Tag Archives: Agincourt

My Lead Soldier Collection – English Standard Bearer at Agincourt

Agincourt Knight

I visited the Agincourt site in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and if we hadn’t been paying attention we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France.

The signage isn’t very special either…

Agincourt Field

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 11th August 2013 I was in Northern France…

The Blockhaus d'Éperlecque

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile. It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England.

Read The Full Story Here…

Northern France, The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile.

It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England. The facility was designed to incorporate a liquid oxygen factory and a bomb-proof train station to allow missiles and supplies to be delivered from production facilities in Germany.

Read the Full Story…

The Battlefield Site of Agincourt

Agincourt Archers

I visited the battle site that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time.  So unremarkable in fact that I may well have missed what is now a rather insignificant field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

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North Yorkshire – Middleham Town Twinned with Agincourt

Agincourt

“Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

Agincourt French Knight

Our version of the battle of Agincourt is almost entirely informed by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V but as with most of his histories this was a highly dubious account of what really happened and modern historians have reached the view that far from being gallant and chivalrous and still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history the battle was filthy, horrible and merciless.

Weapons were crude and brutal.  Arrows from the longbows of the Welsh archers rained down and where the sword of a knight would not penetrate the armour of a noble foe and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) would fell him fast and then it was easy to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.  That was how hundreds of men died – their last sight on earth a dagger’s point.

Agincourt Archers

It turns out that Agincourt is not a tale of chivalry at all, but rather of desperate men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls.  Of hundreds of French soldiers weighed down by heavy armour submerged and drowning in mud.  Hand to hand combat by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval fighting.

At the height of the battle, when Henry V fearful of an attack on his rear  he ordered the captured French prisoners to be slaughtered, an action today that would almost certainly be denounced as a war crime.  He is alleged to have once said that ‘War without fire is like sausages without mustard’.  Even Shakespeare makes no attempt to omit this part of the story which would suggest that even in Tudor times such action was considered acceptable.  There was no United Nations Rules of Engagement or Geneva Convention in 1415.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25th 1415, no one could have realistically expected Henry’s army to survive the day.  This was about as unlikely as Leicester City winning the Premier League. He had about six thousand men, more than five thousand of them archers, while the French numbered at least thirty-thousand and were so confident of victory that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements – it didn’t occur to them that they might need to make some half-time substitutions!  By dusk on that Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry’s small army had entered military legend.

Agincourt Museum Guide

I visited the battle field in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

Agincourt Battlefield

We stopped for a while and surveyed the field which gave no clues to the battle and then we continued to the Agincourt Museum.

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.  I had always imagined that France would have no real enthusiasm for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Anyway, six hundred years is a very long time and I don’t suppose it really matters that much anymore and after all the French have been Republicans, on and off, for over two hundred years now so why should it matter to them a great deal whether the Plantagenets or the Valois won that day?

Agincourt Archers

I remember studying Shakespeare’s Henry V for English ‘o’ level and the school production of the play in 1969.

I auditioned but was not successful in securing a speaking part but was compensated with not one, but two roles as an extra.  My first part was rather important as I was the servant who carried on the casket of tennis balls that is presented to King Henry by the French Ambassador in Act 1 Scene 2 and then I had to make a hasty costume change to become one of the English army, first at the siege of Harfleur in Act 3 scene 1 and then at the battle of Agincourt in Act 4 scene 1.

Rather like the French King, Charles VI, the failure to get a part in the play was a bit of a personal setback for me and I never auditioned for a part in the school play or any other sort of play ever again but I have to admit that this was no great loss to the theatrical profession.

Henry V

By an interesting chronological coincidence the British fought another heroic battle on St Crispin’s Day but this time without such a glorious result – The Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25th 1854.

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
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.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

St Crispin’s Day and the Battle of Agincourt

English Archer

“Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

October 25th is St Crispin’s Day and the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.  2015 is the six hundredth anniversary of the heroic battle when the warrior English King Henry V defeated the largely superior French army of the time during the Hundred Years’ War (which incidentally lasted for 116 years, but the Hundred and Sixteen Years War doesn’t sound quite so catchy).

Agincourt French Knight

Our version of the battle is almost entirely informed by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V but as with most of his histories this was a highly dubious account of what really happened and modern historians have reached the view that far from being gallant and chivalrous and still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history the battle was filthy, horrible and merciless.

Weapons were crude and brutal.  Arrows from the longbows of the Welsh archers rained down and where the sword of a knight would not penetrate the armour of a noble foe and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) would fell him fast and then it was easy to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.  That was how hundreds of men died – their last sight on earth a dagger’s point.

Agincourt Archers

It turns out that Agincourt is not a tale of chivalry, but rather of desperate men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls.  Of hundreds of French soldiers weighed down by heavy armour submerged and drowning in mud.  Hand to hand combat by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval fighting.

At the height of the battle, when Henry V fearful of an attack on his rear  he ordered the captured French prisoners to be slaughtered, an action today that would almost certainly be denounced as a war crime.  He is alleged to have once said that ‘War without fire is like sausages without mustard’.  Even Shakespeare makes no attempt to omit this part of the story which would suggest that even in Tudor times such action was considered acceptable.  No United Nations Rules of Engagement or Geneva Convention in 1415.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25th 1415, no one could have expected Henry’s army to survive the day.  He had about six thousand men, more than five thousand of them archers, while the French numbered at least thirty-thousand and were so confident of victory that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements – it didn’t occur to them that they might need to make some half-time substitutions!  By dusk on that Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry’s small army had entered military legend.

Agincourt Museum Guide

I visited the battle site in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

Agincourt Battlefield

We stopped for a while and surveyed the field which gave no clues to the battle and then we continued to the Agincourt Museum.

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.  I had always imagined that France would have no real enthusiasm for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Anyway, six hundred years is a very long time and I don’t suppose it really matters that much anymore and after all the French have been Republicans, on and off, for over 200 years now so why should it matter to them a great deal whether the Plantagenets or the Valois won that day?

Agincourt Archers

I remember studying Shakespeare’s Henry V for English ‘o’ level and the school production of the play in 1969.

I auditioned but was not successful in securing a speaking part but was compensated with not one, but two roles as an extra.  My first part was rather important as I was the servant who carried on the casket of tennis balls that is presented to King Henry by the French Ambassador in Act 1 Scene 2 and then I had to make a hasty costume change to become one of the English army, first at the siege of Harfleur in Act 3 scene 1 and then at the battle of Agincourt in Act 4 scene 1.

Rather like the French King, Charles VI, the failure to get a part in the play was a bit of a personal setback for me and I never auditioned for a part in the school play or any other sort of play ever again but I have to admit that this was no great loss to the theatrical profession.

Henry V

By an interesting chronological coincidence the British fought another heroic battle on St Crispin’s Day but this time without such a glorious result – The Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25th 1854.

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
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 Crispin’s day.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

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Entrance Tickets – The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

The Blockhaus d'Éperlecque

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile.

It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England. The facility was designed to incorporate a liquid oxygen factory and a bomb-proof train station to allow missiles and supplies to be delivered from production facilities in Germany.

Read the full story…

Entrance Tickets – Agincourt Museum

Agincourt Museum Guide

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.  I had always imagined that France would have no real stomach for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Read the full story…

Northern France, The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques

Blockhause d'Éperlecques

The route from Agincourt to Eperlecques took us through the town of Saint-Omer but it didn’t look especially thrilling and it didn’t grab our attention so we carried on to the World-War-Two Museum.  A lot of the old German bunkers in this part of France have been converted to this purpose but I doubt if any of them are as big or as gloomy as this one.

While the French, after six hundred years or so don’t mind having statues of English archers alongside the roadsides at Agincourt the memory of the Second-World-War is much too recent to have Nazi Storm Troopers lining the road here and there was no such military reception as we approached the entrance to the museum.

German Soldiers

The Blockhaus d’Éperlecques was a giant bunker built by Nazi Germany between March 1943 and July 1944 and was originally intended to be a launching facility for the V2 ballistic missile. It was designed to accommodate over one hundred missiles at a time and to launch up to thirty-six a day all destined to land and explode on London and the South-East of England. The facility was designed to incorporate a liquid oxygen factory and a bomb-proof train station to allow missiles and supplies to be delivered from production facilities in Germany. It was constructed using the labour of thousands of prisoners of war and forcibly conscripted workers used as slave labourers who worked in twelve hour shifts of up to four thousand men with the work continuing around the clock, seven days a week, under giant floodlights during the night.

With all these men being moved in, laying new railway track, deliveries of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete and those night time floodlights obviously made this project hard to keep secret and the French Resistance and the allies discovered it almost straight away.

French Resistance

The German engineers were pretty good with concrete and they designed the place to be built in layers of reinforced cement built in a herringbone style which made it almost indestructible and impenetrable by regular bombs.

But the allies had two very good ideas.

First of all the concrete expert Sir Alfred McAlpine (who went on to create the post war construction firm) advised that a good time to bomb the bunker was just after the concrete was laid so that it would then set into any rearranged form after the effect of the bombing.  So that is what they did and the bomb-proof railway terminus was turned into a mass of twisted metal and deformed cement and was immediately rendered completely useless.

Blockhaus

The second good idea was the invention of the earthquake bomb that whilst it couldn’t penetrate the structure could make it unusable. The idea was to drop a large, heavy bomb with a hard armoured tip at supersonic speed so that it penetrated the ground, an effect comparable to a ten-ton bullet being fired straight down. It was then set to explode underground, ideally to the side of, or underneath a hardened target; the resulting shock wave would produce the equivalent of a miniature earthquake, destroying any nearby structures such as dams, railways, viaducts, or bunkers.

Naturally an unstable environment was not very good for storing liquid oxygen which by its nature was highly volatile so the Germans were obliged to abandon the concept of the bunker for missile launches and they went on to develop the alternative method of mobile launch batteries which were less vulnerable to detection and attack.

There weren’t very many visitors today so we paid our entrance fee and then walked along a path through a wooded hillside stopping at every turn to view the exhibits on show and to read the information boards and eventually after a short while we found ourselves at the bunker, twenty-two metres high and the biggest built in northern France and the really good thing is that visitors can go inside and wander around the liquid oxygen plant, the intended launch control and the missile bunker all of which is pretty much intact and then to the underground railway station which isn’t and shows just how effective the bombing advice of McAlpine was.

It is a rather interesting place to visit but also rather sad considering how many men died during the construction, the use for which it was intended and the fact that all the effort involved in building it was ultimately completely pointless and so we walked back to the car park past the guns and the tanks and the full size model of a V2 rocket and then made our way back to Le Wast and the Chateau.

After two days we had had enough of military history so over another exceptionally fine meal we agreed that tomorrow due to a very promising weather forecast that we would return to the coast and the seaside.

The Blockhaus d'Éperlecque