enabling precise measurements of travel time, and of atmospheric and gravitational forces. Sadly, however, after that, the laser’s main function would be that of attempting to make ageing rock stars appear somewhat less seedy. Still, rather like Colonel Blood must have thought of the luckless Talbot Edwards, worth having a bash at, at any rate …