Reflections on war and warfare: Week 34 (20 – 26 October 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. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

21 October 1812 End of the Siege of Burgos
After the victory at Salamanca on 22 July 1812, and the liberation of Madrid on 12 August, Wellington made the decision to move against French forces in Northern Spain, leading to an attempted to capture the castle of Burgos. However, the French garrison managed to repulse every attempt by the Allies to seize the fortress. In the meantime, large French relief armies were moving from both the northeast and southeast. On 21 October, Wellington was forced to raise the siege and retreat to Cuidad Rodrigo, losing 5,000 men to hunger or exposure in the severe winter conditions.

“I am sorry to say that I am afraid that I shall be obliged to give up our position here, in consequence of the intelligence which I have received from General Hill of the movements of the enemy in the south ; and unless I should receive a contradiction of the intelligence, I propose to march this night.”

MS 61 WP1/351 Copy of a letter from General Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Riobena, to Brigadier General Denis Pack, 21 October 1812

21 October 1851 The difficulties of operations in the Kroome valley

“Major General Somerset has had some hard fighting in the Kroome range where Macomo a cunning and influential Chief of the Gaikas is located. There had been hard fighting for two days and Somerset would go on until he effectively clears this difficult country from all the enemy who infests it…. If Somerset completely effects this duty it may have more influence on the termination of the war…”

MS 63 A904/3 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley to his brother, Richard, 21 October 1851

21 October 1917 The October Revolution
As a result of military defeat and starvation, as well as internal disagreements within the provisional government, the public of Russia were unhappy with the state of their country. Citizens of Russia became irritated by Russia’s continued involvement in World War One, which led to the rise of the national debt and living costs. Consequently, strikes by Moscow and Petrograd workers occurred and the provisional government was overthrown. Power was handed to the local Soviets dominated by the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

“All the same, one gets most awfully fed up – my dear, two bombs have just stopped 50 yards away or less! Yes very fed up, (more so than when I started this sentence) with the war. The Russian news is disgusting, and most serious. However, perhaps by the time this reaches you there may be something better to read in the papers.”

MS 132 AJ 322 2/3 Letter from Basil Henriques to Sybil Henriques, 21 October 1917

21 October 1940 Life in the East End during the Blitz

“Let me try and describe an incident on the night of 21 October 1940, at Tonybee Hall. I lived in the immediate vicinity of Tonybee Hall and thanks to Dr. Jimmy Mallon, the work done there during the Blitz was incalculable. A number of people who had special responsibilities there, slept in a room, all on mattresses on the floor, except for one lady over 80, who had a camp bed. On this night, Winston Churchill was due to speak, and so we assembled to hear him. […] The final words were completely drowned by the noise of a nearby plane and in seconds a bomb had exploded. The ceiling of our room partly collapsed, all the glass was broken; mortar and shrapnel hit us all and there was no electricity. Covered with debris, cut by glass, bruised by falling masonry, our hair matted with dirt, we stood silent for a minute. The somebody called: “I’m alright; who is hurt?” The silence was broken and nobody in that room was seriously hurt. But curiously, as we waited, we all kissed each other – a strange occurrence for a group of highly undemonstrative people, and, as always, we thanked God and prayed to Him.”

MS 116/82 AJ 221 Typescript of “Life in Stepney during World War II, 1939-45” by Edith Ramsey

A news release for the current exhibition can be viewed at:

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