John’s Believe It Or Not… September 9th

In 1954 – Marilyn Bell is the first person to swim the 51.5 km width of Lake Ontario. In 1914 First fully mechanized unit in the British Army created – the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade (WWI). In 2015 Queen Elizabeth II becomes Great Britain’s longest-reigning monarch at 63 years and seven months. In 1971 Riot at Attica prison. In 1969 Ho Chi Minh buried in Hanoi.

John Fioravanti stands at the front of his classroom.

Yay! It’s Saturday! Did you know…

* 1954 – Marilyn Bell is the first person to swim the 51.5 km width of Lake Ontario.

Marilyn Bell waded into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario at Youngstown, NY, at 11:07 p.m. Wednesday, September 8, 1954. It wasn’t supposed to be a race, but she made it into one. The Canadian National Exhibition had offered $10,000 to American swimmer Florence Chadwick to swim the lake. Many thought it was unfair not to include Canadians in the event. Only two others took up the challenge, Winnie Roach Leuszla and a 16-year old student, Marilyn Bell.

Marilyn’s coach Gus Ryder was in a boat ahead of her. It was dark and no one knew where the other two swimmers were. No one ashore on the other side had any idea of the drama that was to unfold as Marilyn battled 4-metre waves, lamprey eels, exhaustion, and numbness. Ryder shouted encouragement and fed his swimmer corn syrup from a cup.

At dawn, Marilyn had covered 22 kilometers. She did not know it but she had already eclipsed Chadwick, who had become violently ill in the choppy water. When Marilyn became numb and glassy-eyed at 10:30 a.m. Ryder took out a black board and wrote on it “FLO IS OUT.” Soon Leuszla was pulled out as well. Marilyn’s best friend Joan Cooke shouted encouragement from the boat and Marilyn started swimming again. Meanwhile, word was spreading not only across Toronto but across all of Canada. A flotilla of media appeared and tens of thousands— eventually 250,000— gathered on shore.

At 6:30 in the evening, Marilyn reached her limit and Ryder ignored her father’s wishes to pull her out. He asked Joan to swim beside her friend. Driven west by the current to Sunnyside, Marilyn finally touched the breakwater at 8:06 p.m. Because of the currents she had actually swum 64 kilometers. Pandemonium broke loose as Marilyn came ashore, the undisputed heroine of all Canada. Proud Canadians showered her with more than $50,000 in prizes and gifts.

Collage: In 1954 Marilyn Bell, 16 yr CDN 1st person to swim Lake Ontario 32 miles (51.5 km) from Youngstown, New York, to
In 1954 Marilyn Bell, 16 yr CDN 1st person to swim Lake Ontario 32 miles (51.5 km) from Youngstown, New York, to

* 1914 First fully mechanized unit in the British Army created – the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade (WWI).

In August 1914, Raymond Brutinel, a French immigrant who had come to Alberta in 1905 and made a fortune in mining and other commercial ventures, was a millionaire living in Montreal. As a French army reserve officer, he had kept informed of developments in military sciences and was convinced that machine guns would be of great importance in the coming war. Indeed, he planned to rejoin the French army with a large shipment of Colt machine guns that he had purchased.

When Clifford Sifton, a former federal cabinet minister, heard of this scheme, he convinced Brutinel to implement his plan with the Canadian army preparing its first overseas contingent. Sam Hughes and the government accepted the proposal. Thanks to Brutinel’s frantic efforts, 8 armored cars (vehicles specially constructed in the United States to his specifications) and some 20 Colt machine guns were delivered to the Canadian army.

On 9 September 1914, the brigade included 2 batteries, 9 officers 115 men, 8 armored cars, 8 trucks, 4 automobiles, 17 motorcycles, 16 bicycles and 20 machine guns. The brigade, since it possessed its own transport and mechanics, was logistically self-sufficient. It was the first totally mechanized military unit in the British Empire. Better even than the tank units that were created later in the war, it is the true precursor of the mechanized armored units that became the norm by the Second World War. In many ways, it was one of the earliest armored units, combining mobility, protection, and communications with firepower and can lay claim to being the first armored unit in the Commonwealth. Although many British and Canadian commanders were reluctant to see the value of this mechanized unit, its mobility and firepower were, on several occasions, put to good use in securing gaps in the line.

In 1914, most European infantry battalions had four machine guns whereas British units were equipped with only two. Canadian battalions generally went overseas with four, and, in many cases, the additional guns were purchased with locally raised funds. Canada’s machine gun organization expanded quickly and continued to grow until the last days of the war. In 1916, Brutinel’s brigade was renamed the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. This occurred when the original brigade of two batteries absorbed three other armored car machine gun batteries. (Philanthropists had also raised these batteries.) The new brigade became the center of excellence of machine gunnery in the Canadian Corps.

Soon after arriving in England, the brigade, having discovered that Brutinel was a superb instructor as well as a great organizer, was teaching battalion machine gunners in machine gunnery. Under Brutinels’ supervision, the Canadian Corps eventually formed machine gun companies at both the divisional and brigade level. Brutinel, originally in charge only of the machine guns of the 1st Division, gradually was given control over all machine gun organizations. Indeed, by 1918, he had been promoted to Brigadier and held the position of Commander Canadian Machine Gun Corps. Machine gun organizations at all levels of the Canadian Corps were continually expanded and upgraded until the last days of the war. Brutinel developed new techniques for shooting machine gun barrage targets by predicting machine gun indirect fire in exactly the same manner as artillery: plotting elevation and azimuth using ammunition firing tables and indirect fire.

Autocars of the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade in Ottawa, Sep 1914. LAC C22813.
Autocars of the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade in Ottawa, Sep 1914. LAC C22813. (Wikipedia)

* 2015 Queen Elizabeth II becomes Great Britain’s longest-reigning monarch at 63 years and seven months. 

The Queen became Britain’s longest-lived monarch and the world’s oldest-serving sovereign. She broke her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s record of 63 years, seven months and two days on the throne.

But she was never expected to rule until a dramatic turn of events. As the eldest daughter of the king’s second son, Prince Albert (later to be King George VI), she was destined for a life of relative privacy and calm. However, the 1936 abdication of her uncle, Edward VIII, after a reign of only 325 days, put her at the forefront of succession.

Queen Elizabeth is the nation’s 40th monarch and her rule has seen 12 British Prime Ministers, starting with Winston Churchill in 1952. She has also seen 12 U.S. Presidents and seven Popes in office come and go through her lifetime. When she became Queen at the age of 25, Stalin was still the leader of the USSR and Truman President of the US.

The globe-trotting monarch has visited over 116 countries and hosted hundreds of engagements. The Queen might already be setting her sights on another record down the line as she turns 90 next year. Come 6th February 2022, the monarch would become the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee.

Royal historian Hugo Vickers said: “You have to be a certain age to remember a time when she wasn’t the queen. She has given this country an extraordinarily subtle and quiet stability.”

Queen Elizabeth II became Britain's longest reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria | The Independent
Queen Elizabeth II became Britain’s longest reigning monarch, surpassing Queen Victoria | The Independent

* 1971 Riot at Attica prison.

Prisoners riot and seize control of the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York. Later that day, state police retook most of the prison, but 1,281 convicts occupied an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. After negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an indiscriminate hail of gunfire. Eighty-nine others were seriously injured.

By the summer of 1971, the state prison in Attica, New York, was ready to explode. Inmates were frustrated with chronic overcrowding, censorship of letters, and living conditions that limited them to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Some Attica prisoners, adopting the radical spirit of the times, began to perceive themselves as political prisoners rather than convicted criminals.

On the morning of September 9, the eruption came when inmates on the way to breakfast overpowered their guards and stormed down a prison gallery in a spontaneous riot. They broke through a faulty gate and into a central area known as Times Square, which gave them access to all the cell blocks. Many of the prison’s 2,200 inmates then joined in the rioting, and prisoners rampaged through the facility beating guards, acquiring makeshift weapons, and burning down the prison chapel. One guard, William Quinn, was severely beaten and thrown out a second-story window. Two days later, he died in a hospital from his injuries.

Using tear gas and submachine guns, state police regained control of three of the four cell blocks held by the rioters without loss of life. By 10:30 a.m., the inmates were only in control of D Yard, a large, open exercise field surrounded by 35-foot walls and overlooked by gun towers. Thirty-nine hostages, mostly guards and a few other prison employees, were blindfolded and held in a tight circle. Inmates armed with clubs and knives guarded the hostages closely.

On the rainy Monday morning of September 13, an ultimatum was read to the inmates, calling on them to surrender. They responded by putting knives against the hostages’ throats. At 9:46 a.m., helicopters flew over the yard, dropping tear gas as state police and correction officers stormed in with guns blazing. The police fired 3,000 rounds into the tear gas haze, killing 29 inmates and 10 of the hostages and wounding 89. Most were shot in the initial indiscriminate barrage of gunfire, but other prisoners were shot or killed after they surrendered. An emergency medical technician recalled seeing a wounded prisoner, lying on the ground, shot several times in the head by a state trooper. Another prisoner was shot seven times and then ordered to crawl along the ground. When he didn’t move fast enough, an officer kicked him. Many others were savagely beaten.

State archive photo taken following the Attica state prison uprising of 1971 in upstate N.Y. Twenty-nine inmates and 10 hostages died in the four-day prison uprising. (NYS Museum)
State archive photo was taken following the Attica state prison uprising of 1971 in upstate N.Y. Twenty-nine inmates and 10 hostages died in the four-day prison uprising. (NYS Museum)

* 1969 Ho Chi Minh buried in Hanoi.

Funeral services, attended by 250,000 mourners, were held for Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square. Among those in attendance were Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin, Chinese Vice-Premier Li Hsien-nien and Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. Ho had established the Indochinese Communist Party in 1929. In September 1945, as the defeated Japanese prepared to leave Vietnam, Ho declared Vietnamese independence from French colonial rule and announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French, attempting to reimpose colonial rule, soon clashed with Ho and his Viet Minh forces.

After a bloody nine-year war, the French were finally driven from the country after they suffered a humiliating defeat by the Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The Geneva Accords subsequently divided Vietnam into two countries. Ho then led a battle to reunite Vietnam under communist rule. When the United States intervened militarily, Ho directed his forces in a protracted war against the Americans and the Saigon regime. He served as the spiritual leader of the North Vietnamese people, exhorting them to continue the struggle until the Americans were defeated and Vietnam was reunited as one nation. His death resulted in a tremendous emotional outpouring and his successors used the life and teachings of “Uncle Ho” to motivate the people to continue the fight. Today, he is enshrined in central Hanoi in a public mausoleum that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Ho-Chi-Minh Mausoleum was built at the exact place where president Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independent in 1945.
Ho-Chi-Minh Mausoleum was built at the exact place where President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independent in 1945. (Hanoi Free Tour Guides)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Cities In Time            

* The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport               

* Express                          

* This Day In History – What Happened Today              

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

12 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… September 9th”

    1. And she didn’t want the job! She was so angry with her uncle who abdicated and made her next in line after her father. Apparently, Charles and William don’t want it either – they’re happy for her to continue as long as possible. Thanks, Jennie!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good edition, John. I’m a little late. Been doing clean up chores and just couldn’t seem to break away. I liked the Marylin Bell story. I was fascinated by the mechanized machine gun Canadian group. They must have been a formidable group to deal with.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One story, in particular, captivated me – that of Marilyn Bell! I didn’t know about her, John, so thank you. What an inspirational woman. Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

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