Outmanoeuvring the enemy

“The Raid of the Reidswire” is an often overlooked ballad, which Scott included in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. It recounts the events of the 7th July 1575 at the Redeswire, where a run-of-the-mill Warden’s meeting degenerated into a battle. It is more frequently referred to as a skirmish, as the two sides did not meet with the intention of engaging in pitched battle. The Scots won the day, but the weapons each side had brought to the meeting were telling in terms of effectiveness: the English had their feared bows, but the Scots are armed with guns – “but we had pisolets enough” remarks the ballad. All of this set the thought processes on a slightly different trajectory. Even with the relatively low level of casualties at the Redeswire,  the flash and fire of the pistols must have come as a dreadful shock to the English opponents. The English archers, of course, had their glory at Crecy, with the lightly equipped and often low-born archers decimating the flower of French knights. I considered, then, what I would consider the most impressive and terrifying force, before the era of long-range missiles and modern warfare. There are many, of course, to consider. polish winged hussar

Those Crecy archers, Rome’s legions (or perhaps those guerilla troops who tracked and slaughtered Varus’s legions in the dark forest of Germany) are certainly more than worthy of consideration ,  but for my part, those elite winged hussars of Poland strike me as being some of the most impressive of the last 1000 years. There is much speculation regarding those fine wings  and effectiveness in warfare, but goodness, to be faced by an onslaught of galloping horses, lowered lances, thrumming banners, and mounted men, it seems, with wings rising from their backs – I cannot recall another charge – not even that of the Scots Greys – which may have surpassed it in visual and auditory impact.

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2 comments

  1. A terrifying vision indeed…the Polish cavalry have, of course, a tremendous reputation for reckless bravery even in the face of an overwhelming enemy – I’m thinking of the courageously desperate charge by the Polish cavalry against the invading Nazi Wehrmacht tanks in 1939. Would that they had had wings then….

    1. Is there not some debate surrounding the charge at Krojanty? I believe the cavalry attacked an infantry batallion – but by the time the war correspondents arrived to survey the battle, several Wehrmacht tanks had arrived and those reporters (German and Italian I believe but am happy to be corrected) jumped to the incorrect conclusion. However, the resultant slaughter of that battle was only the merest hint of the horrors which were to unfold. The outcome of that war would have been very different without the Polish contribution – I think particularly of the pilots.
      Given the awful footage which does exist here and there on that great curio cabinet of the internet, I echo your sentiment, would that those cavalrymen had had wings on that day.

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