Sunday 28 May 2017

Les enfants perdus

We were invited to an Irish wedding yesterday. After a a month without rain a huge wet storm passed over the country through Friday night, so I was able to strip down to my shorts and wash the algae off our polytunnel [picture - of the tunnel not me in my shorts]. It was still raining as we set off  - I had discarded the shorts in favour of my wedding / funeral / interview suit - but miraculously the world dried up as we drove South and, as we parked the car at the church, patches of blue sky could be seen. Beside us on the wall inside the church was a memorial
Sacred to the memory of
Lieut. E. Beatty 99th Regt.
who fell on the 1st July 1845
while gallantly
leading the forlorn hope
at the storming of the
Stockade of Waimate
New Zealand. 
Very sad. A bit like my namesake Colonel Thomas who died heroically leading his men from the front at the Battle of Nivelle in 1813.  Forlorn hope is an interesting coinage because it hinges on a false folk etymology. It comes as a homophone from the Dutch 'verloren hoop'. Dutch orthographic convention pronounces oo to sound like English goat, rope, or smoke. The submarine film Das Boot is about a boat not a boot.  Hoop can translate as hope but, in the phrase here considered, it means pile or multitude and is cognate with English heap. Verloren means lost or forgotten. So Lost Troop would be a better translation; the French use les enfants perdus.  Lt 'Jack' Beatty came from an Anglo-Irish family which, like mine from a different county, provided generations of officers for the British armed forces. They left home because duty called, but also because the prospects of growing old in Ireland spelled boredom and penury. One way to better your prospects was to achieve promotion and volunteering for a dangerous and daring feat of arms was seen as a way to expedite the process. 'Death or Glory'. In young Beatty's case, the gamble didn't pay off.

The assault on the Waimate stockade was an incident in the Flagstaff War.  The Brits annexed New Zealand on the 21st May 1840 after inducing some Maori chieftains to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in February of that year. a) Not everyone agreed that signing the Treaty was a good idea and b) there was a difference of opinion as to what exactly had been ceded to the incomers. The Flagstaff war was the first obvious push-back against the change of government. The anti-treatyites (to use language that will become more familiar over the next 5 years as Ireland plays out the centenary of the Irish Civil War) retreated behind defensive stockades and defied the government. The 99th (Lanarkshire) Regiment of Foot was delegated to attack one of these forts and thereby assert the rule of law. Colonel Henry Despard, another Anglo-Irish soldier, i/c the 99th, pounded the stockade with artillery until the ammunition ran out and then ordered an assault. Young Beatty led his forlorn hope of twenty volunteers against the still robust and still actively defended stockade and died in front of the wall along with 100 others. There is a suggestion that at least part of some of the dead soldiers were eaten by the Maoris as part of their victory celebrations.

Meanwhile, back in 2017, at the wedding feast I was sitting next to a local historian, the editor of the book Medieval Wexford [bloboprev] and he too had noticed the Beatty Memorial in the church. It turns out that Lt Beatty was a relative - possibly great-uncle - of Admiral David Beatty who was one of the commanders of the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He famously said "there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today" when two of the ships under his command exploded. Revisionist historians have battened onto the quote with papers like "Our Bloody Ships" or "Our Bloody System"? Jutland and the Loss of the Battle Cruisers, 1916. At least that Beatty survived the assault on the enemy and died in his bed.

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