Tag Archives: Conscription

Reflections on war and warfare: week 20 (14 – 20 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.

17-20 July 1812 Prelude to the Battle of Salamanca
Following the capture of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo in 1812, Wellington advanced into Spain where he was confronted by Marshal Marmont, commanding the army known as the “Army of Portugal”. In the weeks and days leading up to their engagement at the battle of Salamanca, on 22 July, the two armies often marched close together with Marmont continually outmanoeuvring Wellington’s forces and threatening the Allied supply line.

17 July 1812 – “The Army concentrated near Fuetelapeña. In the evening of this day it was discovered that we had been outmanoeuvred and the enemy had actually crossed a great force at the bridge of Tordesillas and the ford of Pollos. Marmont deserves great credit for the way in which he carried out the deception. For along time he kept constantly moving troops to his right, repaired the bridge at Toro and made good the ford at that place, crossed over small bodies constantly towards our left and kept us in alarm for our communications that way.”

18 July – “The enemy advanced in force, our troops retiring and concentrating near Cañin in some irregular strong ground. They advanced with great spirit taking care never to commit their cavalry supporting them (and they supporting each other) with artillery and infantry.”

19 July – “Towards evening the enemy made a move to the left which obliged us to take the ground to our right, and the next morning we offered him battle and expected an attack.”

20 July – “To Cabezavellosa. The enemy again moved to the left and we made a very long march, both armies moving in parallel lines, the enemy keeping the heights and cannonading our people with little effect.”

MS 300/7/1 Transcript by S.G.P.Ward of Scovell’s Peninsula diary, 17-20 July 1812


19 July 1918 Resentment over conscription legislation
As a result of numbers of volunteers falling to approximately 80,000 per month after the Dardanelles expedition, the government felt forced to intervene. Initially the ‘Derby scheme’ was introduced, which involved door-to-door visits to gather men to serve if needed, with assurance that bachelors would be called up before married men. However, this measure proved inadequate and in January 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced. It introduced conscription of single men aged 18-41, extended to married men in May of that year.

“I sat down to a half hour talk in which I did not get my way, namely to see that English born Jews be allowed the option of not joining the Jewish Regiment, and that a chaplain be approached to the Jewish Battalion.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 19 July 1918


20 July 1852 The Cape frontier wars

In December 1850 there was another outbreak of hostilities in the ongoing Cape frontier wars, in this case created in part by the policies imposed by the British Governor Sir Harry Smith. Chief Maqoma of the Xhosa led a guerrilla campaign in the valleys and forested mountains of Waterkloof against the British. From this base he was able to plunder surrounding farms and torch homestead. Maqoma inflicted heavy losses on forces under Sir Harry Smith’s command, notably that of the 74th Highlanders. By early 1852 George Cathcart was sent to replace Smith, taking up command in March. His brief was to crush the insurgents, a task he applied himself to with dedication and by February 1853 the chiefs surrendered. Captain Edward Wellesley’s letters give insights into the way the realities of warfare in the Cape.

“A large assemblage of Kafirs having been reported at Auckland the site of one of the destroyed military villages, the Governor sent a force and went himself; we found a number of huts which were destroyed but the Kafirs and any cattle they may have had escaped… On the 7th of this month a movement was made against the Kafirs under Macomo [Maqoma] in the Waterkloof, we left this and formed a camp on the Kroome river under the Kroome range from whence we ascended the Kroome and united with the Rifle Brigade at the tope and bivouacked on the heights. On the following day, we passed through a forest which divides the Waterkloof from Fuller’s Hoek and reached an open space familiarly called the Horseshoe, this is an open plateau something the shape of what it is termed and the best fighting ground I have seen for Kafirs… It is a melancholy spot, the graves of many poor soldiers dotted about, and you are pointed out the spot where many officers fell amongst them being Fordyce who commanded the 74th Highlanders and was a brave and distinguished officer. We however met with no opposition either passing through the Forest or emerging on the plain and having joined another column which had been operating on this side, in concert destroyed a large number of huts on the edge of the Waterkloof and in a skirmish one man of the Rifle Brigade was killed… The next day we returned to Fort Beaufort.”

MS 63 A904/3/19 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 20 July 1852

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Reflections on war and warfare: week 7 (14 – 20 April 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.

14 April 1918 Letter about the military service bill responding to the manpower crisis
As a result of the German troops breaking through the Allied lines in numerous sectors of the Western Front in France, the British Army was left critically short of troops. This led to the drafting of a new military service bill, where conscription would be expanded to Ireland and the age limit would be raised to 50. Auckland Geddes, Director of National Service, argued that such measures would result in 150,000 more recruits for the army.

“Just now I’m following Lloyd George’s new bill which he introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday April 11th which embodies compulsion for Ireland raising the age limit to 50 years. Of compulsion for Ireland, I could write a great deal, but what will the old fogies who sat on the Tribunals say to this measure. They certainly made mockery of us when we appeased before them, and I think it is about high time they themselves should do their bit for king and country.”

MS 124 AJ 15/2 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 14 April 1918


17 April 1939 President Roosevelt tries to avert war
On 15 April 1939, the American President Roosevelt read a message that he had sent the previous day to the German Chancellor Adolph Hitler imploring him to avoid any action that would result in the outbreak of war. Sadly the meeting of the Reichstag eleven days later suggested otherwise.

‘’It seems possible that Hitler may not entirely reject Roosevelt’s offer – he’s calling the Reichstag which meets in 11 days”

MS168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 17 April 1939


18 April 1814 Armistice agreed bringing an end to the Peninsular War
The Convention of Toulouse took place on 18 April 1814, suspending hostilities between the Anglo-Allied forces, under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, and French forces, under Marshal Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Duc de Dalmatie, and Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet, Duc d’Albufera. A general order outlining the articles of the convention expresses appreciation for the efforts of the officers and troops of the Allied forces.

“Upon congratulating the army upon this prospect of an honourable termination of their labours, the Commander of the Forces avails himself of the opportunity of returning the General Officers, Officers, and troops, his best thanks for their uniform discipline and gallantry in the field, and for their conciliating conduct towards the inhabitants of the country, which, almost in an equal degree with their discipline and gallantry in the field, have produced the fortunate circumstances that now hold forth to the world the prospect of genuine and permanent peace.”

WP9/1/2/7 General orders issued by the Adjutant General’s department of the army in the Peninsula and Southern France, Toulouse, 21 April 1814


20 April 1791 Fighting Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, the rule of Mysore, and his father before him had previously fought the British East India Company army in the first and second Anglo-Mysore Wars. In 1789, he sent forces onto the Malabar Coast to put down a rebellion causing many people to flee to Travancore and Cochin. Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General of India, viewed an assault by Tipu Sultan on the Nedumkotta, a fortified line of defence built by the Rajah of Travancore, in December 1789 as a declaration of war. This marked the start of the third Anglo-Mysore war, which dragged on until 1792. The British and their allies had made considerable advances on Tipu Sultan’s forces by 1791 , although Lord Cornwallis was eventually forced to withdraw his troops, due to Tipu Sultan’s efforts to break the British supply system.

“I agree with you perfectly about Indian politicks and cannot discover either the necessity, policy or justice of this desperate war we are waging against Tippo. If the success of it should prove as problematical … we shall have made a fine job of it.”

MS 62 Broadlands Archive BR 11/16/4 Letter from Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Mee, a merchant in India, 20 April 1791