This Day in History – September 9th

1914 – In Ottawa, the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade is formed, the first fully mechanized unit in the British Empire –  On Aug. 11, 1914, a week after the British (and, by extension, Canada) entered the First World War, Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence, approved the formation of what he said would be “one of the most revolutionary fighting units put into the field by any country.” The brigade, then known as the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade, came into being due to the pioneering work of French Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel. Brutinel, who had first come to Canada in 1905, was making plans to purchase guns in the U.S. and bring them to Europe for the French Army when he was contacted by a Canadian politician about doing some leg work for Canada instead. He bought Colt machine guns in Connecticut and light-armoured trucks in Pennsylvania, and they began recruiting troops at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier Hotel on Aug. 24, 1914. The recruiters reached their desired size for the brigade just over two week’s later, on this date in 1914. It would eventually be known as the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, or “Brutinel’s Brigade,” and play a key role in both stopping the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, and in the Battle of the Scarpe in Northern France during the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive. During the battle, on Aug. 29, 1918, the brigade pushed the front line one kilometre further east. The following day, the battle was over, with the Canadians having captured over 3,300 German soldiers. Brutinel, who died in France in 1964, is remembered as a military mind far ahead of his time, and was made a naturalized Canadian by Prime Minister Robert Borden.

1947 – Engineers deal with the first ever “computer bug,” when a moth gets stuck in a calculating computer at Harvard University –  The Harvard Mark II computer was built at Harvard University in 1947 for the United States Navy. It featured high-speed electromagnetic relays and programming tape that could add sums in 0.125 seconds and multiply numbers in 0.75 seconds, both much faster than the previous Mark I computer. Other trigonometric functions were built into it, and took between five and 12 seconds to complete. The term ‘bug’ had already been used to describe flaws in mechanical gear such as pinball machines or army hardware, but this date in 1947 marked the first ever “computer bug,” after a moth became trapped in one of the Mark II’s relays. The insect was carefully removed by engineers and taped into their logbook along with the words “First actual case of bug being found.” Since then, a “bug” has become a common expression for an error or fault in a computer program. Today, that logbook, along with the moth, are part of a collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

1971 – Around 1,000 prisoners seize control of the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York, taking 42 staff members hostage – In 1961, a young black man named George Jackson was convicted of armed robbery and placed in California’s San Quentin State Prison. Jackson was one of the co-founders of the Black Guerilla Family gang in 1966, and later got involved with Marxism and the Black Panther Party. After an inmate friend of his was shot to death by prison guards in 1970, Jackson grew more physically aggressive towards corrections officials. He was implicated in the killing of a guard in January 1970, before being killed himself in August 1971 after attempting to start a riot days before the start of his murder trial. In response, two weeks later on this date in 1971, almost half of the prisoners in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility rose up. They took 42 prison employees hostage, and made a list of demands they wanted before they would surrender. Several of the inmates took the lead with negotiations and speaking to the media, including Elliott James Barkley, who was just 21 and days away from his release prior to the riot. Their list of demands included better medical treatment, sanitation and food, fair visitation rights, and an end to physical brutality. New York’s governor Nelson Rockefeller refused to come to the prison and meet the inmates, and state police were ordered to take back the prison on Sept. 13 when negotiations broke down. The troopers used heavy fire to put down the prisoners and, in the end 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed, all from gunfire from police.

1976 – Chinese leader Mao Zedong dies at the age of 82 – Ten minutes after midnight on this date in 1976, the chief architect of the Chinese revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong died. He had been in visibly poor health for several years, and not taken any foreign visitors for several months. Still, it was not yet clear at the time of his death who would replace him as the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and the nation of 800 million people. Mao had co-founded the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, rising to prominence in the 1930s when he led Chinese communist on the “long march” into northern China – a distance of almost 10,000 km – to flee persecution from the Kuomintang Party. He became chairman of the newly established People’s Republic of China in 1949. In the years that followed, he was responsible for the “Great Leap Forward,” which sought to rapidly increase industrial production in the country but is instead blamed for causing a massive famine that killed tens of millions of people. He was also behind the “Cultural Revolution,” which led to the mass closing of schools and colleges and the killing of intellectuals who were branded as traitors. After 1959 he was no longer chairman of the nation, but remained influential as chairman of the party and several internal commissions well into the 1970s, meeting President Richard Nixon when he became the first American leader to visit China in 1972. Many people in Beijing wore black armbands to honour Mao’s passing, and a memorial service for him was held on Sept. 18 in Tiananmen Square. Deng Xiaoping became China’s new leader in 1978.

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