4 June 1561

After lightning strikes St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the spire catches fire and crashes through the roof of the nave. It is never rebuilt.


4 June 1913

Suffragette Emily Davison stepped in front of King George V’s horse, Anmer, as it was being ridden by Herbert Jones in the Epsom Derby. She died of her injuries four days later.

It is thought that Davison, who had a return railway ticket in her pocket, had not intended to commit suicide but wanted to disrupt the race. Herbert Jones suffered minor injuries. Anmer got up and,riderless, finished the race, which was won by 100-1 outsider Aboyeur. The first horse past the post, Craganour, was controversially disqualified.

4 June 1941

Former German kaiser Wilhelm II died aged 82 in the Netherlands. He had lived there in exile since his abdication at the end of the First World War.

4 June 1942

The start of the battle of Midway in which an outnumbered US fleet inflicted a major defeat on a Japanese naval force. The Americans destroyed four aircraft carriers for the loss of one of their own.

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4 June 1989: Hundreds die in Tiananmen Square

Chinese officials brutally put an end to a mass demonstration of students in Beijing

By the beginning of June 1989, Tiananmen Square, in the centre of Beijing, was packed with demonstrators. After weeks of mounting protests, with students and dissidents at the forefront, the Chinese communist government had declared martial law and sent some 250,000 troops to the capital – but still the crowds refused to disperse.

On 2 June party leaders, including the country’s effective leader, Deng Xiaoping, agreed that it was time to crack down. Tiananmen Square, they agreed, must be cleared, so that “the riot can be halted and order restored to the capital”.

The following evening, 3 June, troops and tanks thundered into the centre of Beijing, as state television warned residents to stay in their homes. By about 10 o’clock, reports were emerging of bloodshed at major intersections on the roads into the city. Inside Tiananmen Square, some 70,000 people stood and waited. Then, just after midnight, the first armoured vehicle appeared from the west. Some students threw stones and bricks, while others tried to prevent them; it was vital, they said, that their protest remained non-violent.

What followed remains the single most controversial moment in China’s recent history. In the early hours of 4 June, the army cleared the square by force. Government officials initially claimed the action resulted in no deaths – later revised to about 200; other estimates suggest that as many as 1,000 people lost their lives. Either way, the result was the same: the protesters had been defeated.


One image, taken the next day, captured the terrible drama: a photograph of a lone man, holding two shopping bags, standing in front of a column of tanks. Who he was, and what he was doing, remains uncertain. At the time, there were rumours that he was arrested and dragged before a firing squad. We may well never know. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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