Monday, April 19, 2010

Patriot's Day...................

As a Revolutionary War reenactor today's date has a very significant meaning to me. On this date the first shots were fired in what would start out as a minor rebellion, morph into a civil war and then change into what would be for all intents become a world war.

So many people believe that when the first shots were fired, that everyone picked up their guns, started whistling "Yankee doodle" and threw the hated British out of America. Well, like everything else, it wasn't that simple. Sam Adams himself said the population of the 13 colonies was 1/3 for revolution, 1/3 loyal to the King and 1/3 neutral. He also noted that the 1/3 neutral number waxed and waned depending on who held the most power or appeared to be winning the war at the time. Based on my research, I have found that more Americans fought for the British (In both regular and provincial units) than fought in the Continental Army.

The revolution was a political war also. The war was wildly unpopular in England, a very active opposition in Parliament contested the king's ministers at every turn. There were protest and even riots in the streets of London, requiring the army to be called out to put down the disturbances.

France (the long time and traditional enemy of England) and to a lesser degree Spain was in the meantime sitting on the sidelines watching and waiting. Just to make things interesting, France started sending a little money, gunpowder, weapons and advisors to the Americans. This allowed the Americans to keep the war going and to fight more effectively. Later, the French came into the war on the side of the Americans and provided a Army and more importantly a Navy to counter England's Royal Navy. This turned our revolution into a world war.

I have made the comment many times that if you look back as little as 35 years ago, to where our country was, the similarities are astounding. It seems that the American Revolution was Great Britain's Vietnam. The study of history is full of comparisons such as this one which is one of the reasons that it is so fascinating to me. We humans just keep reinventing the wheel.

Another thing that I have developed in my studies is a admiration for the average soldier. The man on the ground, boots in the mud, risking life and limb for the powers that be. And while my admiration and affection for our own servicemen (and women) knows no limits, I have another warm spot in my heart for the British soldier. Tommy Adkins as he would latter be called, has soldiered on, perhaps poorly led, or not for the best reasons for 100's of years making the British Empire the wonder of the world. Great Britain has fallen on hard times these days but you can be sure that even today the average British soldier will still be doing his duty for King (or Queen) and country.

To end this post, I thought I would share two poems with you. Back about 10 years ago, I went to Lexington to commemorate the 225 anniversary of the battle and saw a grave containing British soldiers killed near the Concord bridge. The grave was beautiful maintained and had a marker on which was carved a part of a poem written by James Russell Lowell. It reads,

"They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne;
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan."

Another favorite poem of mine was written by Rudyard Kipling dedicated to the British soldier of the Victorian age, but it could cover any soldier, any time.

Tommy Adkins

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!


Nancy R. said...

I love Kipling, but the first poem gave me chills.

Michael W. said...

Well please allow me to print you the whole poem........


The same good blood that now refills
The dotard Orient's shrunken veins,
The same whose vigor westward thrills,
Bursting Nevada's silver chains,
Poured here upon the April grass,
Freckled with red the herbage new;
On reeled the battle's trampling mass,
Back to the ash the bluebird flew.

Poured here in vain;--that sturdy blood
Was meant to make the earth more green,
But in a higher, gentler mood
Than broke this April noon serene;
Two graves are here: to mark the place,
At head and foot, an unhewn stone,
O'er which the herald lichens trace
The blazon of Oblivion.

These men were brave enough, and true
To the hired soldier's bull-dog creed;
What brought them here they never knew,
They fought as suits the English breed:
They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne:
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.

The turf that covers them no thrill
Sends up to fire the heart and brain;
No stronger purpose nerves the will,
No hope renews its youth again:
From farm to farm the Concord glides,
And trails my fancy with its flow;
O'erhead the balanced hen-hawk slides,
Twinned in the river's heaven below.

But go, whose Bay State bosom stirs,
Proud of thy birth and neighbor's right,
Where sleep the heroic villagers
Borne red and stiff from Concord fight;
Thought Reuben, snatching down his gun,
Or Seth, as ebbed the life away,
What earthquake rifts would shoot and run
World-wide from that short April fray?

What then? With heart and hand they wrought,
According to their village light;
'Twas for the Future that they fought,
Their rustic faith in what was right.
Upon earth's tragic stage they burst
Unsummoned, in the humble sock;
Theirs the fifth act; the curtain first
Rose long ago on Charles's block.

Their graves have voices; if they threw
Dice charged with fates beyond their ken,
Yet to their instincts they were true,
And had the genius to be men.
Fine privilege of Freedom's host,
Of humblest soldiers for the Right!--
Age after age ye hold your post,
Your graves send courage forth, and might.