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.
6 May 1810 Standoff across the Portuguese frontier
The Second Battle of Porto, in May 1809, put an end to the second French invasion of Portugal. Further victory followed in July when a combined allied force, under General Wellesley and General Cuesta, repulsed French attacks at Talavera in Spain. However, friction with their Spanish allies, combined with a lack of supplies and the threat of French reinforcement, led to the British deciding to retreat into Portugal. During 1810 Wellington held a defensive position, waiting until the French crossed the Portuguese border and reached terrain advantageous to his forces. In the following passage General Henry Fane writes to Lieutenant Colonel Denis Pack reporting on the current position of the Anglo-Portuguese force in anticipation of the French advance.
“…the British and Portuguese army are all upon the frontier. We moved up in consequence of an apparent intention on the part of the enemy to attack Ciudad Rodrigo or Almaida [Almeida], and in either case I believe it is the determination of our commander to fight him, provided it can be done under tolerable circumstances. Upon our advancing however the French have halted, between Salimanca [Salamanca] and Ciudad Rodrigo, and we are therefore halted also. Head quarters are at Celorico. I don’t expect we shall have any tilting at present, for we have too many old foxes to deal with for me to entertain any hopes they will allow us an opportunity of assailing them with advantage; and unless it is to evident advantage, I don’t suppose Lord W[ellington] will venture upon offensive war. Here we are however, ready.”
MS 296/1 Letter from General Henry Fane, Viseu, to Lieutenant Colonel Denis Pack, regarding the current position of the Anglo-Portuguese army, 6 May 1810
7 May 1918 Hopes for peace
On 7 May 1918, the Treaty of Bucharest was signed: a peace treaty between Romania on the one side and Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and the Ottoman Empire on the other. This followed the standstill after the campaign of 1916 to 1917 and Romania’s isolation following Russia’s departure from the war.
“We get many rumours of peace here, but none of them seem to turn out to be true. But we all live hopes, a soldier living without hope, may as well shoot himself for he is no use to his comrades, he worries and naturally makes other worry.”
MS 124 AJ 15/2 Letters of Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 7 May 1918
8 May 1854 The bombardment of Odessa
On 22 April 1854, the Anglo-French squadron arrived at Odessa and began a bombardment of Russian position. A shot on the Imperial Mole, which exploded, caused great damage and about 24 Russian ships in the military port were set on fire. Major Edward Wellesley writes to his wife of the devastation the bombardment caused to the town.
“My first opinion of the attack on Odessa by the navy is confirmed and in trying to destroy the Mole and forts the shots and shells set fire to the suburb of the town.”
MS 63 A904/4/20 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 8 May 1854
8 May 1945 VE day
On 8 May 1945 the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, officially announced the end of the war with Germany. Tens of thousands arrived outside the gates of Buckingham Palace whilst the King’s speech was broadcast by loudspeaker to those who had gathered in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. Many remained to catch a glimpse of the King, Queen and two Princesses on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
Newspapers commemorated the end of the war in Europe, as extracts from these, collected and kept by L.A.Burgess, demonstrate.
The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post:
“Germany capitulates! Today is VE Day: Complete and Crushing Victory.”
“After a heroic fight of almost six years of incomparable hardness, Germany has succumbed to the overwhelming power of her enemies. To continue the war would only mean senseless bloodshed and a futile disintegration.”
MS 73 A643 Papers of L.A.Burgess, May 1945