On the 209th anniversary of the Battle of Albuera, I am still looking for a definitive source to confirm that Colonel William Inglis of the 57th (West Middlsex) Regiment of Foot urged his men to "Die hard!" at the end of the battle. However, I recently came across a statement written (probably in July or August of 1811) by an unnamed staff officer that comes close to providing that confirmation, albeit with a surprise twist:
"The conduct of every corps was so distinguished that it is difficult to particularize that of any without doing injustice to others. Yet there were some circumstances attaching to that of the 57th Reg’t which seem to call for peculiar notice. Sir Wm. Beresford states “It was obvious that dead, particularly those of the 57th Reg’t, were lying as they had fought, in ranks, and every wound was in the front.” Other letters state that they stood alone against a heavy French column, forced it to halt and eventually to retire. An officer of the Reg’t, tho badly wounded, remained sitting on the ground at the head of his company, giving orders to his men to level low. Colonel Inglis, their commanding officer, a man rather advanced in years showed upon this occasion all the energy & activity of youth. His horse being killed under him, he went up & down the ranks encouraging the men, and when wounded in the neck by grape, he called out to the men to die game [emphasis in original]."
The Die Hards is certainly better nickname than the Die Games.
The hoariest old traditions, told and re-told tend to be the tales we want to hear, even if the the briefest scrutiny might proves them implausible, or the facts show them to be untrue. Over the years, I enjoyed in recollection the account given me, when I was a keen cadet, by our former 60th RSM of the origins of the scarlet backing of the KRRC badge: "See that red? Know what that's for...?" As time went on, I kept modifying the circumstances to account for the evidence accumulating agains the tale being true, not least the utter failure of the epic circumstances as he described them to appear in any historical account. Eventually I understood that, althought there was a likely inciting incident, the story was essentially the same tale as told by a number of regiments and that, late in the day, the KRRC cadre had annexed it for their own. It was of course more memorable than the mundane facts. It seems that, here and there, the same sort of thing is still happening today. No names..
@jackfortune absolutely. “He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’ Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars. And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’ Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot, But he’ll remember with advantages What feats he did that day: then shall our names. Familiar in his mouth as household words Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester, Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d. This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember’d;” William Shakespeare, Henry V I think most veterans understand how history is woven in the retelling. From the inside of a regimental ‘family’ I can see how that works. What always fascinates me is how someone unconnected 200 years later get’s caught up in the romance of it.
"Like I say, there are always those who will seek to romanticise a loss or denigrate a victory. It’s often necessary to maintain an elite status or infallibility illusion. The step from there to embroidering a phrase or two is a relatively small one. ‘Die game’ becomes ‘Die hard’ History is inevitably the separation of the apocryphal from the factual."
'Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving. You have lost no reputation at all unless you repute yourself such a loser.' (Wm Shakespeare, Othello) There is another vein of history, the process of tracing how a tale comes to be told and the tradition grows, so that an apocryphal moment or a an episode embellished exagerated, retold and mistold until it is virtually apocryphal, and 50 or 100 years later a regiment has adopted it, as an emblem, motto or honorary distinction, and placed it as a central piece of their 'brand.' Campaigns of questionable merit, and even a spurious battle honour, may have been added to the mix, and then cited as part of a regiment's unique identity.
This process may belong more to the realms of anthropology than military history, or perhaps literature, but it is fascinating nonetheless. 'Then, a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. (Wm Shakespeare, 'As You Like It')
I suppose: Die Game Die Game 2 Live Free or Die Game Die Game With a Vengeance A Good Day to Die Game Wouldn’t have the same ring to it?
Like I say, there are always those who will seek to romanticise a loss or denigrate a victory. It’s often necessary to maintain an elite status or infallibility illusion. The step from there to embroidering a phrase or two is a relatively small one. ‘Die game’ becomes ‘Die hard’ History is inevitably the separation of the apocryphal from the factual. One person’s ‘heroic defiant withdrawal’ is somebody else’s ‘driven off the field’. Of course, non of this reduces the numbers of PoW recorded by one individual. Or turns Waterloo into a French victory. Or alters the outcome of Albuera.
Absolutely! I couldn't agree more!
Hi Guy, I hope you don't mind me commenting here how good I thought your Albuera book was. It ranks alongside Rory Muir's Salamanca as the best books on individual battles or campaigns in the Peninsula that I've read, and I have worked through most of them. I've found it really useful both as a reference and a standard to aim for in my own writing.
all the best,
In the end I don't think it matters whether Inglis actually said it or not: his men died hard notwithstanding. Incidentally, if you look me up on Twitter at < @charlesesdaile >, you will find that on 16 May I posted lots of photos of the battlefield, including some taken on a day when it was swept by some highly authentic downpours. The things I have endured for my profession!
We only have to look at those famous ‘Bon mots” of Cambronne to realise that the truth often gets in the way of a good story. It isn’t until the age of the phonagraph and the advent of radio that we had recordings, but even then contemporaneous battlefield clips are rare. I wish you luck Guy, but suspect this is as close as you are ever likely to get.