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Heritage - 9: From Vikings to Taliban... Shouldn't We Be Better at Picking Our 'Sparring Partners' by Now?

Updated on June 11, 2019

From Lindisfarne to Danegeld... Just as well we got ourselves a Danish king. Knut kept the back door shut

Norsemen and Danes crossed the North Sea and Irish Sea in search of booty or land to settle and colonise several times between AD 793 and AD 1013
Norsemen and Danes crossed the North Sea and Irish Sea in search of booty or land to settle and colonise several times between AD 793 and AD 1013 | Source

A - very - brief history lesson on our disasters, near disasters and heroic failures... oh, and er, a few heroes

Everybody knows this one: extract from the Bayeux Tapestry shows Norman cavalry on the rampage -  Englishmen at this time wouldn't dream of endangering their mounts
Everybody knows this one: extract from the Bayeux Tapestry shows Norman cavalry on the rampage - Englishmen at this time wouldn't dream of endangering their mounts | Source
One of the few un-doctored portraits of Richard III. His enemies exaggerated the slight spinal deformity that arose from a traumatic birth. He was nevertheless a respected leader and the last king to die in battle
One of the few un-doctored portraits of Richard III. His enemies exaggerated the slight spinal deformity that arose from a traumatic birth. He was nevertheless a respected leader and the last king to die in battle | Source
Charles I had Inigo Jones design the Banqueting House built for him at Whitehall - Oliver Cromwell had his head on the block on a platform outside the first floor
Charles I had Inigo Jones design the Banqueting House built for him at Whitehall - Oliver Cromwell had his head on the block on a platform outside the first floor | Source
Sir Arthur Wellesley and Lord Horatio Nelson pose for the painter - between them they kept 'Boney' (Napoleon) at arm's length. Nelson paid a high price for victory at Trafalgar
Sir Arthur Wellesley and Lord Horatio Nelson pose for the painter - between them they kept 'Boney' (Napoleon) at arm's length. Nelson paid a high price for victory at Trafalgar | Source
Cartoon postcard shows a French 'poilu' seeing off the 'mad dog', Kaiser Wilhem. World War One saw the French pay heavily for the German invasion, as they did in 1940
Cartoon postcard shows a French 'poilu' seeing off the 'mad dog', Kaiser Wilhem. World War One saw the French pay heavily for the German invasion, as they did in 1940 | Source

An appraisal: 'I have come to bury Caesar...'

Recently - in the last five years or so - I've been drawn to the political shenanigins of pre- and post-Conquest England. In particular I've been following up on the period between the first Danish invasions and the last battle against the Normans, the siege of Ely when Hereward threatened the stability of William's reign. The biggest concentration of books I've bought, though, is about Godwin Wulfnothson's clan. The family spanned the fifty or so years between the downfall of Aethelred to the killing of Harold on Caldbec Hill above Hastings on the 14th October, 1066 - in particular the year Duke William took the throne. I have read on other periods after the Conquest, for instance the 'Wars of the Roses' (Sir Walter Scott's name for just another bloody English dynastic spat) and of the maligning of Richard III by Shakespeare for the Tudor dynasty (in the same way as he maligned Macbeth's character for the benefit of James I).

The civil wat begun by Charles I's intransigence that led to his execution for treason against his own people (it had been discovered that he had plans for a Spanish-French invasion of England to prop up his ailing kingship). Charles II had the same intentions before he fell off his perch, too, and then we had to get rid of James II. Two dynasties that brought England low, the Tudors and Stuarts! Losing the American colonies was unavoidable, given the next stooges we had for kings. Then we had the Seven Years' War (otherwise known as 'The War of Jenkins' Ear'.

Came the Napoleonic wars, it took some time to rally the troops and stir them to victory after the Duke of York's experiences with some of the crass 'cash for commissions' squad, who bought their younger sons a captaincy in one or other of our fine regiments. The Navy had got over that hurdle years earlier! Trafalgar, The Peninsular War and Waterloo showed we could win, given the right leadership...

Which was lacking for most of the 19th Century! After beating 'Boney' (Napoleon) and sending him to stew on St. Helena, we took on in fairly quick succession

The Russians in the Crimean War;

The Zulus in the Zulu War (what else?);

The Mahdi (- our new Maxim machine guns and Martini-Henry rifles against their spears and arrows, close call that one!);

The Boers in the Boer War (no surprises there, then), twice (that was a bit sharp!);

Mind you, as we're told in the book 1066 AND ALL THAT, these activities were undertaken to amuse Queen Victoria. I think the last one, the second Boer War just about tipped the balance but she had the edge on them and died before she had to admit she was amused.

Edward VII had a notion for reviving the monarchy, but he didn't last long. Edward VIII would have signed us away to Hitler, but his younger brother George VI was sitting on the throne by this time. And then wallop! For the second time in less than twenty years we were at war with Germany. They still did better out of losing than we did in being on the winning side! Then the Israelis bombing British troops in Palestine. Roll on the 1950s... Korea, Mau-Mau in Kenya, Anthony Eden dragging us into Suez along with the French and Israelis, apartheid in South Africa...

The 1960s, double devaluation, Aden, a near-war with China and Harold Wilson dodging the issue of sending British troops into Vietnam. Maggie announcing to the world that she was disbanding the Royal Marine Corps and then the Argies invading the Falklands because there was nobody down there with enough ironwork to keep them out. Good job she sent the army/navy/airforce in there or she'd have been out on her ears. Going into Iraq with the Yanks and the French might have served a purpose if we'd kicked out Saddam but Bush Snr pulled the plug on it because he'd got the jitters about the Commies going in if Saddam was out. Didn't happen anyway when he did go.

And now we've got the Taliban and the Argies rattling their sabres! Well, to be honest, we're more pre-occupied with getting rid of a few nuisances. We managed to eject one of them back to Jordan (Abu Qatada), and somebody had the brand idea of PAYING others to go back - air tickets to Romania plus 'pocket money'. Sounds like Danegeld all over again?

Who wouldn't prefer the Vikings coming back? At least we knew where we were. These days the 'invaders' run 24 hour supermarkets, off-licences (liquor stores to our friends across the 'Pond'), sub-post offices, newsagents, Internet cafes and 'convenience stores.

Remember that phrase, 'money talks, talent walks'?

To bring you almost up to date...

In the 1950s a rising in Kenya brought the Mau-Mau movement onto the world's front pages -  something close to former president Obama's family - and ushered British withdrawal from Africa
In the 1950s a rising in Kenya brought the Mau-Mau movement onto the world's front pages - something close to former president Obama's family - and ushered British withdrawal from Africa | Source
Operation Desert Storm ousted Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait and saw 'Stormin' Norman's strategy work for George Bush Senior. A strong British input would be repeated by George W Bush and Tony Blair  to unseat Saddam
Operation Desert Storm ousted Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait and saw 'Stormin' Norman's strategy work for George Bush Senior. A strong British input would be repeated by George W Bush and Tony Blair to unseat Saddam | Source
British troops saw service alongside US forces soon after in Afghanistan. No-one wins there against the Taliban, a lesson we should have learned when Lord Roberts' expedition came a cropper in the 19th Century - Royal Marine Commandos take shelter
British troops saw service alongside US forces soon after in Afghanistan. No-one wins there against the Taliban, a lesson we should have learned when Lord Roberts' expedition came a cropper in the 19th Century - Royal Marine Commandos take shelter | Source
See description below
See description below | Source

A light-hearted look at British history from the day Caesar came and assessed the opposition. He's thought to have said 'Veni, vidi, vici', but it was more likely 'Weeny, weedy, weaky'. Since it was published in the 1950s '1066 And All That' has sold out time and again, and could sell out many more times over. It's a look at history you won't find in your text books and cocks a snook at the academics. Even history professors have bought copies, but don't quote me on that. Get a copy, you won't stop laughing until bedtime... and you'll probably fall asleep laughing!

'...At the going down of the sun'

We're off again - where to this time? British troops furl the flag at Camp Bastion
We're off again - where to this time? British troops furl the flag at Camp Bastion | Source

We extracted ourselves from Afghanistan - mostly, there are still British troops there -

...Without too many losses. More than enough in the eyes of some, but compared with the Western Front or Gallipoli in WWI or the Normandy campaign (for example) in WWII we've got off lightly. We're getting better at this fighting lark.

Now we've been sucked into this business of seeing off ISIS from Iraq/Syria. No thanks to Teflon Tony for suckering us into Iraq the second time. A vacuum was created in that region. Another case of 'The devil you know' come true - I know about the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. Their lot doesn't seem to have been improved yet either despite Saddam Hussein's removal and those of his closest henchmen.

We have some potential home-grown terrorists, encouraged by their pals in Iraq/Syria to spread mayhem.here, witness the Remembrance Sunday threat to HM The Queen that wasn't realised - be thankful they're nowhere near as dangerous as the IRA was. Witness also the Westminster and London Bridge atrocities. These were 'home-grown avengers' who thought to carry on the 'noble struggle' on behalf of Muslims everywhere. And our prisons seem to be breeding grounds for Islamist malconents. Needles in a haystack that aren't easy to isolate and

So where next? Britain's standing as The World's Policemen is a bit stretched these days. MOD staple-counters will doubtless do some more penny-pinching. Anybody seen where our navy's got to? It seems to have shrunk a bit, run on long elastic bands. We sold all the Harrier Jump Jets off to the USA - where do the planes land now if there aren't any carriers nearby and all there is to land on is a patch of scrub land?

We've got a spot of bother now in Syria with IS/Daeth or whatever they want to call themselves. They're elsewhere as well, in Africa and the Far East, although they're not strictly our problem. The Brits of Islamic origin who've absconded to Syria are in trouble if and when they want to come back, as one girl found out when she gave IS the slip with her offspring and landed herself in hot water as soon as she set foot back in Turkey. She'd used her student allowance to buy tickets. She's not the only one, and may not be the last. The Russians have taken on the mantle of Middle Eastern policemen now, with raids on IS and other 'terrorist' bodies (including our temporary allies, the Kurds).

There's your thought for today. Think hard and you might earn yourself a mention in dispatches.... Constructive ideas of what to do with paperclips and rubber bands may be rewarded by the MOD.. Anyone for the Skylark (well the little ships got us out of Dunkirk, didn't they)?

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

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