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 

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