Monday, 30 August 2010

Crecy, the evening of battle begins

After giving his orders to his army to halt for the night, King Philip will have ordered his immediate entourage to start pitching camp and getting ready to cook dinner. It cannot have been long, however, before Philip began receiving messages telling him that all was not going to plan. The troops ahead of him on the line of march were pushing forward in confusion, while those behind were in an even greater muddle.

In fact the movements and actions of King Philip in the crucial hour or so that followed are enigmatic. Our best source for the movements of the French high command is le Bel, whose patron John of Hainault was with the king throughout most of the day. His chronicle leaves King Philip somewhere near Marcheville having given the halt order at about 4pm. Philip is not mentioned again until late in the battle when, as we shall see, he takes a prominent part.

Baker likewise barely mentions King Philip’s role in the battle itself. He says that Edward unfurled his dragon banner in response to seeing that King Philip had brought the Oriflamme with him and implies that this took place before the French attack began. Writing just days after the battle, Richard Wynkeley also reports seeing Philip’s banner before the fighting began. “The adversary” writes Wynkeley using his usual euphemism for Philip, “intending to attack the king personally stationed himself in the front line”. It should be remembered that it was impossible to recognise a man across the width of a battlefield, especially if his face were hidden by a helmet. What Wynkeley saw was Philip’s banner.

The only definite statement of Philip’s movements at this crucial time comes from Froissart who writes that when he learned of the chaos enveloping his army, Philip rode forward to try to take control of the situation but “when the French king saw the Englishmen, his mood changed. He said to his Marshals ‘Begin the battle in the name of God and St Denis’”.

This is an extract from The Battle of Crecy by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 27 August 2010

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The First Battle of Modbury, English Civil War

The causes of the English Civil War of the mid 17th century were complex. Some felt that political considerations were the more important, either wanting to advance the power of Parliament or to enforce the rights of the King. Others saw religion as more important with Protestants backing the radicals in Parliament and the moderates favouring the King’s support for the established Church of England. Still others were more concerned with ridding England of the inept ministers that King Charles had chosen. For many it was a mix of motives that led them to chose the side they did.

Whatever the motivations that led England into civil war, the southwest of England was generally for the king when King Charles I raised the Royal Standard in August 1642 and summoned all loyal Englishmen to join his army. A striking exception was the city and port of Plymouth, which declared for Parliament and closed its gates to the county authorities who supported the king.

At first few men took the prospect of civil war seriously. Several weeks passed without serious fighting as both sides sought to take control of armouries, fortresses and civic treasuries. Both King and Parliament thought the other would back down rather than force a conflict. It was not until after the first large scale battle at Edgehill in October that it dawned on most men that the war was to be taken seriously.

Sir Ralph Hopton, a gentleman from Somerset, was appointed the King’s commander in the Southwest. He ordered the loyal men of South Devon to muster for war at the church at Modbury on 6 December 1642. Each man was to bring with him whatever he had in the way of weapons. Hopton planned to organise the men in to regiments once they had arrived. Those with good weapons were to be fighting troops, those without to form supply units or train as siege engineers or to be used for the manual labour that all armies need.

When Hopton arrived he was pleased to find that more than 3,000 men had turned up. The task of getting them organised into an army would begin the next day. Unfortunately for Hopton the Parliamentarian garrison of Plymouth had heard of the muster and were determined to intervene.

1) In Modbury walk west up the hill and along the A379 to find the war memorial on the left near the top of the hill. 

It was down this road at dawn on 7 December that a force of 500 Roundhead troopers came galloping at full speed led by Colonel Ruthin. The professional horsemen wasted little time, but at once went to work attacking the sleepy Royalists as they stumbled from their beds and tents. Hopton himself narrowly escaped a sweeping sword blade before he managed to get on horseback and try to organise a rally, but it was too late. The Roundheads swept through the town with ruthless efficiency and the forming royalist army was scattered across the fields of south Devon. This First Battle of Modbury was over quickly and few men lost their lives – neither would be true of the Second Battle of Modbury.

This is an extract from Battlefield Walks in Devon by Rupert Matthews

Monday, 23 August 2010

The RAF Bomb Brest July 1941

The British relied on the convoys crossing the Atlantic for survival, so the bombing of German naval targets was thought to be crucial. It was also very dangerous. Among the main targets were the German warships sheltering in Brest, from where they could sally out against the convoys with ease.

One of several raids on Brest at this time was carried out by no.104 Squadron flying Wellingtons. The bombing was carried out from low level, the bombers having flown right around Brittany far out to sea in an effort to avoid alerting the defences. The ruse proved successful and only the permanently manned defences were in operation as the Wellingtons went in to the attack at 3.30pm. Those defences were strong enough and several of the bombers were damaged, others having their aim spoiled by the heavy flak.

With the Germans alerted, the safest route home was to climb for height while heading directly north across France toward Cornwall. The German fighters arrived with unusual speed, and a force of Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters came diving down as the Wellingtons were struggling for height. The Wellington piloted by Squadron Leader H. Budden DFC was leading the third section and came in for savage punishment. A spray of incendiary bullets riddled the fuselage behind the wings, setting it ablaze.

Rear gunner Sergeant John Armstrong had received a bullet through his shin during the attack, but despite the wounds he scrambled out of his turret to tackle the blaze. Having doused the flames, Armstrong returned to his guns to find the Germans launching a renewed assault on the bomber formation. Armstrong opened fire, but a spray of German shot shattered the turret perspex and ruptured an oil line, coating Armstrong liberally in the sticky black fluid. A third attack saw a bullet hit Armstrong in the thigh while his turret seized up completely and a fresh fire burst out in the fuselage.

Unable to fire back, Armstrong decided to tackle the new blaze. This second fire was worse than the first and had a firm grip of the aircraft. Sergeant Smalley came back to help and between them the two men put out the fire, at which point Armstrong collapsed. Only then did Smalley realise that Armstrong was twice wounded. He dragged the unconscious man up the fuselage to apply dressings. Armstrong then demanded a pencil and paper so that he could write a note to the pilot outlining the damage suffered by the aircraft.

The Wellington was, indeed, badly damaged. Budden made for Exeter and executed a hair-raising belly landing that put the bomber beyond repair, but did get the men down safely. Medical orderlies and the station padre carefully placed Armstrong on a stretcher and were carrying him off to receive proper treatment when Armstrong stopped them. He demanded to be carried to the debriefing room where Budden was writing out his report. It was a key part of a tail gunner’s job to note the fall of bombs and report these to his pilot so that the information could be included in the combat report. Only once that duty had been done would Armstrong allow himself to be cared for.

This is an extract from RAF Bomber Command at War by Rupert Matthews.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Video for the book Heroes of Fighter Command in Sussex

Watch the video about this book HERE

Wild Animal Hunts in Rome impress the Mob

Soon every victorious general brought back to Rome a selection of animals native to the lands in which they had been fighting. Soldiers on campaign had long written home with accounts of bizarre animals, now the Romans could see the beasts for themselves. Julius Caesar brought a giraffe to Rome, and won great acclaim as no giraffe had been seen in the city before.

It was not long, however, before the generals parading animals through the Forum found they had a problem. What were they to do with the animals once they had been displayed to the crowd. Most of them were expensive to keep in captivity and a few, such as lions, were dangerous. The answer was to include the wild animals in the bloody games of the arena. Exotic animals brought from far distant lands were to be killed for the delight of the mob.

At first the animal fights were fairly straightforward affairs. The hapless beast to be killed was chained to a ring set in the pavement of the Forum and then attacked by men armed with spears and, sometimes, assisted by dogs. By the time Sulla became dictator of Rome in 82BC such a format had become stale. For his animal hunt, featuring beasts from what is now Turkey, Sulla erected tough wooden fences around an open area in the Forum. The animals were then let loose to be hunted down by packs of dogs and men with spears. When the Forum was too small for the proposed display, the event was moved to the Campus Martius, the open fields north of the city, where the Saepta, or voting enclosures, could double as animal pens.

In 79BC Gnaeus Pompey organised a fight between war elephants from North Africa and tribesmen skilled in hunting the beasts. The hunt was held in the Circus Maximus, the chariot racing course which was large and surrounded by banks of seating. Although Pompey’s spectacular almost went wrong when the maddened beasts tried to attack the crowd, elephants remained a favourite of the Roman mob.

This is an extract from The Age of Gladiators by Rupert Matthews

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Gladiators and Voters

Election Fever
Only adult men who were citizens of Rome were allowed to vote in elections. These elections decided who would rule Rome for the next year. Each year a government official called the Censor drew up a list of citizens who were entitled to vote. Anyone who wanted to be on the list had to prove to the Censor either that his father had been a citizen or that he had been made a citizen by the government.

Pledging Votes
Politicians standing for election would use gladiator shows to influence voters. Only citizens who had promised to vote for the politician paying for the show were allowed to attend the show. Guards stood at the entrance to the arena to turn away people who were supporters of a rival politician.

Gaius Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was one of the most successful politicians to use gladiatorial shows to win elections. In 65bc Caesar put on a show with 640 gladiators, some of whom wore armour made from pure silver. Caesar won his election and went on to become Dictator of Rome.

Honoured Guests
The priestesses who served in the Temple of Vesta were highly honoured in Rome. Vesta was the goddess of the fire in the home that was used for cooking and other household purposes. The best seats at any show or festival, including gladiatorial fights, were reserved for the priestesses of Vesta.

Ambitious Men
In towns and cities across the Roman Empire local citizens elected their local council and officials. Gladiator shows were put on in these places by ambitious politicians, just as in Rome. In the city of Bononia a rich man who owned a factory making shoes won an election after importing famous fighters from Rome for his show.

Clubbing Together
Paying for a gladiatorial show cost a lot of money. Sometimes two or three politicians would club together to pay for a show. These men were known as socii, meaning allies. Each of the socii could invite his own supporters to the show.

Quiz Question
Who dressed his gladiators in silver armour?

Gladiator Puzzles
Marcus Junius Gallus says “In my gladiatorial show I have Celts, Numidians and Thracians. They are all Celts except for three, all Numidians except for four and all Thracians except for five.” How many of each type of gladiator took part?

Answer: 3 Celts, 2 Numidians, 1 Thracian.

This is an extract from Action Files: Gladiators by Rupert Matthews

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Great Egyptian Temples

House of the God
Egyptian temples were thought to be the house of the god worshipped there. When the god came to Earth he would stay in the temple. A special statue of the god was kept in a sealed room and the deity was thought to inhabit this statue when in residence. The statue was dressed in fine robes and offered food and drink every day.

Karnak of Amun
The great temple of Karnak is the largest complex of religious buildings in the world. The buildings include not just the main temple but also store rooms, dormitories, processional ways and open courtyards. Every pharaoh of the New Kingdom added something to the building to show his devotion to the great god Amun.

Border Temple
The mighty temple of Osiris at Abu Simbel was built by Raises II overlooking the river Nile to mark the border between Nubia and Egypt. The four statues that guard the front of the temple are each 20 metres tall. They are statues not of Osiris, but of Raises II himself.

Sacred Writing
The walls of most temples are covered with a form of writing known as hieroglyphic. This writing uses pictures to represent sounds, words or ideas. The writings praise the powers of the deity, record who built the temple and give information about events that took place.

Mortuary Temples
When a pharaoh died a temple called a mortuary temple was built close to his tomb. When they died, pharaohs were believed to go to join their divine father in the next life. The mortuary temple was dedicated to the god that the dead pharaoh had become. Priests carried out daily rituals to ensure that the pharaoh-god remained happy in the afterlife.

Most temples had an annual festival which attracted huge crowds of worshippers. The statue of the god was carried out of the temple to be paraded round so that ordinary people could see it. The details of the festivals varied from place to place, but most of them involved offering sacrifices and saying prayers.

Quiz Question
What is the name given to the type of writing found on temple walls?

Games of Ancient Egypt
Temple Raider
A game for 2 to 4 players
For this game you will need a flight of stairs and a coin for each player.
One player is the temple guard. The other players are robbers trying to steal the temple treasure.
The guard stands at the bottom of the stairs. The robbers stand on the second stair from the bottom. Starting with the first robber the players take it in turns to toss a coin. If they get a head they climb up one step. If they throw a tail they go down one step. If the guard stands on the same step as a robber, the robber is captured and is out of the game. If the guard captures all the robbers he wins the game. But if one robber gets to the top of the stairs then the robbers have won.

This is an extract from Action Files Egypt by Rupert Matthews

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

1915 The Allies think again

On 6 December 1915, the senior military commanders of Britain and France met at the headquarters of French Field Marshal Joseph Joffre to discuss their strategy to win the war.

The failures of Gallipoli and Salonika had led the governments of France and Britain to believe that the war could be won only on the Western Front. Only if Germany were defeated could the war end in 1916.

The new British commander in France, Sir Douglas Haig, had been ordered by his government to co-operate with Joffre, but he was not under Joffre’s orders and could make his own decisions.

The French had called up vast reserves of men and had converted much of their industry to producing weapons. Joffre was confident that a new attack would break the German army.

Haig too had large reserves of men and weapons becoming available. He also wanted to use these to defeat Germany, but was unconvinced by Joffre’s idea of yet another infantry attack.

A major recruitment drive in Britain by Lord Kitchener, boosted by outrage over the German execution of Nurse Cavell and other events, had led to large numbers of volunteers.

Many of the volunteers joined up as “Pals” units. Groups of workmates, social clubs or villages joined together and insisted on serving together in the same battalion or company.

Lloyd George had transformed the munitions industry in the previous eight months. There were now more shells and more guns than ever before.

Joffre suggested a combined British-French attack on either side of the Somme River where the chalk hills were dry and open. After some hesitation, Haig agreed. But he asked for time to consider the best way to make the attack.

Unknown to the British and French, the Germans had their own plans. The Germans would move faster when the spring weather came in 1916.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts about World War I by Rupert Matthews