Writing about cavalry charges often uses the phrases ‘close order’ or ‘knee-to-knee’. But what do these actually mean, and how close can you keep charging horses? This post won’t necessarily answer these questions satisfactorily, but it will show that there are lots of different opinions in drill books and eyewitness accounts.
Cavalry charges and lances have gone together from ancient times into the 20th century. The lance usually depends on the momentum of the horse for effect, so lancers have to charge to be any use. Although crashing horses into each other can’t give an advantage, the lance is a technological solution to this problem, as I’ll explain below. It shouldn’t be any surprise that lances and the concept of shock often go together in early-modern military books. The lance went in and out of fashion more than once, and its effectiveness was often debated.
Just a few ebay acquisitions:
Stereoview of British cavalry armed with lances crossing a bridge. The caption says they’re 1st Dragoon Guards but I can’t see the cap badge clearly enough to confirm that (the lances don’t help because they could be used by non-lancer regiments in this period). A lot of these official stereoview cards claim to be battle scenes but are blatantly staged, so I don’t trust the captions very far.
A Lance Corporal of the Army Cyclist Corps surrounded by women and girls. Look at the girl standing behind him. See the expression on her face. Imagine the horrors she must have seen. Alright, I’m being sarcastic, but this is only a slight exaggeration of how a kind of pathetic fallacy is sometimes applied to Great War photos. You could crop her out of context and use her to illustrate how the war made children sad. In The Great War: Myth and Memory, Dan Todman showed how a miserable looking soldier had been taken from a photo of a group with a variety of expressions and used on his own as a metonym for the horror of the trenches.
More Army Cyclist Corps men. They’re Territorials as some of them are wearing the Imperial Service Obligation badge to show that they’ve volunteered for overseas service (Territorials weren’t required to serve overseas until 1916 unless they volunteered for it). Lanyards can often provide a clue to the date of a photo. Before and during the First World War, most regiments were supposed to wear them on the left shoulder, except the Royal Horse Artillery, who wore them on the right to signify their traditional position on the right of the line. In the early 1920s it changed to the right shoulder for everyone. But this photo shows that we can’t always rely on that because some men have lanyards on the left and some have them on the right. The poster at the front makes it fairly certain that this was taken in 1915, and the ISO badges and economy pattern service dress are also consistent with that date.
A tiny soldier of the North Staffordshire Regiment and his giant bride. This photo could easily seem counter-intuitive because of the stereotype that men are taller than women. This is true on average, but there’s plenty of room for individual exceptions because male and female height are distributed along bell curves that overlap.
- Ross Mahoney is looking into creating an Air Force Records Society. If you’re interested, go and give him support and feedback. There’s more discussion at Airminded.
- Also at Airminded, horror writer Arthur Machen and the First World War.
- Skulking in Holes and Corners asks what was so special about battlefields in early-modern war.
- Language Log reports that inept reactionary pressure group the Queen’s English Society is going to close because most of its members can’t be bothered to do anything, and shows that they weren’t even very good at grammar (hat tip Andrew Hickey). This could also mean the end of the No She’s Not, She’s German Society.
- Historypunk is starting a series of posts on how humanities academics can build an online reputation. In my experience it wasn’t too hard to build up a reputation when I had nothing much to do, but keeping up my online presence has been much harder when it’s competing with paid work and writing for traditional publication. Writing a book has almost killed my blog but now I need to promote the book online. I might have to try Twitter soon…
- Ages ago I was asked to link to this editable collaborative online edition of the Devonshire Manuscript. So now I have, although I haven’t had time to try it out.
- Podcasts of IHR seminars are now freely available under a Creative Commons licence at History SPOT without having to log in, which is a big improvement.
More filler this week as I’m too busy to write anything intellectual. As it’s Remembrance Sunday, here’s a selection of WW1 pictures from my random ebay acquisitions. Click the thumbnails to see full size versions at Flickr. First of all I bought another photo of the frisky horse that I posted here. Not much need for an epic Errol Morris style investigation as I think it’s pretty obvious what order they go in.
London Division horse show, Overath, Germany, 1919. Even during the war divisions and corps often held horse shows to encourage the men to look after their horses as well as possible. This was important because infantry and artillery depended very heavily on draught horses throughout the war. This one’s really worth viewing at full size as there’s so much detail.
This looks like two women in the uniform of the Scottish Horse. It apparently wasn’t unusual for women to dress up in men’s uniforms to have their photos taken.
A mounted artillery driver, photographed in Edinburgh. Photos like this cause lots of confusion because people get the idea that their ancestors were in the cavalry and then go off looking in the wrong places and asking the wrong questions.
Girls on ponies watching a Royal Artillery column. Not strictly WW1 as it looks like it was taken in the 1920s or 1930s. The Royal Field Artillery wasn’t fully mechanized until 1939. This photo captures the period when horses were making the transition from useful work in the army and economy to a hobby seen as mostly for girls.