August 15. At the stroke of midnight, 163 years of British
rule in India came to an end. But the ending of the so-called
Raj was to prove a mixed blessing. Even as the last Viceroy, Lord
Mountbatten, read a message of goodwill from King George VI, storm
clouds were gathering.
the old India had ceased to exist. Unable to live together, the
sub-continent's Muslim and Hindu populations had demanded separate
states; India to be Hindu-dominated, Pakistan to become a Muslim
As entire populations moved to their new homes, massacres became
commonplace and hundreds of thousands were slaughtered by rival
In a single incident a month after independence, a train full
of Muslims on their way to the safety of Pakistan was attacked
by Sikh troops and civilians. More than 1,000 were shot or hacked
The massacres deeply distressed Mahatma Gandhi, the legendary
Indian leader who, by a campaign of non-violent civilian disobedience,
had done more than anyone else to secure India's freedom from
January 1. The Labour Government nationalised Britain's
1,500 coal pits but many miners were suspicious of their new bosses.
The West Midlands Divisional Coal Board was expected to become
the largest landlord in the Midlands - with farms, villages and
houses, railway wagons, wharves, pits, shunting engines and lorries
as well as 150 collieries under its ownership.
Manny Shinwell, Minister of Fuel, warned the promised five-day-a-week
would be difficult to deliver as coal exports were down to almost
nothing. Reports were rife of massive absenteeism in the mines
and a fuel crisis loomed. Generations of pitmen had struggled
for better conditions but were not convinced by the government's
January 25. Gangster Al Capone died aged 48 in hiding
on his Florida estate, a broken man after 11 years in prison.
He escaped attempts on his life but was finally caught on a tax
evasion charge, suffered syphilis and slid into madness. It was
a far cry from his days as head of a thriving $5 million-a-year
empire built on prostitution, bootlegging, extortion and gambling.
Born in New York of Italian immigrants, he earned the nickname
Scarface while working as a bouncer for a Brooklyn brothel. Driven
out of the city on suspicion of murdering a policeman, he went
to Chicago and joined mafia gangster Johnny Torrio. In the 1920s
gangland war of supremacy, more than 1,000 were wiped out.
November 20. The gloom of post-war Britain was briefly
lifted by the fairytale wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip,
the Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey. The madly-cheering
crowds were 50 deep in the Mall and along Whitehall. Many had
slept out overnight
The bride wore an ivory-coloured dress designed by Norman Hartnell
who had taken it to the Palace himself the night before in a 6ft
long white box. At the reception at Buckingham Palace, the 500-pound
wedding cake was cut with the sword of the groom's grandfather,
Prince Louis of Battenburg. The couple first met at her parents'
May 1. Planners announced the building of 2,600 houses
at the model village proposed for the Chasetown district to accommodate
Burntwood miners. The homes would be built over 10 years and it
was promised the village would not be segregated from the rest
of the community. The scheme had been purposely kept quiet until
it could be considered by the local authorities concerned. The
plan was due to cost the council £3,000 a year.
January 9. Having decided confetti
was too expensive in austere post-war Britain, a Bilston
bride-to-be made do by cutting up the Christmas decorations.
February 28. Britain was at a standstill
in the big freeze.
March 3. Japan renounced war under
its new constitution.
May 8. Henry
Gordon Selfridge, founder of the world-famous London store,
May 16. A plan to submerge West Midland
towns by creating a new county, South Staffordshire centring
on Birmingham, split the West Midlands.
June 15. Salman Rushdie, author,
June 16. A Wolverhampton shop owner
was fined for selling four over-priced articles of women's
clothing following the recent introduction of laws restricting
retailers' profit margins.
July 9. O.J. Simpson, US football
star and alleged murderer, was born.
August 15. India became an independent
nation after more than 200 years of British rule.
August 15. Britain's first atomic
reactor was set up at Harwell, Oxfordshire.
October 20. Investigation by US
House Committee on An-American Activities began probing
alleged communist influence in the Hollywood film industry.
October 23. A Quarry Bank vicar
told a Lichfield Diocesan Conference he could not make ends
met on 430 a year. Referring to the enormous amount of time
spent filling in Government forms for his flock, he described
himself as an "unpaid civil servant".
November 1. A heckler giving the Fascist
salute was escorted from Dudley Town Hall after interrupting
a speech by Aneurin Bevan.
November 4. Howard Hughes, inventor
and recluse, took off in his Spruce Goose, the largest aeroplane
November 12. A Wolverhampton clergyman
claimed his rambling old vicarage would make flats for three