Monthly Archives: March 2014

Reflections on war and warfare: week 5 (31 March – 6 April 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

31 March 1856 End of Crimean War
The Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March 1856, bringing an end to three years of warfare in the Crimea, in which an estimate 300,000 soldiers were killed. The politician and social reformer Lord Shaftesbury was very pious and many of his reflections in his diaries contain a strong moral and religious reflection on events.

“Yesterday Sunday. Peace was signed and the intelligence sent by electric telegraph. The guns announced it to the people. Let us bless the Lord who has brought us out of so many and great dangers, who has shown us such unspeakable and undeserved mercies, and who has taught us how and why to thank Him! May it be a true peace, a lasting peace, a fruitful peace. May it give double energy and double capacity to our thoughts, desires and efforts.”

MS 62 Broadlands Archives SHA/PD/7 Diary of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, 31 March 1856

2 April 1918 The struggle for territory at the Western Front

Between March 21st and April 5th, the Ludendorff Offensive was put into full force, resulting in a huge German push in the west driving the British back 40 miles.

“The battle of course is not even over yet. The gain of territory which is perfectly useless and not a village nor house standing on it does not constitute a victory – indeed it can hardly have been worth the terrific price they have paid for it. Whether they have some surprise in store or whether they intend to go on pegging away in a pointless attempt to break through and roll up the line remains to be seen. Every man and every shell is needed by us, we shall certainly hold on and beat them in the end.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 2 April 1918

6 April 1812 Storming of Badajoz
Between May 1811 and September 1813 the Allied forces engaged in four major sieges. Siege operations proved one of the least satisfactory aspects of an otherwise successful campaign and resulted in some of the highest casualties suffered by Wellington’s forces during the Peninsular War. The storming of Badajoz took place on 6 April 1812. In the aftermath of the fighting, Wellington was said to have been deeply moved at the sight of the hundreds of bodies piled before the breaches. Much of the bloodshed stemmed from a lack of sufficient resources necessary to conduct a successful siege, such as heavy siege guns and entrenching tools.

“Our loss has been very great; but I send you a letter to Lord Liverpool which accounts for it. The truth is, that, equipped as we are, the British army are not capable of carrying on a regular siege.”

WP1/346 Copy of a letter from General Arthur Wellesley, first Earl of Wellington, camp at Badajoz, to Lieutenant Colonel Torrens, Military Secretary to His Royal Highness the Duke of York, the Commander in Chief, sending accounts of the siege and capture of Badajoz, 7 April 1812

Service as an air raid warden
When the Second World War began, there were fears that Britain would be attacked by air. An air raid was an attack by enemy planes dropping bombs. A warning would be issued when this was about to happen by sirens. When people heard the sirens’ wailing, they went instructed to enter into air raid shelters. It was the job of Air Raid Wardens to supervise the blackout, and report people to the police who continually ignored it. They had to sound the air raid sirens so that everybody knew that they had to get to the shelter, as well as supervising people getting in and out of the air raid shelters. They also had to check that everybody had their gas masks, and that they were all fitting properly, as well as sounding alerts if there was a gas attack. In addition to this, they also had to evacuate people away from unexploded bombs, and report the bombs and other damage to the warden control centre.

Below is a snippet from a pamphlet designed to instruct air raid wardens and the population on the kind of dangers they faced from an air raid and what they could expect.

“A concise, fully illustrated and practical guide for the householder and air-raid warden, ‘Methods of air attack:

1) High Explosive Attacks, involving the use of highly destructive bombs to cause destruction, injury and loss of life.

2) Incendiary Attacks, i.e., the use of fire bombs to cause widespread fires so as to create panic and disorganise essential services, especially the A.R.P. organisation.

3) Gas Attacks, involving the release, from bombs or as spray, of dangerous liquid gases, or poisonous smokes intended to injure or incapacitate the public, to nullify or hamper precautions taken against (1) and (2) and to make difficult the work of rescue and first aid’’.

MS 73 Papers of L. A. Burgess, relating to Burgess’ service as an air raid warden

Reflections on war and warfare: week 4 (24 – 30 March 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

24 March 1918 Letter concerning the advantages of war on medical advances
Reflecting his experiences of war and personal opinions on several topics, the letters of Private Paul Epstein to his family depict his time as a Russian conscript in the Palestine Campaign. He was first a member of the Thirty Ninth and Forty Second Battalions, and served later as a member of the Thirty Eighth Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (the Jewish Regiment).

“Despite all this carnage that has been going on since the war, surgery has certainly advanced in greater strides than it would have done in fifty years of peaceful life. After all said and done this war can’t last forever, and when it does finish it will leave behind new forms of surgical skill, which will go towards building up a more pleasant world.”

MS 124 AJ 15/1 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda

25 March 1813 Discipline in the army II: murder in the 42nd Regiment
Maintaining discipline was not always an easy task for regimental officers, particularly following periods of extreme hardship. The latter part of 1812 had proven a difficult period for Wellesley’s forces and by 1813 an exhausted British Army had retreated to the Portuguese border in order to rebuild its strength.  The 42nd Regiment, under Lieutenant Alexander Dickenson, was ordered to the village of Aldea de Ciera. There a relationship developed between Corporal Michael Macmorran and a young woman from the village. Lieutenant Dickenson was displeased with the situation and, on 22 March, confronted Macmorran in the presence of the company, threatening him with a flogging. In response Macmarron returned to his quarters where he retrieved his musket.

At a General Court Martial, held on 25 March 1813, Corporal Michael Macmorron, of the 42nd Regiment, was arraigned upon the below charge. He was executed three days later on 28 March 1813.

“For Mutiny, in wantonly, deliberately, and wilfully murdering Lieutenant Alexander Dickenson, of the 42d Regiment, his superior Officer, by discharging his piece at him, and shooting him through the body, between the hours of five and six o’clock on the evening of the 22d day of March, 1813, at the village of Aldea de Ciera, near Cea, when he, the said Leiutenant Dickenson, was in the execution of his duty.

General Orders from the Adjutant-General’s Office – Ward Collection 124 v.5, p.115

March 1885 Battle of Tofrek
Fought on 22 March 1885, near Suakin, eastern Sudan, the engagement was between the advance guard of General Graham’s field force and Muslim Mahdist forces under Osman Dinga. At first the British response was hampered by confusion, dust, and smoke form their rifles, but gradually they rallied and the opposing forces, armed with spears and swords, withdrew.

“Battle near Suakin… we lost 90 men killed and 140 wounded; the nation 1500 killed and wounded; enemy beaten off.”

MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR85/3 Diary of W.W.Ashley, later Baron Mount Temple, 26 March 1885

29 March 1940 Food rationing
A significant quantity of Britain’s food supply had been imported before the outbreak of war in 1939. Enemy submarines however, sank many cargo ships carrying food to the UK resulting in food shortages. As a result food rationing was introduced in 1940.

Typically a customer would hand over a coupon from their ration book, as well as money when they went shopping. Coupons for certain foods such as meat, cheese of milk etc. could only be used once a week. The rules were strict and below Samuel Rich expressed his amazement that his local butcher didn’t take his coupon for the lamb he received that week;

“We had a nice ‘Friday eve’ meal. Roast lamb – mushrooms. The butchers took no coupons!”

MS168 AJ 217/36 Diary of Samuel Rich, 29 March 1940

Reflections on war and warfare: week 3 (17 – 23 March 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

21 March 1917 The progress of the German withdrawal
At the time when this letter was written, Basil Henriques was on the verge of being promoted to second in command. He not only served with merit in the Tanks Corps, but also with skill and bravery as a reconnaissance officer. This led to a mention in dispatches and being awarded the Italian silver medal. The letter refers to Germany’s withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, which lasted three weeks.

‘I daresay you will think this very bitter of me, but perhaps it is jealousy, perhaps annoyance, perhaps failure to sympathise, perhaps very strong feelings that no man has a right to be earning money at these times, even though I quite see that everyone cannot join the army and they do greater service to the country outside the army. The retreat of the Germans is a marvellous feat, and perhaps their greatest and most masterly triumph of the war.’

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 18 March 1917

17 and 19 March 1939 War clouds loom
On 17 March 1939, Hitler tore up the Munich agreement, signed by Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy allowing Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia. This effectively set in motion the events which would lead to the Second World War. The allies trust in Hitler’s word diminished and fear of war grew once again.

March 17, 1939: ‘I write tonight with feelings akin to those in the crisis of last September. All hopes based on Hitler’s word are built on sand. Chamberlain spoke fairly tonight at Birmingham – we heard him: Roosevelt is to amend neutrality law – all seems heading for imminent war. Mad!’

March 19, 1939: ‘Things march on to doom – Germany rejects the protests of England and France and U.S.A.’

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Diary of Samuel Rich, 17 and 19 March 1939

23 March 1814 Discipline in the army
Wellington had a reputation as a disciplinarian with severe punishment applied to soldiers caught thieving and looting. However, Wellington understood that the discipline and regularity of his army depended upon the diligence of the regimental officers.

‘I was quartered here last night, and am very much concerned to have received many complaints of the conduct of your brigade here on the preceding night. They destroyed as much forage as would have lasted them for a week; in numberless instances no receipts were given; and the soldiers plundered nearly every house they were in of linen, fowls, and everything the people had.

This conduct is not less injurious to those guilty of it than it is to the inhabitants and to the army who have to follow your march. Very little attention to their duty on the part of the officers, and any obedience to the orders of the army, must prevent it; and I shall be very much obliged to you if you will call upon the commanding officers of regiments to make those under them attend to their duty and obey the orders given out.’

WP1/407 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Galan, to Colonel Lord Charles Manners, 3rd Dragoons, 23 March 1814

Reflections on war and warfare: week 2 (10 – 16 March 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

12 March 1916 Diary of Samuel Rich
The diaries of Samuel Rich reflect his experiences of the First World War as a teacher at the Jews’ Free School, London, and how his family’s and friends’ lives were affected. The entry relates to Samuel Rich hearing that the Germans have occupied Fresnes and Gorse Hill in Verdun, north-eastern France.

‘all in good spirits – Morris is teaching Joe how to say “I surrender!” in German – as a preparation for war.’

MS 168 AJ 217/12 Diary of Samuel Rich, 1916

15 March 1939 Diary of Samuel Rich

Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia demonstrated to the world that Hitler was interested in more than a ‘Greater Germany’ and appeasement had failed. The following quote hints at the disbelief and fears felt by some as a result of the event. Two days after Samuel Rich wrote this diary entry Chamberlain gave a speech stating that Hitler could not be trusted to invade other countries and on the 31 March, Chamberlain guaranteed to defend Poland against German invasion.

‘Hitler marched into Prague today and has annexed Czechoslovakia, all of it – The Munich agreement!! – Now the Jews there will be added to the rest’

MS 168 AJ217/35 Diary of Samuel Rich, 1939

March 1811 French begin their retreat from Portugal
In 1810, Marshal André Masséna led an invasion of Portugal with a newly enlarged French force. However, thanks to actions taken by Viscount Wellington, the confused and starving French were forced to begin their retreat in early March 1811. Reporting on the pursuit of the French army, Wellesley discusses the privations suffered by his own Allied troops.

‘Marshall Sir William Beresford and I had repeatedly urged the governors of the kingdom to adopt measures to supply the troops with regularity, and to keep up the establishments while the army was in cantonments on the Rio Mayor River, which representations were not attended to and when the army was to move forward the Portuguese troops had not provisions, nor no means of conveying any to them. They were to move through a country ravaged and exhausted by the enemy, and it is literally true that General Pack’s brigade and Colonel Ashworth’s had nothing to eat for four days, although constantly marching or engaged with the enemy.’

WP1/326/207 Autograph draft of a letter from Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, to Lord Liverpool, 16 March 1811

16 March 1812 Beginning of Third Siege of Badajoz

On 16 March 1812 the Anglo-Portuguese Army, under the Earl of Wellington, besieged the strongly fortified town of Badajoz in Spain. It was one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Peninsular War, with approximately 4,800 Allied soldiers either killed or injured. Particularly heavy casualties were suffered during the storming of the breaches on 6 April, leading to the surrender of the French garrison. In the aftermath of the intense fighting the Allied troops indulged in drunkenness and plunder, massacring a large number of Spanish civilians.

‘To attack the castle in its improved state of defence was out of the question; and without miners, without mortars, and having only inexperienced sappers, and a most inadequate number of guns to attack the south fronts which were countermined, and would necessitate three or four lodgements being formed, could not be recommended. Therefore as the only practicable measure, it was proposed to take advantage of a defect in the fortifications, and from a distance breach the main rampart, leaving it to the valour of the troops to surmount the intermediate obstacles, which, in a properly conducted siege, would be removed by art and labour.’

Colonel John Thomas Jones Journals of sieges carried on by the army under the Duke of Wellington, in Spain, between the years 1811 and 1814 : with notes (Ward Coll. 126 vol.1)

Reflections on war and warfare: week 1 (3 – 9 March 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

March 1940    Letter about army life
The poet Martin Bell turned twenty one in 1939. He served from 1939 to 1946 initially as a medical orderly and later as an instructor in Lebanon, Syria and Italy. Much of the poetry he wrote during that time and indeed his correspondence and diary entries portrayed a longing for his home town and a resentment of military service. He openly acknowledges this in much of his correspondence.

“General psychological observation: In the army one is pressed down by a host of niggling details, petty discomforts, irritating restrictions. If one can’t stand away from them, or relax oneself towards them: if one is overwhelmed by them and one’s reaction to them: then one is in just one hell of a state.”

MS12 A767/14 page 2 Letter from Martin Bell to his University College of Southampton friends Joan Broomfield (later Russell), March 1940

3 March 1915   Letter from the Western Front

The correspondence of Frederick Dudley Samuel provides an insight into the realities of conditions on the front line with the British Expeditionary Force in France. Correspondence to his wife can be found for almost every day between 1915 and 1918, depicting how much he missed home life.

‘Today it is horrid, wet & windy but we are comfortably under cover, I know you despise the weather, but with us, it is almost as important as the Germans, in fact bad weather causes more suffering.’

MS336 A2097/4/2 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his wife, 3 March 1915

7 March 1809   Memorandum on the Defence of Portugal

At the Battle of Vimeiro, 21 August 1808, the British army under General Arthur Wellesley defeated the French near the village of Vimeiro, putting an end to the first French invasion of Portugal. On 7 March 1809 Wellesley submitted his Memorandum on the Defence of Portugal.

“I have always been of opinion that Portugal might be defended whatever might be the result of the contest in Spain and that in the meantime the measures adopted for the defence of Portugal could be highly useful to the Spaniards in their contest with the French”

MS61 WP1/248/3 Draft of a memorandum from Sir Arthur Wellesley, on the number of soldiers and arms necessary to strengthen the Portuguese military establishment and the defence of Portugal, 7 March 1809