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Witness History

Author: BBC World Service

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History as told by the people who were there.
1892 Episodes
Tragedy on Everest

Tragedy on Everest


Michael Groom is one of the survivors of a tragic climbing expedition to Mount Everest in Nepal. In 2010, Jonny Hogg spoke to Michael Groom about the moments that went badly wrong when a storm struck the world's highest mountain on 10 May 1996. (Photo: Michael Groom on Everest in 1993. Credit: Guy Cotter)
In 1999 the body of the legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory, was found on Mount Everest. Mallory disappeared on the mountain in 1924 together with his fellow climber Andrew Irvine. In 2016, Farhana Haider spoke to Jochen Hemmleb, one of the original members of the team that discovered George Mallory's remains. (Photo: George Mallory in 1909. Credit: AFP via Getty Images)
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had tried to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, six times before his successful climb with Edmund Hillary in 1953. His son, Jamling Norgay, spoke to Louise Clarke about the spiritual importance of the mountain for his father, and how Tenzing Norgay saved Hillary’s life when he fell down a crevasse on the mountain. (Photo: Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. Credit: BBC)
On 29 May 1953 Edmund Hillary, climbing with sherpa Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to reach the summit of Everest. The two men instantly became famous all over the world. Edmund Hillary’s son, Peter Hillary, tells Louise Clarke about his father's heroic climb. (Photo: Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. Credit: BBC)
On 31 May 1970, the Huascarán avalanche, caused by the Ancash earthquake, destroyed the town of Yungay, in Peru. Only 400 people, out of a population of 18,000, survived. A clown, named Cucharita, saved approximately 300 children, who were at a circus performance, by leading them to higher ground. Rachel Naylor speaks to his son, Christian Peña. (Photo: Statue of Christ at the cemetery overlooking Yungay, after the avalanche. Credit: Science Photo Library)
Trying to unite Africa

Trying to unite Africa


On 25 May 1963, leaders of 32 newly-independent African nations came together for the first time in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. At stake was the dream of a united Africa. In 2013, Alex Last spoke to Dr Bereket Habte Selassie who took part in that first gathering. (Photo: Haile Selassie, centre, and Ghana's first President Kwame Nkrumah, left, during the formation of the Organisation of African Unity. Credit: STR/AFP via Getty Images)
On 31 May 2013, a huge tornado hit an area close to El Reno in the US state of Oklahoma. It was the widest tornado ever recorded and produced extreme winds of more than 400 kilometres an hour. Eight people were killed, including three storm chasers. One of the people tracking the storm was Emily Sutton, a meteorologist with KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. She’s a member of the station’s storm chasing team and was caught in the tornado. She tells Rob Walker about the impact that day had on her and other storm chasers. (Photo: Cars damaged by the El Reno tornado. Credit: Joe Raedle via Getty Images)
Fikret Alić

Fikret Alić


In August 1992, a shocking photograph of a starving, emaciated man behind a barbed wire fence of a Bosnian concentration camp stunned the world. The picture, taken from an ITN TV report was of Bosniak Muslim Fikret Alić. Reporter Ed Vulliamy was there when the photograph was taken. Ed reunites with Fikret and hears how the picture, which was published around the world, eventually helped Fikret flee to safety. This programme contains descriptions of sexual violence. It was produced by Anna Miles. (Photo: Fikret Alic in a Bosnian refugee camp. Credit: ITN/Shutterstock)
In 1980, a group of 16 army sergeants, led by Dési Bouterse, seized power in the small South American country of Suriname, overthrowing the government in a swift and violent coup d’état. The coup came just five years after the country was granted independence from the Netherlands. The country’s first president, Johan Ferrier, was forced to leave Suriname after the coup. Rosemarijn Hoefte, professor of the history of Suriname at the University of Amsterdam, and Johan Ferrier's daughter, Cynthia, have been sharing their memories of that time with Matt Pintus. (Photo: Johan Ferrier. Credit: Alamy)
Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking


In Stockholm in 1941, Astrid Lindgren made up a story for her seven-year-old daughter, Karin, about a young girl who lived alone and had super-human strength. Karin named her Pippi Långstrump, or Pippi Longstocking in English. Four years later, Astrid submitted her story into a competition and it won. Her book, Pippi Långstrump, was published and became an overnight success. It’s now been translated into more than 70 languages, as well as being made into more than 40 TV series and films. Rachel Naylor speaks to Astrid’s daughter, Karin Nyman. (Photo: Astrid Lindgren. Credit: Getty Images)
In 2011 a 3,000 km long walking trail was opened in New Zealand. Geoff Chapple had spent years lobbying for the creation of Te Araroa. He’d written articles in newspapers and tested out routes in the country's rugged landscape. The process of exploring where it could go sometimes put him in danger as he tells Alex Collins. (Photo: Geoff wading in the Waipapa River in the far north of New Zealand while on the Te Araroa trail. Credit: Amos Chapple)
The Dambusters

The Dambusters


In the early hours of 17 May 1943 a bold World War II attack destroyed two dams in the Ruhr Valley in Germany's industrial heartland, causing 1,600 casualties and catastrophic flooding which hampered the German war effort. The dams were highly protected but 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force had a new weapon – the bouncing bomb. Invented by Barnes Wallis, the weapon was designed to skip over the dams' defences and explode against the sides. The Dambusters mission was a huge propaganda success for Britain and later inspired a famous film. In 2013, Simon Watts spoke to George "Johnny" Johnson, the last survivor of the Dambusters squadron. (Photo: Squadron Leader George "Johnny" Johnson. Credit: Leon Neal via Getty Images)
Beginning in 1940 thousands of German children were evacuated to camps in the countryside to avoid the bombs of World War Two. These camps were seen as safe places where they could continue their education but also where Nazi beliefs could be taught. Alex Collins has listened to archive recordings from "Haus der Geschichte der Bundersrepublik Deutschland" in Bonn one of Germany's national history museums and hears the stories of former camp residents Gunter Stoppa and Klaus Reimer. You may find some of the contents distressing. (Photo: German children being evacuated to Prussia. Credit: Getty Images)
In 1995, the execution of Flor Contemplacion caused protests, a government resignation and a diplomatic crisis between the Philippines and Singapore. Flor, who worked in Singapore, was convicted of killing another domestic helper, Delia Maga, and the four-year-old boy Delia looked after, Nicholas Huang. While Singapore stood by the conviction, millions of Filipinos believed Flor was innocent and had been let down by their government as an overseas worker. Flor’s daughter Russel Contemplacion, who was 17 at the time, and Flor's lawyer Edre Olalia give Josephine McDermott their account. (Photo: The coffin of Flor Contemplacion is carried to church prior to her funeral. Credit: Getty Images)
Peter Royle, 103, endured a month of solid fighting in the hills outside of Tunis in 1943. Eventually the Allies prevailed and took more than 250,000 German and Italian prisoners of war. They declared victory in Tunisia on 13 May. Peter came close to dying many times. He recalls how he once hummed God Save the King to prevent himself being shot by friendly fire. He was under the command of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, fresh from victory in the North African desert, and recalls him being inspirational to the troops. This episode is presented by Josephine McDermott. Ahead of the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II in 2025, the BBC is trying to gather as many first-hand accounts from surviving veterans as possible, to preserve for future generations. Working with a number of partners, including the Normandy Memorial Trust and the Royal British Legion, the BBC has spoken to many men and women who served during the war. We are calling the collection World War Two: We were there. (Photo: Peter Royle in battle kit in 1941. Credit: Peter Royle's family)
Warsaw Ghetto uprising

Warsaw Ghetto uprising


In May 1943, the uprising in the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw in Poland came to an end. The Germans had crushed the uprising and deported surviving ghetto residents to concentration camps. Simha "Kazik" Rotem was one of the Jewish fighters who survived to tell his story. He spoke to Louise Hidalgo in 2010. (Photo: Warsaw Ghetto. Credit: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
In 1998, one of Hong Kong’s best known landmarks, Kai Tak airport, closed after 73 years. Kai Tak, which was built between the mountains and the city, was world-famous for its unique landing approach that became known as 'the Kai Tak heart attack’. Captain Kim Sharman was the pilot of the last commercial flight out of Kai Tak. During his career he landed at the airport more than 1,000 times. Twenty-five years on he shares his memories with Gill Kearsley. (Photo: Boeing 747 landing at Kai Tak Airport. Credit: Russ Schleipman via Getty Images)
On 23 November 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, a ship called the SS Tilawa was carrying more than 950 passengers and crew from India to East Africa when it was sunk by Japanese torpedoes. Two hundred and eighty people died. The ship became known as the 'Indian Titanic'. Ben Henderson speaks to the last two known survivors, Arvind Jani and Tej Prakash Mangat. (Photo: Arvind Jhani and Tej Prakash Mangat. Credit: their families)
In 1999, NATO carried out a bombing campaign in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. On 7 May, five American bombs hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three people and damaging relations between China and the West. Ben Henderson speaks to Hong Shen, a Chinese businessman, who was one of the first on the scene. (Photo: Protesters hold pictures of Chinese journalists killed in the embassy bombing. Credit: Stephen Shaver/AFP via Getty Images)
On Christmas Eve 1950, four young Scottish students took the 'Stone of Destiny' from Westminster Abbey in London. The symbolic stone had been taken from Scotland to England centuries earlier and had sat beneath the Coronation Chair in the abbey ever since. In 2018, Anya Dorodeyko spoke to the late Ian Hamilton who took part in the daring escapade in order to draw attention to demands for Scottish home rule. (Photo: Ian Hamilton. Credit: BBC)
Comments (41)

J Coker

racial abuse vrs fear of being murdered.

Mar 12th

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Feb 12th

Alex K.

A couple of Fraser's senators were about to crack and grant supply to the Whitlam Government, but Fraser lied to Kerr and told him that his backbench was "rock solid". It was a disgraceful episode in Australia's history. Whitlam's government achieved so much. By contrast, "Achievements of the Fraser Government" would, if written, be one of the shortest books in history. Fraser never overcame the shadow that hung over his prime ministership. I still remember him crying on camera on election night 1983, when the Labor Party was returned to power.

Dec 13th
Reply (1)

Alfonso Guerrero

t-#bns xComédia ?-

Mar 28th

Denise Nichols

u lost me pm first seg. I l have to go back when I have more patience. to start from first do this isn't a good review. sorry

Mar 14th


Amazing episde, thank you so much!

Dec 4th

abiola shadrack

hmmm the church now a tool to propagate anti-christianity doctrines... anti-christ

Oct 23rd

Brandy C.

I lived with a family in Tanzania and one day while exploring with the children we came upon a Polish cemetery. I was told how kind all the Polish people were. I didn't understand how Polish people had come to live in the small town I was staying in. Now I know. Thanks!

Oct 20th

Billy Armstrong

Great great great

Aug 19th
Reply (2)

Billy Armstrong

yeah am from Newcastle England so love this podcast by BBC thanks bbc

Aug 18th

Tajidin Abd

funny how history repeats itself just this past week. The fall of Kabul

Aug 17th

Lori C.

The Info shared in these shorts is great but wow... the hosts can be so frustrating to listen to ... this one gasps frequently as talking .... another slurps... thank goodness there are hundreds of episodes so I haven't had to listen to those back to back to back often. I sure wish slurping and gaspy speaking etc would stop. do they not listen back to what they record? editors?? guess not ....

Jul 5th

Ingrid Linbohm

A story of a woman who hated her country and betrayed it.

Jun 28th

Pele Googled

jk kkkkkķkķķķ mķk

Mar 14th

Stephen Gabriel

Sadly he isn't the only dictator in Europe. He has his partner in crime Putin. Full support to the people of Belarus, they deserve better and to be safe from the people they elect to run their country.

Sep 14th

Nay E.

16th street church bombing and Brown v board episode were hard to listen to....blacks should’ve fought to not have their towns burned down and not try to be integrated with white people... it still didn’t do us any good til this day.

Jun 9th

Abhishek Kokate

amazing podcast, Dr Utah has explained it so well. Debunking the earlier theories of bad moms and making sure that Autism is neurological or genetic glitch. Amazing smilies like looking at a sky with dirty telescope.And the presenter Louisa has arranged the podcast so well. Kudos to BBC team, you guys rock in all situations. thanks for choosing such a topic 😁

May 25th

Alex K.

22nd April 1945 was 2 days after Hitler's 56th birthday, not his 50th birthday (2 mins 55 seconds into podcast)

May 7th

Tom Thring

I had a moment of panic when I read "the earth when it left the solar system". At least global warming would be fixed.

Feb 22nd

Oleksii Yaresko

good to know that story

Dec 7th
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