It’s the day after Armistice Day. Yesterday, just before 1100hrs, my faithful Jack Russell, Monty, and I stood at our village war memorial alongside a few other local residents and a dozen schoolchildren, approximately half of our tiny primary school. The fourth stanza of Binyon’s poem, “For the Fallen” was spoken. As the church clock struck eleven, we observed a two minute silence. Then we left.
When I got back home I read the final paragraph and then the epilogue of the book I have been reading these past few months, purely co-incidental that I finished it on this day. It was about the British Redcoat in the era of sword and musketry. The final paragraph came as a footnote to the Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815. I shall share it:
“Thomas Pococke of the 71st did not care. Having survived the Peninsular and Waterloo, his only concern was to to be given a discharge and return home. He got his wish in the winter in 1815…….`I left my comrades with regret`, recalled Pococke, `but the service with joy. I came down to the coast to embark, with light steps and a joyful heart, singing, “When the wild war’s deadly blast was blawn”. I was poor as poor could be; but I had hope before me, and pleasing dreams of home`.
Arriving in Edinburgh by ship, he went straight to his parents’ home. They no longer lived there, nor did the new occupant know their address. Fortunately the landlord remembered Tom and took him to his mother for a tearful reunion, the first in nine years. Pococke spent the next two years completing an account of his time in the army and sent it to a friend in the hope that it might be published. It was in 1819. But by then his mother was dead and he, unable to find work even as a labourer, had disappeared. Having left the army sound of body and without the requisite twenty years’ service, Pococke was not eligible for a pension. He was last heard of working as a road mender `with a number of other poor labourers thrown out of general employment`. Thus did Britain reward `that best of all instruments…British Infantry`.
In the epilogue, the last words were fittingly a quote from a soldier whose Prussian (later German) Army would dominate Europe’s battlefields from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries in much the same way the British Army had for the century and a half before that. `For battle`, wrote Baron von Müffling, Wellington’s former Prussian liaison officer, in 1816, `there is not perhaps in Europe an army equal to the British, that is to say, none whose tuition, discipline, and whole military tendency, is so purely and exclusively calculated for giving battle.` He added:
`The British soldier is vigorous, well fed, by nature highly brave and intrepid, trained to the most vigorous discipline, and admirably well armed. The infantry resist attacks of cavalry with great confidence, and when taken in the flank or rear, British troops are less disconcerted than any other European army. These circumstances in their favour will explain how this army, since the Duke of Wellington conducted it, has never yet been defeated in the open field`.
I feel sure that my Lexican chums will detect some empathy with more modern times, in some of the words I extracted from that book.
That is why I support the Royal British Legion.