However, on the 11th, 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`.
That is why I support the Royal British Legion.