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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October 25 is the anniversary of 3 major battles: Agincourt, the charge of the Light Brigade and Leyte Gulf

A day for battles: 

Battle of Agincourt
He which hath no stomach for this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispin:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see his old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say "Tomorrow is Saint Crispin":
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

Henry at Agincourt
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names
Familiar in his mouth as household words:
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us on Saint Crispin's day.* 

~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616)  (King Henry V, Act 4, Sc. 3) 

Light Brigade battle map: Click here to embiggen
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!"
"Charge for the gund!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Light Brigade at Balaclava
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder;d.
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (wiki) (1809-1892) ("The Charge of the Light Brigade," stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 6) **

Our ships have been salvaged and are retiring at high speed toward the Japanese fleet. 

~ Admiral William Halsey (1882-1959) (remark, 26 October 1944, in response to an enemy report that his 3rd Fleet had been sunk or was fleeing Leyte Gulf.) 

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (wiki) in 1415, when the English under King Henry V defeated the French on St. Crispin's Day (25 October) of that year. Henry (1387-1422) followed his father King Henry IV to the throne in 1413 and two years later announced his claim to the French throne and rekindled the Hundred Years War by invading Normandy. 

In a post-battle compromise, Henry later married Catherine of Valois and was named by France's Charles VI as his successor, but Henry's untimely death to illness in 1422 prevented him from assuming the French kingship. In Shakespeare's famous passage above, Henry rouses his troops for the conflict the night before Agincourt. 

Light Brigade
This is also the anniversary of the "the charge of the Light Brigade" (wiki) at the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854. Although of relatively little importance in the larger context of the Crimean War, Balaclava has emerged as its most famous encounter because of Tennyson's poem, which immortalizes the brave, but foolhardy, British light cavalry assault on massed Russian guns and infantry at the end of a shallow valley near Sevastapol. Of the 673 men who started out, 118 were killed outright, and only 195 remained on horseback at the end of the encounter. French Marshall Pierre Bosquet, who observed the action, famously remarked, 

"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas le guerre." 
(It is magnificent, but it is not war.)
Map of the Leyte Gulf battle (source) - click here to embiggen.
And finally, today is the anniversary of the largest naval encounter of World War II in the Pacific, the Battle of Leyte Gulf (wiki) (which actually lasted from 23 to 26 October 1944), in which the U.S. Third and Seventh Fleets decisively defeated the Japanese Combined Fleet after the latter sortied in an attempt to destroy the forces supporting the ongoing Allied invasion of the Philippine Islands. The U.S. victory at Leyte Gulf essentially destroyed the Japanese Navy as a fighting force, and its remnants posed little threat for the remaining months of the war.

* N.B. Saint Crispin's day honors the memory of two Christian twins - Crispin and Crispinian - who were martyred by the Romans in Britain, ca. A.D. 286.

I'm a HUGE fan of Kenneth Branagh's Henry V - here's the speech quoted above (watch full screen):

The rather fascinating story of Henry V's injury at the age of 16 - he took an arrow to the face in the battle of Shrewsbury - and the surgical treatment that saved his life, are recounted in the video below and in this excellent article: Prince Hal’s Head-Wound: Cause and Effect.

** This Documentary on the Charge of the Light Brigade includes graphic quotes from survivors, and includes the original 1890 recording (made by Thomas Edison) of Alfred Tennyson reading part of his famous poem:

And here's a brief documentary on Leyte Gulf:

The text above is adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

1 comment:

  1. There's a mistake in the long quote of Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade, a misquotation that occurs far too often. The poem is misquoted as saying "Their's but to do or die," when the actual verse is "Their's but to do and die." The soldiers were doomed ab initio, and their job was to do *and* die.