This Day in History – March 11 – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight


NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.




537 – Battle at the Praenestine Gate in Rome.

This was during a siege of Rome by the Goths. The fighting took place in an area that housed the animals used for the spectacles at the Colosseum and was viewed as vulnerable. The Goths had gained entrance to the city and were met with fierce resistance from the Romans. Ironically, the leader of the Roman soldiers was himself a Goth, having been recruited by the Romans as a young man because of his fighting prowess. After brutal street fighting the attack was repelled. This siege was eventually broken, but it wasn’t the first or the last attempt by the Goths. They were a nomadic people whose continued assaults against Rome help bring about the decline and eventual fall of that empire.

I wonder if those attacking Gothic soldiers wore all black and had excessive and outlandish makeup. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s probably a pretty good chance that they did.


1918 – Spanish Flu.

Private Albert Gitchell, feeling ill, reported to the hospital at the Fort Riley army base in Kansas. Throughout the day, more sick soldiers came to the hospital. This was the beginning of the influenza pandemic that would sweep the world. Soldiers going to fight in WWI carried the disease to Europe and it spread from there. It was called the Spanish flu because 8 million people died in Spain alone. It is estimated the flu killed upwards of 20 million people, maybe as high as 40 million. 675,000 died in the United States. 27% of the world’s population was infected before it ran its course.

The word pandemic spreads fear, as we’re learning with the coronavirus.

The Spanish flu touched my family. My grandmother’s sister, Louise Schmaltz, died from it as a young woman. In her honor, both my mother and my sister have Louise as their middle names. [The lead-in image features] a picture of my grandmother, seated, and her sister Louise.


2004 – Madrid train bombing.

Around seven o’clock on a weekday morning, ten bombs exploded almost simultaneously on four different commuter trains. 193 people were killed and over 2,000 injured. At first both Muslim terrorists and Basque separatists were suspected. The bombings became political in that Spain had sent troops and supported the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq. Many in Spain had protested this involvement and felt the government’s actions had contributed to the attack. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility but investigations revealed no connection. Muslim terrorists not associated with that organization were the ones who had perpetrated the bombings. The attack took place three days before a national election and repercussions included the incumbent party being defeated. Twenty-nine people were arrested, and of those, twenty-one were convicted. Although in a later, trial five of those, including an alleged ringleader, were acquitted. 

One of the targeted areas was the Atocha Station. On trips to Spain I’ve been to that station several times. These visits took place after the bombing. It is a beautiful station with a large conservatory in the middle. Post bombing attacks, it is a  pleasant place to wait for a train.



1907 – Helmuth James von Moltke.

Anti-Nazi German Army officer. Von Moltke was a lawyer in Germany who had refused an offer to be a judge because it would have meant joining the Nazi Party. At the start of WWII he was drafted into the army and assigned to counter-intelligence. There he worked to mitigate the atrocities he saw being committed. He urged the German high command to follow the Geneva Convention but was ignored. Officially he did what he could to blunt the onslaught. Unofficially he tried to alert the outside world about the concentration camps and twice contacted the British to offer his services, but was rejected. Although he was working against Hitler, he opposed the July 20th assassination plot. If successful, he feared they would create a martyr and if not, the fallout would destroy the resistance movement. He was right. After the plot failed and Hitler survived, over 5,000, including von Moltke, were rounded up and executed. In prison awaiting execution he wrote a letter to his son. Part of what he wrote. “Since National Socialism came to power, I have striven to make its consequences milder for its victims and to prepare the way for a change. In that, my conscience drove me – and in the end, that is a man’s duty.”



1911 – Sir Fitzroy Maclean.

Soldier, diplomat, politician, writer, adventurer. As a British diplomat he was posted to Moscow and against the rules, playing a cat and mouse game with the KGB, he traveled throughout Russia and reported on Stalin’s purges. During WWII he parachuted into Yugoslavia, worked with the partisans and became friends with Tito. Some believe he played a part in Tito’s eventual split with the USSR. Maclean also traveled to Persia during the war where he kidnapped a German general. After the war he was a conservative member of Parliament and he wrote a number of books about his exploits. Maclean was a real life James Bond and it is thought that Ian Fleming based his fictional character on him.

Too bad von Moltke and Maclean couldn’t have teamed up.


1952 – Douglas Adams.

Writer. Adams is best known as the writer of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” He wrote a number of other books, wrote for the TV series “Doctor Who” and received a writing credit for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He was only one of two people who weren’t part of the original cast to have written for that show. He also appeared in two of its sketches. A couple of lines that Adams wrote: “In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

How can you not like him?



At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at



The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers:


We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Image (Schmaltz/Jenneke Family Photo) – Courtesy of Gary Jenneke

Helmuth James von Moltke (audio clip) – George Spitzer /

* Sir Fitzroy Maclean (video clip) – ThamesTv /

* Douglas Adams (video clip) – University of California Television (UCTV) /

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio /