I have never quite understood why Friday 13th is viewed with such foreboding.
From the science perspective it’s no different from any other day. The Earth revolves on its axis, creating the illusion of the sun rising and falling – but one revolution, surely, isn’t any different from another. Arbitrary dates and divisions we make up in western society, surely, are just that? (OMG, I sound like Spock.)
Lots of people beg to differ, though. We are, it seems, often paraskevidekatriaphobics - including, it seems, the man who invented OMG. I’ll explain. On 1 November 1914, a German cruiser squadron under Vice-Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee shattered a British force under Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, off Coronel.
The British Admiralty – under their volcanic First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher – responded decisively.
Fisher was an incredible character – deeply devout, creative, brilliant, egotistical, paranoid and prone to pursuing feuds, the man who invented not only the battlecruiser but also the term OMG that we know and love today. Seriously! I have the original publication. “O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)” And as First Sea Lord, he wasn’t going to stand for any rubbish from the Germans.
On the back of von Spee’s Coronel victory, a massive force, including two battlecruisers, was ordered to hunt down and destroy von Spee’s cruiser squadron. But then it turned out that Invincible needed dockyard work at Devonport and would not be ready to sail before Friday 13 November. Fisher discovered the point and declared to Winston Churchill, then his political counterpart in the Admiralty, ‘Friday 13th! What a day to choose!”
Churchill thought so too, though for other reasons than those of a superstitious sailor. Britain was at war, and as far as he was concerned there was no excuse for dockyard slackness. The ships, he insisted, would leave on Wednesday 11th – even if it meant sending dock workers with the Invincible.
They did. And it turned out to be very bad luck for von Spee, who was caught and annihilated off the Falkland Islands on 8 December.
Do you believe in Friday 13th – or other omens?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013