Thursday, November 10, 2011

At This Time Of Year

We're not so old in the Army List,
But we're not so young at our trade.
For we had the honour at Fontenoy
Of meeting the Guards' Brigade.
'Twas Lally, Dillon, Bulkeley, Clare,
And Lee that led us then,
And after a hundred and seventy years
We're fighting for France again!

From The Irish Guards by Rudyard Kipling

Coalition is the way of things in modern conflicts. It’s been 29 years since Britain fought a war alone, and more than a century to the one before that.

But fighting a war as part of a coalition can throw up some strange alliances. People traditionally thought of as “the enemy” can suddenly become allies and vice versa. Britain’s traditional enemy was always France, and yet in the two great wars of the 20th Century France was our ally. Similarly we generally regarded Germany as an ally and yet …

For example :

The author JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings etc.) served as an officer in the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1916 and with his language skills he was often called on to question prisoners. He told of a conversation with a German soldier from the Hanoverian Regiment. The soldier pointed out the irony of how at the battle of Minden on 1759 his Hanoverians fought shoulder to shoulder with Tolkien’s Lancashires against the French.

And lets not forget that while British losses between 1914 and 1918 were 704,803 some of our allies (and enemies) losses were beyond comprehension.

Russia 1,811,000

France 1,397,800

Italy 651,000

Serbia 275,000

British Empire 251,900

Romania 250,000

USA 126,000

Belgium 58,637

Greece 26,000

Portugal 7,222

Japan 415

And from the Central Powers

Germany 2,050,697

Austria 1,100,000

Turkey 771,844

Bulgaria 87,500

I was reminded of this many years ago when I came across this war memorial in Venice. It commemorates the Italian soldiers who lost their lives fighting against the Austrians and Germans between 1915 and 1918. Note that Italy (and Japan too) fought with us in that conflict.

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