8 August: On this day in history
What events happened on 8 August in history? We round up the events, births and deaths…
8 August 1710
Sidney, First Earl of Godolphin, was dismissed as chief minister by Queen Anne. His place was taken by Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford.
8 August 1861
Birth at Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire, of William Bateson, the first person to use the term ‘genetics’ to describe the study of biological inheritance.
8 August 1902
Theoretical physicist Paul Dirac was born in Bristol. one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, Dirac predicted the existence of antimatter. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933.
8 August 1929
The German airship LZ127 Graf Zeppelin began its round-the-world flight, departing from Lakehurst, New Jersey, at the specific request of press baron William Randolph Hearst who was one of the voyage’s sponsors.
8 August 1942: Mahatma Gandhi launches the Quit India Movement
His “Do or Die” speech inspires a nation to end British rule
Shortly before midnight on 8 August 1942, the Indian lawyer, activist and international figurehead Mahatma Gandhi stood before as many as 100,000 people to deliver the most famous speech in his nation’s history. As a leader of the Indian National Congress (INC), he called for an end to British rule by launching a protest movement of widespread civil disobedience – to be done peacefully under the principle of “ahimsa” (non-violence).
The catalyst for the Quit India Movement was the outbreak of the Second World War. Without consulting Indian officials, Britain had made the decision that India, as part of the empire, was also at war – a move opposed by Gandhi. He seized the moment to strike back with his address to the All India Congress Committee at Gowalia Tank Maidan park in Bombay (Mumbai), now known as August Revolution Ground.
“The mantra is: Do or Die,” he declared in his speech, orated first in Hindi and then again in English.”We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of slavery.”
Later that night, British officials arrested Gandhi and other INC leaders. But he had already made waves that would result in India’s independence five years later. | Written by Helen Carr
8 August 1963: The “Great Train Robbers” steal £2.6m
The heist is hailed as the “crime of the century”
Before sunrise on 8 August 1963, a gang of 15 armed criminals boarded an overnight Royal Mail train at Ledburn in Buckinghamshire and performed one of the 20th century’s most daring heists: the Great Train Robbery. The ringleader was Bruce Reynolds, who had come into possession of some intriguing information leaked by an insider at Royal Mail. This train, he was told, would be carrying a vast amount of cash from Glasgow to London. Over a few months, Reynolds and his gang had hatched a careful plan to intercept the train en route and relieve it of its valuable cargo.
More like this
The robbery got under way at around 3am, when the train driver, Jack Mills, had to stop the train at a red signal at a spot on the West Coast Main Line called Sears Crossing. Little did he know that the signal had been tampered with. A second member of the crew hopped off the train and found that the cables of the track-side telephone were cut. Before he could sound the alarm, he was attacked. Gang members then overcame Mills, beating him over the head with a cosh. He would never recover from his injuries.
This violence proved counterproductive, for now it was left to a delirious Mills to drive the train to the location where the money could be unloaded: Bridego Bridge. There, while the rest of the Royal Mail staff were handcuffed, the gang emptied the “high value packages” carriage of 120 sacks of cash. They then fled in three vehicles – two with the same registration to fool witnesses – with around £2.6m (some £55m today).
The robbery became headline news and, with a hefty reward on offer, the police were soon tipped off that a suspicious group had been spotted at nearby Leatherslade Farm. The getaway vehicles were found, as were post sacks and fingerprints. Several arrests were made that year, but little of the money was ever recovered and the manhunt for the rest of the gang became global, with investigations reaching Germany and Brazil. Reynolds was caught in 1968; Ronnie Biggs, one of those initially arrested, escaped in 1965 and was only reapprehended in 2001. | Written by Helen Carr
8 August 1969: The Manson Family appals America
Sharon Tate’s murder sparks fears of a nation out of control
In 1942, a house was built for Hollywood star Michèle Morgan at 10500 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles. Over the years, famous faces came and went and, in February 1969, the film director Roman Polanski moved in, along with his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate. Tate spent most of 8 August at home, having lunch with friends. Her husband was away in Europe; she was almost nine months pregnant. Late that evening, she met more friends for dinner, before they all went back to what she called her dream house for drinks.
At about midnight, a car pulled up outside Tate’s house, and a young man and two young women got out. They were members of the so-called ‘Manson family’, an apocalyptic cult recruited by ex-convict Charles Manson. The day before, Manson had told them that a bloody race war was imminent, and directed them to begin the slaughter at 10500 Cielo Drive.
What happened next remains one of the most gruesome stories in Hollywood history. Armed with knives and revolvers, the cult members killed Tate, her three friends and a teenage boy who was visiting his friend, the caretaker. Tate pleaded to be spared, because of her baby. But they killed her anyway, and wrote the word ‘pig’ on the door in her blood.
The cult struck again the following evening, killing two more people, but it was Tate’s death that grabbed the world’s attention. A year after the murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and at a time when headlines were dominated by the Vietnam War, race riots and student protest, it seemed yet another sign that American life was spinning out of control. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
Subscribe to BBC History Magazine and receive a signed copy of 2023 edition Windrush: 75 years of modern Britain by Mike Phillips and Trevor Philips
As a print subscriber you will also get FREE access to HistoryExtra.com worth £34.99