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

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