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Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Major historical anniversaries in May

Image: Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to summit Everest | (CC BY-3.0)

From the Wars of the Roses to the conquering of Mount Everest, find out what major historical moments occurred during the month of May.

1 May

First Great Exhibition in London opens (1851)

Queen Victoria opened the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. The World’s Fair displayed the wonders of industry from around the globe and was attended by a third of Britain’s population at the time.

1.6 million British workers go on strike (1973)

Government pay restraints coupled with price rises led to a one-day strike across the nation causing widespread disruption.

Labour return to power (1997)

New Labour, led by Tony Blair, secured a landslide victory in the elections to end 18 years of Tory rule.

2 May

Catherine the Great is born (1729)

Catherine the Great was the most powerful woman of her time, whose 34-year reign, the longest by any female in Russian history, transformed her adopted homeland into a global superpower. Her time as ruler is often heralded as the ‘Golden Age of Russia’.

The legend of the Loch Ness Monster begins (1933)

Fondly known as ‘Nessie’, the legend of the famous long-necked dinosaur creature swimming around Loch Ness in Scotland begins after an article was published in the Inverness Courier. The piece detailed a report from a local couple who claimed to have seen ‘two black humps’ in the lake.

Bin Laden killed (2011)

The architect of the 2001 September 11 attacks was killed in his secret compound in Pakistan during a raid by U.S. Special Forces.

4 May

Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first female PM (1979)

Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative MP and the first woman in British history to become Prime Minister.

5 May

Napoleon dies in exile (1821)

‘The Little Corporal’ who was once Emperor of France and hailed as one of the greatest military leaders in history, died on the British island of St. Helena at the age of 51 after years in exile.

6 May

The Hindenburg disaster (1937)

After a transatlantic flight, the German airship burst into flames in New Jersey, America, killing 36 people. The disaster ended commercial airship traffic.

Roger Bannister runs a mile in under four minutes (1954)

At Iffley Road track in Oxford, Englishman Roger Bannister became the first man in recorded history to run a sub-four-minute mile.

The Channel Tunnel opens (1994)

Considered one of the most amazing engineering feats of the 20th century, the Channel Tunnel - which connects England and France - officially opened on this day in 1994, becoming the world’s longest undersea tunnel.

7 May

Germany surrenders in WWII (1945)

In the French city of Reims, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower accepted the unconditional surrender of all German forces with General Alfred Jodl signing the document on behalf of his defeated nation.

8 May

David Attenborough is born (1926)

For nearly 70 years, David Attenborough, the English broadcaster and naturalist, has brought the wonders of the natural world to our homes via television, radio and, more recently, social media.

VE Day celebrated (1945)

On 8th May 1945, millions of Brits took to the streets to celebrate the end of World War II in Europe. VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) marked the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and commemorated the Allied victory. Although it didn’t officially mark the end of the war, as fighting continued in Japan, the day was seen as the beginning of a new chapter for the European continent.

10 May

Winston Churchill becomes PM (1940)

The great wartime leader took over as British Prime Minister after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain. Winston Churchill led the country to victory against Hitler’s Nazi Germany during WWII.

Nelson Mandela is inaugurated (1994)

The anti-apartheid activist and politician became South Africa’s first black president at the age of 77.

11 May

Adolf Eichmann is captured (1960)

Eichmann played a pivotal role in the Holocaust during WWII and disappeared after the war. He was eventually tracked down by Mossad – the Israeli intelligence agency – in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

12 May

Florence Nightingale is born (1820)

Known as the ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, Florence Nightingale was the remarkable founder of modern nursing. During the Crimean War she improved the unsanitary conditions of the military hospital in which she worked and provided the soldiers with quality care.

16 May

First Oscars take place (1929)

Around 250 people gathered at a hotel in Hollywood, California, to witness the first awards handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Dambusters Raid (1943)

During the night of 16th May 1943, No. 617 Squadron RAF Bomber Command (aka the Dambusters), dropped special bouncing bombs to breach various German dams in the Ruhr Valley.

18 May

Mount St. Helens erupts (1980)

The volcano, located in the state of Washington, erupted for the first time since 1857, spewing ash over 11 miles high.

19 May

Anne Boleyn is executed (1536)

The second wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn was beheaded in London at the of 29 after charges of adultery and incest were brought against her.

21 May

Amelia Earhart flies into the record books (1932)

The American aviation pioneer, became the first woman to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic, taking off in Newfoundland, Canada and touching down in Londonderry, Ireland 13 hours later.

22 May

Wars of the Roses begin (1455)

The series of bloody civil conflicts known as the Wars of the Roses began at the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May 1455. The wars raged for over 30 years as two royal houses vied for the English throne.

23 May

Death of Bonnie & Clyde (1934)

Infamous American bank robbers, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by police and shot and killed.

25 May

Death of George Floyd (2020)

George Floyd was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. His death sparked one of the largest protest movements in American history.

26 May

The Dunkirk evacuation begins (1940)

338,000 British Expeditionary Forces and Allied soldiers began their successful evacuation from the French beaches of Dunkirk during WWII.

29 May

Hillary and Norgay reach Mt. Everest summit (1953)

Kiwi Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.

30 May

Joan of Arc burned at the stake (1431)

French heroine Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy at just 19 years old. In her short life, Joan had laid the groundwork for the French to win the Hundred Years’ War, becoming a national symbol of defiance and inspiring her countrymen to victory.