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

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