Six hundred and One years ago today, October 25th 1415 the English King and his army beat the French at the Battle of Agincourt. As we hover on the brink of triggering Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome, that will irevocably see our country leave the EU, and that the resultant negotiations may well, at the insistance of Paris, be conducted in French and added to that, the fact I have been too busy to publish a post for some weeks, I thought I would re-post my take on the great Shakspearian Speech; once more my freinds.
It is probably the best known and most quoted of Shakespeare’s dramatic speeches. King Henry 5th astride his fidgety horse as it stumbles sideways, startled by the flapping flags & banners and the sounding of steel on the morning of the Battle of Agincourt. He stills his horse with a pull up of the reigns; the steed’s shaking head snorting nasal steam on the cold air.
Facing his troops and lifting his long-sword high in the air like a lightening conductor, Henry reminds them of the strength and determination they need for the coming onslaught by the French who outnumbered the English six to one.
It’s a big Speech and a big ask; between stiffening the sinews and shoring up the breaches in the wall with our English dead the foot soldiers must keep in mind Harry, King, country and St George. It’s a loud speech because it must reach the farthest ears of 7000 men at arms and energise them in the face of overwhelming odds.
Sir Ian McKellen a great Shakespearian actor, but best known to the world as “Gandalf the Grey” in “Lord of the Rings” has done his Henry’s and Richard 3rd on stage and film. Early on in his career he was touring the country’s provincial theatres; joining the local ensemble and putting on great plays for the local audiences.
One day it was decided in a small town theatre that they would do Henry V, Ian McKellen wondered how to do the great Agincourt scene, when he only had 6 actors to work with. So he shifted the action to the night before the battle. The real Henry V had ordered that every man remain silent without speaking throughout the night lest he gets his ear shaved off. This was to deny the French any advantage in knowing where Henry’s men were and be able to aim a shower of arrows on them. Each side had over 3000 archers ; and to be caught under a shower of a thousand or more steel tipped arrows hailing down from 100 feet in the air was not a great prospect.
On stage, Henry V wandered over to the brazier and crouched down to warm his hands. He begins the speech but in a whisper, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead” Already his voice is climbing out of a whisper and into a loud voice. The soldiers around the brazier bid him to hush. He does, but as the symphony of words begin to stir the King again, his voice rises and the others are almost pulling the king down lest he make them all a target for the French Archers.
That’s how he did Henry V on a shoe string.
Six hundred years after Henry roused his troops, on another morning, other soldiers are standing around waiting for a battle to comence. It is a temporary desert field camp 20 miles south of the Iraq – Kuwaiti Border.
The Ground War is about to begin against Iraq.
There had just been a sand storm, everyone was dusty. Standing in the middle of the courtyard was Colonel Tim Collins comander of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish regiment. Collins was a seasoned soldier, an Ulster Man who had fought in the 1st Gulf War, Zaire, Kosovo and Bosnia.
He was about to lead his troops into battle – his last Battle.
Gathered around him, as he pensively smoked on a cigar, were the 800 men and women under his command. Seventy-five per cent of his officers are from Ireland, but he is also in charge of a company of Gurkhas and soldiers from Fiji, Antigua, St Vincent, South Africa, Australia and Canada. The Northern Ireland-based Royal Irish Regiment is 40 percent Catholics from the Irish Republic.
The coming War was not popular at home so Collins wanted to reassure them of what they were about to do. The reality of the scene, unlike at Agincourt, was that most of the troops were young men and women, who had never set foot in the desert before, not felt that Arabian heat on the backs of their necks and who knew not what lay ahead.
Speaking firmly but slowly, glancing around the faces of every man and woman making as much eye contact as possible, and all the while pausing to let the words sink in. Unlike Henry, he didn’t have Will Shakespeare as his speech writer.
Colonel Collins spoke from the heart, without notes or preparation and this is part of what he said…
We go to Iraq to liberate not to conquer.
We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.
There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.
Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there. You will see things that no man could pay to see and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis. You will be embarrassed by their hospitality even though they have nothing. Don’t treat them as refugees for they are in their own country. Their children will be poor, in years to come they will know that the light of liberation in their lives was brought by you.
If there are casualties of war then remember that when they woke up and got dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day. Allow them dignity in death. Bury them properly and mark their graves.
It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive but there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign. We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back. There will be no time for sorrow.
The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction. There are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam. He and his forces will be destroyed by this coalition for what they have done. As they die they will know their deeds have brought them to this place. Show them no pity.
It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts, I can assure you they live with the Mark of Cain upon them. If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family.
The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please. ………
As for ourselves, let’s bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.
Our business now is north.