“When you know you are with the Gurkha, I think there is no safer place to be”

In themselves, these words from His Royal Highness Prince Harry encapsulate the ethos and history of those soldiers who are called the best in the world. Having completed two tours of Afghanistan, notably for two months in Helmand, the Duke of Sussex has seen for himself what those legendary fighters are made of.

In his amazing book, Gurkha Odyssey: Campaigning for the Crown (Pen & Sword), retired General Sir Peter Duffell took upon himself to explain what kind of mettle these exceptional fighters who first encountered the British red coats as enemies on the battlefield of the war on Nepal between 1814 and 1816 are made of. Few people could know the subject better, since the author was himself commissioned into the 2nd Gurkha Rifles at the beginning of his military career.

Having lived for several months in Edinburgh (Scotland), I visited the National War Museum on a few occasions. I was always impressed to read that, during World War I, Germans used to call Scottish soldiers “the ladies from hell” – a distinct reference to their kilt and warrior prowess.

I don’t know how Kaiser Wilhelm II’s troops (or other battlefield enemies throughout history) called the Gurkhas south of Ypres in the first months of the Great War, but I can easily imagine a similar fright must be instilled in whoever sees one of those Nepali soldiers advancing toward his / her position. Just to give you an idea of the kind of fighter we are talking about, the author recounts that, in the last stages of the Burma campaign:

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“Write me a victory”

“Wellington cuts an unattractive personal figure”, writes G. E. Jaycock in his groundbreaking book Wellington’s Command: A Reappraisal of his Generalship in the Peninsula and at Waterloo (Pen & Sword). For the huge fan of the Iron Duke in me, such a conclusion came as a shocker. Full disclosure, this book challenged my conceptions of Wellington’s grandeur and I found myself labouring through it more than once. But I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me to nuance my understanding.

Mr. Jaycock, who completed a MA degree in history about the Duke of Wellington at Buckingham University, argues that “the existing historiography has largely downplayed or ignored” the fact that Wellington’s command was characterized by “poor inter-personal relationships within the army [which] undermined effectiveness.” And his demonstration doesn’t fail to disappoint.

In short, the idolized figure depicted between the covers is one of an autocratic and aristocratic micro-manager who was unable to accept any kind of blame or responsibility. There was also a vituperate – not to say frankly despicable – side to the British icon that could be resumed in the following anecdote brought forward by the author:

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Happy Birthday, Duke of Wellington

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King and Country item NA256 resting on the second tome of Rory Muir’s biography of the Duke of Wellington, with the Union Jack flag in the background.

Happy Birthday to the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, victor of Waterloo. An extraordinary figure whose unparalleled contribution helped saved Europe and the world from Napoleonic hegemony and tyranny. He would be 247 years old!

Gallipoli and the Arab Revolt

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The evacuation of Gallipoli

The recent commemoration of Anzac Day and the battle of Gallipoli brought my attention to a very interesting article published in 2015 in the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies by David J. Charlwood.

In this fascinating article, the historian establishes a clear link between the withdrawal of the Allied troops from Gallipoli and the British decision to support the Arab revolt.

To sum up the findings of the author, Sharif Hussein of Mecca wrote to British High Commissioner in Egypt Sir Arthur McMahon in July 1915 to propose collaboration. The first response he received was “[…] that it cannot, on account of its incoherence [the Arab movement’s] be of any value to us.”

But the negative progression of events for the British and Allied forces on the Gallipoli peninsula was associated by a desire, from the same McMahon, to ensure that the foreseeable debacle would mean a loss of prestige, notably in the eyes of the Arabs and hence the high potential of their alignment with the Turks.

As the secret evacuation of the British troops began, the same McMahon wrote to Hussein: “As an earnest of our intentions, and in order to aid you in your efforts in our joint cause, I am sending you by your trustworthy messenger a sum of twenty thousand pounds.”

It is just fascinating to realize the direct link between what happened on the beaches of Gallipoli and the sands of the Arabian Desert.

Prince Harry in Australia

Photo credit: Bauer Griffin. Montage: Pinso.
Photo credit: Bauer Griffin. Montage: Pinso.

His Royal Highness Prince Harry will arrive in Australia next week for a four weeks long attachment to the ADF. If there is one trademark of Captain Wales, as he is know in the British Army, it’s that he puts his money where his mouth his. Far from shying away from grunting, he seems to relish those assignments. It will therefore be a real pleasure to follow him during his presence in Australia and also when he travels to Gallipoli for the 100th anniversary Remembrance ceremonies.

Source: http://www.army.gov.au/Our-work/News-and-media/Prince-Harry-will-begin-military-attachment-to-ADF-next-week