For those of you who may not be aware of it, today, October 25, has historically been known as “St. Crispin’s Day.”
Saints Crispin and Crispinian were alleged to have been twin brothers who were preachers of the Gospel by day and cobblers by night. They were allegedly martyred in Soissons in the 3rd century by Rictius Varus, the alleged Roman governor of Belgic Gaul at the time. Their feast day was on October 25; however, they were removed from the liturgical calendar during the Vatican II reforms, as there apparently is insufficient evidence that they (or Rictius Varus) ever actually existed. They were not demoted from sainthood, however, and one assumes they continue to be the patron saints of French cobblers, tanners and leather workers.
In addition to a famous medieval battle, an infamous cavalry charge and two naval engagements were also fought on this day.
Battle of Agincourt
Those well versed in the plays of Shakespeare and/or medieval British history, will be aware that today marks the 597th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt (October 25, 1415), a major English victory in the Hundred Years’ War.
You will note Henry V‘s portrait to the left. One wonders if the king is seen in profile owing to the fact that he took an arrow in the face at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. While an ordinary soldier would almost certainly have died from the wound, the royal physician John Bradmore treated Henry’s wound with honey to act as an antiseptic, crafted a tool to screw into the broken arrow shaft and extract the arrow without doing further damage, and then flushed the wound with alcohol. Although the operation was successful, it left Henry with permanent scars.
Before he led his troops into battle that day at Agincourt, Henry was said to have addressed them. In his play Henry V, in the scene that takes place before the battle where King Henry addresses his troops (Act IV Scene iii 18-67), Shakespeare puts these words in his mouth:
“This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
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 Crispian’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 rememb’red.
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 remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Following the battle, the best estimates of English dead were “at least” 112 (including Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York and Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk) and about 350 wounded, and the French dead were estimated at around 4,000, among them the Admiral of France, the Constable of France, the Grand Master of Crossbowmen, the Master of the Royal Household, 3 dukes, 7 counts and 90 bannerets. The number of French prisoners taken by the English is estimated to be from 700 to 2,200, depending on the sources, almost all of whom were of the French nobility, as King Henry ordered the “less valuable” (for purposes of ransom) prisoners to be slaughtered.
Battle of Balaclava
Today is also the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava, which took place October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War. During the battle, owing to a miscommunication, a brigade of British light cavalry, consisting of 673 men of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, under the command of Major General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan (at right), was sent against opposing Russian forces under the command of Pavel Liprandi which included approximately 20 battalions of infantry supported by over fifty artillery pieces (see map).
As a result of their charge, the “Light Brigade” lost 118 men killed, 127 wounded, about 60 taken prisoner, 475 horses either killed outright or put down due to their injuries, another 42 horses wounded, and the Earl of Cardigan had a sweater named after him.
Less well known was the poem “The Last of the Light Brigade” composed by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. The poem commemorates a supposed visit by the last twenty survivors of the infamous charge to Tennyson (then in his eightieth year) to reproach him gently for not writing a sequel about the way in which England was treating its old soldiers. Although the events described in the poem never actually took place; Kipling used them in the poem to draw attention to the poverty in which the real survivors were living. The last stanza of the poem reads:
“O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made – ”
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!”
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Battle of Surigao Strait and Battle Off Samar
Today also marks the 68th anniversary of the third day of the four-day (October 23-26, 1944) naval engagement known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, (see map) which took place in the Philippine Islands during WWII between the combined Australian and US Naval forces and the Imperial Japanese Navy. Two engagements of that battle, the Battle of Surigao Strait and the Battle off Samar, occurred on October 25.
The Battle of Surigao Strait (see map) involved the U.S. battleships West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania (all but Mississippi had been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and since repaired, Tennessee, California, and West Virginia having been rebuilt since then) as well as 4 heavy cruisers, four light cruisers and 28 destroyers. They were engaged by 2 battleships, 3 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, and 8 destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
The Battle off Samar (see map) involved the engagement of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s 3 escort carrier units, a total of 16 small unarmored escort carriers, protected by a screen of lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and smaller destroyer escorts with the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers. The Battle Off Samar also marks the first use of kamikaze attacks by the Imperial Japanese Navy, when a squadron of five kamikaze planes was launched, one of which sunk the U.S. escort carrier the USS St. Lo.
As a result of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese losses included 10,000+ killed, as well as 4 aircraft carriers, 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 12 destroyers. Allied losses included 1,500 killed as well as 1 light aircraft carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, and 1 destroyer escort sunk.