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


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