Very Top Five... Horrifyingly mauled (but awesome) British soldiers

Monday, 7 September 2009
The British Empire was the largest Empire the world has ever seen, plateau-ing in the 1800s to the awesomeness of Georgian and Victorian splendour, and eventually declining in the 20th century.

As the following list will show, this prolonged success was due to a small but significant number of total dudes who were able to get shot in the face and just laugh it off, before single-handedly conquering a few nations before lunch – which would be seventeen delicious courses, served with silver cutlery on fine china plates – before continuing with a pleasant afternoon's continued nation conquering.

The following small sample of Mighty Heroes of Britishness are all of this rare ilk, conquering countries with only the twinkle in their eyes and suppressing rebellions (often heroically outnumbered and armed only with a bit of twig) while still maintaining a stiff upper lip and fantastically elaborate starched moustaches.

That they could do this even with their arms half torn-off and bits of their aide-de-camps spattered up their best dress shirt is additional testament to their splendidness.

5. General Sir David Baird.

Shot in the leg in 1779 while in India, and taken prisoner by Hyder Ali. He spent 4 years being tortured in an Indian prison, and when liberated by the British the bullet from four years ago was still lodged in his still broken leg. He recovered, and in 1799 he commanded a British siege army - personally leading the charge on the battlements of the city where he had been held (Seringapatam) - with a claymore broadsword, no less. And that's mighty heroic, if you ask me.

They didn’t let him be governor afterwards, as he was apparently a bit racist and the British rulers of India decided that he would aggravate the locals too much. This was in 1803, when racism was pretty much totally fine all round… makes you wonder what he did that was considered so ultra-racist in the Georgian value system. (Answer: He repeatedly had Indians shot for “being Indian.”)

They made some other chap called Arthur Wellesley governor instead. More on him later…

4. Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.

He was shot in the head (causing him to be permanently blinded in one eye) in battle in 1794, but no record of the wound was made at the time because Nelson insisted that it was "not much." It didn’t stop him from leading the attack successfully. His right arm was later amputated after it was smashed by a musket ball. While it was hanging off, he hoisted the flag on the ship despite a nerve being stuck in the stitches of his arm.

Nelson was pacing calmly and gallantly on his ship’s open deck when he was finally fatally shot at Trafalgar in 1805 (A mighty victory for the British, by the way).

3. Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Lord Wellington.

…Shouldn’t really be on this list, because Wellington was somewhat famous for not getting shot. He commanded the British in dozens of battles, often from the front (For a better view, he said) and although at the battle of Waterloo all 15 of his aides were killed by snipers, Wellington was not hit once. A nearby tree (The only one on the open ridge on which he was calmly standing (What a man, eh?)) was torn from it's roots and smashed to pieces by some of the many cannon balls aimed at Wellington)He later became Prime Minister, was known as the Iron Duke, and held in great regard by the people of Britain - what a mighty hero. Oh, and that smashed tree? He had it made into two handsome chairs; one for himself, the other for Queen Victoria. Very dashing.

2. Lieutenant Colonel Jack Churchill:

A World War II commando officer, Jack Churchill’s first claim to fame is that he is the only person to have confirmed kills with a longbow during the entire second world war. In fact he went into battle armed with only a longbow and a claymore broadsword. He volunteered for as many battles as he could, and was wounded in every single one of them due to his tendency to immediately charge the enemy, sword aloft.

But Churchill survived every time, what with being tough as nails and all, and was given several medals for his ridiculous courage. In 1944 he commanded a massively outnumbered night-time commando assault; but pressed on to take a German fort. Most of his men were shot, but he whipped out his bagpipes (this is true) to rally the few remaining men in the darkness. The Germans closed in, and he was eventually “knocked unconscious” by a sustained grenade and mortar attack.

There followed a vaguely comical series of imprisonments, fabulously daring escapes and re-captures. Once he was chained to the floor, but had escaped within 24 hours, leaving a note with his phone number and an invitation to the German commander to join him and his wife for dinner when the war ended. What panache.

When the war with Germany was won he immediately transferred to the Pacific theatre; He said he wanted to die in battle and be buried wrapped in Union Jack, but the war ended before he could realise his dream. He later said;

"If it wasn't for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years."

He quit the army during peacetime (twice) and rejoined during wars, and after WWII he was bored shitless. He took up parachute jumping, motorbike speed trails and powerboat racing to fill the void of skewering people with a longbow, which he sincerely enjoyed. He died in 1996, aged 89.

1. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener.

“Shot in the throat while gallantly leading an attack on a rebel group in 1890”… Would normally be a sentence that suggests the protagonist has nobly died; it is perhaps a suitable sentence to grace the obituary of a fine officer. Those officers are not Lord Kitchener, who eats throat-bullets for breakfast.

Kitchener contemptuously dispatched the man foolish enough to shoot him, and successfully concluded an assault on some filthy rebels.

Afterwards, Kitchener continued work as normal, although he could not eat because he had a bullet stuck in his throat. After two days of prodding it (he did this absent-mindedly while doing paperwork) he had worked it loose enough to swallow, and after a subsequent light bandaging was perfectly able to lead the next day’s atacks.

By the way, Kitchener is the dude from the original “Your country needs you” campaign while he was minister for War in World War one.

Kitchener died at sea in 1916 when his Battleship was struck by a mine. 7 of the 650 men onboard survived, and one survivor recalled that Kitchener was standing "calm and still" on the main deck as an example to the men as the ship foundered and sank- Mightily heroic.
All from a man whose name was Herbert. Not bad.

There are many more mighty jolly examples of steel-moustached Britishness, but I think those are enough to be getting on with for now.


julochka said...

i'm going to have see one of these claymore broadswords (or at least google it), they seem to have been pretty mighty, but not mightier than your pen (or keyboard as it were), which is quite hilarious. excellent stuff. thank you for stopping by my blog so that i found you!

i have to say that if they threw him in jail for 4 years, i kinda understand baird's racism. just a little bit.

i really learned something reading this (i had no idea about vice admiral nelson's injuries). and i laughed. quite a lot.

Polly said...


this is very enlightening (and funny) and I
reckon it should be read to prospecive British citizens before they make their oath. just so that they know what they're getting into

on the other hand you're right, a seventeen course delicious lunch does help with pleasant afternoon's conquering of the nations