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’, until recently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.
21 December 1854 Devastating losses at the battle of Balaclava
The battle of Balaclava was fought 24 October 1854. The port of Balaclava was crucial to the allies to maintain supply lines for their siege of Sebastapol against the Russians. The most famous part of the battle, the infamous charge of the Light Brigade, resulted in devastating losses of men and horses. It was such a traumatic event that the allies were incapable of further action that day.
“The mismanagement and stupidity, if not utter negligence, at Balaklava, have caused a great amount of loss of life, of property and health. This was excusable at the outset; it is not excusable now, when the government knows all these things.
MS 62 Broadlands Archives SHA/PD/6 Diary of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, 21 December 1854
23 December 1916 Trench foot
First described by French army surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey, trench foot is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary and cold conditions. If not treated, it can lead to a fungal infection, and eventually gangrene, which can result in amputation. Acts of prevention include keeping feet clean, warm and dry. During World War One, regular foot inspections acted as a key deterrent, as well as pairing soldiers up. Each soldier in the pair would be responsible for the feet of the other. The application of whale oil was also done to prevent this foot condition.
“It is all very quiet up here, but perfectly filthy as far as mud is concerned. The men all look jolly well. We have large quantity of socks – they have to put on clean ones every day and rub their feet and we have no frost bite. Every day clean socks all sent up for the men in the line and bad feet is a crime (that’s one for you).”
MS 336 A2097/7/2 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and subsequent wife, Dorothy, 23 December 1916
28 December 1939 Rationing and the German-Soviet pact
Christmases for many years to come would be different following the introduction of rationing. Following limits on the supply of petrol, food stuffs were the next items to be restricted: as from January 1940, sugar and meat were rationed for 14 and 15 years respectively. Meanwhile, overseas, the Nazis had been given use of a submarine base near Murmansk, a city in northwest Russia, close to her borders with Norway and Finland.
“The news scanty – & of ominous sound. The French finance minister spoke of millions of Germans in wait & their planes an hour away. Here, they are to ration sugar and meat very soon. Old Swinton dithered ab[ou]t howitzers & guns, & doesn’t believe the Russians will give the Germans a submarine base nr. Murmansk.”
MS 168 AJ 217/35 Diary of S.M.Rich, 28 December 1939