Notes by John McGivering
and John Radcliffe. We are indebted to Roger Ayers for advice on military matters, and for his note on the Battle of Minden
... when I most want him to lick the new batch of recruits into shape. I never knew a man who could put a polish on young soldiers as quickly as Mulvaney can. How does he do it?.See “Troopin’”, “The Young British Soldier" and other Barrack-Room Ballads, The Seven Seas, and The Five Nations.
No author in any literature has has composed, in verse or prose, so full and varied and so relentlessly realistic a view of the soldier’s life, with its alternations of boredom and terror, its deadening routine, its characteristic vices and corruptions, its rare glories and its irrational fascination, as Rudyard Kipling in the series of verses he produced in the next two years.He then lists ten poems written between 1894 and 1896, including this one:
If he had written nothing else, this group of ballads, from which many lines have become familiar quotations, would preserve his name as long as soldiering remains the unavoidable lot of half-willing young men.George Orwell, a fierce social critic, who served in the Burma Police, and as a volunteer soldier against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, finds Kipling's imperialism and streak of brutality indefensible, but is impressed by the truth of the army prose and verse:
How complete or truthful a picture has Kipling left us of the long service, mercenary army of the late nineteenth century ? One must say of this, as of what Kipling wrote about nineteenth century Anglo-India, that it is not only the best but almost the only literary picture we have.
He has put on record an immense amount of stuff that one could otherwise only gather from verbal traditions or from unreadable regimental histories.
Perhaps his picture of army life seems fuller and more accurate than it is because any middle-class English person is likely to know enough to fill up the gaps ... But from the body of Kipling’s early work there does seem to emerge a vivid and not seriously misleading picture of the old pre-machine-gun army – the sweltering barracks in Gibraltar or Lucknow, the red coats, the pipeclayed belts and the pillbox hats ... future generations will be able to gather some idea of what a long-term volunteer army was like.
[from Andrew Rutherford (Ed.) p. 78.]
Why Minden? Who were the men that fought there?[Sub-heading] Lodge of Instruction For Freemasons, a 'Lodge of Instruction' provides the Officers and those who wish to become Officers an opportunity to rehearse ritual under the guidance of an experienced Brother. Those with experience are sharing their knowledge and understanding, like Kipling's old soldier in the poem.
Initially Kipling links Minden with Waterloo (triumph) and Maiwand (disaster) but Minden was a battle where triumph was wrested from disaster, where despite the British and Hanoverian infantry advancing without orders and unsupported, their steadiness and determination carried the day. They repulsed repeated French cavalry charges, giving time for the Prussian contingent to engage the French as well. As Corelli Barnet (Britain and Her Army, 1509-1970, Allen Lane 1970) puts it:
It was an amazing performance for unsupported infantry to defeat cavalry this way.That the French escaped from the field even after heavy losses was unfortunately due to the British cavalry commander, Lord George Sackville, failing to obey repeated orders to charge. Corelli Barnet goes on to say:
Minden took its place in British military legend alongside Fontenoy as a display of discipline and steady musketry. The anatomy of British military legend was becoming clear: the British came to admire imperturbable discipline, unshakable courage and endurance - even if perhaps, sometimes because, it was all in pursuit of a tactical blunder.I think that Kipling was drawing on this legend in holding up the men that fought at Minden as an example that newly recruited soldiers should follow. Charles Carrington, in his notes on The Complete Barrack Room Ballads, says that: 'It is not known which of the Minden Regiments Kipling had in mind'.
I do not believe that Kipling ever had just one regiment in mind but all those who were given 'Minden' as a battle honour. These units were:
In fact, the infantry were not entirely unsupported. Two Royal Artillery batteries deployed with them and were given the honour title 'Minden'. They are now:
- 12th Regiment of Foot - later the Suffolk Regiment, now in the Royal Anglian Regiment.
- 2nd Bn, 20th Foot - later the Lancashire Fusiliers, now in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
- 23rd Foot - later the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, now in the Royal Welsh Regiment.
- 25th Foot - later the King's Own Scottish Borderers, now in the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
- 37th Foot - later the Hampshire Regiment, now in the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment.
- 51st Foot - later the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, now 5th Rifles.
Minden Day, 1 August, is probably still the most important internal annual event in the lives of all these units. [R.C.A.]
- 12 (Minden) Battery in 12 Regiment, R.A.
- 32 (Minden) Battery in 16 Regiment R.A.
`Yes, you may well look sheepy,' Ortheris squeaked to the boys. 'It's the likes of you breaks the 'earts of the likes of us. We've got to lick you into shape, and never a ha'penny extry do we get for so doin', and you ain't never grateful neither. Don't you go thinkin' it's the Colonel nor yet the company orf'cer that makes you. It's us, you Johnnie Raws - you Johnnie bloomin' Raws!'
A company officer had come up unperceived behind Ortheris at the end of this oration. ' You may be right, Ortheris,' he said quietly, `but I shouldn't shout it.' The recruits grinned as Ortheris saluted and collapsed.