Reflections on war and warfare: week 18 (30 June – 6 July 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.

1 July 1944 Dealing with the threat of bombing
The effects on the civilian population of the threat of bombing raids on London, bombs from June 1944 had taken the form of “Doodlebugs”, is recorded in the journal of Samuel Rich:

“The frequent procession to the shelter on the approach of each doodle bug – the suspense at the cutting out of the engine and the explosion – the relief on hearing what must mean death to somebody – the emergence – to be repeated n+1 times.”

MS 168 AJ217/40 Journal of Samuel Rich, 1 July 1944


2 July 1813 The “scum of the earth”
At the Battle of Vitoria, on 21 June 1813, Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, broke the French army of King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain. However, in the aftermath of the battle, his troops broke their ranks to loot the abandoned French wagons. While Wellington often praised the gallantry of his troops he was well aware that the pressures of warfare all too often lead to such bouts of pillaging. This particular incident led him to write his now famous dispatch to Earl Bathurst, referring to his men as the “scum of the earth”.

“It is quite impossible for me or any other man to command a British army under the existing system. We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers, and of late years we have been doing every thing in our power both by law and by publications to relax the discipline by which alone such men can be kept in order. The officers of the lower ranks will not perform the duty required from them in order to keep their soldiers in order and it is next to impossible to punish any officer for neglects of this description. As to the noncommissioned officers as I have repeatedly stated, they are as bad as the men; and too near them in point of pay and situation by the regulations of late years to expect them to do anything to keep the men in order.

It is really a disgrace to have any thing to say to such men as some of our soldiers are.”

WP1/373/6 Letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Huarte, to Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, 2 July 1813


1-4 July 1916 A chaplain in the war
As the Anglo-French operations in the Battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July, extracts from the diary of Revd Michael Adler, senior Jewish chaplain to the British Expeditionary Force, recorded some of the human cost of this military action.

Sat 1 July: “Battle begun.”
Mon 3 July: “ Corbie La Neuville to be near the Somme fighting.”
Tue 4 July: “Funeral of Pte L.Levi… 2nd Lieut Seline seriously wounded.”

MS 125 AJ 16/2 Diary of Revd Michael Adler, 1-4 July 1916


3-4 July 1916 Battle of Albert
Taking place in Somme (Picardy, France), the Battle of Albert encompassed the beginnings of the Anglo-French operations in the Battle of the Somme. Lasting from 1-13 July 1916, it began with an attack made by the Anglo-French Infantry on the south bank from Foucaucourt to the Somme, and from the Somme north to Gommecourt. Despite the Infantry achieving a significant victory on the German Second Army, the British attack from Albert-Bapaume road to Gommecourt resulted in approximately 60,000 British casualties.

“All last week there was a heavy bombardment of the German line, getting more and more violent. In fact it was terrible. But the weather was awful and the attack had to be put off for Thursday. The whole Battalion have been working like ants for days past, all night and every night.”

MS 336 A2097/7/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and, subsequent wife Dorothy, 3-4 July 1916

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