1 October: On this day in history

What events happened on 1 October in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

On this day_Numbers_orange

1 October 331 BC: Alexander the Great slaughters Persian troops

Macedonian blades slash Darius III’s soldiers to shreds

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As the sun rose over Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, the clinking of harnesses and barking of orders drifted across the plain. The troops of Persian “king of kings” Darius III were making their final preparations for battle.

Among the smaller Macedonian force on the other side of the plain, the friends of Alexander the Great stood uncertainly. They had ventured deep into Persian territory, bent on conquest. But now, as dawn broke, there came no sound nor hint of movement from their king’s tent. His captains looked at each other in disbelief. On this day, of all days, how could he have overslept?

At last, pushing past the bodyguards into the tent, his veteran deputy Parmenion shook Alexander awake. As the king’s eyes blinked open, Parmenion stared at him in amazement. In response, Alexander just smiled. By concentrating his forces, he said, Darius had saved him a lot of trouble, and “now in one day the decision would be reached”.

Dust swirled across the plain. After the long summer, the ground was hot and hard. As Alexander raised his sword and rallied his men to charge, the midday sun pounded down. But above, said the ancient sources, there circled an eagle – an omen of victory.

Thanks to the dust, nobody was ever quite sure what happened next. The result was clear, though: a crushing Macedonian victory, with tens of thousands of Persians slaughtered in the chaos. Some sources credited Alexander’s daring battle tactics, charging first right then switching to attack the Persian centre at the last minute. Others said it was not Alexander who had won the battle but the Persians who had thrown it away, losing their nerve and betraying their king.

For Darius, it hardly mattered. All that did matter was the outcome – a disaster beyond forgiveness or recovery. As he fled the field, Darius surely knew his reign was over.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries…

1 October 1207 

Isabella of Angoulême, wife of King John, gives birth to the future King Henry III at Winchester.

1 October 1211

Roger de Lacy died at Stanlaw Abbey in Cheshire. A loyal servant of King John during the early years of his reign, de Lacy was appointed castellan of Chinon in 1199. In 1203–04 he defended the famous Château Gaillard against Philip Augustus of France for several months, only surrendering when forced to do so through starvation. In 1210 de Lacy was sent to restore order in the Welsh Marches; his fierce raids against the Welsh are said to have earned him the nickname ‘Roger of Hell’.

1 October 1553: Mary I is crowned

The queen’s coronation makes her the first female monarch to reign over England in her own right

By mid-morning on 1 October 1553 the streets of London were packed. Many spectators must have had sore heads after the parties the day before, but few wanted to miss the chance to see their new queen, Mary I – the first woman to ascend to the throne of England unchallenged. Mary’s procession reached Westminster Abbey at about 11. The 37-year-old monarch walked beneath a canopy carried by the barons of the Cinque Ports, while her chief magnates carried the sceptre, orb and crown. “Sirs,” began the bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, “here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man to the crown and royal dignity of this realm of England, France and Ireland.” Then the crowd roared as one: “God save Queen Mary!”

That Gardiner was presiding told an interesting story. The archbishop of Canterbury would usually have taken charge but the Protestant incumbent, Thomas Cranmer, was in the Tower, accused of treason. As a Catholic monarch in a country caught between conservatism and reform, Mary was in a tricky position. Even the holy oils used for the ceremony were controversial. Having rejected the oils used by her Protestant brother, Edward VI, Mary had ordered new oils from Brussels, which arrived in disappointingly plain vessels.

Yet the day went triumphantly. When her champion, Sir Edward Dymoke, issued the traditional ritual challenge to any man who doubted her claim, there was not a murmur of dissent. That, of course, would come later.

1 October 1910

Twenty one people were killed and many more seriously injured after a bomb exploded outside the offices of the Los Angeles Times. Two union officials, James and John McNamara, were accused of the crime and later pleaded guilty to avoid the death sentence. JH

1 October 1938: Nazi troops are welcomed into the Sudetenland

Move paves the way for full invasion of Czechoslovakia

In autumn 1938, Konrad Henlein, founder of the rightwing Sudeten German Party, which championed the rights of Czechoslovakia’s German- speaking minority, achieved his dream. In Munich on 29 September, the British and French prime ministers acceded to Adolf Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland to be given to Germany, and on 1 October Nazi troops entered Czechoslovakia.

When Henlein stepped off the train in Berlin that morning he was greeted by his new führer, Hitler, and driven through the streets towards the Reich Chancellery. “Berliners turned out, or were turned out, in their hundreds of thousands,” wrote one British journalist. Little wonder, then, that Henlein seemed ecstatic. “Words cannot express,” he told Hitler, “what we Sudeten Germans feel towards you today.”

Over the next few days, the German army moved smoothly into what had been western Czechoslovakia. The Times’ correspondent wrote that “the troops were in excellent spirits, with roses, dahlias and chrysanthemums – gifts of enthusiastic villagers – stuck in their tunics.”

At the time, the worldwide reaction was one of relief. Twenty years after the end of the First World War, few people welcomed the prospect of another. In Britain, for example, prime minister Neville Chamberlain had returned from Munich to be greeted as a hero. But the mood very quickly soured. Hundreds of thousands of Czechs fled east from the occupied Sudetenland and, just a month later, Hitler forced the Czechoslovakian government to yield southern Slovakia to Hungary. In March 1939 he dismembered the rest of Czechoslovakia. A few months later, the world was at war.


1 October 1942

Japanese freighter Lisbon Maru was torpedoed off Shanghai by US submarine Grouper. Unknown to the Grouper’s crew, 1,800 British prisoners of war were aboard. More than 800 either drowned or were shot by the Japanese as they attempted to escape the sinking vessel.


1 October 1949

With his victory over Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalists almost complete, communist leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

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1 October 1958

American Express launches its credit card. The card is initially made of paper with the holder’s name and account number typed on it. Plastic cards are issued in the following year. The card will be launched in the UK in 1963.

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