Friday, May 20, 2005

The Last Cavalryman...

The Daily Telegraph brings the news of the death (aged 108) of Albert "Smiler" Marshall, said to have been the last surviving British Cavalryman to have ridden into battle.
Mr Marshall joined up in 1915, aged 17, after lying about his age. He was nicknamed Smiler after he threw a snowball at a drill sergeant who threatened to "give him something to smile about". He took part in his first major battle the same year, at Loos. In 1916, at Cambrai, his regiment came across advancing Germans.
"They were a bit surprised to see us," he recalled in an interview with Legion magazine. "They were advancing and scattered as we charged. We drew our swords and cut them down. It was cut and thrust at the gallop. They stood no chance."
In the First World War the cavalry were meant to await a breakthrough before exploiting the breach in enemy lines. But the breakthroughs rarely came, and more often the horsemen functioned as mounted infantry. Mr Marshall spent long months in the trenches, until in March 1917 he was shot in the hand and sent back to "Blighty".
I note that the British also used cavalry in Ireland at that time, with the first British casualties in the 1916 Easter Rising being 4 cavalrymen who were part of a troop of Lancers who had the misfortune to charge down Sackville Street after many of the buildings had been occupied by rebels. It's not clear whether the lancers stumbled into this situation or whether British military stupidity extended to deploying cavalry against fortified urban positions.
The Polish famously deployed cavalry against the Germans in WWII.
In related news the Telegraph also reports on continuing bomb finds on WWI battlefields.
Each year, especially during spring ploughing, the mud of Flanders yields up a lethal harvest of unexploded bombs, shells and grenades - and each year these 90-year-old weapons grow more dangerous.
Perhaps a quarter of the one billion projectiles fired during the First World War failed to explode.
Many were faulty, others landed in the deep, soft ooze of the Western Front's battlefields, only to reappear nearly a century later in the shares of a farmer's plough, or against a workman's spade.

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