Category Archives: war
Gordon McKelvie, University of WinchesterThe Wars of the Roses are normally portrayed as a series of battles between two warring houses, York and Lancaster, over who was rightly king of England. However, they were about much more than that. In many ways, the wars were really about standards of government.
Remembered mostly as an English-only affair, on the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Tewkesbury, a key event in the wars, it is worth remembering how the wider politics of late-Medieval Europe, particularly France, shaped this important, and often commemorated, part of English history.
The Wars of the Roses were three distinct conflicts. The first phase of the wars ended when the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, was usurped by the 18-year-old Edward IV, who then cemented his position by winning the Battle of Towton.
Conflict re-emerged a decade later, this time caused by the deteriorating personal relations between the Yorkist king, Edward IV, and his closest ally and advisor, the Earl of Warwick, later known as “the Kingmaker”. During this instability, problems in England were drawn into a wider sets of events. Foreign rulers, particularly the French king, Louis XI, and his main adversary, Charles, Duke of Burgundy, were able exploit these divisions.
A scandalous marriage
The Earl of Warwick started the 1460s as the key figure in government, with key military and diplomatic responsibilities that helped secure Edward’s newly won kingdom. However, as the decade progressed, Warwick’s control over the young king waned as Edward sought his council less and less. The key division between the two men was foreign policy, a key aspect of medieval government.
In 1464, Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a knight killed fighting for the Lancastrians three years earlier. This was a scandalous marriage. Kings married to form wider alliances that would benefit the kingdom, never for love. The ceremony also occurred as Warwick was negotiating a union with a French princess, causing the earl much embarrassment.
A connected issue was the different visions that Edward and Warwick had of England’s role within wider European politics.
France was also politically unstable at the time, with Louis XI (nicknamed the “Universal Spider”) clashing with many of his leading subjects, particularly the Duke of Burgundy who had significant independent power.
While Warwick favoured an alliance with Louis, Edward preferred an alliance with the Duke of Burgundy.
The duke was more than simply a subject of the French king as Burgundy ruled over the Low Countries, which constituted much of modern-day Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. As such, Edward believed an alliance with Burgundy would provide England with stronger commercial ties with many Flemish and Dutch towns.
It also had the added advantage of avoiding an unpopular alliance with one of England’s traditional enemies, the French. The alliance was cemented when Edward secured the marriage of his sister to the duke in 1468.
Crisis and opportunity
While this was happening, many Lancastrians remained at large. The deposed Henry VI was eventually captured as a fugitive in July 1465 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. His French wife (Margaret of Anjou) and their son (Prince Edward) spent much of the 1460s trying to gain foreign allies to support a Lancastrian restoration, particularly the French king.
For Louis XI, however, Margaret’s cause was a lost one until divisions in England meant became beneficial to the French king. Little did he know that the situation in England was turning in such a way.
The fractions between Warwick and Edward were too big to fix. So Warwick allied himself with Edward’s younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, instigating failed popular rebellions in 1469 and 1470, which caused them to flee to France. It was at this point that Louis XI brokered an unlikely alliance between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou, in which Warwick agreed to restore Margaret’s imprisoned husband as king.
The complex history of the following months can be boiled down to the key events. Warwick, backed by the French, invaded England in September 1470, though Margaret and her son remained in France until England had been secured.
Seeing his support collapse, Edward fled to the Low Countries, and Henry VI was restored as king. The Duke of Burgundy eventually backed Edward privately, giving him 50,000 florins and several Dutch ships. This allowed Edward to invade in spring 1471.
However, rather than facing one enemy, Edward IV faced two: Warwick and Anjou. After returning to England, he rallied enough troops and, on Easter Sunday, defeated an army led by Warwick at Barnet. Warwick was killed fleeing from the battle and his body put on display.
This should have ended the war, but Margaret, her son and many Lancastrians did not arrive in England until two days after the Kingmaker’s death. Margaret’s reluctance to cross the channel with her supporters (no doubt to the annoyance of the French king) meant that opposition to Edward was divided, which gave him the advantage in both battles.
The Yorkists regrouped and gathered more troops, before marching west for a second battle at Tewkesbury. The battle occurred just south of Tewkesbury Abbey, where the Yorkist army was able to overwhelm the Lancastrians led by Margaret of Anjou, whose 16-year-old son was killed in the fighting.
The twists and turns that led to Battle of Tewkesbury are more than just a good story. They tell us a lot about how English and European politics were intricately bound together, even during periods of civil war.
Both sides relied on foreign aid. France and the Low Countries were a places of refuge when the tide was turning against them, and the French were important backers. In all, this period in one of England’s most famous wars shows that civil wars, even in the middle ages, could be subject to foreign interference and the machinations of wider geopolitical events. Ultimately, the Wars of the Roses were not an exclusively English set of events.
Endless itching: how Anzacs treated lice in the trenches with poetry and their own brand of medicine
Georgia McWhinney, Macquarie UniversityWe think we know a lot about Australian and New Zealand soldiers’ health in the first world war. Many books, novels and television programs speak of wounds and war doctors, documenting the work of both Anzac nations’ medical corps.
Often these histories begin with front-line doctors — known as regimental medical officers — who first reached wounded men in the field. The same histories often end in the hospital or at home.
Yet, much of first world war medicine began and ended with the soldiers themselves. Australian and New Zealand soldiers (alongside their British and Canadian counterparts) cared for their own health in the trenches of the Western Front and along the cliffs of Gallipoli.
This “vernacular” medicine spread from solider to soldier by word of mouth, which they then recorded in diaries and letters home. It spread through written texts, such as trench newspapers and magazines, and through constant experimentation.
Soldiers presented a unique understanding of their experiences of illness, developed their own health practices, and formed their own medical networks. This formed a unique type of medical system.
What was this type of medicine like?
The men’s understandings of the effect of lice on the body often contrasted to that of medical professionals.
Soldiers described lice as a daily nuisance rather than vectors of disease. The men sitting in the trenches were preoccupied with addressing the immediate and constant discomfort caused by lice, whereas medical researchers and doctors were more concerned with losing manpower from lice-borne disease.
Many men focused on the endless itching, which some said drove them almost mad.
Corporal George Bollinger, a New Zealand bank clerk from Hastings, said: “the frightful pest ‘lice’ is our chief worry now”.
Australian Private Arthur Giles shuddered when he wrote home about the lice, noting it: “makes me scratch to think of them”.
Soldiers’ reactions to lice, as a shared community, inspired them to experiment and share practical ideas of how to manage their itchy burdens. This included developing their own method of bathing.
When New Zealand Corporal Charles Saunders descended the cliffs to the beaches around Anzac Cove, he would “dive down and nudge a handful of sand from the bottom and rub it over [his] skin”, letting “the saltwater dry on one in the sun”. He also rubbed the sand across his uniform hoping to kill some of the lice eggs in the seams of his shirt and pants.
In some locations, fresh water was scarce and reserved for drinking. Without access to water, soldiers’ extermination methods became more offbeat, creative and original.
Men sourced lice-exterminating powders, such as Keating’s and Harrison’s, from patent providers — retail pharmaceutical sellers in the UK or back home in Australia and New Zealand — and rubbed various oils over their bodies.
Yet, one of the most popular extermination methods was “chatting” — popping the louse between the thumbnails.
An Australian bootmaker, Lieutenant Allan McMaster, told his family in Newcastle it was “amusing indeed to see all the boys at the first minute they have to spare, to strip off altogether and have what we call a chating [sic] parade”.
Corporal Bert Jackson, an orchardist from Upper Hawthorn in Melbourne, took his “shirt off and had a hunt, and then put it on inside out”. He said that if he “missed any, the beggars will have a job to get to the skin again”.
Soldiers shared their knowledge
These soldiers shared their practices via their own medical networks, such as trench newspapers.
For instance, soldiers wrote humorous poems that also educated their fellow men. Australian Lance Corporal TA Saxon joked about lice-exterminating powders in his poem A Dug-Out Lament:
[…] They’re in our tunics, and in our shirts,
They take a power of beating,
So for goodness sake, if you’re sending us cake, Send also a tin of Keating.
One image from the trench newspaper “Aussie: the Australian soldiers’ magazine” came with the caption “Chatting by the Wayside” that drew on the well-trod joke about the double meaning of the word chatting.
What can we learn?
Reflecting on these often-overlooked aspects of the past helps us rethink medicine today.
For marginal groups in particular, access to professional health care can, and has often been, an expensive, alienating, or culturally foreign and abrasive task. So even in today’s globalised world, networks of non-professional medicine are as active as ever.
With many people isolated and at the mercy of much conflicting information, informal medical networks (often found on social media) present an opportunity to allay fears and swap information in a similar manner to how Anzac soldiers communicated via trench newspapers.
Perhaps some forms of vernacular medicine are occurring right under our noses.
Fiona McLeod, The University of Queensland and Martin Crotty, The University of QueenslandThe revival of interest in Anzac since the 1980s has depended in part on the repositioning of soldiers as victims. We rarely celebrate their martial virtues, and instead note their resilience, fortitude and suffering.
This shift in emphasis opens up more promising space for the inclusion of women. Nurses were not warriors – they were caregivers. But they too suffered trauma as a result of their service.
In what must be regarded as something of a miracle, no Australian nurses were killed. But like the men they devoted themselves to, they were worn down and in some cases shattered by the horrors they witnessed.
From 1916, Australian nurses served in Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS), almost on the front line, often under fire and always under immense pressure. This was the most dangerous and intense working environment in which they could serve. It was far removed from the hospital ship environment at Gallipoli, or the hospitals further from the lines, where there was at least the prospect of regular respite.
The CCS was a 1915 innovation designed to provide treatment to men as soon as possible after they were injured. They operated close to the front lines, and so took nurses into the danger zone. CCS nurses were assailed by the realities of trench warfare and the demands of treating damaged men. Soldiers came to the CCS within hours of wounding, bloody and dying, needing urgent surgery for their shattered limbs and mangled bodies, or blistered and blinded from gas attacks.
The sight of the battle front was terrifying and compelling — Sister Elsie Tranter, for one, was captivated. She wrote in her diary that on her first night at a CCS near Grevillers, in March 1918 she:
[…] had the flaps on the tent fastened back and spent most of the night watching the flashes in the sky from the guns […] everything seemed so surreal.
[…] a continuous rumble and roar, as of an immense factory of vibrating machinery filled the night. The pulsing sounds and vibration worked into our bodies and brains; the screech of the big shells, and the awful crash when they burst at no great distance, kept our nerves on edge.
Shrapnel falling to the ground, the thrilling sight of aerial dog fights, damp and dirty dugouts, sandbagged tents, constant artillery fire, the smell of gas, the tremble of the earth — this was the landscape of the CCS.
Sister Connie Keys did not expect they would come through safely, and later confided to her mother that now “I’m only afraid of being afraid”. She had experienced terror beyond measure.
CCSs struggled to cope at the height of battle, and staff worked extremely long hours to deal with the flood of casualties. One of them, 2nd Australian CCS, had a nursing staff of 20 and put through 2,800 patients in the first 18 hours of the “Messines push”.
May Tilton recalled in her memoir that she often “went on duty at 8pm, worked continuously during a ‘stunt’[a minor military operation], until the following midday, with ten minutes for supper at midnight, and half an hour for breakfast at 8am”.
The experience of nurses attests to the aphorism of war as long periods of boredom interspersed with brief periods of terror.
Static attrition warfare, conducted through artillery bombardment, gassing and close fighting, produced fighting conditions and wounds that appalled both the victims and those who cared for them.
The resuscitation wards were the greatest test for nurses. Tilton recalled that:
[…] only the worst cases could we possibly hope to attend to. The work in the resuscitation ward was indescribable. The butchery of these precious lives […] To watch them dying was ghastly.
The night sister confessed
I cannot speak of it […] I want to scream and scream.
Nurses were brought to despair – not because they were unable to save lives, for nurses were accustomed to death, but because they were unable to care for patients as they would have done “at home”. They had been trained to fashion order out of chaos, to bring a patient through the days and nights of a health crisis with patience, gentleness and watchful vigilance, and in some cases to ease their path to a painless and tranquil death.
But in war, they wrestled with the irresolvable conflict between duty and fear, and between their compassion and the realities of conflict. Death on the Western Front was ugly, chaotic and painful, so much so that some “ministering angels” came to doubt their Christian faith. “I can’t believe there is a God,” wrote Sister Alice Ross King after the Ypres Offensive, “it is too awful for words”.
Nurses, like soldiers, knew when they were at breaking point, and feared being unable to fulfil their duties. Tilton confessed:
[…] the privacy of our tents was a welcome relief for the weakness we dared not show before our brave, suffering boys.
Even the Armistice, when it eventually came on November 11 1918, brought little comfort. Anne Donnell became terribly depressed and, like many, found joy impossible when she contemplated the sadness of empty homes and hearts.
Nurses carried the burden of putting back together the victims of conflict, yet struggled to maintain their own physical and mental health. For many, their return to Australia was marred by ill-health, and what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder.
But they also displayed courage and resilience. The experiences of Australian Army nurses on the Western Front can be a starting point, reaching through all Australia’s wars, for discussion of the response to extreme physical and psychological stress borne by those who treat the casualties of war. They too were war’s victims.
Patricia A. O’Brien, Georgetown UniversityThis year marks 75 years since the United States launched its immense atomic testing program in the Pacific. The historical fallout from tests carried out over 12 years in the Marshall Islands, then a UN Trust Territory governed by the US, have framed seven decades of US relations with the Pacific nation.
Due to the dramatic effects of climate change, the legacies of this history are shaping the present in myriad ways.
This history has Australian dimensions too, though decades of diplomatic distance between Australia and the Marshall Islands have hidden an entangled atomic past.
In 1946, the Marshall Islands seemed very close for many Australians. They feared the imminent launch of the US’s atomic testing program on Bikini Atoll might split the earth in two, catastrophically change the earth’s climate, or produce earthquakes and deadly tidal waves.
Australia was “included in the tests” as a site for recording blast effects and monitoring for atom bombs detonated anywhere in the world by hostile nations. This Australian site served to keep enemies in check and achieve one of the Pacific testing program’s objectives: to deter future war. The other justification was the advancement of science.
The earth did not split in two after the initial test (unless you were Marshallese) so they continued; 66 others followed over the next 12 years. But the insidious and multiple harms to people and place, regularly covered up or denied publicly, became increasingly hard to hide.
Radiation poisoning, birth defects, leukaemia, thyroid and other cancers became prevalent in exposed Marshallese, at least four islands were “partially or completely vapourised”, the exposed Marshallese “became subjects of a medical research program” and atomic refugees. (Bikinians were allowed to return to their atoll for a decade before the US government removed them again when it was realised a careless error falsely claimed radiation levels were safe in 1968.)
In late 1947, the US moved its operations to Eniwetok Atoll, a decision, it was argued, to ensure additional safety. Eniwetok was more isolated and winds were less likely to carry radioactive particles to populated areas.
Dissenting voices were initially muted due to the steep escalation of the Cold War and Soviet atomic weapon tests beginning in 1949.
Opinion in Australia split along political lines. Conservative Cold War warriors, chief among them Robert Menzies who became prime minister again in 1949, kept Australia in lockstep with the US, and downplayed the ill-effects of testing. Left-wing elements in Australia continued to draw attention to the “horrors” it unleashed.
The atomic question came home in 1952, when the first of 12 British atomic tests began on the Montebello Islands, off Western Australia.
Australia’s involvement in atomic testing expanded again in 1954, when it began supplying South Australian-mined uranium to the US and UK’s joint defence purchasing authority, the Combined Development Agency.
Australia’s economic stake in the atomic age from 1954 collided with the galvanisation of global public opinion against US testing in Eniwetok. The massive “Castle Bravo” hydrogen bomb test in March exposed Marshall Islanders and a Japanese fishing crew on The Lucky Dragon to catastrophic radiation levels “equal to that received by Japanese people less than two miles from ground zero” in the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts. Graphic details of the fishermen’s suffering and deaths and a Marshallese petition to the United Nations followed.
When a UN resolution to halt US testing was voted on in July, Australia voted for its continuation. But the tide of public opinion was turning against testing. The events of 1954 dispelled the notion atomic waste was safe and could be contained. The problem of radioactive fish travelling into Australian waters highlighted these new dangers, which spurred increasing world wide protests until the US finally ceased testing in the Marshalls in 1958.
In the 1970s, US atomic waste was concentrated under the Runit Island dome, part of Enewetak Atoll (about 3,200 miles from Sydney). Recent alarming descriptions of how precarious and dangerous this structure is due to age, sea water inundation and storm damage exacerbated by climate change were contested in a 2020 Trump-era report.
The Biden administration’s current renegotiation of the Compact of Free Association with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and its prioritisation of action on climate change, will put Runit Island high on the agenda. There is an opportunity for historical redress for the US that is even more urgent given the upsurge in discrimination against US-based Pacific Islander communities devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are peoples displaced by the tests.
Australia is also embarking on a new level of engagement with the Marshall Islands: it is due to open its first embassy in the capital Majuro in 2021.
It should be remembered this bilateral relationship has an atomic history too. Australia supported the US testing program, assisted with data collection and voted in the UN for its continuation when Marshallese pleaded for it to be stopped. It is also likely Australian-sourced atomic waste lies within Runit Island, cementing Australia in this history.