"SHAKESPEARE'S MEN" ON THE SOMME.
f T was very interesting to read not long ago of a note of tribute I paid to our Army in France by a French writer who, referring to them as " Shakespeare's men,"says : " These prudent, practical, phlegmatic, and cold Englishmen, whom we see only through Dickens when they really belong to Shakespeare, are, to tell the truth, sublimely daring in action." The constant references by our officers and privates to the battlefields in men of the British Expeditionary Force and of the British Fleet.
Nelson referred to Shakespeare when about to fight the battle of Trafalgar, and at other times.
At this moment, when we wait almost breathlessly, and yet with calm confidence, for news and yet more news of this great battle of tho Somme, it is appropriate to recall some of the great adven- tures of Shakespeare's men under the warrior-King Henry V. on the very ground on which our men are now fighting—adventures not generally recorded in our histories. The following notes are taken for the most part from The History of the Battle of Agincour
and of the Expedition of Henry the Fifth into France, to which is added The Roll of the Men at ATMs in the English Army, edited
by Sir Harris Nicolas, published ninety years ago. In thist deeply interesting and scares little work the main story is a relation,
" for the first time translated and printed," of an account of the expedition, in Latin, by " one who was an Eye-witness of all he relates." Just before the battle of Agincourt he refers to himself thus : "I who write this, sitting on horseback among the baggage in the rear of the battle," &c.
King Henry at the siege of Harfleur, as the anonymous " Eye- witness " tells us, " gave himself no rest by day or night, until having fitted and fixed his engines and guns under the walls . . our King," as this old chronicler generally and lovingly calls him, " caused the great bulwark to be undermined by digging, in the meantime that ho with guns and engines so battered it that in a few days it was in great part broken down." The French made a very brave defence, using among other things " pots full of com- bustible powders of sulphur and quick lime, to cast into the oyes of our men, and vessels of scorching earths and oils, and fat com- bustibles, for the burning and destruction of our ranks, when they should approach the walls for an assault."
" Whilst these things were going on the King was to have made an attack by means of mines, extended by a vault through subterranean ways to have undermined the walls ; but the French by counter mines and other skilful projects, frustrated this attempt. ' At the meeting of the minors under ground (says Titus Livius) was a cruel and deadly conflict. But finally the Englishmen were frustrated of their intent, and were compelled to desist from their enterprise, and partly by the King's command, because his people had great loss therein,' and that work so remained, until the King allowed them to finish their plan, notwith- standing they daily encountered their enemies in the mine, and most manfully fought in the same. And thus the mine which was begins for the sudden invasion of the town was changed into the field for knightly deeds."
With his army terribly reduced by the strenuous fighting at Harfieur, but far more by disease, Henry set out for Calais, " his forces disposed in three battalions, leaving the town of Monstre do Villiers about two miles from Ilarfieur, at half a mile on his right." On October 11th, 1415, proceeds this " Eye-witness," " we came before the town of Archur3 [Argues] which had a sweet
river descending to the haven of Dieppe, about three miles on our left on the seashore." The little trout stream the Argues is weR known to many English officers fond of fly-fishing. On October 12th they " passed the fortified and strong town of Ewe [Eu, a seaport on the Bresle fifteen miles N.W. of Dieppe], from which the French made an attack on them but were beaten back."
Henry had intended to cross the Somme at Blanchetaque, where his great-grandfather Edward III. had passed, to gain the great victory of Crecy on August 26th, 1346, but the French had prepared
too strong a defence. After describing the vain attempts of the English Army to find another ford and the difficulties and hardships of the march along the south bank of the Somme, continually threatened by the French, the scribe says :—
" Leaving the town of Amiens about one league on the left on the following day wo came to a district with a village of the Duke of Bur- gundy's, by name Bowys [Boyce, a small village about four miles S.E. of Amiens by which a branch of the Somme passes). . . . On Thursday [October 17th, 1415) when we came into the plain, just by tho walled town of Corby on our left, part of the French Army, who had also assembled there, sallied out upon ours ; but wo quickly forced them to fly having slain some of them, and taken two armed men. [This affair at Corby is more fully set out by Ifolinshed.] There was brought to the 1Ci in that plain, a certain English robber, who, contrary to the laws of God and the Royal Proclamation, had stolen from a Church a pis of copper gilt, found in his sleeve, which ho happened to mistake for gold. [Shakespeare refers to this in King Henry V., Act Scene vi.] . . . As we advanced, we were quartered on the following day in moderate-sized farm houses, near the walled town of Noel [Neale, a town about twenty-four miles E.S.E. of Amiens and nearly four W., from the nearest part of the Somme]. By the will of God, news was suddenly brought to the King that about a leaeue off there was a convenient ford over the river Somme ; the King therefore sending forward an advanced Guard of horse to try the ford, the depth of the bed, and the current of the river, followed quickly with the army. But before he arrived at the river, ho crossed a marsh about a mile from it, through which ran a stream, descending from a little distance into the greater river, and so he was shut up as it were in a corner between the two rivers ; but, by the will of God without the enemy knowing it. On coming to the River Somme we there found two places capable of forming a passage of the river, and the water of the shallows reaching little higher than a horse's belly; the approach was by two long but narrow causeways, which the French had before warily broken through the middle, so that it was difficult for one abreast to ride through the breaks. And John Cornwall, and Gilbert Humfrevyll, Knights, being immediately sent over the water with their banners, and certain foot lancers and archers, a body of men was formed for covering the remainder of the people while landing, against an irruption of tit) French."
Another writer, Pierre de Fenin, says King Henry crossed the river Somme at Esclusier and lodged at the tower of Miraumont- the heights commanding Miraumont were stormed by the British Army on Saturday, November 18th, 1910. When visiting his Army in France last summer King George V. from an eminence in our lines could see all the country traversed by King Henry V. and his army, including those terrible woods, Delville, Bernafay, Trancs- where so many of our sons arc buried. " Eye-witness " continues :- " When passing by the walled town of Peron [Prone] on our left, we found the horsemen of the French army setting out from the town towards us within the shot and missiles of the enemy but our horsemen making a stand, they quickly fled into the town. And after we had passed the town about a mile, we found the roads strangely trodden by the French army, as if they had gone before us in many thousands. . . . After that we directed our march towards the river of Swords [the Cancho)."
Of the march from Peronne to Agincourt " Eye-witness " has little to say except that the British were continually in sight of great numbers of the French and expecting to be attacked. Of the night before the battle he mentions that our army was
" exposed to much rain through nearly the whole night.. Our adver- saries observing our stillness and silence, and thinking we were panio struck in consequence of our small numbers, and that we had, perhaps, purpored flying by night, made fires and planted strong guards through- out the plains and passes ; and it was said," he adds, " they reckoned themselves so sure of us, that our King and his nobles on that night were played for at dice."
Of the battle of Agincourt itself what needs it to speak It was through no lack of courage that the French were beaten. Their crushing defeat was due to the jealousies and incapacity of their leaders as much as to the bravery of the little " band of brothers" and their glorious King.
Great additional interest is given to Sir Harris Nicolas's book on Agincourt by the fact that he quotes all the contemporary English and French accounts with much other matter of note, including tho glorious names of nearly a thousand of those who fought upon St. Crispin's Day with
" Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester."
Although some families, probably many, whose men were in Henry's Army are extinct, yet you have only to take up any Roll of Honour from this battle of the Somme to-day and compare the names with the Roll of those at Agincourt and you will find the same in both. Here are a few : John Ashton, John Begot, John Bell, John Blount, John Clifford, John Durward, John Esmond, John Falstolfo, John Morley, John Pilkington, John Radelyff, John
Waterton, Thomas Hardy, &c., &c. B. B. Measrox.