Reflections on war and warfare: Week 26 (25 – 31 August 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.

25 August 1854 Fever devastates allied army
The loss of life during the Crimean war was considerable, but many of those who died did so as a result of disease. Even before the first significant battle of the war, in September 1854, the allied forces found their numbers depleted by a wave of fever and cholera.

“The troops have suffered much from fever and cholera and the French army most dreadfully, we have lost many officers and soldiers and the fleet has also suffered materially… There is no doubt this is the most unhealthy place at this season of the year, in fact the Russians lost half their army when they besieged the town in 1828 and we are fortunate in escaping as we have…”

MS 63 A904/4/34 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his sister-in-law Mary, 25 August 1854


26 August 1915 An act of outstanding bravery
During the second Battle of Ypres, 25 year old Acting Corporal Issy Smith of the First Battalion of the Manchester Regiment rescued injured soldiers in the face of unrelenting fire. As a result of putting the safety and welfare of his fellow comrades before his own, Issy Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour a soldier can receive.

“My dear Sir, I am very gratified to learn that you have so bravely distinguished yourself on the field of battle, as to gain the VC the highest honour a soldier can hope for. Such a distinction must be a source of lasting pride to you, your family circle and your friends. Permit me, as the Spiritual Head of the Jewish Communities in the British Empire, to congratulate you most heartily on the success which has attended the noble services you have rendered to your King and Country.”

MS 175 141/2 Letter from Chief Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz to Acting Corporal, Issy Smith, 26 August 1915


31 August 1813 Storming of San Sebastián
After the decisive victory at the Battle of Vitoria on 21 June 1813, Wellington’s forces moved towards the western Pyrenees and lay siege to the fortress of San Sebastián. A full scale assault was attempted under Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham on 25 July, but the fortress proved a difficult target and the assault was beaten off.

After heavy bombardment created two breaches in the walls, a second assault was attempted on the 31 August. However, the main breach, located near the southeast corner of the fortress, was defended by heavy fire. Waves of British soldiers were cut down until Graham ordered the artillery to fire over the heads of the assailants, clearing the ramparts. After a shell hit a quantity of powder, the storming party took advantage of the devastation and confusion to force its way into the town.

“…the whole of the numerous fire barrels, live shells, hand grenades, and other combustibles, which the garrison had arranged along the ramparts for the close defence of their traverses and interior works, caught fire, and igniting in succession caused a number of explosions along the whole extent of the high curtain, killing and wounding many of the defenders, and throwing the others into the greatest confusion.

The assailants took immediate advantage of this explosion to renew their efforts, and a vigorous rush rendered them masters of the first traverse. The garrison, however, returned to the charges, when a fierce conflict ensued; but the assailants increasing in numbers on the high curtain soon drove them back. The garrison then abandoned the ravelin and left branch of the hornwork and withdrew […] the remainder of the assaulting force entered in rapid succession at one or other point, and vigorously followed up their success, under a most awful storm of thunder, lightning, and rain.”

Journals of sieges carried on by the army under the Duke of Wellington, in Spain, between the years 1811 and 1814 : with notes – Colonel John Thomas Jones (Ward Coll. 126 vol.2)


31 August 1939 The evacuation of children from London
In the first few days of September 1939 over three million people were evacuated from Britain’s cities and towns. The majority of them were schoolchildren. The relocation order was given at 11.07am on 31 August 1939, but in the days prior to its issue schools had been rehearsing the evacuation procedures.

“The news today is ominous – ½ million children to be evacuated from London tomorrow.’’

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 31 August 1939

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