Book Review: Scramble by Tom Neil.


Paperback: 640 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 Oct. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445660334

This book was just sheer excitement. It was Biggles for real. When Scramble was offered to me I thought it was the war in the air from a historian’s point of view but I soon discovered it was written by one of Britain’s last Ace’s.

As a young man Tom Neil was one of those, good looking, smiling, clean cut patriotic lads. The industrious kids who were proud of Britain for reasons apart from being good at athletics. He thought the King and Queen were smashing, he was proud of the Empire and didn’t flinch at putting country before himself.

To Neil the thought of an objector was abhorrent, and he had no qualms about backing up his convictions by going into action to fight the vile “Hun”. This chap was hardly 19 when the Battle of Britain began, yet like so many others there was hardly any reserve. Like a character from WE John’s creation or the like, Neil longed for action, and a crack at the enemy.

When the first casualties started coming in during the early days of the war, his ardour was heightened rather than dampened, though he grieved for lost friends one gets the impression there wasn’t much time to indulge in such a luxury, not when you were likely to be flying on average 3-4 sorties a day. Doubts about death or the morality of killing ones fellow man didn’t come into it. Sleeping, eating and scrambling was what kept pilots occupied in mid 1940.

Scramble is a compilation of 3 books, so it’s quite long, but Neil’s style is an engaging one. Part classic memoir, in which there is humour, a touch of drama and anecdote, and part action novel, in which the reader seems to be with Neil in the cockpit of his Hurricane, thinking his thoughts and feeling his reactions.

It begins with his early life in Manchester, his introduction to flight and obsession with joining the RAF. The obstacles thrown in his way to get there. Whether it be his parents, or the snobbish officers at his first interview who took dislike to him because he came from Manchester and took the train because he had no car.

Back in the pre war days the recruitment process was apparently more selective. Joining as a volunteer got him in the air, and away from his home to Scotland where with the phoney war in full swing, he finished his training and got a little instruction in some of the more worldly aspects of being a fighting man as well.

The book follows his career, in which he scored enough kills to be considered an ace several times over and is now the highest scoring fighter pilot left, through the Battle of Britain into the defence of Malta. Reading this book I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this generation was indeed truly remarkable for their ability to look death in the face, trouser their hands and smile.

Neil’s remembrances are sharp, not always kind, but usually gracious. For instance he has an affecting way of handling profanity as well, which is refreshing when you chat usually step into a high street anymore without hearing what Neil would call a “Holy word”. Not that the account is sanitised, these are just the many ways by which we can hear a very personal voice. And alongside his combat experiences are nuggets of his personal life which allow for contrast.

The passages are as one would expect littered with casualties, no sooner is a man introduced than Neil will observe heavily that “poor” this or that, he was killed later, or afterwards we found out he had been shot down. As the casualties mount such sentences become more frequent yet, in the thick of it there was only the briefest of gaps to toast a missing face in the mess.

The recollections of action, air warfare before the jet, are fascinating. I like detail, even if I don’t know about the subject, and I’m not a pilot, I like to know that I’m in the hands of an expert. The phraseology Neil uses to describe aircraft leaves one in no doubt that this man saw it with his own eyes. Searching for the enemy in the tinder boxes called Hurricanes, the first sign of them as they climbed to altitude was the garden of brown flak blossoms bursting. Beyond which, as they got closer, emerged the fly like dots of fighters and the droning slug like shapes of bombers.

As an experienced combat pilot Neil has some firm ideas about how things should be done. And fans of the good old Spitfires and Hurricanes will be put out to hear the veteran remark at the excellence of the Me 109, which could climb, fly and dive much faster than the British machines, and according to Tom Neil that’s all a good pilot needs

Dogfights are fast and furious, your not even sure what’s going on, sometimes the fight ends so arbitrarily it beggars belief. The act of shooting down an enemy plane seemed to come slowly to Neil, but it wasn’t out of disinclination. And there is a distinctly impersonal nature to air warfare, as if the pilots found it easier to fight because they could shoot at machines, and forget about the people in them.

There is some merit to the idea that you should read general histories before hitting primary sources, but when it’s a book like Scramble I’d suggest you do just that, scramble and get a hold of it.


Unbreakable: Part 1.

Navajo Code Talkers, Saipan. 1944. Wikipedia.

Navajo Code Talkers, Saipan. 1944. Wikipedia.

This is the first part of a little series dedicated to the Navajo code talkers who served in the US Marines in World War 2. These were men who for half their lives had been told to forget their language and culture, and yet enlisted to defend their country, a country that had more often than not persecuted them and told them that unless they changed they weren’t welcome to be a part of it. Ironically it was their language, the one that America tried to suppress that helped secure victory in the Pacific.
Tribal Ideals.

Navajo family domestic scene 1939.

Navajo family domestic scene 1939.

Traditionally the Diné people, or the Navajo didn’t celebrate birthdays, for Peter MacDonald who was to his recollection Born in May or June 1928 it was puzzling to be given the birthday December 16th by the United States Government. His parents were from rural Four Corners a, near Teec Nos Pos in northeastern Arizona it was a farming community and they had a small place with some sheep, horses, and cows. The family were basically self sufficient, moving with the seasons between four corners, the mountains and Utah.

His young experiences were all bound up in a fluid multi layered, very Navajo oriented world. Bounded by the peaks of the four sacred mountains, Sisnaajíníí (Sierra Blanca) to the east, Tsoodził (Mt. Taylor) to the south, Dook’o’ooslííd (San Fransisco Peaks) to the west and Dibé Ntsaa (La Plata Mountain) to the north. One of these experiences was to watch his grandfather load his dump truck up with coal to take to sell to boarding schools. For Peter the connection between the truck driving away out of their rural neighbourhood and his grandfather coming home with money, which he would use to buy things made a big impression. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d reply to drive a dump truck like his grandfather, or maybe to work in an office.

Navajo Children born at the turn of the 20th century grew up in small close knit farming communities whose livelihood depended on livestock and what they could produce from the soil.
Chester Nez’s family were sheep farmers during the 1920s and 30s in Chi Chil Tah, New Mexico. His mother died when he was very young but like other young Navajos he was able to lean on a very close family unit, his grandparents and aunts and uncles, on the reservation. There he grew up helping tend a flock of over 1,000 animals.
It was a hard life in a hard country, especially in the winter when the snow banked up to a man’s waist, and the only water had to collected by hand in barrels. Conditions weren’t helped by the empty promises made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to improve housing and living standards. Chester philosophically remembered a humble, honest, rough life but figured it was something he had to go through. He wasn’t alone, Joe Vandenver Sr. Who was raised in traditional Navajo ways, was toughened from birth to face hardships positively. To the extent that his father would throw his children naked into deep snow in order to help them endure in the long run.

Traditional tribal values remained important to the Navajo. Whose tribal structure was based on a number of individual clans. They were so remote from the rest of the United States that it was relatively easy to maintain a sense of separate culture within communities. Samuel Tom Holliday had been born in monument valley, he was raised by his parents, his mother taught her children about the natural world and made sure they grew up fit and strong. Until he was 12 he had never heard an English voice. He was raised on stories about the cruelty of the White man during the long walk, from his grandmother, whose mother died in the ordeal. These stories affected deeply and were all too common.

Bill Toledo was an all round strong man. Like most other children he was inducted into the life of a sheep herder at a young age, no more than 5 years old. Yet he did dream of the world outside the closed Navajo community. Once he watched a plane soar overhead and wondered what it would be like to be up that high, like a bird. He would look out towards mount Taylor and wonder what was on the other side. His parents died when he was still young and Bill was raised by his grandparents who brought him up in the traditional manner. Every morning he awoke with the dawn to pray with his grandparents. When the first snow fell he was told to strip and roll in the snow for a short while, to keep him strong and healthy. When he was watching sheep, he might chose to sit and relax when his grandfather would ride up on horseback and ask him why he was just sitting around. Shouldn’t he be running somewhere? Mistakes would be met with scolding from his grandmother. Both grandparents placed great store in exercise and activity, Bill would often run barefoot with his grandfather, who regularly used to leave him in the dust until he got older.

A Harsh New World.
Life was tough, the BIA consistently failed to improve housing and living standards in the reservation, meaning that the people struggled. Then just to make it harder came the livestock reduction. The tribe had been herders since Spanish Colonial times and in the treaty of 1868 which had delineated the initial limits of the reservation, the tribe was given 15,000 sheep and 500 cattle. Which had been expanded to 500,000 by the 1920s. Federal assessors had calculated the Navajo could maintain 500,000 sheep on the reservation. By 1931 the number was as high as 2,000,0000 animals. The maths are testament to how capable the Navajo were at animal husbandry, the tribes’ wool accounted for half of the cash income for an individual Navajo, and constituted the only source of livelihood for women. However the government was adamant that they were overgrazing and ruining the land. Without consulting the tribe, Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier ruthlessly pushed through legislation to remove up to 80% of the Navajo livestock.
Agents appeared thereafter to buy up animals and the tribal flocks were decimated, the horses, goats and cattle deemed superfluous were taken away for destruction. Chester’s grandparents and aunts and uncles watched, tears streaming down their faces as the sheep, even lambs, were herded into a pit or trench, soaked in paraffin oil and set alight. The livestock massacre, coming at the height of the Great Depression, broke the back of the fragile Navajo economy and rammed home just how helpless and powerless the tribe was over their own destiny.


The proceeds from weaving wool into blankets was the only source of income for Navajo women. Here we see a weaving setup, a flock of sheep and a hogan.

The proceeds from weaving wool into blankets was the only source of income for Navajo women. Here we see a weaving setup, a flock of sheep and a hogan. Wikipedia. 1920-30

Indeed the aura of freedom and cultural independence was a false, because if a Navajo family wanted to get a child educated they had to eventually send them to a BIA boarding school. Article VI of the 1868 treaty actually compelled parents to send all children between the ages of 6-16 to schools so that they could be “civilised.”
Peter MacDonald never aspired to anything that he could not see. Therefore he desired nothing more than to be like his grandfather, and although he knew he was a leader, a chairman of the Navajo Nation Peter would have been content just to drive a truck or work in an office, and nothing more. Despite having no aspirations to go to college, he enjoyed maths at the local school, where he learned to write, read and speak basic English but Peter was then enrolled in a BIA run boarding school at Baycone. He soon found the alien environment, away from his family and familiar routines of home life suffocating. He was picked on by bigger students, and the faculty were cold and mean to him. After the 6th Grade he dropped out and apprenticed under his grandfather for a year to become a medicine man. However after that year he dropped out of that as well and went looking for other work.

Peter’s experience of boarding school was not unusual. Already the treaty had done its best to dismantle Navajo values, principally by introducing the concept of private property. Incentives being put in place to encourage the tribe to become independent farmers. But these “Indian Schools” were in reality “De-Indianising” stations where everything children had been taught up to entry was drummed out of them so they could become, “Americans”. They were given birthdays if they didn’t have any, and Anglicised names to replace their Indian ones.
Chester Nez went away to school were he had no choice but to learn English. Here the Navajo language was discouraged as was all aspects of their culture. “It was pretty bad,” he said, this was an understatement, and the students suffered week long punishments of they were caught talking in Navajo.

The famous Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania was just one of many schools set up to make sure the new generation of Indians forgot about their culture and history. 1900.

The famous Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania was just one of many schools set up to make sure new generations of Indians forgot about their culture and history. 1900. Wikipedia.

Keith M. Little, born in Arizona was an orphan raised by his sisters and relatives. Sent to Ganado Mission school, he was subject to the same universal harsh rules and discipline of the system and was repeated told how “dumb” he was. Parents would therefore try to keep their children at home for as long as possible, but if children over a certain age were discovered they were sent away. When Samuel T. Holliday was 12 when he injured his leg and was hospitalised for 3 months, in which time he was taught basic ABC’s and numbers in an adjoining room. One day his mother came and asked when she could take her boy home, but the officials told her that Tom had to go to school, she pleaded with them not to take him, but they’d didn’t listen. Tom arrived at school and was greeted in Navajo, but then informed it would be English from there on in. It was one of the hardest experiences of his life. He suffered from bullying, the strict rules and the confusing language. Snitches were a common problem and after being outed for speaking Navajo he would be punished on Saturdays and Sundays, scrubbing the walls and hallways. He was sent at 13, but most kids would go at 5 so it was incredibly hard for him to catch up. Sam used to trade cookies to other kids in return for teaching him English so he wouldn’t be beaten by the teachers, corporal punishment was a staple of boarding school life.
The name Kee Etsicitty Basically means Boy Blacksmith. Born in May 1924, Kee was sent to boarding school, were the government issue him “normal clothes”, a new name, fed him three meals a day and beat him if he spoke his own language or didn’t learn English fast enough.
Bill Toledo had attended a local school, taking the bus that came around to collect students from their houses or sheep herding camps. At the time Bill went to boarding school his hair was long, like all Navajo children. It flowed down to his waist and he usually bunned it back so when he wore the straw hat his grandfather gave him he looked almost like a Mexican. When he went to boarding school he was told he didn’t need his long hair there. The government was strict on anglicising the Indians, like the others he was not allowed to speak Navajo, if he did his mouth was washed out with yellow laundry soap, and his hair was cut off to conform with American standards of decency.

The material for the above comes from Various filmed Interviews with the sited Navajo Codetalkers from a great database

Book Review: Gladius the Roman Short Sword: M.C. Bishop.


Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Osprey Publishing (17 Nov. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472815858

One of the most famous weapons in history and certainly one of the most famous swords is the Roman Gladius. Author M.C. Bishop sets out to use the Osprey weapon series to its best effect and gives a comprehensive overview of sword types, manufacture, historical use, it’s practical impact and legacy.

The book is replete with reconstruction illustrations and photographs, highlighting the effectiveness of the sword that conquered and empire. Peter Dennis provides some excellent action scenes and adds in an interesting reconstruction of cupellarii gladiators. Nevertheless writing such a book is not without its challenges. In terms of description of the main forms the Roman sword took from the Republic to the late empire it can depend on solid archeological, scholarly and etymological foundations. In the realms of experimental archeology we enter the realms of informed opinion, and what could be possible based on tests, all of which the author freely admits.

Except for classical historians explaining the sword’s effectiveness in battle, there are no surviving drill manuals, or exercises that can help us understand how the Roman army trained its men. That being said all that is available to us is examined, such as the classic cut and thrust discussion alongside its wider legacy and highlighting common misconceptions. The Gladius Hispanensis, is the specific name for the sword, but in itself is quite a general name as there were many Spanish swords, gladius is just the Latin generic name for any sword, etc.

Weakensess are also examined, such as the reduced effectivness against armoured opponents, this despite the Macedonians being horrified by its effectivness during the republican era. Legionaries facing the gladiators in the AD 21 revolt had to leave their swords sheathed and resort to fighting with entrenching tools. Fighting stances again can only be ascertained from carvings and classical historians, some logical explanations for the typical crouched posture are put forward.

A useful book about a legendary weapon. Bound to sit well alongside its companion volume about the Pilium, for as the author points out the Gladius is only one of an effective weapons and defence micro system that made the Roman soldier such a powerful opponent.


Sketches of Ancient Egypt: The Greatest Warrior.

Had this man been Greek, he’d have been turned into a Demi-god to rival some of the greatest in the heroic pantheon.

The Greatest Warrior.

Ahmose Son of Abana.

Ahmose Son of Abana.

How a man in his eighties could have the strength to engage, let alone capture, a Syrian chariot and its crew was beyond most of the new recruits. But then again Ahmose son of Abana had always defied simple explanation, for what it was worth he never gave any, for he proved his worth in deeds. The ancient old warrior, still lean and driven by an inner force that might have rivalled Pharaoh’s own divine spirit, lead his captives bound in their chariot to the presence of Thutmose I with the confidence of one used to being in the close proximity of royalty.
But he was tired. It was his boast, for he was not a humble man just a simple one, that he was in the front rank in all Pharaoh’s battles, and further that three monarchs, including the present incumbent of the throne of Horus, had witnessed his deeds at first hand. Such stress and hardship were bound to take their toll and as Ahmose watched the victory stele installed on the far bank of the Euphrates, he knew that this would be his final campaign.
He was descended from a military family, though he preferred to call himself the son of his mother, his father, Baba son of Rainet had been a soldier under Sekenra and was a scion of the nomarchs of Nekheb. As a boy Ahmose therefore was destined for a career in arms, and had taken his father’s place as a boy, sleeping in the hammocks of the ship Wild Bull during the reign of Ahmose I.
In those days Egypt was a nation under occupation. The whole of the North, the fertile delta, was under the control of the Hyksos, a mysterious “asiatic” people who had devastated the country. However the Warriors Kings of the 18th dynasty were of a different stamp to those that had come before them, Ahmose I was such a king and he was on the lookout for active young men to help him drive the invader out and liberate Egypt.
In the year Pharaoh besieged the city of Avaris, Ahmose was a chariot runner to the king, and in the initial skirmishes he distinguished himself in hand to hand combat under his master’s eye. Avarice was situated on one of the easternmost tributaries of the Delta, the lush head of papyrus that surmounts the winding stem of the Nile. Ahmose was soon transferred to the Rising in Memphis, and took part in the bitter struggle to seize the canals, as the fleet strove to cut the city off from supplies. In this action he took his first hand, earning him the “gold of valour”, a feat he would repeat 7 times in his career.
Although he would fight the Hyksos again, the majority of his career would be spent fighting Kushites in Nubia and suppressing rebels and invaders from the desert. Under Ahmose I, Amunhotep I and Thutmose I Ahmose found himself in the thick of Egypt’s territorial wars against the powerful Kingdom of Kush, whose formidable bowmen were incorporated into the Egyptian army, but whose kings rose in perpetual wars against Egypt’s southern border. In suppressing a southern rebellion Ahmose dove into the Nile to pursue a fleeing enemy chief who he then dragged in dripping defeat before Pharaoh.
By the Nubian campaign of Thutmose I, Ahmose was the greatest warrior in the land, endowed with land, slaves and titles. The new pharaoh made him commander of his war barge. In the main battle of the campaign Ahmose fought courageously in the presence of his king, and presented him with two hands after the pursuit had obliterated the enemy field army. Ahmose was raised to the rank of Crew Commander (which is interpreted to mean admiral). The Kushites then met the Egyptians on the water and were broken. Pharaoh had Amhose steer his ship against the enemy flagship and the old admiral watched from Pharaoh’s side with satisfaction as Thutmose took a javelin, drew back his arm and with a sure eye flung his spear (some translate arrow), which a moment later resolved itself as a quivering shaft in the chest of the enemy chief. After processing to the 3rd cataract, with the Nubian’s corpse dangling by his feet from the prow Thutmose returned to Karnak and then campaigned in Syria.

The 90 year old legend, Ahmose put down his weapons and lived out the remainder of his life in comfort, perhaps able to see his grandchildren before having “reached old age. Favoured as before, and loved I rest in the tomb that I myself made”.

Sources: Lives of the Ancient Egyptians: Toby Wilkinson. The Splendour that was Egypt: Margaret Murray. Funerary inscriptions respective to subject found at . The Nile and Egyptian civilisation: A. Moret. Ancient Records of Egypt: James Breasted. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: Toby Wilkinson. Soldier of the Pharaoh: Nic Field.

See you again for another adventure in Historyland.


Masters of Battle: Elizabeth Butler part 4


Elizabeth first met William Butler at a luncheon, both knew something of the other. Butler was a soldier, and traveller, the author of a popular book called “The Great Lone Land”. While she of course was probably the second or third most famous woman in Britain. After the Queen would come only two names, Florence Nightingale and Elizabeth Thompson.
William’s feelings for her were probably echoed my many young men at the time. He had returned from active service during the Ashanti campaign, ill with remnants of a fever, his sister had visited him in hospital and read him the papers. Unsurprisingly Elizabeth’s name had cropped up repeatedly prompting Butler to one day muse aloud “I wonder if Ms. Thompson would marry me?” At the time it had perhaps been no more than a fancy, yet on, nearly two years later by Elizabeth’s count, April 22 1876, they met for the first time, and Butler may well have decided not to ignore the call of fate. Yet marriage was not yet on Ms. Thompson’s mind.

On August 25 1876 Elizabeth was working in her Portsmouth studio, painting on a 34 by 41 inch square of tinted paper. Scattered around her easel were numberless draught sketches of soldiers that she had been creating since the beginning of the month. At length she stepped back. Before her, roughed in with sepia tones, was the final composition of “The return from Inkerman.” It had been a challenging task to pose. After finding the landscape in Worthing and Aldershot, Britain’s premier battle painter had began a series of interviews with veterans, all of whom disagreed with one another, forcing her to alter sketches repeatedly. She read Russel’s account of the war and then finally decided to run with her original conception and now she was done. She closed up the studio and left, anticipating the joys of spending the rest of the summer in Italy.

Elizabeth and her sister spend a luxuriant time in the Tuscan sun, spending much of the time outdoors, and seeing only wet and overcast day which she took the opportunity to sketch an oak bush for inclusion into Inkerman. They left Italy on 14 October, with the thermometer registering 90 degrees in the shade. When they arrived back to the icy, smokey twilight of London they were wrapped in sealskins and ulsters. Yet the sun of Italy had stayed within them and they regaled the coachman of the Hanson with some Stornelli in a halting minor key as they drove through the empty, foggy streets. What except Inkerman could have pulled her from the warm embrace of Tuscany, William Butler perhaps? A cold brought on by the gloomy London winter delayed her progress so much that she missed the academy exhibition of that year. However disappointment soon turned to joy as she accepted Major Butler’s offer of marriage on 3 March 1877.

Wedding plans had to progress alongside the canvass, which at long last was completed that spring making her joy unconfined. When the packers came and carted Inkerman off to Bond Street, Elizabeth and her Mother, Christina danced gleefully around the studio, kicking up clouds of dust without a care, for the painting was gone. It was almost as if she was glad to see the back of it.

As usual, Elizabeth had produced a painting that portrayed neither glory nor idealism. Executed with a wet, muddy palate of browns and greys. A motley array of soldiers in a mixture of greatcoats and coatees march towards the viewer from a cold November sky. Mounted on his horse is ADC Rupert Carrington, who posed for her and whose mother presented Elizabeth with a Russian medal he had taken from the field. There can be no doubt that these are the survivors, wounded are being carried and bandages are aplenty. They are tired, sore, and in shock, but still proud. Inkerman had been a soldiers battle, one that had seen precious little direction from senior officers and won on the backs of men ranked no higher than field officers. It is a painting in the mould of the Roll Call and Balaclava, it is the aftermath. Sombre and melodramatic it was bought, copyright and all by the Fine Art Society and displayed in their premises in Bond Street.

Return from Inkerman. A column of weary soldiers return from the punishing Crimean battle.

Return from Inkerman. A column of weary soldiers return from the punishing Crimean battle. A Victory for the British and French but in another of her carefully observed, yet theatrical canvass storyboards Elizabeth conveys the sacrifice and misery Wellington identified with battles lost and battles won.

Elizabeth visited the exhibition on the 20th of April and was pleased with the painting. “The crowd was dense and I left the good people wriggling in a cloud of dust.” She wrote.

Major, later General Sir William Butler was an Irishman and an anti Imperialist, who also happened to be a soldier of great experience. His Victorian romanticism had no small effect on his feelings about foreign policy. Always eager to feel pity for a native enemy and espouse the cause of the Indian or African. He would probably have gotten further in the army if he wasn’t so condemning of almost every war he fought in. To be fair, some hardly deserve defending, but it is certain that William probably would have preferred being born in 1765 than 1838. And was unfortunate that his military service was so out of touch with his own inclination, demanding a great deal of devotion to his duty over his moral and ethical principles. He was thus a very sensitive observant and considerate man, and at the same time with a fine temper and irritable at his own impotence to change the corrupt system he had sold his soul to. He also never forgot his native land or the memories of eviction and starvation he saw there as a child. He wrote somewhat naively:

“It is a misfortune of the first magnitude in the lives of soldiers today… That the majority of our recent conflicts have their origins in purely financial interests or sordid stock exchange ambitions.”

Elizabeth and William were Married at the church of the servite fathers on 11 June 1877 by Cardinal Manning. Notable guests were fellow officers who had served with Butler, Redvers Buller and General Wolesley. Elizabeth’s friends from the South Kensington school of art surprised her and sprinkled flowers in their path as they left the church
The marriage caused something of a stir, her friend Wilfred Maynell wrote “By her marriage the painter of heroes became the wide of a soldier of experience in every quarter of the earth”  and in writing to her husband, Elizabeth’s newly devoted admirer John Ruskin exultantly said “What may you not do for England, the two of you!”

For their honeymoon William gave her a choice between Europe or Ireland, though doubtless tempted by the Crimea she chose Ireland. She kept a sketchbook of watercolours as they travelled through the “Wild west” of the country and, William found her two models for her first academy painting since their marriage, Listed for the Connaught Rangers (1879), which was received well. For the end their honeymoon William and Elizabeth travelled to Germany and took a boat trip down the Rhine, but Butler was not as accepting of the places she loved as she was, and took what excuses he could to stay indoors. Elizabeth noted ironically “I suppose the natives on board drove him in rather than his resentment at the come down from the glowing descriptions in the travel books.” After her many travels she was well suited to a soldiers life. Following the drum probably appealed to her.

Listed for the Commaught Rangers, shows two Irishmen marching off to join their regiment. The models were found by William Butler. The recruit on the right exudes quiet confidence and pride, while the man on the left looks symbolically back at a ruined hovel indicative of what has driven him to enlist.

Listed for the Commaught Rangers, shows two Irishmen marching off to join their regiment. The models were found by William Butler. The recruit on the right exudes quiet confidence and pride, while the man on the left looks symbolically back at a ruined hovel indicative of what has driven him to enlist.

However her notoriety had won her a place in society that she did not feel at ease with. William Butler was a very forceful figure who had very firm ideas about how a house should be run and how children should be raised. Elizabeth would eventually have numerous children and was noted to give them a great deal of personal attention, indeed more so than is thought to have been usual. A friend wrote that “Professional painter and the social personality did not combine in unruffled serenity… There where moments when Lady Butler, having behaved with exemplary politeness, would suddenly and violently brake down, as when faced with one final introduction, she cried “I can’t – I can’t” and fled from the house”

Curiously some articles online assert that Elizabeth’s career ended after her marriage. This could not be further from the truth. For a start she was painting “Listed” but alongside that was another poignant piece full of silent drama call “The Remnants of an Army”.
“I think it is well painted, and I hope poetical.” She wrote of the sombre scene of Dr. Brydon on his dying horse dragging himself into Jellalabad. And she was hardly to be devoid of subject matter in the year 1879.

Elizabeth was superb and creating a sense of quiet melodrama. Here the remnants of an army shows the aftermath of the retreat from Kabul. Pain, exhaustion are central to this story of defeat. The dark mountains of the Northwest Frontier glower menacingly in the distance, while the sun sets the bastions of Jellalabad alight with its glow, were safety lies.

Elizabeth was superb and creating a sense of quiet melodrama. Here the remnants of an army shows the aftermath of the retreat from Kabul. Pain, exhaustion are central to this story of defeat. The dark mountains of the Northwest Frontier glower menacingly in the distance, while the sun sets the bastions of Jellalabad alight with its glow, were safety lies.

“Will sailed under orders for the Cape last Friday, February 28th. Our terrible defeat at Isandula has caused the greatest commotion here, and regiments are being poured out of England to Zululand”

Her diary entry for 16 March 1879 reflects her determination to continue working.

“What magnificent subjects for pictures the ‘Defence of Rorke’s Drift’ will furnish. When we get full details I shall be much tempted to paint some episode of that courageous achievement which has shed balm on the aching wound of Isandula. But the temptation will have to be very strong to make me break my rule of not painting contemporary subjects.”

Various articles by By Krzysztof Z. Cieszkowski
Remember Butler.
The Victorians. Paxman.
An Autobiography. Butler.

Book Review: The Thames by John F. Winkler.


Paperback: 96 pages

Publisher: Osprey Publishing (17 Nov. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1472814339

Frontier warfare in the 19th century was a pitiless, callous affair.
Winkler an expert in the field is quite at home with the subject. And gives an authoritative outline of the events of the campaign making good use of contemporary accounts, which makes it entertaining and anecdotal. It would be hard not to given the story is full of Cooper esque names, each of whom is some kind of household name in the epic of the frontier.
Beginning with the confused back and forth struggle that followed the fall of Detroit, the book winds up at the battle of the Thames A recurring theme of this campaign was the use of indians, and to both sides the operative word was use, although the British hoped to create an Indian super state as a buffer between USA and Canada, they depended implicitly on the strength, fear and fighting prowess of their native allies, without whom nothing would have been achieved. The loyalty and trust put in them by Chiefs like Tecumseh, who repeatedly urged their people to continue supporting the British is remarkable, and instructive as to how bitter the divide had grown between the indigenous tribes and the new Americans since 1783.
Typically The cruelty of some of the indians was to be a hallmark of the fighting and prisoners and civilians suffered terribly, with the British senior officers unwilling or powerless to stop atrocities. It is clear no one in the British camp had any real influence over the tribes as they had during the Revolution and 7 years war.
The legend that is Tecumseh, being one of the Chiefs who displayed a humane bearing. For it is noted than many had given up the practice of torture, nevertheless there is a cold indifference to human suffering displayed by Kentuckian militiaman and Indian warrior alike.
The campaign was the faltering attempt to carry on the impetuous of Brock’s successes. However General Proctor proved unable to keep the initiative and after the vicissitudes of a typically muddled frontier campaign, found himself pursued by General Harrison’s much better adapted army, mostly composed of Kentucky militia.
Though the Americans had at first faltered in the wilderness of the northwest, they had come of age and learned how best to deploy their militias. By comparison Proctor had a very indifferent army to carry through a wilderness fight, and he was a worse judge of ground and his enemy. Tecumseh emerges as the only voice of confidence, and it is notable that British Indian allies at this time could field as many as 3,000 warriors. At the Thames the Indian contingent far outnumbered the single battalion of redcoats and supporting Canadians.

Artwork is colourfully provided, in rich autumnal tones and energetic scenes by Peter Dennis. I cannot help but look at the scene of the charge of Kentucky militia against the 41st Foot and think of the painting by Don Troiani a few years ago. And in doing so one instantly notices a discrepancy. The author is certain that the British infantry were wearing stovepipe shakos, but indeed there is contention as to what type of headgear any British soldier wore post 1812. Troiani, however has a international reputation for forensic accuracy in his paintings. He put the 1812 “Belgic” shako on his 41st foot, having consulted the archeological record and experts Jim Kochan and Rene Chartrande he is confident the regiment wore the Belgic. This of course puts him at odds with Winkler.

The three double page spreads are imaginatively composed, especially that of the dismounted militia withdrawing through the swamp. Some of the musket brass and belt parts seem a touch unfinished, and in the scene of Tecumseh’s Attack, the woods become slightly muddy, however they evoke a strong sense of atmosphere and place.

In terms of tactics and ferocity, The Battle of the Thames was a small affair and quite unspectacular except for a few points. It saw a successful charge of irregular, militia cavalry through forest. The death of Tecumseh and the loss of Upper Canada to the British. It ended up being the pivotal frontier battle of the war of 1812. For though the British and indians would win other battles before the peace of Ghent, all hopes were dashed at Plattsburg in 1814. More than that it was something of a last hurrah for the tribes, who without strong charismatic leaders saw their influence and independence dramatically reduce on both sides of the border.

Book Review: Wellington’s Dearest Georgy by Alice Marie Crossland


Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Uniform Press (16 Sept. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0993242480

As some will know, the Duke of Wellington had many women in his life. Books have been written about them and last year amidst all the Waterloo200 fuss, the only documentary to focus on the Duke was actually about his married life. Continue reading