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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Celtic Poems for Slumber...

come directly from two of the greatest poets: Dylan Thomas from Wales and Robert Louis Stevenson from Scotland. The first piece is an excerpt from Thomas's popular and complex dramatic poem, "Under Milkwood"; the second is one of Stevenson's many charming poems from "A Child's Garden of Verses." So enjoy reading and sleep tight my dears...;-)

Under Milkwood (Intro)

    To begin at the beginning: It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the
cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courter's-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.

    The houses are are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.

    Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives.

     Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea.  And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wet-nosed yard; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

     You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing. Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.And you alone can hear the invisible starfall, the darkest-before-dawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the   Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride. 

     Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llareggub Hill, dew fall, star fall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood... 

North-west Passage

(1) Good-night

Then the bright lamp is carried in,
The sunless hours again begin;
O'er all without, in field and lane,
The haunted night returns again.

Now we behold the embers flee
About the firelit hearth; and see
Our faces painted as we pass,
Like pictures, on the window glass.

Must we to bed indeed? Well then,
Let us arise and go like men,
And face with an undaunted tread
The long black passage up to bed.

Farewell, O brother, sister, sire!
O pleasant party round the fire!
The songs you sing, the tales you tell,
Till far to-morrow, fare you well!

(2) Shadow March

All around the house is the jet-black night;
It stares through the window-pane;
It crawls in the corners, hiding from the light,
And it moves with the moving flame.

Now my little heart goes a beating like a drum,
With the breath of the Bogies in my hair;
And all around the candle and the crooked shadows come,
And go marching along up the stair.

The shadow of the balusters, the shadow of the lamp,
The shadow of the child that goes to bed –
All the wicked shadows coming tramp, tramp, tramp,
With the black night overhead.

(3) In Port

Last, to the chamber where I lie
My fearful footsteps patter nigh,
And come out from the cold and gloom
Into my warm and cheerful room.

There, safe arrived, we turn about
To keep the coming shadows out,
And close the happy door at last
On all the perils that we past.

Then, when mamma goes by to bed,
She shall come in with tip-toe tread,
And see me lying warm and fast
And in the land of Nod at last.

"In the land of Nod at last..."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What referendum day would be like...

was a matter of conjecture, since something like this had never been done before, but I had any number of preconceived notions already. I thought it might all be over with early on, and that I would call Henry Hill, brave the British “ring tone of death”, and get past his James Mason-ish telling me the worst. I dreamt about it so many times, and the wild orgies of the Yes People, with Alex Salmond at their head, surrounded by Sean Connery and Mel Gibson and Dougie MacLean and Hazel Whyte on a giant “Just Say YES” float, liberally sprinkled with blue and white confetti, and the air rent by choruses of “The Flower of Scotland”, “Scotland Yet”, and “Caledonia”!

     Nightmarish, right?

    But the actual day, September 18, 2014, was actually quite different, thank heavens! Instead of moping around the house waiting for the foundations to crumble, I was unexpectedly called to duty when Ken, the studio engineer, announced that he had a space of time on that very day for me to complete my song, “Our Lady of Britannia”. We’d been working on it in bits and pieces for over a month, but never expected that space would open on that day of all days! I felt a lump in my throat. What did this extreme irony mean? Is Our Lady trying to tell me something??

    Before leaving for the Studio, I checked in with my Scotswoman on the street, Carol, who said she’d been off to vote “No” earlier on in the day, and that the polling centers were packed. “Nail-biting time, eh?” she wrote me. And indeed it was. But, as we headed off to the studio, I began to feel a numbing sensation, as if I were on a raft approaching a waterfall and the current began to slow before the end. The calm before the storm held as we entered the studio and completed the last tweaks on “Our Lady of Britannia”. But I must admit the lyrics began to have an intense effect on me. “Remember this, thy country, amidst the stormy sea/O may she stand united, a stronghold for the free…”

    As I headed down the hall at the end, I heard Ken mutter to my dad about the Scottish Independence Supporters, “What’s she going to do if they win?” My dad replied, somewhat humorously, “She’ll be destroyed.” But in reality, even though he is not a follower of British history and politics and could care less about the referendum outcome, he did appreciate how hard I would take it, and continued putting out encouraging messages on my computer screen to boost my spirits. One of them prophetically read: “Read my lips: There will be no new Scots-land. Drink to it!”

    Out in the car, my dad left me to listen to the song on our radio as he went into a pharmacy. I found that the emotions I had been suppressing all day suddenly rose to the surface. “Oh, Lady, this is love,” I whispered. “Will you not accept this love, will you not spare them?” I had put the whole thing under her protection long before that, and quite literally. The cute little Union Jack that stands on my desk with Old Glory and the Maryland State flag found a new place at the foot of her statue in my room. Also, the night before the vote, I went before her statue and asked for God’s will to be done, but if it were possible, that this cup might pass us by. Then I sang her song, and promised to promote her under the title of “Our Lady of Britannia” should we be spared.

        But anyway, getting back to the 18th, after dad returned from his pharmacy mission, we headed over to the rehearsal clubhouse (fondly known as “The Bunker”) to meet with Maestro Pat, give back the car he had lent us to complete the South Carolina trip, and have a catch-up session. So we reclined on his slump couch, and he regaled us with his many adventures since we’d last seen each other. I tried my best to focus on the conversation, but I must admit my mind my drifting overseas. I wanted to get home as soon as possible and find out what was happening. Or did I? Maybe I inwardly would rather not know. One thing I knew was that I never missed and worried about Henry Hill so much in my life, and was mentally querying, “Henry, where are you??” But one way or the other, Pat invited us out for dinner, and who was I to refuse that? So while he and my dad got the car started, I called mom to let her know where we’d be.

    She promptly informed me that she had flicked over to The BBC Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio, and that everyone was talking about the referendum. Hitherto, she had not taken a direct interest in the matter, although she was always very kind and attentive when I told her about my own involvement. Now she made it her own. “You know, this is serious,” she informed me. “The whole world will be at a loss without the UK!” How well I knew, how well I knew. But then she gave me some hope, and told me that an analyst who had done a poll after the voting put his name on the line and insisted that he was 98% sure there would be a “No” vote. I sucked in my tummy and braced myself

    In the car with Pat, we played the “Our Lady of Britannia” song again. It was our finished production; of course we wanted to show it off. But with circumstances happening as the were, the whole thing felt so surreal. “Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis…ora pro nobis…ora pro nobis…” I meant it more now than I ever did in my life, and hearing me sing it, the intensity of the moment brought tears to my eyes. But no time for much fluff. We were going to a tavern. Yes, whilst the majority of the Brits were stakes in taverns to watch the results, I would be in one too! The main difference was that while they were drinking beer and whiskey I was drinking sprite and eating chicken tenders and French fries…

    After parting with Pat, we headed to the supermarket to pick up a few things before heading home. Again, I cannot emphasize how totally dream-like the whole scene felt. Here I was, on the day I had been dreading for some two years, still not knowing the outcome, shopping for dish washing liquid and mozzarella cheese! We called mom again to inquire about the store list, and she still had her ear tuned to BBC, and informed that the first three counties had come in for “No”. A good sign to be sure. I asked if Fife had come in yet, and it seemed to still be in the wings. On our way home, my dad and I prayed our daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and I’m sure you can guess what my main intention was!

    Back home things were heating up. The radio was blaring with British accents, and suddenly I felt quite sick. I went upstairs to keep my distance on it, and in that time several more counties came in, this time for “Yes”, although happily by small margins. My parents loyally kept me informed from downstairs, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated it. Then there was a split: Dundee went for “Yes”, while Aberdeen went for “No.” We were leading, but it was getting progressively tighter. And my breathing was getting worse.   

     Going from my knowledge of the Jacobite Rebellions, I made the calculation that Edinburgh would probably vote “Yes” and Glasgow “No.” Okay, so things have altered some since the 1740’s. As it turned out, the exact opposite happened. I’ll admit I felt totally drained out as the results were coming in, and waiting for Glasgow to come in was like a nightmare. For the first time that night, the nasally British accents of the BBC announcers themselves sounded tinged with a sense of fear. I felt a sudden rush of hopelessness, almost visually seeing the worst in my mind’s eye, a re-run of the past two presidential elections, and of my own failure in the SAR contest. My throat constricted, and I felt I could not pray any more. Had it all been for nothing? Something jostled me inside, and I went down on my knees. “Oh, God, I can’t pray anymore; take the emptiness I feel.”

    Then the news came in that Glasgow had voted “Yes.” But there was a twist. It had been extremely close, and this referendum was still counting population. We weren’t out of the box yet. And then, quite quickly it seems after such a long wait for everything else, Edinburgh came in, for “No.” I felt absolutely giddy inside, confused and suddenly taking away new hope. Soon after, BBC declared for a “No” vote. There were still other counties to be counted, so the declaration wasn’t definitive, but I think most of us began to feel more confident how this long night would end. But I had to take a break from the pressure for a little while, so I turned off the radio.

    When I turned it back on, they were saying we had an almost unassailable lead. But in order to end the suffering once and for all, there was one county that had to makes its decision. You guessed it: Fife, the home of Carol and Maj. Pitcairn! We all waited with bated breath for the announcement that would determine the outcome of The Scottish Independence Referendum 2014…and it was “NO”! The BBC announcer intoned, “And there you have it. Scotland rejects independence. The United Kingdom survives.” All my pent up emotions finally gave way, and I embraced my parents, sobbing from sheer relief.

    Then Alex Salmond, leader of the YES Campaign, came on the radio, making his final speech, admitting that independence had been rejected “at this time”, and that he would continue to work for Scotland within the United Kingdom, and hoped the others would do so as well. Then came Alasdair Darling, leader of the NO Campaign, sounding enlivened as he announced that the bonds between Scotland and rest of the UK had endured. “May they never be broken.” Finally there was David Cameron, the Prime Minister of The UK, vowing to work for a fair system by which all the constituent parts of “Our United Kingdom” would be fairly represented. And then the BBC announcers came back, talking about the massive constitutional changes that would have to come, the work the British government would have to do the in the future…but we still had a future.

    Meanwhile, I was on Skype and email, contacting my sleep-deprived Unionists to share the moment. Henry, John, Carol, Rev. Yates, Graham, Wyndysascha, Auntie Joanna, and the next few days Alistair McConnachie, Jonathan, Dominic, Effie and more…It was such a wonderful sense of unity and common purpose. Sure, we all there was bound to be a rocky road ahead, and loads of infighting in the wake of the British constitutional revisions. Sure, there would no doubt be some negative repercussions from disillusioned Nats. But for the time being, we relished in the fact that the country had been given a second chance, that all our work had paid off, and that Our Lady of Britannia had saved us to fight another day. And so we move on, on a mission of reunification and reconciliation, and through the grace and mercy of God, hope to come out all the stronger and better for it.

Better Together; Better for Us All

My Referendum Reflections...

are pretty long and drawn-out, but I shall try to give an overview of the past week and the very momentous decision made by the Scottish People with regards to “independence”...

    Admittedly this little process has been haunting me for the past 2-and-a-half years. I can remember early on, in 2012, the sheer weight of the proposition falling on me, and the first article announcing it in one of our newspapers, with the headlines reading in bold: "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do". I felt a wave of nausea run through me, and found myself unable to eat much that evening. My parents began to worry about my sudden mood swing, and when I finally blurted out my fears through a sudden gush of tears, my mom commented that it really must be hitting me hard, since I rarely cried so easily. Strange to say, but after that, tears came to me much easier.

    I know it may sound strange, perhaps melodramatic and sappy, but the emotions were very real for me. I cannot give a completely reasonable answer as to why I love Britain so much; I just do, and always have. Perhaps God put that love in me from the beginning, before I even knew it was there. Whatever the situation, I realized then that I would have to try to get involved, that I would have to try to help. I was already had a stake in the British culture, and with the British people. There was no pulling it out now. 

   So I wrote articles and conducted interviews, argued with Nationalists and befriended Unionists. 2012 passed. 2013 passed. As the summer of 2014 waned, and the dreaded 18th of September drew nearer, the polls began to fluctuate dangerously. Suddenly it seemed we were losing what we should be winning, coming up against people who were refusing to listen to reason. When one of the polls hiked the “Yes” Camp up to 2% ahead of us, things started looking dire. The British government declared a state of emergency, and everything began to remind of me of the vote. From The SAR competition, to The McLain Celtic Festival, to the Anniversary Celebration of the Battle of Baltimore, I felt haunted by the concept that America and Britain, after such a long and torrid relationship of fighting both against and alongside each other, might lose each other forever. Yes, lose each other, because Britain would lose herself! 

    The night before, I had just completed my Union Jack Chat project, with 25 interviews in the bag, the last one being my own, trying my best to explain why I loved this people, with their tea and toast and darling eccentricities, their wit and fire and quiet courage through hard times. It left me crying all over again, because I felt so utterly helpless to stop the break-up of their country, and I felt unprepared to face it myself. Part of me just wanted to quit the fight altogether in those final weeks when the polls soared high for the Nationalists and it seemed we were fighting the Last Battle. I could barely eat, sleep, write, pray.

    But somehow I kept going with it. Even when I felt the most despairing, I still found some sparkle of hope inside me that caused me to pray. I don’t believe I have ever prayed so hard for anything, in spontaneous words, too! I found myself typing away mechanically, listening to my father’s rendition of “God’s Way” on my PC headphones: “I did what I had to do/I saw it through without exception…What is a man? What has he got? If not himself, than he has not/To say the things he truly feels/And the not the words of one who kneels/The record shows I took the blows and did it God’s Way…”

    Now, I didn’t make some sort of pompous presumption I was on a specifically God-ordained mission, but I do believe that providence provides a place for us all, and that my duty was dictating me to see this thing through. To me, there was a very clear moral aspect to this battle. We were not meant to sever the bonds of common nationhood and abandon each other because the road gets tough sneaky politicians give us pie in the sky. We were meant to draw together to do good in the world, not purposely make ourselves weak in an effort to hide from both internal and external troubles. It’s cowardly. It’s wrong.

    Something stood out to me in the midst of all this chaos. The British were on the rocks of national dissolution, and yet somehow Auntie Joanna of London still managed to take pride and pleasure in a cricket game that was scheduled to take place on September 19 between the Vatican Team and the COE Team. And the thing that made it the most surreal was that it was seemingly taken for granted that this game would most certainly be held in Britain, and there would be great British fair play, and it would be Britain at its best. I could not help but chuckle at the thought of Sir Francis Drake insisting that he had to finish his game of bowls and beat the Spanish Armada that was sailing towards the English coast in 1588.

     I’m not saying that the Brits were all perfectly composed during this whole thing. Many of them appeared to be crashing on the rocks of despair and disillusionment. But there were always visible signs of that other side of their national character, that never-say-die attitude that makes them who they are. There are so many people who I am proud to have worked alongside in the final days, especially John, the lone friend I met during my brief and generally lack-luster sojourn in the Dead Marshes of the Catholic Singles Website.

     A Manchester-man, I went to him for aid when my ancient PC started to die just a week before the vote, and pleaded with him to help me advertise UJC, in hopes of reaching some undecided voters and encouraging the Unionists. Riding into the fray like a knight in shining armor in the nick of time, not only did he do a terrific job advertising on Facebook and Reddit, boosting our number of views by the hundreds, but he sent me a series of wonderfully optimistic emails to help keep my head above water. The quote that particularly made me smile was the line: “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”

     John’s attitude, and the determined grit of so many of his countrymen, made me recall the old WWII lyrics, “The White Cliffs of Dover”: “I’ll never forget the people I’ve met braving those angry skies/I remember well as the shadows fell the light of hope in their eyes/And though I’m far away, I still can hear them say: “Thumbs Up! For when the dawn comes up/There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover/Tomorrow, just you wait and see…”

To be continued…

The White Cliffs of Dover

Friday, September 19, 2014


There is so much to be said, so very much to be said. The United Kingdom survived this dark night, as The Scottish Independence Referendum closed with a 10% lead for the No Campaign. Needless to say, we've all been through quite a wild and emotionally intense ride, and I have stories galore about it that I would love to relate. But in a few days....after I unwind my nerves and get some much-needed shut-eye after pacing the floors into the wee hours waiting for "Prussians or the night"!

I'll close with this statement: I fervently believe that Our Lady of Britannia intervened on our behalf, and I swore to spread her devotion under that title should she graciously give us victory, and that the 18th of September should be remembered as her feast day. Ironically, before the vote was out, I completed the recording of my original song, "Our Lady of Britannia", nervous half to death about the outcome and hoping that she would accept it as my personal plea, and the plea of all the British people. I believe she accepted it.

There is a rocky road ahead for Britain as she will strive to reunify her people and revise her constitution. But I believe that her people have the courage and intelligence to face the winds of change and weather them. By the Grace of God, I do believe she will come out of this for the better. She is better together; the World is better having her together. We are deeply, deeply blessed.

Until my next post, I congratulate The British people, and thank everyone for their prayers and support in this cause. May God comfort all those suffering the pains of defeat right now, and may we all show a spirit of reconciliation to them as we strive to rebuild and renew this society.

Our Lady of Britanna, Ora Pro Nobis!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Private Dixon Vallance...

a 22-year-old soldier in the 79th Cameron Highlanders, served with distinction during the Battle of Waterloo. He had been raised on a humble farm in Lanarkshire and had little formal education. But now, at the height of the Napoleonic wars, he put aside the plough and took up the musket. He was one among many farm-boys who either volunteered or were forced to join the service and fight under the Duke Wellington.

    News of the French advance reached Brussels on the evening of June 15, 1815, when many of the British officers were enjoying themselves at a ball held in their honor. Soldiers and civilians alike were roused to action, and Private Vallance scampered off to retrieve his shirts from a local laundress. Still soaking wet, he just had time enough to wring them out and stuff them in his knapsack before getting dressed in his full uniform. 

    He and his comrades tried to get some sleep in the few hours remaining, but they were rudely awakened at dawn by the skirl of bagpipes, blare of bugles, and rattle of drums. Their generous Belgian host gave Vallance and his three comrades a loaf of bread and a bumper of gin each before kissing them farewell. The 79th Regiment mustered at the Grand Place in the center of Brussels, and each kilted soldier was given another helping of gin. As they marched through the streets of the city, many of the pedestrians cheered them on, and to their great pleasure, the girls spontaneously rushed forward to embrace them.

    By midday, they were trekking through a wood where Vallance took the opportunity to get a drink of water at a brook and lay out his soggy shirts to dry. It was then he noticed his Bible laying at the bottom on his pack and decided to take up his “best, but much-neglected, companion” and read the psalms that he felt were appropriate for a soldier about to face possible death in battle. He was happy he was alone by the brook, because he knew he might incur the scorn of his less religious companions if he were caught meditating on Bible verses.

    At 2 p.m., the 79th reached a crossroads called Quatre Bras some 20 miles south of Brussels. The sounds of battle could not be clearly heard, and Dutch and Belgian soldiers staggered past the Highlanders to lick their wounds, while some fainted from loss of blood. Together with two other battalions, they prepared themselves to take the brunt of the French infantry and cavalry. Vallance’s battalion set up their position in a field of clover and rye, while the first shots from the enemy began to hit their mark. An old veteran from the 79th had the feather from his bonnet torn off by a ball, but he only laughed. “I have had many a one of that sort.” 

    Vallance had a ball whizz by him, smash through his canteen, and then wound a soldier behind him. The soldiers were soon ordered to lie down among the clover, but the bullets still were too close for comfort. One ricocheted off Vallance’s camp-kettle inside his knapsack and another slit across his belt. A soldier next to him was shot in the head and killed instantly. Soon, many men were struck, and Vallance found himself splattered with the blood of his comrades. Finally, they were ordered to charge the French position, chasing the enemy back a ways before returning to the clover field. Later, the French ordered a cavalry charge against the British position, but they were repulsed by the Highland fire power. The see-saw of attack and retreat went on all day.

    In another part of the battlefield, the Duke of Wellington stationed himself just behind the 92nd Gordon Highlanders Regiment, peering at the enemy lines through a spyglass as shells burst all around him and seemingly unperturbed by the danger he was putting himself in. At 5 p.m., he spotted a French column advancing towards them and ordered the Gordons to charge them. Colonel John Cameron of Fassiefern led the assault, but was mortally wounded in the process. Hot fighting broke out and continued between the two sides until 7:30 p.m., when the Brigade of Guards came to relieve the Highlanders.

    The Battle of Quatre Bras lasted until sundown, and resulted in a successful British defense that bought the Allies much needed time. Vallance spent the night on guard duty on the field, listening to the groans of the wounded and weathering the gusts of wind that swirled across the crossroads. Meanwhile, some of the other British soldiers looted the bodies of dead Frenchmen. The next morning, the Highlanders were given the rare treat of beef for breakfast in recognition of  their tenacious fighting the day before. Trying to live up to their fierce reputation, the Scottish soldiers removed the breastplates from the slain French soldiers and used them for frying pans.

    “They suited our purpose very well, only we lost a little of the gravy by the holes which our bullets had made,” Vallance later recalled nonchalantly.

    They invited some nearby Belgian soldiers to join them in the feast, but the Belgians were under the impression that the Highlanders were actually cooking the Frenchmen’s flesh, and understandably declined taking part in the cook-out!

    At the same time the British were celebrating their victory, news came that Napoleon had trounced the Prussians at Ligny on the same day. Wellington ordered his army to retreat from the hard-won crossroads at Quatre Bras and regroup closer to Brussels at the small village of Waterloo on June 17. The previous day’s fighting would prove to be only a taste of what was to come. As the British marched, a torrential storm blew up causing the ground to turn into a muddy morass and soaking the soldiers’ uniforms, packs, guns, and ammunition. They staggered on after nightfall, cold and wet and weary. When dawn finally came, many of the soldiers simply collapsed from exhaustion and did not wake up until they heard the whiz of cannonballs flying past them.

    To keep spirits up, the men were each issued a ration of gin. They hardly had the chance to enjoy it, however, because a little after noon the French columns advanced shouting their battle-cry, “Vive l’Empereur!” Wellington’s 68,000 British, Dutch, and Belgian troops faced off Napoleon’s 72,000 Frenchmen and Imperial sympathizers beside the road that led to the town of Ohain. The British were on the slope of a ridge, which meant they would be able to hide on the reverse slope when necessary while the French would have to exert great energy scaling the height. After testing Wellington’s right flank and finding it strong, Napoleon’s artillery opened fire in a massive barrage on his center near the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte. This was where Private Valance and the 79th Regiment under the divisional command of the Welsh-born Sir Thomas Picton were positioned.

    Lying flat on the ground to avoid the projectile, the Highlanders watched with relief as many of the cannonballs became imbedded in the muddy ground rather than bouncing towards their intended targets. Still, some of the men were struck, one soldier having his cheek torn off and unnerving him comrades by his agonized screams. Vallance would have been hit as well if not for the observation of one of his comrades that he was lying directly in line of the cannon fire. He quickly moved, and a ball fell in that spot almost immediately afterwards.

    When the barrage finally ended, the Highlanders stood up to find themselves facing 16,000 advancing French soldiers. The French fired their muskets at a distance, and most of the balls did more damage to the feathers in the Highlanders’ bonnets than to the Highlanders themselves. Meanwhile, the Highlanders were instructed only to open fire when the French were within striking range. The full brunt of the French assault was hard for the Highlanders to resist, especially when Sir Thomas Picton received a bullet in the brain and fell dead in front of them. He had been wounded two days before, but kept it a secret so that he could lead his men in the upcoming battle. When his uniform was late in arriving, he simply went into battle dressed in civilian clothes and a top hat, fearlessly cheering his men on from the front. His loss was a severe blow to morale.

    Seeing that the 79th were leaderless and seemed to have had “more than liked of it”, Wellington personally rode forward and reformed the line with the French just 20 yards away. Wellington’s horse, Copenhagen, carried him more than sixteen hours at the Battle of Waterloo, and his rider was showing no signs of wearying. He ordered them to fire, and the hail of bullets pushed the enemy back once again. Soon, the Highlanders drummed enough courage to give them chase. Some of the wounded Frenchmen lying prostrate feared the British would kill them where they lay and opened their knapsacks to the Highlanders in exchange for their lives. But the Highlanders were not interested in killing or plundering wounded, but only chasing the enemy. In spite of their bold offensive, the 79th was eventually driven back to its position by French firepower.

    At 3 p.m., the Earl of Uxbridge, commander of the allied cavalry, ordered three horse regiments to charge to French in hopes of relieving the hard-pressed British infantry. Among the horse regiments was the Union Brigade under the command of Sir William Ponsonby, so named because it included English, Scottish, and Irish troops, serving in the 1st Royal Dragoons, 2nd Royal North British (Scots Greys), and the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, respectively. The Scots Greys took the lead, riding between the beleaguered Highland soldiers who cheered them on with a rousing chorus of “Alba Gu Bra! Scotland Forever!”

    Lady Elizabeth Butler would later depict the charge as a pulse-pounding gallop in her famous painting Scotland for Ever!, but the wet ground and casualties littering the battlefield would have made it impossible for the Scots Greys to have rushed forward in a mad dash. In fact, some enthusiastic Highland infantrymen were noted for being able to cling onto the stirrups and run alongside the horses as they briskly trotted forward to meet the enemy. But even though there was no dramatic headlong charge, the efforts of the cavalry successfully blunted the main thrust of Napoleon’s infantry, with 2000 Frenchmen being killed and two of their prized eagle standards being captured. On the downside for the British, Sir William Ponsonby was shot dead during the attack. 

    Now it was Napoleon’s turn to unleash his horsepower. Marshal Ney led his lavishly dressed Cuirassiers, hussars, and lancers in a charge to smash the British infantry resistance and regain the ground lost to the Union Brigade. The redcoats and Highlanders were ordered to form British Squares, with the soldiers of each first line going down on one knee with their bayonets upturned as a porcupine-like defense mechanism. When the French cavalry finally reached them after charging uphill across the muddy terrain, they were raked by British musket balls and unable to penetrate the protective bayonet barrier. Eventually, after slashing and smashing at the squares as best they could with little success and exhausting their horses, the French retreated. Even so, the fighting continued sporadically into the evening, and a strong wind blew the gunpowder smoke into the British soldiers’ faces so they could not even see where the enemy was.

    The next day, Napoleon launched a last-ditch effort to break the British lines. He sent out his elite Old Guard, hardened veterans and the most loyal of the Imperial troops. However, even these warriors were unable to dislodge the tenacious British and Allied soldiers who refused to be pushed back even though their energy was almost spent and many of them were raw recruits. When the Old Guard was forced to withdraw, Napoleon began to realize that his lucky star had finally been snuffed out. At long last, the Prussians appeared on the scene, and a relieved Wellington ordered his Highlanders forward in a final charge, shouting “In for penny, in for a pound!”

    The fighting continued until dusk, when Private Vallance was struck in the face with a musket ball. It tore through his cheek and right eye, leaving him half-blind in a state of total shock. He collapsed on the ground among the dead and dying and remained that way throughout the long night. The victors of the battle were too exhausted to properly take care of the wounded, and Vallance had to endure the horror of watching a friend and fellow soldier die slowly beside him, begging for Vallance to shoot him and end the pain, which Vallance could not bring himself to do. Prussian soldiers also came to plunder the wounded, stabbing helpless Frenchmen in a show of petty vengeance.

    As the sun rose the next morning, Vallance managed to stand up and get some water for himself and the wounded nearby who had survived the night. Soon after, field parties finally began to come forward to assist the wounded of both sides that were treated by British and Belgian doctors at a field hospital at Mont St. Jean farm and later transferred to hospitals in Brussels. Vallance eventually made it back to Dundee where his severe wound healed slowly but surely. By 1816, he was honorably discharged from the army and received a pension of ninepence a day.

     In total, 2,000 British soldiers were killed and 7,000 wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. Throughout his life, Wellington would be haunted by his greatest and bloodiest victory and go silent every time Waterloo was mentioned. “It has been too much to see such brave men, so equally matched, cutting each other to pieces as they did,” he confessed to a mortally wounded friend just before the friend died.

    “It is a bad thing to be always fighting,” he reiterated later on. “It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched at the moment of victory. Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.”

Scotland Forever!

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Scottish Independence Referendum...

is in its final stretch, and I’ve noticed recently that there has been something of a downswing in the mood among in the Unionist Camp, with people vocally blurting, “I don’t know what will happen now! I don’t know what will happen now!” Of course, we never did have a crystal ball to show the outcome beforehand anyway, but up until recently, quite a few of unionists had been hoping for and predicting a grand-crash-victory in favor of the Union, with the Nationalist number pounded down to the bare minimum so they could never rise from the ashes to haunt us again. But then their came the “big bad boost” for the Nats over the last week, with the pollsters scurrying to update information, and often conflicting each other in the process. Panda Bear Salmond’s theatrics on TV in front of a stacked audience didn’t help things much either. 

    Okay, so the chance of winning an overwhelming victory is pretty much sunk at this point. The Nats have done well, admirably well from an unbiased standpoint. Of course, most of this success is thanks to melodramatics and blatant manipulation of the facts, but they have inspired almost half of the Scottish people with a dream and a sense of community feeling. Sadly, Better Together chose not to appeal to the romantic side of human nature in addition to the practical side, and have suffered for it. As a romanticist by nature, I know how that sort of approach just fails to cut the mustard.

    But all this aside – there is presently no cause for despair. Most of the polls still show "No" as being roughly ahead by 4 - 6 points, even with the “disastrous debate” impact. We may not be able to win in an overwhelming tidal wave, but we still can win, even if it be a typical status quo 1-2% minimum victory. What we have to make sure of is that we make good use of this advantage, hold the line at all costs, and get every single vote possible from the “don’t know” camp. This can be done by grassroots Unionists getting out there and being passionate about it, as long as they don’t abandon ship in these last few weeks and let the Nats yell them down and scare them off. As for Mr. Darling, Better Together, Mr. Cameron, and the British Political Parties – I’m not going to criticize them too harshly, since I do believe their hearts are in the right place. But the average people are going to have to make up for where they lack.

   What disturbs me most is that some Unionists have concluded that a small victory would be something of a disgrace, and would be just about as bad as a defeat. I totally disagree. On September 19, NO ONE is going to care by what percentage the victory was won by. Yes, it will no doubt mean that the hoard of would-be-Wallaces will reemerge in 10 or 15 years, clambering for independence all over again so they can be bigger fishes in a smaller pond. Yes, a political survival in September is not going to guarantee a revival of Britishness nation-wide. But if anything, it is a gamble for time to change things around us for the better. Besides, even if I felt certain that The UK was doomed to fall in 15 years, in 10 years, in 5 years – I would still consider gaining that extra time well worth the fight.

    I’m not going to pretend I know how all this is going to turn out in the end, because I don’t. But there is one thing I am sure about: this cause is worth fighting for, once, twice, a hundred times. It’s not just about keeping a small island unified under one government. It transcends the British people themselves. What we are fighting for is what Britain represents to the world: Hard-won Liberty and the Rule of Law; Unity that respects Diversity; Steadiness in the face of Irrationality; Willingness to Keep Faith with History; Continuity to counter Unthinking Change; a Strong Foundation on which Great Structures can be built. For all her past sins and present failings (or perhaps because of them), the world needs her. She represents us all. 

    But there is a fear I have. The fear is that the Unionists themselves will be their own worst enemy through a vice that goes beyond simple complacency: it is Pride. Perhaps this has been the most deadly chink in British armor from the beginning of their torrid history. The realization that there is no landslide victory in sight and that almost half the Scottish people are in favor of splitting the union has wounded British pride. In some quarters, I think the attitude is that if we can’t have it all, we won’t have it at all. This is when the reigns can begin to slacken. This is when the space for the nationalists to squeeze through to victory can start to open.

    But it must not be so.

    Besides, whatever happened to British claims that they did best when up against a wall? Wellington commented after Waterloo, with his typical frankness, that the battle for Europe was “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” Throughout British history, it has been a refrain that those crafty islanders had a canny way of rebounding on a knife’s edge of victory and defeat. I know, it is part of a mythology, romance for the simple-minded and all that. But look at where ignoring romance has gotten “Better Together”! If the British people could just believe in themselves enough, and perhaps take courage from the old stories which show that heroes fight and God is still alive, I wonder what victories could be won.

   So we must not mope in corners or demand all or nothing. We must not think too far ahead or bite our nails about the return of the Nats a decade or so hence. We must not lament about when we did or failed to do over the course of long, drawn-out, altogether taxing “neverendum”. We must hold fast to what we know to be true, and fight for what we love, as individuals as well as members of a common cause. Let us look ahead, to the final stretch of this race, instead of peering back over our shoulders. As a certain famous cigar-smoking Brit said in another moment of crisis: “This is not the end, not even be the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.”

    There is one more analogy I have to make. In The Lord of the Rings, individual actions affecting the bigger picture is beautifully portrayed by the British Catholic author. It is a matter of Providence working through broken vessels who answer the call to duty in the hour of darkness, whether it be by defeating a monster thought indestructible or sparing a creature whose fate would save the world. It is also a matter of "fighting the long defeat", even when all seems hopeless, realizing that the striving for right in and of itself is of worth, aside from the outcome. My point is: never despair of making a difference, no matter how inadequate or alone you feel at times. And for a touch of whimsy (and since ranting Nats often have a certain ork-ish resemblance…), enjoy the following from King Aragorn: 

   “Hold your ground! Hold your ground! Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!”

The Battle is Upon Us