Sunday, 24 February 2013

Fortifying Bravery

You learn something everyday... and when you stop learning you are dead.
My little ‘gem’ for the day comes care of Scott Armstrong’s fabulous blog of eyewitness accounts of the Russian campaign, Napoleon in Russia The Soldiers' Experience on the Campaign of 1812. Many of you will already be aware of this blog, which he compiled last year in recognition of the bicentennial of 1812. If you have not seen it DYSAF (do yourself a favour). 
I read sections of the blog last year but, being engrossed in our own ‘commemorative events’, missed large swathes of it. Now that the dust has settled on the bicentennial of 1812 I have began reading each post from the beginning. It makes for great reading with tragedy, drama, hardships and even humorous events.
The particular post that is the source of me learnin’ somefink is entitled The Russian withdrawal from Smolensk, and was posted on 19th August 2012 by guest contributor Alexander Mikaberidze.
In it Staff-Captain [Alexander] Figner, the commander of 3rd Light Artillery Company, describes how, understanding that his company would soon be committed to battle he “...ordered the available wine rations to be given to his artillery crews.” He borrowed “...this method of maintaining soldiers’ courage from the French, who, upon falling into our hands, usually carried rum or vodka instead of water, in the canister behind their knapsacks…”
I was aware of alcohol being used (or taken) as a ‘reward’ after battle, but not deliberately used to instil bravado. I tend to associate such use of fortifying drugs with more recent conflicts. Ya learn something everyday...
"Generals don't smash chairs over people's heads. They don't smash Newcastle Brown bottles into your face and say "Stitch that, Jimmy." They're in the nice white tent, on the top of the hill, sipping Sancerre and directing the battle. They're Men of Honour." (Rimmer, "Marooned" Red Dwarf)


  1. You need to look at the Royal Navy - practically floated on rum for centuries!
    Have a drop of rum yourself,

    1. The 'tot of rum' was one of the examples that I was thinking of, of course. But wasn't that usually given as a 'reward' after a battle rather than to fortify the 'scum' and steady their eye?

      You guessed it, strict mineral water and apple juice man me...

      (I have also corrected the quote from Arnie J.)

  2. I think this was a pretty common practice if it was available... as opposed to letting the troops break into a wine cellar and get falling down drunk!