Upper Kentmere Valley, photographed January, 2011, Peter Bettess
Head of Kentmere left to right Rainsborrow Crag, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, High Street and Mardale Ill Bell
Pete Bettess - Military Heroes
Pete Bettess Personal
Military Heroes
The greatest military commander of all time, at least in the west, must be Alexander the Great of Macedonia, followed by generals like Hannibal and Julius Caesar. I do not in any way wish to diminish them, but I am more interested in more recent generals of European origin.
Field Marshall Viscount William Slim

Field Marshall Viscount William Slim, known to his men as Uncle Bill, was the commander of the Fourteenth Army in Burma. He retreated all the way up Burma, under the Japanese onslaught, from the very south to the very north of the country. He was beaten time and time again, but kept his army together as a coherent fighting force. He attempted to counter attack, but was repulsed by the Japanese. And then the Japanese attacked and closed in on the two locations of Imphal and Kohima. Both bases were cut-off. They were defended heroically and the Japanese attacks were blunted and then the Indian Army and the British Army went over to the attack. They defeated the Japanese attacking Imphal and Kohima and then pushed the Japanese all the way back down Burma. Slim was always starved of resources, because, naturally enough, the war in Europe went first. So the Fourteenth Army was known as the forgotten army. Slim had many brilliant strokes in his counter attack including the seizure of Meiktila, which took the Japanese completely by surprise and disrupted their supplies. In the end the Japanese Army in Burma, commanded by Kimura, was almost completely annihilated. It was a consummate piece of generalship on the part of Slim. He wrote about the campaign in his book Defeat into Victory, Cassell, 1956.

Two quotations from the book:

page 534.
Field-Marshal Tarauchi's sword is in Admiral Mountbatten's hand; General Kimura's is now on my mantelpiece, where I always intended that one day it should be.

Preface. (with my italics)
If in places I have noticed by name individuals, units, and formations, that is usually because I happened to be near them at a particular time and they caught my eye. I am very conscious that for every one I mention, there were a hundred others whose doings were just as worthy of record. Named or unnamed, I shall always be proud to have served with them. Victory in Burma came, not from the work of any one man, or even of a few men, but from the sum of many men's efforts. We all, even those among us who may have seemed to fail, did our best. Luckily, that combined best proved good enough.

Bill Slim

An excellent book by George MacDonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here (a quote from Kipling), tells what it was like as an infantryman in the Border Regiment, in the fighting in Burma. At this stage in the campaign, the Japanese had lost air superiority, but the occasional sighting of a Japanese Zero fighter was greated by the Cumberland infantrymen with 'There's a nip in the air'. George MacDonald Fraser, a 19-year-old lance corporal who went on to write the bestselling Flashman novels, said of Slim: “The biggest boost to morale was the burly man who came to talk to the assembled battalion. It was unforgettable – the only man I've seen who had a force come out of him, a strength of personality I have puzzled over since.”

At a meeting with an East African division Slim stood on some crates and said: “Take a good look at my mug. It's no oil painting. But I'm the Army Commander and you had better recognise me. I understand the British soldier because I've been one. I've been kicked by the enemy where it hurts. Now, gentlemen, we are going to kick the Japanese back to Rangoon.”

The quote is typical of Slim, and the way he related to his men eventually saw morale soar in the toughest fighting conditions.

Slim raised himself up from relatively humble beginnings, through hisown exertions. He was almost modest and self deprecatory. Apart from his classic Defeat into Victory, he also wrote Unofficial History, which gave informal accounts of some of the battles that he had been involved in, with comparisons with the formal Official History. In most cases the Official History dismissed each battle or skirmish in a few lines, and Slim gives the feeling of what it was actually like to be involved.

The Duke of Wellington

The Duke of Wellington's most famous victory is Waterloo, where, with assistance of the Prussians, led by Blucher, he defeated Napoleon and brought to an end the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars which had devastated Europe.

Wellington on Waterloo 'It has been a damned serious business ... Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. … By God! I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there.

There are a lot of very amusing quotes associated with Wellington. A man accosted him in the street with the words 'Mr. Smith I believe?' to which Wellington replied 'If you can believe that you can believe anything.' Wellington used the phrase (or something close the phrase) 'Publish and be damned.' in response to a threat to publish some incriminating documents about him.

Wellington was a consummate general. He never lost a battle and he never lost a gun. The only standard lost in any of his battles, at Waterloo, was swiftly recaptured.

Wellington fought some major battles in India. At Assaye, which helater said was his greatest battle, he overcame odds against him of 6 to 1. His native guides assured him at one point that there was noford across a river. But he could see that there were villages on both banks of the river. He argued that there must thus be a wayacross the river. He was right, there was a ford, and Wellington usedit to turn the enemy flank, which lead him to victory

His next major campaign was in the Iberian peninsula. Wellington'sforces were inferior to the French troops, but he had the support ofthe Portuguese and the Spanish and through many battles and clevermanouevres, he ejected the French invaders from Spain and went on todefeat the French in the south of France. The details can be read inthe book by Jac Weller, Wellington in the Peninsula.

When Wellington was Prime Minister a plot was uncovered to assassinate the cabinet. Wellington's response was to suggest that all the




The following is under construction
The Duke of Marlborough
Nimitz defeated the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. Thanks largely to brilliant American code breaking, Nimitz was able to set a trap for the Japanese battle fleet. Despite the Japanese shooting down lots of the attacking U.S. torpedo bombers, several flights of dive bombers got through the fighter screen and in a few minutes sank three Japanese aircraft carriers. The Americans later lost a carrier of their own, but also sank a fourth Japanese aircraft carrier. This transformed the naval situation in the Pacific.
Lieutenant John Chard, R.E.

Lieutenant John Rouse Merriott Chard, Royal Engineers., was the Officer Commanding Rorke's Drift. Rorke's Drift was a battle between a tiny garrison in a simple mission station and an overwhelming force of Zulu warriors. Despite multiple assaults, the defenders would not give way. In the film Zulu, the Welsh defenders sing Men of Harlech, with the words 'Welshmen will not yield' A total of 11 Victoria crosses were won by the 104 fit defenders. The battle has been analysed by Victor Davis Hanson, in his book Why the West has Won - Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam., Faber and Faber, 2001.

It has been said that so many Victoria Crosses were awarded in order to divert attention from the disaster of Isandhlwana, where 1,800 British troops were massacred by the Zulus.

Hanson addresses this point. 'There were eleven Victoria Crosses awarded at Rorke's Drift - one for almost every ten soldiers who fought. None were awarded on the basis of "kills" though we have several eye-witnoss accounts of individual British marksmen shooting dozens of Zulus at great ranges. Modern critics suggest such lavishness in commendation was designed to assuage the disaster at Isandhlwana and to reassure a sceptical Victorian public that the fighting ability of the British soldier remained unquestioned. Maybe, maybe not. But in the long annals of military history, it is difficult to find anything quite like Rorke's Drift, where a beleagured force, outnumbered forty to one, survived and killed twenty men for every defender lost. But then it is also rare to find warriors as well trained as European soldiers, and rarer still to find any Europeans as disciplined as the British redcoats of the late nineteenth century.'

Hanson also remarked 'On January 22, 1879, the garrison at Rorke's Drift proved to be the most dangerous hundred men in the world.' More than 20,000 cartridges were expended.

Final scene in film Zulu.









Page last modified June 27, 2015