Tag Archives: Crimean War

Turbulent times for PMs

This week parliament returns after the summer recess with a new Prime Minister taking charge of the UK at one of the most turbulent times in recent political history. We take the opportunity to look at the challenges facing two former PMs whose papers are held by Special Collections…

Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769–1852), became a national hero after successes against the French in the Peninsular War, 1808–14, and the Waterloo campaign, 1815. While he is best remembered for his military service, the Duke had a parallel political career. Starting as aide de camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1787, he sat in both the Irish and UK Parliaments, 1790–7 and 1806–9 respectively, and was Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1807-9.

Illustration of the Duke of Wellington writing the despatches after the Battle of Waterloo, 1815: Illustrated London News, 20 November 1852 [Rare Books quarto per A]

Illustration of the Duke of Wellington writing the despatches after the Battle of Waterloo, 1815: Illustrated London News, 20 November 1852 [Rare Books quarto per A]

His ability to manage the politics of the war was a crucial element in the success of his command in the wars against Napoleon and in the occupation of France, 1815–18. The Duke returned to Britain and politics, taking a seat in Lord Liverpool’s Cabinet in 1818 as Master General of the Ordnance. However, in post-war politics he was characterised as a reactionary, and his reputation waxed and waned through the debates on Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform.

Wellington became Prime Minister in 1828. One of his first achievements was overseeing Catholic emancipation, the most significant measure of which was the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 which permitted members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster. Wellington had been converted to the cause when he came to realise the role emancipation could play in ending the conflict which had arisen from the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland in 1801. However, there was strong opposition to the bill which was seen as a threat to both the Protestant constitution and the supremacy of the Church of England. Lord Winchilsea, a popular hero of Protestant constitutionalists, was one of those hostile to the bill and his criticism of Wellington led to a duel between the two men which took place in Battersea Park in March 1829. They both deliberately missed each other in firing, and honour was satisfied.

In a letter dated 22 March 1829, Jeremy Bentham remonstrates with Wellington for fighting the duel:

Ill-advised man! Think of the confusion, in which the whole fabric of government would have been thrown had you been killed or had the trial of you for the murder of another man been substituted in the House of Lords to the passing of the emancipation Bill!
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/1004/17]

By 1830 the need for parliamentary reform was gaining broad support. The current system was recognised as neither representative nor balanced, with many urban areas underrepresented and qualifications for voting limited. When the issue was raised in Parliament on 2 November, Wellington took a strong stance against reform, defending the existing system and refusing to support expansion of the political franchise. His anti-reform position led a high degree of personal and political unpopularity.

The same year saw the Swing Riots, centred in many areas on the economic difficulties of agricultural labourers, with machine-breaking and rural unrest. The fictitious Captain Swing also expressed general discontent with the Wellington government and lack of progress with the popular cause of reform. The Wellington papers contain a series of letters attributed to Swing in which the Duke is threaten, including the following, dated 4 November 1830:

Sir, Your base vile conduct to and treatment of your fellow subjects, your determination to turn a deaf ear to their remonstrances, has made you an object of popular vengeance and of popular hatred.

Take my advice, act openly and nobly as becomes a Briton: reform that vile nest of corruption which is bred in Downing Street, destroy those vultures that prey on the public liver or beware! I say beware! Beware! Beware!
[MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/1159/93]

Later that month, on 15 November 1830, Wellington was forced to resign after he was defeated in a motion of no confidence. He was replaced by Earl Grey, leading a Whig government, and continued to fight reform in opposition before finally consenting to the Great Reform Bill in 1832.

Illustration of the funeral procession for the Duke of Wellington passing Apsley House: Illustrated London News, 27 November 1852 [Rare Books quarto per A]

Illustration of the funeral procession for the Duke of Wellington passing Apsley House: Illustrated London News, 27 November 1852 [Rare Books quarto per A]

Wellington briefly returned to the role of Prime Minister in 1834 while waiting for Peel to return from the Continent, after which he held the positions of Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. Much of his later political career was spent leading the Conservative peers in the House of Lords, and he sat in Peel’s Cabinet of 1841–6 as a minister without portfolio. He was Commander-in-Chief of the army for the third time from 1842 until his death: on earlier occasions conflict with his political duties brought his tenure of office to an abrupt conclusion. Nonetheless he remained popular in the mind of the nation. His death in 1852 was marked by unprecedented scenes of public mourning and, as befitted his status as a national hero, Wellington was given a state funeral.

Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston
The renown of Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston (1784–1865), rests on his service in high political office: he was Foreign Secretary, 1830–4, 1835–41 and 1846–51; Home Secretary, 1852–5; and Prime Minister, 1855–8, 1859–65. These posts he held in Whig/Liberal governments. He had formerly served in Tory administrations, as a junior minister — a Lord of the Admiralty in 1807–9 and Secretary at War, 1809–28, joining Wellington’s cabinet for an uneasy five months in the last year, departing with Huskisson after disagreements with Wellington on foreign affairs and parliamentary reform. The Duke had said little to Palmerston at the end, reporting later that ‘he did not choose to fire great guns at sparrows.’ While Palmerston’s commitment to service can be seen in terms of national rather than party interest, he became increasingly reliant on Liberal support, especially during his time as Prime Minister.

Illustration of Lord Palmerston making the Ministerial Statement on Dano-German Affairs in the House of Commons: Illustrated London News, 2 July 1864 [quarto per A]

Illustration of Lord Palmerston making the Ministerial Statement on Dano-German Affairs in the House of Commons: Illustrated London News, 2 July 1864 [quarto per A]

Palmerston was serving as Home Secretary when the Crimean War broke out in March 1854. As such, he had limited control over British policy during the lead up to the war. In a memorandum, date 20 January 1855, he writes of the “present lamentable condition of our army in the Crimea” and places the blame directly on those in authority. [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR22(i)/1/96] Palmerston’s view that poor administration was to blame for the current state of the war was widely shared. Shortly after Parliament passed a bill to investigate the conduct of the war, Lord Aberdeen was compelled to resign as Prime Minister. Despite Queen Victoria’s reservations, Palmerston was generally seen as the best man for the job and was invited to form a government on 4 February 1855.

Palmerston was over 70 when he finally became Prime Minister, a position he was to hold almost continuously from 1855 until his death in October 1865. On his accession to the premiership, the resolution of the Crimean conflict was a pressing concern. Palmerston took a hard line on the war with the aim of permanently reducing the Russian threat to Europe. Following the surrender of Sebastopolin in September 1855, Russia came to terms and the war ended in the spring of 1856 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 March.

During the remainder of his first term in office Palmerston oversaw British responses to Second Opium War in China, beginning in 1856 when Chinese authorities’ seized a British-registered ship engaged in piracy, and the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The following year, an assassination attempt on Napoleon III by Italian republican Felice Orsini led Palmerston to introduce a Conspiracy Bill, making it a felony to conspire in Britain to murder someone outside the jurisdiction. The bill was defeated on its second reading and Palmerston was forced to resign in February 1858. However, Lord Derby’s subsequent minority government was short lived and resigned after only one year. In reply to a letter from Disraeli asking him to join a Conservative led administration, Palmerston writes:

I am very much obliged to you for the kind and friendly terms of your letter, and if I say in answer that many reasons which it is unnecessary to go into would prevent me from entering into such an arrangement as that which you suggest might be possible, I trust it is needless for me to assure you that no want of personal good feeling towards Lord Derby or yourself, or towards any others members of your government, could form a part of those reasons.
[MS 62 Palmerston Papers GC/DI/140]

Palmerston formed a Liberal government the following month, returning to power in June 1859. His second terms saw his support for Italian unification during the period 1859-61 and commitment to British neutrality during the course of the American Civil War, despite his personal sympathies lying with the secessionist Southern Confederacy. While he was strongly opposed to slavery and the slave trade, he had a fraught relationship with the United States throughout his career and felt that successful Southern secession was in Britain’s best interests. In a letter to Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Secretary of State for War, dated 30 December [1862], he writes of the likelihood of an attempted invasion of Canada by the Northern States:

I cannot say that I believe there is much real danger of an American invasion of Canada. They are making no progress towards the subjugation of the South, and if they were to gain some decisive victories, and compel the south to sign a treaty, they would be compelled to occupy the country with troops, in order to prevent rebellion from again raising its head. At the same time, the language of the Washington government is so insolent and menacing, and their demands so unreasonable, that they may at any moment render it impossible for us to avoid war any longer.
[MS 62 Palmerston Papers GC/LE/167]

Having served fifteen years as Foreign Secretary, foreign policy continued to be Palmerston’s main strength during his time as Prime Minister. However, in terms of domestic policy, he oversaw the passage of important legislation, including reform of the divorce laws in 1857, the Companies Acts of 1858 and 1862, Offences against the Person Act of 1861, and the Poor Law Act of 1865.

Lord Palmerston as an elder statesman, West Front, Broadlands: an albumen print probably from the 1850s [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR22(i)/17]

Lord Palmerston as an elder statesman, West Front, Broadlands: an albumen print probably from the 1850s [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR22(i)/17]

Three months after winning another general election in July 1865, Palmerston died on 18 October, aged 80. He was the fourth person not of royalty to be granted a state funeral, after Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Nelson, and the Duke of Wellington.

Advertisements

End of the Crimean War

Today marks 160 years since the end of the Crimean War, the most important Great Power conflict fought between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of World War One in 1914.

The war took place mainly on the Crimean Peninsula between an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia on one side, and Russia on the other. Beginning in 1853, the immediate cause of the conflict resulted from religious tensions in the Middle East, including a dispute between Russia and France over the privileges of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the Holy Land. The Holy Land was then part of the Ottoman Empire ruled by Turkey and Tsar Nicholas I demanded that the Turks resolve the dispute in favour of the Orthodox Church. Nicholas’ demands, however, were not met, leading to the mobilisation of Russian forces against Turkey.

‘Siege of Sebastopol – General View’, Illustrated London News, 18 November 1854 [quarto per A]

‘Siege of Sebastopol – General View’, Illustrated London News, 18 November 1854 [quarto per A]

Turkey, by this time, was beginning to lose its grip on its empire and both Britain and France were concerned about Russian expansion and the potential danger posed to their trade routes. Turkey declared war on Russia on 5 October 1853, in response to initial Russian operations. The following month the Russian Black Sea fleet destroyed a Turkish squadron at Sinope, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The British and French responded by aligning themselves with Turkey and both declared war on Russia in March 1854.

An allied army of over 60,000 British, French and Turkish troops was initially stationed in Turkey, ready to defend Istanbul from attack. In a letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, dated 4 May 1854, he complains of the inexperience of staff and attendant confusion of arrangements as the British and French forces set up their bases in the Bosphorus:

A number of our Artillery Transports are hourly arriving and are stationed about 4 miles from here, the bustle and confusion attendant on all these arrivals are immense more particularly as all the staff nearly are new and there is too much discussion and too little actual work. You can imagine I have had enough to do and undo.
[MS 63 A904/4/18]

In order to strengthen their naval supremacy, the allies adopted a plan to land in the Crimea and conduct an all-out attack on Russian forces in the region, with the aim of seizing the naval base at Sebastopol and destroying the fleet and dockyard. In mid-September 1854, the joint allied invasion force landed at Kalamatia Bay. In order to advance on Sebastopol, the allies first had to cross the River Alma and attack heavily defended Russian positions on higher ground. With the advantage of new rifled muskets, together with superior skill and numbers, the allies were able to conduct a powerful offensive and force the Russians to flee their positions.

However, they failed to pursue the Russians directly, losing an opportunity to easily capture Sebastopol. This provided time for the Russians to fortify the city and stage two flank attacks. The first of these took place on 25 October, with Russian forces moving towards the British position at Balaclava. The Battle of Balaclava is best remembered for the infamous ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ in which miscommunication in the chain of command led to the British Light Brigade conducting a frontal assault against well-fortified Russian artillery. The brigade suffered heavy casualties under a bombardment of direct fire. While criticised as a major blunder at the time, the charge also came to symbolise the valour and bravery of the British cavalry. The result of the battle was indecisive, with the Russians failing to break through the British lines. A further attempt was made to defeat the British with a surprise attack at Inkerman on 5 November 1854. The intense fighting resulted in massive losses, mostly on the Russian side, and ended with the allied troops continuing to hold their ground.

‘Charge of the Light Cavalry, at Balaclava’, Illustrated London News, 23 December 1854 [quarto per A]

‘Charge of the Light Cavalry, at Balaclava’, Illustrated London News, 23 December 1854 [quarto per A]

Soon after the Battle of Inkerman, winter set in. The winter of 1854 was a harrowing one for the troops. Not only were living conditions extremely poor, but medical supplies in the field were also inadequate. Media reporting from the front line highlighted the dreadful conditions and the level of maladministration in the army which led to widespread public outrage.

Even before the first significant battle of the war the allied forces found their numbers depleted by a wave of fever and cholera, as is noted by Major Edward Wellesley in a letter to his sister-in-law, Mary, on 25 August 1854:

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]

Having twice acted as Foreign Secretary between 1830 and 1851, Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, was serving as Home Secretary when the Crimean War broke out. As such, he had limited control over British policy during the lead up to the war. In a memorandum, date 20 January 1855, Palmerston writes of the “present lamentable condition of our army in the Crimea” and places the blame on those in authority. He suggests that they should be removed with the exception of Lord Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, first Baron Raglan, despite his having shown himself to be “deficient” in caring for his officers and troops. Palmerston continues by declaring that if a remedy is not found, the reinforcements would be “victims sent to the slaughter” and that “defeat and disgrace must be the inevitable result”. He also criticises the decision to attack Sebastopol, believing that the “first thing then to be done is to put the army into a good condition”. [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR22(i)/1/96]

The public outcry eventually led to a number of organisations and individuals setting out for the war zone to minister to the troops. Among the nurses was Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. She emphasised the need for well trained nurses and clean hospitals to aid in the recovery of the sick and wounded. Following the war she continued to campaign tirelessly to improve health standards.

In the spring of 1855 the allies, now joined by the Sardinians, resumed their siege of Sebastopol. The siege continued until September 1855 when, having defended the city for almost a year, the Russians finally evacuated. By now Palmerston had become Prime Minister and was involved in negotiating the terms of peace. The Crimean War ended in the spring of 1856 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 March.

In his diary entry, dated 31 March 1856, Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, writes:

Yesterday Sunday. Peace was signed and the intelligence sent by electric telegraph. The guns announced it to the people. Let us bless the Lord who has brought us out of so many and great dangers, who has shown us such unspeakable and undeserved mercies, and who has taught us how and why to thank Him! May it be a true peace, a lasting peace, a fruitful peace. May it give double energy and double capacity to our thoughts, desires and efforts.
[MS 62 Broadlands Archives SHA/PD/7]

Alongside the Palmerston Papers, Special Collections houses a range of other material providing perspectives on the Crimean War. These include the diaries of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (MS 62); the letters of the Major Edward Wellesley (MS 63); a diary and notebook of General Sir John St. George, who served as an artillery officer in the Crimea (MS 59); and the Crimea journal of Henry Parnell, fourth Baron Congleton (MS 64). Parnell joined the Buffs or the Third Regiment of Foot in 1855 at the age of 16 years of age. He served with them in the Crimea after the fall of Sebastapol in 1856 and his journal presents a very different picture from the records of officers in a combat situation.

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 29 (15 – 21 September 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.

15 September 1939 Business as usual the University College, Southampton
As this special meeting of the Council shows, at this early stage, the war had not yet had a big impact on academic life in the University – previous Council and Senate minutes do indicate that the institution had accepted refugee scholars. As the war progressed, however, Army and Senior Training Corps were based at Southampton; both staff and students enlisted and, as the port of Southampton became a target for German bombs, the College looked at alternative student accommodation and the possibility of evacuating whole the institution.

The Council considered the recommendation of the General Purposes Committee and Senate with regard to the policy to be adopted by the College in the view of the outbreak of war.  It was pointed out that at the present stage it was impossible to say to what extent the number of available staff and students would be reduced. The Principal explained that the Government had left it to the College Authorities to decide whether or not the work of the College should proceed at Southampton. After careful consideration of all the circumstances involved, it was resolved:

“(a) That Council approve that the work of the College should continue as usual, and that the Autumn term should begin on 2nd October.

(b) That the position be revised from time to time in the light of subsequent events, and that the Principal be authorised in the meantime to negotiate with other university institutions  as to the possibility of their accommodating students of this College should circumstances arise to make this necessary.”

MS 1/MBK1/8 Council minute book: University College of Southampton 1938-51, p.34


16 September 1939 The invasions on Poland

On 1 September 1939 German troops invaded Poland, on the pretext of protecting Germany from a Polish invasion. On 17 September Russia invaded from the east, having signed a secret pact with Germany.

“Russia is an enigma. The poor Poles are bearing the brunt of this barbaric attack on civilisation. I went into England’s garden to inspect progression of their dug-out – a living grave!’’

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 16 September 1939


18 September 1916 Battle of Flers-Courcelette

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette marked the third phase of the Somme offensive and signified the first use of the tank in warfare. Built in secrecy, the armoured vehicle was developed with the objective of breaking the gridlock of armed conflict. The first prototype was produced in January 1916. Despite mechanical failings and the trouble the tanks had with the terrain of the Somme, Sir Douglas Haig wished to use them to support the 41st Division in the attack on Flers-Courcelette. Whilst only 32 of 43 available tanks managed to reach the starting line for attack, the Allies advanced two kilometres and gained control of the villages of Fler, Courcelette, Martinpuich and High Wood.

“We’re training like the Devil! Up at 4.30am when a narrow little band on the horizon proclaims the coming of dawn, and with a break for brekker, it’s parade work until the weather gets too hot at 11am and from 3.30pm until dusk. It makes a long day for all, but we seem to be standing the strain well.”

MS 116/8 AJ 14 Volume of typescript ‘excerpts’ from letters from H.D. Myer, 18 September 1916


September 1852 Waterkloof is taken

Waterkloof, which has been the stronghold of the Xhosa leader Maqoma, was finally taken by the British in September 1852.

“On the 15th the Waterkloof was assailed for the third time and the operations have been so far quite successful, about 100 Kafirs are reported to have been killed, 200 women and children (miserable starved objects) taken prisoners.”

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


21 September 1812 Attitudes of French prisoners
The diary of John Holt Beaver charts his travels in Portugal and Spain in the aftermath of the Battle of Salamanca, from August to November 1812. In the below passage he notes the attitudes of French soldiers taken prisoner during the battle.

“There are 5 convents converted into hospital for the British, and 2 for the Portuguese and a college is made an hospital for the wounded French prisoners…Many of them were taken at the Battle of Salamanca and are terribly cut about the head by our cavalry, some have lost their noses or ears and even eyes. The British sergeant who has charge of the prison said some of them were glad to have become our prisoners and others thought their Emperor the greatest hero in the world…”

MS 362 Diary of John Holt Beaver, 21 September 1812

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 27 (1 – 7 September 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.

31 August – 8 September 1813 The sacking and burning of San Sebastián
The town of San Sebastián was capture by assault on 31 August 1813. As the Allied forces entered the town, the French retreated to the security of the castle. As was the case at Badajoz, the victorious soldiers indulged in drunkenness and plunder while their officers attempted to enforce discipline. Meanwhile, fire from the artillery bombardment swept through the streets of the town and after several days only a small number of buildings remained. The castle capitulated on 8 September.

“The state of the town notwithstanding every exertion of General Hay and the staff officers, was such from the drunkenness of our soldiers, and the plundering of all, especially from the Portuguese, that I sent from the place an order for Lord Aylmer’s brigade to come immediately […] and I could not help considering that there is very great risk of misfortune, were the enemy to make a serious attempt against the town.”

MS 61 WP1/376 Letter from Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham to Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, 1 September 1813


7 September 1854 The strength of the allied forces in the Crimea
Many of the troops who died in the Crimea did so as a result of disease and 7,000 were lost before the first significant battle of the war in September 1854.

“In these operations everything will depend upon combination as the forces divided are not strong enough to meet the Russians said to be in the Crimea, the French having as usual much exaggerated the numbers they would send out here, and having also lost 7,000 men by disease..”

MS 63 A904/4/35 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 7 September 1854


7 September 1916 The Battle of Guillemont, the Somme
Throughout late July and August 1916, Guillemont, which was on the right flank of the British line and the French Sixth Army boundary, defied repeated British attacks. Another major attack was made in early September, commencing with bombardments on 2 September. The main assault began on 3 September and fighting lasted until 6 September when a major portion of wood was secured.

“We are really having a very good time, the battle goes on day and night in different parts of the line. You can’t imagine how wonderful it is at night – a constant thunder of gun and flashes seem to light up the whole countryside. There are camp fires every as far as the eye can see, so you can understand that we are not yet very close up.”

MS 336 A2097/7/2 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and subsequent wife, Dorothy, 7 September 1916

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

Reflections on war and warfare: week 16 (16 – 22 June 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.

18 June 1917 Attack of the Gothas leads to new preparations for air raids
On 13 June 1917, London received its first daylight raid by the German planes called Gothas, a biplane with a wingspan the length of two buses. Although the 18 Gothas were opposed by 90 British fighters, none were brought down, leading to the death of 162 people. This figure included 18 children killed as a result of a bomb landing directly on Upper North Street School in Chelsea. These devastation of the raids led to schools in the city tightening up their procedures during bombings, to strengthen the protection of their pupils.

“Talk at the Jewish Free School about new methods during air raids. They are now going to move some classes to the basement and others to unused rooms.”

MS 168 AJ 217/13 Journal of Samuel Rich, 18 June 1917


18 June 1854 Continued siege of Silistria
The Russian troops besieged the fortified town of Silistria from March1854. Despite various assaults, as Edward Wellesley notes below, the Turks managed to hold well into June. The Russian forces eventually withdrew on 24 June after orders for the attack were revoked.

“The Turks are holding out very well in Silistria and the Russians have not as yet made much impression.”

MS 63 A904/4/30 Letter from Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 18 June 1854


19 June 1815 Witnessing the cost of victory
The Battle of Waterloo resulted in a decisive allied victory. It not only ended the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte but also ended the series of wars which had raged across Europe, and other regions of the world, since the French Revolutionary wars of the 1790s. The decisive victory, however, came with a heavy loss of life on both sides. In the passage below, Wellington laments the cost of victory as he informs George Hamilton Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, of the death of his brother.

“I cannot express to you the regret and sorrow with which I look round me, and contemplate the loss which I have sustained, particularly in your brother. The glory resulting from such actions, so dearly bought, is no consolation to me; and I cannot suggest it as any to you and his friends; but I hope that it may be expected that this last one has been so decisive, as that no doubt remains, that our exertions and our individual losses will be rewarded by the early attainment of our just object. It is then that the glory of the actions in which our friends and relations have fallen will be some consolation for their loss.”

WP1/471/4 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, to George Hamilton Gordon, fourth Earl of Aberdeen, informing him of the death of his brother at the Battle of Waterloo, 19 June 1815


22 June 1941 German invasion of Russia
On the 22 June 1941, operation Barbarossa was put into practice and German troops invaded Russia in three parallel offensives: nineteen panzer divisions, 3,000 tanks, 2,500 aircraft, and 7,000 artillery pieces poured across a thousand-mile front.

This invasion occurred despite the fact that Germany and Russia had signed a pact in 1939, each promising the other a specific region of influence without interference from the other. Hitler ignored the warnings from his advisors that Germany could not sustain a war on two fronts. He believed that England was holding out against German assaults, refusing to surrender, because it had struck a secret deal with Russia.

“5:30 a.m. Hitler attacked Russia from the white sea to the Black Sea. Momentous and I really believe a good omen. Of course I listened to every news bulletin throughout this flaming day – 9, 1, 6 and again at 9 to Churchill – giving the government’s decision to help Russia! – If Hitler reckoned on the democracies leaving Russia to its folk because of communism, he now knows he was wrong – Damascus too is taken by the free French.”

MS 168 AJ217/37 Journal of Samuel Rich, 22 June 1941

Reflections on war and warfare: week 14 (2 – 8 June 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.

2 June 1915 Providing religious support to the Jewish military forces
As Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire during World War One, Joseph Herman Hertz was responsible for the Jewish communities residing in Britain and its colonies. The quote below reflects his efforts in ensuring Jewish soldiers were given religious support. His correspondent, Sir Charles Solomon Henry, first Baronet, Member of Parliament for the Wellington division of Shropshire, was instrumental in the formation of a synagogue at Southend and in the organisation of the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor.

“I propose going over to France for two or three weeks in order to visit the Hospital Centres; to hold Services wherever a large number of Jewish soldiers are stationed; and in general to see for myself what is still to be done by us for our brave men at the Front. The leaders of the other Churches have been across to the War Zone, with very gratifying results.”

MS 175 141/4 Folder 2 Letter from Revd Joseph Herman Hertz to Sir Charles Solomon Henry, first Baronet, Member of Parliament of Wellington, 2 June 1915


2 June 1813 Punishment for the depredation of public property
Throughout history looting has been a common consequence of war. To ensure discipline among his troops Wellington applied severe punishment to any soldiers caught thieving or looting. However, bringing those responsible to justice was not always an easy task as is noted by the General Sir Robert H.Kennedy, the Commissariat General in the Iberian peninsula, in the passage below.

“…it appears that eight bullock drivers convicted of stealing public cattle, have, with the exception of one, been released without punishment. I have frequently had reason to lament the difficulty that exists in punishing offenders of this description, and the extensive depredations to which the public property is in consequence exposed, and as in the present case the fact appears to have been regularly proved, I take the liberty to submit it to the notice of the Commander of the Forces.”

MS 271/1/1 Letter from General Sir Robert H.Kennedy, Commissariat General, Toro, to Lord Fitzroy Somerset, Military Secretary to Marquis Wellington, Commander in Chief of the allied army in the peninsula, 2 June 1813


8 June 1854 Problems of transport for the army
The logistics and supply of transport for large armed forces was a constant challenge for commanders. The Duke of Wellington, for whom Lord Fitzroy Somerset had served Military Secretary during the Peninsular War, faced a continual struggle to main sufficient means of transport for his troops in the peninsula. Somerset, by 1854 Lord Raglan, faced a similar challenge as the commander of the British forces in the Crimea, as the comments by a member of Raglan’s staff notes:

“Our principal difficulty is in providing sufficient transport for the Army and when you hear that the Artillery alone require about 2000 carts and 1200 mules for the ammunition alone besides which are the provisions, forage, tents, etc., etc., you will not be surprised at the difficulty.”

MS 63 A904/4/29 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his mother, 8 June 1854


8 June 1944 Marking the Normandy landings
The major stages in the battle of Normandy occurred between 6 and 9 June 1944, when significant progress in forcing a point of entry into France was made. The USA join the British and allied forces for a combined attack with the ultimate aim of driving Germany back.

The significant advances made during this offensive resulted in the production of a historical issue of The Times. Key events over the course of the Second World War often resulted in the release of special issues of the paper and Samuel Rich notes the likelihood of the 6 June 1944 issue when the Normandy landings began, being reproduced on the 100 year anniversary of the battle.

“I got Wednesday’s historical issue of The Times, which is destined (I should imagine) to be reproduced in facsimile on 6.6.2044, and which I’ll save.”

MS 168/40 Journal of Samuel Rich, 8 June 1944

Reflections on war and warfare: week 13 (26 May – 1 June 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.

28 May 1940 Belgian surrender to Germany
The attack on Belgium and Holland began on 10 May 1940, with German air raids. These raids were followed by parachute drops and attacks by ground forces. The Germans also brought tank formations forward in preparation for their planned attack on France. The speed of the German advance and the brutality of the air raids gave them a huge psychological advantage; on 14 May the Dutch surrendered and Belgium followed on 28 May.

“I little thought as I had a bath at 5:30 a.m. that an hour before the whole Belgian army had been ordered to surrender by King Leopold.”

MS 168/36 Journal of Samuel Rich, 28 May 1940


28 May 1854 Attack on Silistria
A siege of Silistria, on the Danube, began at the end of April 1854. The Russians made their first assault on the 21 May, but were repulsed. At daybreak of the 27 May the Russians attacked again making three assaults, all of which were repulsed by the Turkish forces. A further assault on the 28 May resulted in Russian losses possibly as high as 2,000 men.

“The Russians we hear have made two attacks on Silistira which have been repulsed and the Turks it is also said have made a sortie and defeated a body of Russians.”

MS 63 A904/4/27 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 28 May 1854


30 May 1915 The effects of the shell crisis
In May British troops had launched another attack against Germans at Festubert, north of Neueve Chapelle. This involved a 60-hour artillery bombardment, resulting in the troops only managing to advance 1000 yards and suffering 16,000 casualties. Such long hours of artillery bombardment led to a shell crisis, leading to regiments having to fight on the frontline for longer with little support. This was a result of Britain relying heavily on heavy guns to control the battlefield, rather than viewing artillery as just a useful support for infantry attacks.

“On the 30th May, when most of us had already summoned virtually all our personal reserves of courage and endurance, we were told that our relief had been postponed! It seemed incredible that we were to stay on Front Line duty for another 24 hours! But we did our duty and did not relax, even though I was carrying on with a bandaged wrist and my right hand out of use.”

MS 116/8 AJ 253 p.44 Typescript of ‘Soldering of sorts’ – recounting experiences with the Royal Fusiliers, 1913-19 by Major H.D. Myer, 30 May 1915


31 May 1811 Disposal of goods taken from the enemy
The Military Secretary was responsibility for administrating the military business of the Commander in Chief of the Forces, including dealing with nearly all communications between the Commander in Chief and the War Office. In the below passage the military secretary clearly states the position regarding the disposal of goods taken from the enemy.

“…the Commander of the Forces begs, that it may be understood in future, that every thing captured by the troops is His Majesty’s; and that any disposal of anything, such as horses, horse furniture, baggage, etc for the benefit of the troops, is a favour done to them, but not founded on any wright’s of theirs.”

WP 9/2/1/1 Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Lord Fitzroy Somerset, Military Secretary to Viscount Wellington, Commander in Chief of the allied army in the peninsula, to Lieutenant Colonel Rooke, regarding the disposal of horses taken from the enemy, 31 May 1811

Reflections on war and warfare: week 12 (19 – 25 May 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.

19 May 1939 Anti-Semitic propaganda
The persecution of the Jewish population in Germany had begun as early as 1933 with the boycott of Jewish businesses and shops. On 30 January that year Hitler gave a speech in the Reichstag, announcing that: “If the international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the outcome will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” By 1939, anti-Semitic propaganda had become so widely distributed and accessible, that it could also be viewed outside of Germany.

“I.I.M sent me ‘What are the Jews?’ to be published on Monday. I’ve read heartily 140 pages already. Clearly written – incisive – it should create quite a stir. The anti-Zionist polemic very powerful – he had M.L.P. in mind!”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 19 May 1939


23 May 1917 The no annexations question
In 1917, Russia’s political and economic problems were augmented by the war. As warfare continued, Nicholas II abdicated and a provisional government led by liberals and moderate socialists was formed. These leaders wished to participate in the war more efficiently, resulting in them wanting to commit to a general peace minus annexations or indemnities. This was a plan that neither the Allies or Germany would accept.

“Something of an argument with Jeff on the question of ‘no annexations’. I think the allies ought to restate their terms in view of the entry of U.S.A. and of the Russian Revolution.”

MS 168 AJ 217/13 Journal of Samuel Rich, 23 May 1917


23 May 1854 The destruction of HMS Tiger
HMS Tiger had been part of the allied squadron that had been involved in the bombardment of Odessa. It was part of a squadron that was detached on 11 May to cruise off Odessa but was quickly separated from the others due to fog. It was fired on by the Russians from shore and was damaged. A number of crew members were seriously injured, including Captain Henry Giffard, who later died of wounds. The crew were well treated by the Russians, to whom they surrendered, but the Tiger was blown up when the Russians reopened fire on the vessel.

“The Russians have totally destroyed the ‘Tiger’ which vessel ran on shore in a fog near Odessa and the Captain Giffard after being wounded was taken prisoner with all his men.”

MS 63 A904/4/25 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 23 May 1854


25 May 1811 Report by the Secretary at War on the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
Lord Palmerston held the position of Secretary at War from 1809 to 1828. The Secretary at War was responsible for running the War Office which oversaw the administration and organisation of the Army. In the extract below Palmerston reports on the Allied success at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro where French forces failed to relieve the besieged city of Almeida.

“Dispatches have been received from [Lord] Wellington […] by which it appears that the enemy’s whole army, consisting of the 2nd, 6th and 8th Corps and all the cavalry which could be collection in Castile and Leon including 900 of the Imperial Guard together with some battalions of the 9th Corps […] made two desperate attacks on the British army for the purpose of relieving Almeida.

The contest though very severe, especially on the 5th, terminated in the complete repulse of enemy, and the allied army continued to hold its position.”

MS 62 PP/WO/1 Report by Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, Secretary at War, on the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, 25 May 1811

Reflections on war and warfare: week 11 (12 – 18 May 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.

12 May 1809 Second Battle of Porto / Battle of the Douro
The Second Battle of Porto took place on 12 May 1809 resulting in a decisive Anglo-Portuguese victory and ending the second French invasion of Portugal. In the below passage Wellesley details the destruction left behind in the wake of Marshal Soult’s retreat.

“The enemy commenced this retreat as I have informed your Lordship by destroying a great proportion of his guns and ammunition. He afterwards destroyed the remainder of both, and a great proportion of his baggage, and kept nothing excepting what the soldiers or a few mules could carry. He has left behind him his sick and wounded; and the road from Penafiel to Monte Alegre is strewed with the carcases of horses and mule; and of French soldiers who were put to death by the peasantry before our advanced guard could save them.

This last circumstance is the natural effect of the species of warfare which the enemy have carried on in this country. Their soldiers have plundered and murdered the peasantry at their pleasure; and I have seen many persons hanging in the trees by the sides of the road; executed for no reason that I could learn excepting that they have not been friendly to the French invasion and usurpation of the government of their country; and the route of their column on their retreat could be traced by the smoke of the villages to which they set fire.”

WP1/263/4 Letter from Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley, Monte Algere, to Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, detailing the operations of the army from the 13th to the 18th May and giving an account of the affair with the enemy’s rear guard on the 16th near Salamonde, 18 May 1809


13 May 1915 Submarine attack leads to internment and repatriation of Germans

During the second year of the First World War, submarine warfare became a major threat to Britain. On 7 May 1915, the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 during its voyage from New York to Liverpool. This resulted in the ocean liner sinking in eighteen minutes, and 1,198 out of the 1,959 civilian passengers being killed. In response to this tragic event, Asquith announced to the House of Commons that all German males of military age were to be subjected to internment, and females to be repatriated. This led to 32440 internees (including Austrians) being gained by November 1915.

“Owing to Lusitania crime Asquith today announced that all Germans of military age will be inferred/interned and all over that age repatriated. So old Soldier, Uncle August and Mr Marx will be sent to Germany!”

MS 168 AJ 217/11 Journal of Samuel Rich, 13 May 1915


14 May 1854 Criticism of the British army in Crimea
After forty years of peace, the British Army was ill prepared to engage with a numerically superior army in a hostile territory three thousand miles from home. The greatest danger would come not from the enemy but from the army’s own lack of structure and organisation. Criticisms of the army appeared in the press even before Lord Raglan landed with an army of 28,000 men at Varna on 29 May 1854.

“I see in The Times many abusive articles about our army at Gallipoli and other places, most of them untrue, but in one point they are right which is that the French have more organisation than ourselves.”

MS 63 A904/4/22 Letter from Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 14 May 1854 


18 May 1940 A respite from air raids
A number of key events occurred from 12-16 of May 1940. The allies had what was regarded as their first significant air raid against a civilian population, with the RAF attacking Mönchengladbach, Germany. Across the Channel, Rotterdam capitulated following a heavy German bombing campaign which devastated the city. The Netherlands government fled and the British RAF suffered its greatest defeat to date whilst attacking German troop positions in France. The Nazi campaign in the Netherlands ended with the Dutch army’s surrender.

London enjoyed a brief respite from air raids whilst Germany’s focus was directed towards France and the Netherlands affording the civilian population the opportunity to enjoy the relative peace whilst it lasted, as Samuel Rich notes in his diary.

“Another day’s respite from terror: bright, sunny, scented, though it was not possible to forget war, – it was possible to extract a modified pleasure from the day”

MS 168 AJ 217/36 Journal of Samuel Rich, 18 May 1940