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The Crimea…Half a League Onward…….



Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Just over a hundred years ago the world went to war, and the stage for it was set by another smaller but no more less significant conflict almost 60 years earlier. It’s a timely reminder – because it was called the Crimean War.

It was a war which altered the balance of power in Europe, and which subsequently led to the assassination in 1914 of Archduke Ferdinand – heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His killer was Gavrilo Princip a Serbian nationalist who wanted the South Serb provinces to break away and be combined into Greater Serbia – or a Yugoslavia – a union of South Slavic countries.

This ultimately led to other European states being dragged in, all vying for their position and alliances, and so it was that the Great War began. This brief introduction, deliberately short on studious analysis is merely to put the Crimean War into context. And we must go even further back from it’s origins to understand how and why the Crimean War began – as far back as the Napoleonic Wars 200 years ago.

2014 commemorated the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, but last year 2015 also commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the end of Bonaparte’s dream of a European empire, with he as her emperor.

At the end of the Napoleonic war the great powers  Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria and France got together in Vienna to try and restore European stability by suppressing revolutionary republics and supporting sensible monarchies. Known as the Treaty of Vienna, it led to 30 years of peace in Europe. By 1845 this peace was showing signs of cracks, principally because of the weakness of the Ottoman-Turkish empire.

Then as now Turkey had one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, or more to the point one foot in European Christian orthodoxy and the other in Islamic Middle East. At this point enters the protagonist, then as now – Russia.

Tsar Nicholas  was keen to take advantage of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire with a view to carve up the European part of Turkey and gain some valuable strategic areas. This effectively would give Russia control of the Dardanelles, the strait which connects the Black Sea to the Aegean, and more famously known today for the disastrous tragic WWI campaign of Gallipoli.

Due to increased Russian aggression, Turkey declared war against Russia in October 1853. A month later the Russian Black Sea fleet destroyed a Turkish squadron at Sinope, a Turkish city on the Black Sea, which galvanised British concerns because it threatened her trade links with Turkey and India.

The French, who had no particular interest in Turkey, chose to ally themselves to Britain because they were still smarting from their defeat by Russia in 1812 (later immortalised in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture) and thought that this was their chance to return the bloodied nose.

An ultimatum was issued to Russia to evacuate from the area by March 1854. That month was significant because by then the Baltic ice fields would break up allowing the British to annihilate the Russian fleet should the demand be ignored, which it was. By August the combined Anglo-French fleet took control of the Baltic. Austria subsequently joined the alliance and together contributed to an army of 60,000 to defend Istanbul.

The Russian Tsar ignored the threats (shades of Putin here) and called the bluff. A British plan was formulated to land in the Crimea, and attack Sevastopol with the view of destroying the Russian fleet and the dockyard. What followed was a catalogue of indecision, chess board manoeuvring and glorified Victorian valour which resulted in the Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade. This astonishing display of bravery, courage (madness some will say) into the “valley of death” as Tennyson penned it, so shocked and frightened the Russians that they never again dared to face the British in the field.

Eventually there was a victory of sorts, and the Russians accepted defeat, the demilitarisation of the Black Sea, and for a time the European settlement of the “Turkish Question”. With the 1856 Treaty of Paris, (as with all face-saving treaties of this kind) Russia went home to lick her wounds with a modicum of compensation.

That’s what it’s all about and that’s why the defeated always walk away with a prize of sorts. Political expediency, diplomacy and conciliation make the world go around, regardless of the pain and suffering to get there in the first place. It’s easy to start something, but damned difficult to end something. A lesson we never seem to learn.

Today Russia is on the aggressive ascendancy, and Turkey seeks a political route to European Union membership through clever compromise and negotiation regarding the current mass refugees crisis. History may be the past, but it is also the present and the future, and we ignore it at our peril.

See also Bardiness: Florence Nightingale

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The Great War – A Right Royal War…..



In this centenial decade of WWI, revisionist theorists and historians are keen to highlight the sheer stupidity of it, and argue that it was the crowned heads of Europe who played it out to their own designs.

Others say it was necessary to enter the war to prevent an aggressive Prussian Empire from gaining more power. Both are right – but neither argument makes it right.

My own simplistic view, having read extensively about Queen Victoria is that had she not been such a bunny boiler (as far as her husband Albert was concerned), she wouldn’t have born so many children which she was hell bent to distribute throughout Europe and marry them off.

A consequence was her eldest grandson Willelm II, aka Kaiser Bill, King of Prussia whose bellicose, bombastic impetuousness triggered the bloody war in the first place.

Yes, we all know that the firework was lit by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, but that was an opportunity not to be missed by Bill.

His mother was Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal. She was married off to his father Prince Frederick William of Prussia who later became German Emperor Frederick III. She became engaged to him when she was 14 years old in 1855 and married him two years later.

For Queen Victoria this was dynastic planning. This planning may have resulted in the deaths of millions.

It’s difficult to track the connections, but take for example that Kaiser Bill’s first cousin was King George V (grandson of V&A and son of Edward VII, Victoria’s eldest son; and his second cousin was Tsar Nicholas II whose wife Alexandra was a granddaughter of…yes you’ve guessed it..Victoria. Her mother, Princess Alice was the second daughter of V&A who married her off to Duke Louis IV of Hesse.

Queen Victoria, rightly or wrongly believed that her children would be instrumental in unifying the European Crown States, and create stability. Today we still have this anachronistic legacy.

The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I is a direct descendent of Victoria. His grandmother was Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg who we go again…a granddaughter of Victoria through her fifth daughter Princess Beartrice. Not only was Eugenie Queen of Spain through marriage to Alfonso XIII, but also first cousin of King George V of the United Kingdom, Queen Maud of Norway, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (the aforementioned wife of Tsar Nicholas), Queen Marie of Romania, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany (yes, that bloke), Queen Louise of Sweden, and Queen Sophia of Greece. Is it any wonder Europe is in such a mess?

What baffles me about all this, purely from a layman’s perspective, is that back in 1649 during the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell chopped the head off Charles I as a direct reproof of the notion of the divine right of kings. The parliamentarians really didn’t like him waltzing into the House of Commons swanking away. How then, a mere one hundred years ago, did the United Kingdom find itself embroiled in a war which without doubt was a direct result of royalist manipulation and chess playing?

Even today our House of Windsor (formerly known as the house of Saxe-Coburg and changed because of anti-German sentiment in 1917) is directly descended from the matriarch who, having married off her brood, lived the remainder of her life in mourning, was rarely seen, but nevertheless gave her name to an era of extraordinary and unprecedented social change and industrial achievement.

The Great War – the war to end all wars was without question directly or indirectly related to the Royal Families of Europe. The brave men who fought (mine and your relatives in living memory) believed they were fighting for freedom. They will be remembered and never forgotten – but did they really know what they were fighting for? Do we know? Even now? Will we ever?


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1914 – 2014

Great-warpicWhen I review my childhood I consider myself rather blessed.

It was spent throughout the 1960s. I began the decade aged four and ended it in 1969 as I turned a teen.

Things like the dawn of the Beatles, the JFK assassination, England winning the World Cup and the first moon landing are all fresh in my mind and I was old enough to comprehend what was going on.

But the reason I'm thinking about it now is because 2014 marks the centenary of the start of World War I. 

Continue reading

January 15, 2014 Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Events, General, History, The Beatles, United Kingdom, World War I | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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