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