Rifles, Mark Urban

#1
Really surprised there isn't a thread on this already. If there is and I spaffed up the search, apologies.

"Six years with Wellington's Legendary Sharpshooters" begins, even before the book starts properly, with an old poster advertising the Rifle Corps.

In this distinguised Service, you will carry a Rifle no heavier than a Fowling-Piece. You will knock down your Enemy at Five Hundred Yards, instead of missing him at Fifty. Your Clothing is GREEN, and needs no cleaning but a Brush. Those men who have been in a RIFLE COMPANY, can best tell you the comfort of a GREEN JACKET.
Urban follows the 95th from 1809 to 1815, and details the lives of both officers and other ranks, from embarking at Dover through Portugal, at Talavera, Guadiana, Busaco, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, all the way to Waterloo.

He covers plenty of different ranks, paying attention not just to well-known officers like Robert Craufurd (described as "insufferable" by almost every officer under him, along with being well-educated and something of a visionary 'scientific soldier'), a Captain O'Hare who worked his way up from being a surgeon's mate, and George Simmons, who got a second lieutenancy for encouraging loads of lads in the militia to volunteer him. Tom Plunket gets a mention, he of general-potting fame, who was rewarded with corporal's stripes and some cash.

Standard weapon of the time was the musket, and the 95th basically set the pattern and proved rifle-armed troops were of great value, that the notions of 'born marksmen' and Brits not being up to the task were bollocks, that using cover and concealment was good drills and not gay, that a rifleman could not only skirmish but also form a firing line or storm a position. They also made the point in battle (by killing loads of Frog officers) and in training, that marksmanship was very important, so much so that the French said the Brits were "the best marksmen in Europe" at the end of the Peninsular War.

Certain officers also encouraged football, hunting, races, etc to keep up fitness and marksmanship and keep the troops entertained, while reducing drill to a minimum. The 95th also blurred the social hierarchy, which had solidified a bit, and rankers could end up as officers (as a Private Robert Fairfoot did), as well as the fact that officers shared their men's hardships and fought with firearms. As part of the advance guard, they couldn't haul around tents and cases of port for din-dins, so if their blokes were in the shit, so were they, cementing relationships and developing respect between plebs and officers.

Urban doesn't flinch away from the ugly side of things, and documents what happened at battles in great detail, the crimes and deserters, the floggings and executions. The forlorn hope is something that really strikes me as something that would put the shits up anyone, but nevertheless you have some soldiers volunteering for it again and again, even though they knew they stood an excellent chance of dying.

It finishes with the few surviving veterans, looking back and writing to each other in their old age:

Our friends it is true are fast descending into the tomb and we shall soon follow; but we shall lay down by the side of brothers who loved us during our lives. [They] and a long list down to the rank and file were all united in one common bond of common danger and suffering. God Bless them all!
In case you can't tell, I liked this book a bit. It shows how innovative the weaponry and tactics were at the time, which are now the norm and taken for granted. How the 95th broke orthodoxies despite fierce resistance from the military establishment, showing the worth of the individual man, well-armed and trained. Superb stuff.
 

Sixty

ADC
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#2
Hang about for a bit: Mark's a member and occasional poster here.
 
#3
check out "Fusiliers" also ties in well with the tv prog "John Adams" on More4 as a lot of the caracters are in both book and prog
 
#5
I got the book about a year ago a marvelous read, coming from Kent i can appreciate all he said about Hythe and the march to Dover, a superb book.
 
#6
Am I right in thinking he also wrote "Dirty War" about the border war in N.I. ? If so it was a really good read.
 

Issi

War Hero
#7
I think that you are right, or was it 'Big Boys Rules' or was that an alternative title?
Rifles is an excellent book.
 
#8
le_crabe_tambour said:
Am I right in thinking he also wrote "Dirty War" about the border war in N.I. ? If so it was a really good read.
"Big Boys' Rules". (He also wrote "UK Eyes Alpha", on a different subject).

I remember reading his (interesting) article in the Independent, back in the days when it was a decent newspaper with a very photo-oriented Saturday supplement (1988ish?) - he and a photographer did a visit to Afghanistan through the Soviets, back when they were trying to impose their political solution. Lots of photos of the guys in the blue and white stripey T-shirts, first western journalists allowed to cover things from that side.

Apparently some of the Soviet squaddies perked up a bit and showed him around the inside of all their latest kit when they found out he had been RAC...
 
#9
Its a great read, and Mark Urban is a great writer. Even if history isn't really your bag, and you're expecting something dull and stuffy, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
 

Mr Happy

LE
Moderator
#10
errrm, wasn't he ripped apart for writing something or some things on Big Boy's Rules that was or were untrue. Particularly to cover headshots and balaclava's as well as an unreasonable insinuation that them were in the business or topping bad guys when nobody was looking if they could reasonably get away with it and not, perhaps, using the white/yellow card to its fullest capacity. Warning shots and so on..
 
#11
Mr Happy said:
errrm, wasn't he ripped apart for writing something or some things on Big Boy's Rules that was or were untrue. Particularly to cover headshots and balaclava's as well as an unreasonable insinuation that them were in the business or topping bad guys when nobody was looking if they could reasonably get away with it and not, perhaps, using the white/yellow card to its fullest capacity. Warning shots and so on..
define "unreasonable" - this is a fairly widely held belief surely?
 

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