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Tag Archives: Life in Wellington’s Army

My family and I love this show. I think it’s great for kids as a demonstration of the scientific method in action. And the crew look they’re always having a great time, especially when blowing things up.
Some of my favorites include the duct tape episodes (they even built a boat out of it) and the one where they (sadly!) proved that Captain Kirk could not have built a bamboo cannon to defeat his Gorn Opponent in the “Arena” episode. Star Trek and black powder—what’s not to love?

Here’s a period weaponry myth that I ran across in reading LIFE IN WELLINGTON’S ARMY by Antony Brett-James. I would love to see this one tested.

Biscuits appear to have arrived in one of three states: hard, jaw-breaking and alive with maggots, as Napier indicates forcibly enough, or crushed to crumbs and mouldered to dust, or sometimes good but old. One day in November 1813 each man in the 43rd Light Infantry secured a biscuit of American make: nearly an inch thick, they were so hard as to require the stamp of an iron heel or some such hammer to break them. These American biscuits were even thick enough to save a man’s life. During the march to La Petite Rhune a fortnight before Christmas 1813 the officers of that regiment ate some for breakfast at two o’clock in the morning, when Lieutenant Wyndham Madden remarked that their thickness would turn a bullet aside, at the same time stuffing one into the breast of his jacket. ‘Never was prediction more completely verified,’ wrote a brother subaltern, ‘for early in the day the biscuit was shattered to pieces, turning the direction of the bullet from as gallant and true a heart as ever beat under a British uniform.’

Mythbusters has boards on www.discovery.com where one can submit new myths. In the historical myths section, I found someone has posted something similar related to the American Civil War, so I added this Napoleonic bit to that thread. It would be fun to see this one tested!

Do any of you enjoy Mythbusters? Have any favorite episodes? Any myths, Regency related or otherwise, that you’d like to see them try to bust?

Elena


When I read Janet’s comment on Megan’s Calgon, Take Me Away post about how the English behaved when out of their familiar milieu, it reminded me of some episodes I’d read about in my favorite go-to book on army life, LIFE IN WELLINGTON’S ARMY by Antony Brett-James. For many in the British Army, the Peninsular War was their first exposure to new countries, languages and customs and all sorts of fun ensued.

(Note: The picture is from THE WHEATLEY DIARY captioned ‘There is a national peculiarity in their manner of dressing.’)

Some conscientious officers studied Portuguese and Spanish en route to the Peninsula and some hired local teachers but some never did acquire any fluency. Consider this tale:

One commissary, perplexed to know how to convey his meaning to a party of muleteers, eventually turned to some British officers standing nearby and asked if anyone could help. One officer immediately stepped forward. ‘I think, sir, that I can explain to them anything you need.’ The commissary was delighted. ‘Then, sir, be so kind as to tell them that they must be here early in the morning with their mules.’

The interpreter addressed the puzzled muleteers as follows: ‘Portuguesios, the commissario – wants the mulos – tomorrowo – presto – la, al,’ and pointed to the village of Vimeiro. ‘Oh, sir!’ cried the commissary, who was very disappointed by this ludicrous performance, ‘I feel much obliged to you, but I can go as far as that myself.’ For months after this episode the self-styled linguist bore the nickname of ‘Jack the Interpreter’.

Food could be a problem, especially since the British were not accustomed to garlic.

Major Berkeley Paget had his breath taken away near Corunna in 1808 when ‘a sausage as large as a line-of-battleship’s mainyard, cram full of garlic, a dish of macaroni poisoned with saffron, and a salad mixed with lamp-oil’ were placed on the dining table. As Paget was a guest, he felt obliged to eat it all out of politeness, and to lie through thick and thin by saying he found it delightful.

“Poisoned” with saffron? Garlicky? This meal sounds yummy to me, with the possible exception of the lamp-oil. Maybe it was actually olive oil?

And then they had to adjust to local customs and manners. Some, like Captain Pocock of the Highland Light Infantry, had the following observation on seeing the fandango danced.

‘This dance had a great effect upon us, but the Spaniards saw it without being moved, and laughed at the quick breathing and amorous looks of our men.’

Or how about this anecdote?

“Woodberry, writing in Olite during August 1813, noted another custom of Spanish women that struck an Englishman as indecent. If you had your back to a woman and she wanted to attract your attention, she would not tap you on the shoulder; instead she was likely to give you several hefty smacks on the bottom. Woodberry himself was greeted in this fashion one morning in the market place and everybody roared with laughter at his embarrassment.”

I must find a way to put that in a story! 🙂

I have been to Norway, France and Italy myself, but I had my most embarrassing culture shock moments while living in England, maybe because I expected things to be more similar. My first day at work there, I ordered zucchini and got the most blank look from the server. Finally, I pointed and she said, “Oh, courgettes.”

And then there was the first trip to a movie theatre, ordering popcorn and discovering that it was sprinkled with sugar, not salt. It’s not unpleasant but a big surprise when you’re not expecting it!

And a hint to anyone traveling to England: do NOT call those little pouches people wear on belts fanny packs! 🙂

Have you had any awkward culture shock moments? Are you like me in enjoying stories that pull characters out of their usual element?

Elena
www.elenagreene.com

P.S. Don’t forget to send your LOLRegencies to RISKIES@YAHOO.COM by midnight EST tonight, for the chance to win a copy of Janet’s THE RULES OF GENTILITY!

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With apologies to ZZ Top–I couldn’t resist! Anyway, I’d like to share some more tidbits from LIFE IN WELLINGTON’S ARMY, with thanks to Antony Brett-James for helping us all create our hot military heroes.

This time it’s about the uniforms. Wellington, nicknamed ‘the Beau’, dressed well himself. “Larpent says he had the skirts of his coats cut shorter in the Peninsula to make them look smarter, and one day in 1813 he found Wellington discussing with his servant the cut of his half-boots and suggesting alterations.” However, Wellington didn’t fuss about his army’s attire. Grattan of the Connought Rangers wrote: “Provided we brought our men into the field well appointed, and with sixty rounds of good ammunition each, he never looked to see whether their trousers were black, blue or gray; and as to ourselves, we might be rigged out in all colours of the rainbow if we fancied it. The consequence was, that scarcely any two officers were dressed alike! Some with grey braided coats, others with brown; some again liked blue; while many from choice, or perhaps necessity, stuck to the ‘old red rag’.”

I was interested to learn that some regiments wore kilts, which “did not always prove to be practical garment for campaign life. While advancing to the heights of Puebla during the Battle of Vitoria, the 92nd had to cross ditches so thickly lined with thorns and briars that the blood ran trickling down many a soldier’s leg.” By 1814 the Black Watch was the only regiment still wearing the kilt.

Wear and tear and dust played havoc with uniforms. One day in 1808 Captain Landemann of the Engineers and Major-General Henry Fane were riding side by side and observed there was little difference between their coats; the former was originally blue, the latter red. Another observer described how red coats deteriorated to something “as ragged as sheep and as black as rooks.”

Here is Captain Mercer’s description of the troops parading in Paris after Waterloo:

“The colour had faded to a dusky brick-dust hue; their coats, originally not very smartly made, had acquired by constant wearing that loose easy set so characteristic of old clothes, comfortable to the wearer, but not calculated to add grace to his appearance.”

A French student watching the same review wrote: ‘Oh! It was really like being defeated twice over, bis mori, to have been beaten by an army so badly turned out as the English army was…How could one be a good soldier under that little sugar-loaf of a peak, with the inelegantly cut red jacket, those grey trousers clinging to knock-knees?”

As for me, I’m not so turned off by a scruffy exterior. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a dandy hero either—dandies have an understanding of pleasure and luxury that can be very sexy. I like variety in my fantasy men. I’ve got one dandy in my idea file. Still, I’ve got a slight preference for heroes who are active and look it. And I’d mend Richard Sharpe’s shirts any time! 🙂

How about you? Do you prefer your Regency heroes nattily turned out or on the rugged side?

Elena
www.elenagreene.com

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