May the Fourth be with you! Everyone understands the joke now — even those who take it very seriously — so of course I don’t need to explain it. But isn’t every day a special day? Of course it is, and there’s a plethora of sites that tell you when National This Day or International That Day takes place. From these I discover that in the US (where else?) today, 9th May, is National Odd Sock Memorial Day, as well as National Butterscotch Brownie Day. Several countries this year also celebrate Mother’s Day on this day, though the UK follows an early religious tradition by marking it on the fourth Sunday of Lent, usually somewhere around the third week of March, around the spring equinox and the Feast of the Annunciation.
I wondered what other serious (as opposed to flippant) events were commemorated on this day. Some are literary, of course, such as the Peter Pan author, J M Barrie being born on 9th May 1860, and others are quirky, for example Colonel Thomas Blood attempting to steal Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671 — 350 years ago on this date (before the change of calendar) — before being captured. His 1680 epitaph is a wonderful piece of doggerel:
Here lies the man who boldly hath run through
More villainies than England ever knew;
And ne’er to any friend he had was true.
Here let him then by all unpitied lie,
And let’s rejoice his time was come to die.
No doubt we can think of some other colourful characters who deserve a similar eulogy. However, in the spirit of positivity I want to focus on three anniversaries or commemorative days this Sunday, beginning with an event that took place exactly eighty years ago.
1941. Led by Alan Turing, a Bletchley Park team with the aid of Polish cryptographic knowhow began breaking German spy codes after British destroyer HMS Somali captured the weather ship München on 3rd May; documents recovered enabled British Intelligence to read part of the German radio codes during May and June 1941.
Then on 9th May the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Bulldog and HMS Broadway, and the corvette HMS Aubretia, captured the German submarine U-110 with, on board, the latest Enigma machine. The crew of the rammed submarine abandoned ship believing she was sinking but the Royal Navy managed to retrieve the Enigma machine, the machine ciphers and code books, which Allied cryptographers were later able to use to break the encrypted German messages.
The submarine was allowed to sink, fooling Germany into thinking their secrets were safe, but Allied shipping losses were considerably lowered in numbers by the ability to spy on Axis communications, in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic. Turing’s contributions to this operation, plus his other crucial breakthroughs, brought peace in Europe closer, saving countless lives — which makes his later treatment by the authorities — his outing as a homosexual ultimately leading to his suicide — utterly shameful.
9th May also marks Europe Day, the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration in 1950, when steps were taken towards the creation of what is now known as the European Union. Robert Schuman was the then French foreign minister who proposed a new form of political cooperation in Europe, the purpose of which was to benefit the participating countries economically and to reduce the chance of any future war between European nations. His proposal was the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community to pool and manage the production of these assets.
The founding members were France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries — Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg – and by pooling these resources they created a common market by lifting import and export duties. In 1973 the UK, along with Denmark and Ireland, formally joined the European Economic Community on 1st January.
Europe Day was formally introduced in 1985 by the European Communities. In 1993 those communities became the European Union with the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty, establishing it firmly as the bête noire of certain vociferous groupings who showed themselves utterly careless of an institution which had helped maintain a peace held since 1945.
The previous two events were instrumental in the establishment of international peace. The third event I want to draw attention to is particular to the UK, and is to do with personal tranquility: the first Garden Day was established in 2019 and is celebrated on the second Sunday in May, which in 2021 happens to be today. Garden Day aims to highlight the positive benefits of gardens on wellbeing.
Being in a garden lowers your blood pressure, improves your mood and mental wellbeing and helps boost your brain power, so Garden Day aims to celebrate the many benefits that gardens bring to our physical and mental health at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.
UK residents are encouraged to tag their social media posts with @GardenDayUK and #GardenDayUK to share their celebration with friends, family, and fellow plant lovers online. Everyone who shares a celebration post on Garden Day, using the hashtag #GardenDayUK, will apparently be entered into a draw to win National Garden Gift vouchers.
Whether one has a few acres or merely a few window boxes the notion is that we can today all concentrate on enjoying our very own paradise garden.
Putting aside odd socks and butterscotch brownies for the moment, I’ve featured three peace-related commemorations, the first bringing global peace closer, the second maintaining that peace in one corner of the world, and the third creating peace within a personal space — a garden, whatever its extent. I hope that on this day we all, whatever our circumstances, will be able to find some tranquility: may the 9th be a good day with you.