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)


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