Monthly Archives: April 2014

Reflections on war and warfare: week 9 (28 April – 4 May 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.

30 April 1854 Arrival at Scutari
Lord Raglan, the British commander, first established his headquarters at Scutari, on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus from Constantinople before moving to Varna in Bulgaria in June 1854. The facilities on offer were not necessarily to the liking of the British officers, as Wellesley notes in his letter:

“We … arrived here yesterday morning and found our Guards just landing from their vessels at Scutari where the remainder of our men who are in number about 12,000 partly in Turkish barracks, whereof the dirt is great and wherein the animals are abundant….”

MS 63 A904/4/17 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his elder brother Richard, 30 April 1854

May 1915 On the Front Line

‘Soldiering of Sorts’ is Henry D. Myers’ autobiographical account of his time as Major in the Royal Fusiliers from 1913 to 1919. The extract below depicts his time at the front during the Second Battle of Ypres.

“The first few days of May were spent in hot, sultry and sometimes wet weather, providing fatigues for the Front Line during heavy bombardment, mostly in the distance… During my period at the Front prior to the Battle of Loos, I recollect no cases of cowardice, which a word in season would not cure, but nervous or mental breakdown, after prolonged bombardment and lack of sleep, was not uncommon.”

 MS 116/8 AJ 253 pp. 39 and 40 Typescript of ‘Soldering of sorts’ – recounting experiences with the Royal Fusiliers by Major H.D. Myer, May 1915

May 1811 Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro

By March 1811 the French had begun a general retreat from Portugal, pursued by the Allied forces under Viscount Wellington. The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro began on 3 May when French forces, under Marshal André Masséna, attempted to relieve a French garrison in the besieged city of Almeida, close to the Spanish border. In the below passage, Wellington expresses his concern at the possibility of the French strengthening their forces in the region.

“It has been frequently reported that King Joseph was about to quit Madrid…the departure of the King whatever political effect it may have in Spain will relieve the French from the necessity of taking care of his person and will increase their disposable force particularly in the southern provinces. But if we should be able to obtain possession of Almeida, I hope to have it in my power to reinforce our troops in that quarter to such an extent as to render our operations at least in Estremadura, free from risk, whatever may be the force which the enemy may be enabled by circumstances to assemble.”

WP1/332 Letter from Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, Villa Fermosa, to Robert Banks Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, regarding recent operations and the possible departure of King Joseph from Spain, 1 May 1811

2 May 1945 The death of Hitler

1945 witnessed the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz and with it a shocking revelation of the Nazi Final Solution. The Soviet army continued its offensive from the East whilst the allies established a bridge across the Rhine in the West and both armies raced to be the first to enter Berlin. The Russians won the race reaching the capital on 21 April 1945 which ultimately led to Hitler’s suicide. Mussolini was captured and executed two days later. The result was Germany’s unconditional surrender on 7 May 1945.

A quote from Samuel Rich’s journal expresses his feelings towards Hitler’s death.

“A full obituary of Hitler in The Times; so I opened the package of Irish lawn hankies given to me by Connie on August 13, 1939 upon which I had vowed not to wipe my nose while Hitler lived, and ceremoniously blew my nose.”

MS 168 AJ 217/41 Journal of Samuel Rich, 2 May 1945

4 May 1854
Establishing the allied forces in the Bosphorus
On arrival in the Bosphorus, Lord Raglan and the French commander, Marshal St Arnaud, deployed their forces in fortifying this region. Not all those involved in the organisation had as much active experience as Wellesley, who had just recently returned from service in South Africa.

“A number of our Artillery Transports are hourly arriving and are stationed about 4 miles from here, the bustle and confusion attendant on all these arrivals are immense more particularly as all the staff nearly are new and there is too much discussion and too little actual work. You can imagine I have had enough to do and undo.”

MS 63 A904/4/18 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife Annot, 4 May 1854

Reflections on war and warfare: week 8 (21 – 27 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.

21 April 1918 The attack on Bethune, Battle of Lys
Known as Operation Georgette, General Ludendorff ‘s aim was to capture Ypres and to force the British troops to retreat back to the channel ports and out of the war. On 18th April the German forces (the Sixth Army) attacked south through Bethune but were repulsed. On 29th April the German high command cancelled the offensive as a result of suffering a substantial amount of casualties.

“The situation is of course critical. The attack in Bethune was a really bloody defeat, for all say we inflicted tremendous casualties. They fought all day and made no progress at all.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 21 April 1918

21 April 1942 Changing attitudes
Perceptions and attitudes, particularly amongst the young, changed during the Second World War due to social factors, such as the new roles given to women, who served in the armed forces or worked in factories or the land army as part of the war effort, and the influx of refugees. Samuel Rich touches upon this in his journal, noting a change which would really take hold in the 1950s when the concept of ‘teenagers’ was introduced and the lives of these teenagers began to change.

“Queenie’s Hebrew lesson followed by 5 with Job and Joan amongst them – I enjoy the visits of these young person’s very much – They talk of real things – work, vocation – is marriage a cancer? – All quite openly and with complete frankness. The post-war world should be a brave new world!”

MS 168 AJ217/38 Journal of Samuel Rich, 21 April 1942

22 April 1809 Arthur Wellesley arrives in Lisbon
The Battle of Vimeiro, on 21 August 1808, put an end to the first French invasion of Portugal. However, the terms of the subsequent Convention of Cintra, signed by General Dalrymple on 31 August, allowed the defeated French army to return to France together with its guns, equipment, and loot taken from Portugal. While Wellesley opposed the Convention he was subsequently recalled from Portugal, together with Burrard and Dalrymple, to face an official inquiry.

By November 1808, the French armies had been greatly reinforced. Spanish forces were defeated in a series of battles and the city of Madrid soon fell back into enemy hands. Following the battle of Coruna, on 16 January 1809, French forces, under Marshal Soult, began another invasion of the northern provinces of Portugal.

In response to the French taking possession of the city of Porto, on 29 March 1809, British reinforcements were directed to embark for Lisbon with Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley once again sent to command. After his arrival on 22 April 1809, Wellesley wrote to Marshal Beresford calling him to Lisbon to consider arrangements for the defence of Portugal.

“I arrived here yesterday, having had a passage of one week from Portsmouth. The fleet having on board my horses, the two regiments of heavy dragoons, and some horses for the artillery, sailed, I believe, on the day after I did, and may be expected in a day or two. The 24th foot may likewise be expected from Jersey, and likewise a brigade of light infantry from England, and a regiment of Hussars.

The expectation of the immediate arrival of some of these troops, and the consideration of the various different arrangements to be made, and which can be made only here, in respect to transport, commissariat, staff, the defence of Lisbon and the Tagus, and eventually the defence of the eastern frontier, during the absence of the army to the northward, supposing it should be decided to undertake the expedition against Soult, will, I fear, detain me here for a few days; and it occurs to me that time will be saved, and much advantage will result from your being here. Accordingly I wish that you could make it convenient to yourself to come here as soon as possible.”

MS 61 WP1/257/7 Copy of a letter from Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley, Lisbon, to Marshal Beresford, requesting he come to Lisbon as soon as possible, 23 April 1809

27 April 1791 Siege warfare
Lord Cornwallis and the British East India Company forces made considerable advances against Tipu Sultan that year. As this letter recounts, despite tough resistance, the fort of Bangalore finally had been breached on 21 March. The siege of Darwar, then on the frontier between the Kingdom of Mysore and the Mahratta empire, lasted 29 weeks and came to an end in April.

“The siege of Durwar [Darwar] still continues. It has now lasted 8 months. Col[onel] Frederick died about 2 months ago of a fever much increased by the chagrin and vexation caus’d by the Mahratha’s delays. Lord Cornwallis with his army has been in a very critical situation. After the capture of the Pittah of Bagalore, several days elapsed in besieging the fort. Tippoo repairing with great alacrity and skill every breach we made. The country was laid waste and such was the distress of the army that had we not received information from some deserters that the fort in one particular was so constructed as to favor a storm by night (which Lord C[ornwallis] on 21 March resolved to attempt and carried out with trifling loss) we must have retreated precipitately the next day and left the greatest part of our artillery behind…”

MS 62 Broadlands Archive BR11/16/16 Letter from Benjamin Mee to his brother-in-law Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, 27 April 1791 

Reflections on war and warfare: week 7 (14 – 20 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.

14 April 1918 Letter about the military service bill responding to the manpower crisis
As a result of the German troops breaking through the Allied lines in numerous sectors of the Western Front in France, the British Army was left critically short of troops. This led to the drafting of a new military service bill, where conscription would be expanded to Ireland and the age limit would be raised to 50. Auckland Geddes, Director of National Service, argued that such measures would result in 150,000 more recruits for the army.

“Just now I’m following Lloyd George’s new bill which he introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday April 11th which embodies compulsion for Ireland raising the age limit to 50 years. Of compulsion for Ireland, I could write a great deal, but what will the old fogies who sat on the Tribunals say to this measure. They certainly made mockery of us when we appeased before them, and I think it is about high time they themselves should do their bit for king and country.”

MS 124 AJ 15/2 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 14 April 1918

17 April 1939 President Roosevelt tries to avert war
On 15 April 1939, the American President Roosevelt read a message that he had sent the previous day to the German Chancellor Adolph Hitler imploring him to avoid any action that would result in the outbreak of war. Sadly the meeting of the Reichstag eleven days later suggested otherwise.

‘’It seems possible that Hitler may not entirely reject Roosevelt’s offer – he’s calling the Reichstag which meets in 11 days”

MS168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 17 April 1939

18 April 1814 Armistice agreed bringing an end to the Peninsular War
The Convention of Toulouse took place on 18 April 1814, suspending hostilities between the Anglo-Allied forces, under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, and French forces, under Marshal Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Duc de Dalmatie, and Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet, Duc d’Albufera. A general order outlining the articles of the convention expresses appreciation for the efforts of the officers and troops of the Allied forces.

“Upon congratulating the army upon this prospect of an honourable termination of their labours, the Commander of the Forces avails himself of the opportunity of returning the General Officers, Officers, and troops, his best thanks for their uniform discipline and gallantry in the field, and for their conciliating conduct towards the inhabitants of the country, which, almost in an equal degree with their discipline and gallantry in the field, have produced the fortunate circumstances that now hold forth to the world the prospect of genuine and permanent peace.”

WP9/1/2/7 General orders issued by the Adjutant General’s department of the army in the Peninsula and Southern France, Toulouse, 21 April 1814

20 April 1791 Fighting Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, the rule of Mysore, and his father before him had previously fought the British East India Company army in the first and second Anglo-Mysore Wars. In 1789, he sent forces onto the Malabar Coast to put down a rebellion causing many people to flee to Travancore and Cochin. Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General of India, viewed an assault by Tipu Sultan on the Nedumkotta, a fortified line of defence built by the Rajah of Travancore, in December 1789 as a declaration of war. This marked the start of the third Anglo-Mysore war, which dragged on until 1792. The British and their allies had made considerable advances on Tipu Sultan’s forces by 1791 , although Lord Cornwallis was eventually forced to withdraw his troops, due to Tipu Sultan’s efforts to break the British supply system.

“I agree with you perfectly about Indian politicks and cannot discover either the necessity, policy or justice of this desperate war we are waging against Tippo. If the success of it should prove as problematical … we shall have made a fine job of it.”

MS 62 Broadlands Archive BR 11/16/4 Letter from Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Mee, a merchant in India, 20 April 1791

Reflections on war and warfare: week 6 (7 – 13 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.

8 April 1918 Reaction to the fail of the Michael Offensive
Leonard Jacques Stein served in the army from 1914 to 1920 and worked for the Palestine Military Administration and on the political staff from 1918 to 1920.

As a result of Ludendorff failing to follow the correct storm trooper strategy, much of the German advances were achieved in locations not purposefully significant. This led to the Infantry being exhausted by their constant attack on the strongly rooted British Units, and the advance faltering due to the troops being too fatigued to move artillery and supplies forward to aid them.

“Everyone here seems to be extraordinarily optimistic, the general view being that the German offensive has definitely failed to ‘come off’ in spite of the large amount of ground the Germans have gained, or rather for the most part – regained, and that it is not unlikely to end in a German disaster.”

MS 170 AJ244/67 Letter written by Leonard Stein during wartime service to his father, mother and Agatha, 8 April 1918

10 April 1814 Battle of Toulouse
By the spring of 1814 the Anglo-Allied army, under the Marquis of Wellington, had pushed the French Imperial armies out of Spain and had begun their invasion of France. Toulouse, the regional capital, remained loyal to Napoleon and was defended by a French force of 42,000 troops under Marshal Soult.

The siege of the city began on 10 April 1814. Like many of Wellington’s attacks on fortified strongholds, the battle proved a bloody affair with one British and two Spanish divisions suffering particularly heavy casualties. The plan was to take the heights of the Calvinet ridge, overlooking the city from the east, making defence by the French untenable. While General Rowland Hill led a diversionary assault on the western suburbs, Marshal William Beresford, leading the 4th and 6th divisions, was given the task of taking the heights. However, as a result of heavy rain, Beresford’s attack was initially delayed with mud slowing his troops advance. In the below passage, Beresford praises the troops conduct while progressing up the steep slope under heavy enemy fire.

With the heights lost, Soult was forced to withdraw his troops from the ridge. Once behind the city’s defences he began to prepare his retreat. Wellington entered the city on 12 April. Later that day he was notified of Napoleon’s abdication on 6 April, four days before the battle began, bringing an end to the Peninsular War.

“…your Lordship’s attention being necessarily directed to many different points during the period, you could not be a witness to the conduct of these two divisions during the whole of the contest, yet, having seen the line of march they had to proceed on to reach the point of attack, and the severe fire to which they were exposed, I need only testify that it was done with the greatest coolness and order to enable your Lordship to appreciate the state of discipline and the merit of those divisions. Their formation under the fire of the enemy for the attack was most regular, and their advance most gallant, and consequently successful.”

WP1/409 Letter from Marshal Sir William Carr Beresford, La Bastide, to Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, reporting on the conduct of the officers and soldiers of the 4th and 6th divisions in the attack of the enemy’s position near Toulouse, 13 April 1814

13 April 1942 Rationing and food parcels
The Axis powers hoped to starve the British population into submission during the Second World War by cutting off their food supply lines. The British government was required to implement a system of greater self-sufficiency and a Food Department was created as part of the Board of Trade. By 1938 ration booklets were printed and the system of rationing was in motion.

Food rationing not only ensured that every person in the UK had enough to eat but also that the food met their daily nutritional requirements. As a result, this period is often described as the healthiest in British history as people received what they needed rather than what they necessarily wanted. For those fortunate enough to have friends around the globe, living in areas not affected by food shortages or rations, food parcels were a greatly valued gift. Samuel Rich and his family were lucky to have friends in America who sent provisions, although Samuel notes that although appreciated, those in the UK were not suffering too greatly at that stage from food shortages.

“Gisele’s parcel of food from USA has arrived after all! Butter, cheese, jam, chocolate. Very welcome of course; but she must think things are worse here than they really are…’

MS 168 AJ217/38 Journal of Samuel Rich, 13 April 1942

13 April 1854 “An interesting war”
Major Edward Wellesley, the grand nephew of the first Duke of Wellington, was attached to the staff of Lord Raglan, the British commander in the Crimean War, to whom he was also related. Wellesley had previously served in South Africa in the Kaffir War.

His letters to his wife and family April-September 1854 describe the journey to the Crimea. In Paris the British were feted by Napoleon III. In his letter of 14 April, Wellesley comments on his meeting with the French commander.

“I was introduced last night to St Arnaud the French Commander in Chief, who remarked that he hoped that I would find the war [in Crimea] as interesting as that at the Cape.”

MS 63 A904/4/7 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife Annot, 13 April 1854