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Top 10 Darkest Moments in British History

VO: Richard Bush WRITTEN BY: Marc Turner
These events cast a long shadow over history. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 darkest moments in British history. For this list, we’re looking at black marks on the history of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ranging from tragedies at home to unethical conduct abroad. We’re looking for key historical moments rather than general practices or principles, so Britain’s sweeping policies of colonialism and slavery – while clearly unsettling – do not qualify. Special thanks to our user WordToTheWes for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Darkest Moments in British History


These events cast a long shadow over history. Welcome to WatchMojo UK, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 darkest moments in British history.

For this list, we’re looking at black marks on the history of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ranging from tragedies at home to unethical conduct abroad. We’re looking for key historical moments rather than general practices or principles, so Britain’s sweeping policies of colonialism and slavery – while clearly unsettling – do not qualify.

#10: Bloody Sunday (1972)


There are many instances from “the Troubles” that could’ve made this list, including the Omagh bombing by the Real IRA in 1998 that killed 29 people and injured hundreds of others. But the tragedy of Bloody Sunday is perhaps the highest profile example of the conflict, when members of the British army fired on civilians at a protest march, killing 14. In 2010, the Saville Inquiry publicly labelled the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable,” and concluded that British soldiers had lied about the day’s events in order to cover up their actions.

#9: The Sinking of the Titanic (1912)


The vice-president of the White Star Line shipping company once famously boasted that the ship was unsinkable. But that didn’t save the vessel when it struck an iceberg on its maiden journey, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers. One of the deadliest ever maritime disasters, the tragedy was worsened by factors including an inadequate number of lifeboats and design flaws in the Titanic. The lasting legacy of the disaster is shown by the way it has been immortalized in both books and films.

#8: The 7/7 Bombings (2005)


On July 7, 2005, four Islamist terrorists carried out suicide attacks on London in one of the worst terrorist atrocities ever to take place on British soil. Three bombs were detonated on the Underground and one on a bus, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700 others. It was later revealed that two of the bombers were already known to the authorities. However, an independent inquest found it would be unfair to accuse MI5 of paying insufficient attention to the terrorists’ ringleader in the lead-up to the attack.

#7: The Massacre at Ayyadieh (1191)


Britain’s participation in the Crusades may be worth its own entry on this list. While estimates vary wildly, it’s believed that up to 2 million people died in the series of religious wars beginning in the eleventh century. But we’ve especially highlighted the massacre at Ayyadieh, in the Third Crusade. Following the fall of the Middle Eastern port of Acre, King Richard I of England held thousands of Muslim soldiers and civilians captive. When the Saracen leader Saladin stalled over a prisoner exchange, Richard responded by slaughtering his captives in view of the enemy army.

#6: The First Opium War (1839-42)


In the 1830s, millions of Chinese were addicted to opium, which was being smuggled into the country principally by British merchants. So, when the authorities confiscated large quantities of the drug, the merchants complained to the British government. Most British people wanted to halt the sale of opium, but the government sided with the merchants and sent a fleet to bully the Chinese into submission. At the time, the future British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, denounced the conflict as a war “to cover this country with permanent disgrace.”

#5: Exacerbating the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-52)


During the Irish Potato Famine in the nineteenth century, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. A significant proportion of Ireland’s population relied on potato crops for survival, yet the government deliberately delayed sending help to those affected. The official in charge of administering relief, Charles Trevelyan, believed the famine was an act of God, going so far as describing it as an effective mechanism for reducing population. Whilst other factors contributed to the disaster, the government’s inaction worsened a tragedy that killed a million people.

#4: Famine in India (1943)


Britain’s occupation of India gave rise to many dark moments, notably the partitioning of India in 1947 and the Amritsar massacre in 1919. But an even greater loss of life took place in 1943, when millions of Indians starved to death while their country was part of the British Empire. As a famine swept Bengal, the British government refused to send food to the region and even blocked other countries from doing so. Instead, Winston Churchill reportedly blamed the crisis on the Indians themselves for “breeding like rabbits.”

#3: Boer War Concentration Camps (1900-1902)


During the Second Boer war, the British responded to the enemy’s use of guerrilla warfare by imprisoning over 100,000 civilians in concentration camps. Around 10 percent of the Boer population died in these camps from disease or hunger, including thousands of children. Sadly, it seems no lessons were learned from the tragedy, because Britain employed similar tactics during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. Thousands of civilians were reportedly tortured or killed, prompting the British government to agree to a settlement with over 5,000 victims.

#2: The Black Death (1348-50)


Having originated in Central Asia, the plague swiftly spread across Europe before reaching the southern coast of England in September 1348. By 1350, it covered the whole of the UK and Ireland, killing between 40 to 60 percent of the entire population. Locally, though, the effects were often even more disastrous, with some villages all but wiped out by the disease. Nor was 1350 the end of the ordeal, with the plague returning in 1361 and at various other points in the fourteenth century and continuing into the seventeenth century.

#1: The Battle of the Somme (1916)


The largest World War One battle on the Western Front, this conflict saw the greatest ever loss of life for the British army in a single day with 60,000 casualties. The British prepared for the offensive by bombarding the German lines, but the barrage did not inflict as much damage as had been hoped. Along sections of the front, the Germans remained well entrenched, so when the British finally advanced, they did so into devastating machine gun fire. In total, more than a million soldiers died on both sides during the battle as a whole.
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