Friday, 24 June 2011

The Duke Of Wellington’s Take On The Afghan War


Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests which have been sent by His Majesty’s ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable.  I have dispatched reports on the character, wit and spleen of every officer.  Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.

Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain.  This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstance, since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instruction from His Majesty’s Government so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains.  I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below.  I shall pursue either with the best of my ability, but I cannot do both:
  1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London or, perchance…
  2. To see to it the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain

Your most obedient servant,

The above letter—dated August 11th, 1812, and addressed to the British Foreign office in London—is attributed to the Duke of Wellington who, at the time, was waging his Peninsular Campaign.  The war for the Iberian Peninsula, which would thrust the general to prominence, marked an early example of modern warfare.  For it was on the Spanish plains that pitched battles between standing armies of professional soldiers gave way to the spontaneous emergence of large-scale guerilla warfare (the term guerilla being the diminutive of guerra, Spanish for “war” or quite literally “little war”).  The British press quickly seized on the novel uprising: for the first time, peoples, not princes, were in rebellion against the “Great Disturber.”

To read the rest of this article, visit, where it was originally published.

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