One of Napoleon’s marshals, Charles Pierre François Augereau (1757-1816), the son of a Parisian fruitier, was a rough, short-tempered, profane fellow with a penchant for loot and considerable tactical skill. By traditional accounts, he had the odd distinction of having served in four armies, and having deserted from all four of them
When he was 17, Augereau joined the French Army as a carabineer. He served into the 1780s, becoming an expert swordsman. But then he either drew a weapon on an officer in a quarrel or actually slew one. Whichever the case, having committed a capital offense, Augereau promptly deserted. Knowing no trades but those of fruitier and soldier, and much preferring the latter, he joined the Russian Army, and reportedly served against the Ottomans. Apparently not liking Russian service, he deserted once again. Soon afterwards he joined the Prussian Army, reportedly serving in the Guard. This also proved not to his liking, and so he deserted yet again. Somehow making his way to Italy in 1788, he supposedly taught fencing for a time, before joining the Neapolitan Army. But then he decamped once again. After some more wandering, and a sojourn in Portugal, he returned to Revolutionary France in 1791, and joined the National Guard. By 1793 he was a general de division, and remained a prominent commander thereafter, Napoleon making him a marshal of the first creation in 1804.
Despite his rather chronic habit of deserting, Augereau appears to have retained some affection for his erstwhile comrades. An interesting incident illustrating this took place after the Battle of Iena (October 4, 1806), during which Augereau commanded the French VII Corps with considerable distinction. After the battle, while watching a column of Prussian prisoners pass by, he spotted two men he knew, his old captain and a sergeant, both still serving in the very same company from which he had deserted some two decades before.
Augereau greeted the two men as old comrades. After dining with them, he arranged for their well-being, insuring their comfort and safety while prisoners, no little thing given the normal fate of prisoners in the age.
Footnote: There’s something curiously awry with the chronology of Augereau’s early career. When did he desert from the French Army? Russia and Turkey were not at war between 1774 and 1787, so if he served in such a war, it would to have been in 1787. Deserting the Russians, he goes into the Prussian Army, and is reported in the Neapolitan Army by 1788; that’s three armies in little more than a year or so. Do we perhaps have here a certain stretching of the truth?
The launching of H.M.S. Dreadnought
in 1905 touched off a naval arms race that saw something like 125 battleships
and battlecruisers laid down before the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Of these, almost a third were built by Britain. In a show of imperial unity, several
dominions and colonies offered to help defray the cost of this great shipbuilding
program. In this way, two new
battlecruisers of the Indefatigable Class
were laid down in 1910, sponsored by Australia and New Zealand,
and named, appropriately enough, in their honor. Of these, Australia became the nucleus of the new Royal
Australian Navy. New
, on the other hand, was presented to the Royal Navy, because the
Dominion could not afford to man and operate her; in fact, New Zealand had
to go into debt to find the £1,684,990 to pay for the ship, a loan that was not
finally paid off until two world wars had past.
Displacing some 22,000 tons at full load, H.M.S. New
Zealand was an imposing vessel, toting eight 12-inch rifles at speeds up
to 26 knots. Shortly after she was
commissioned, in November of 1912, the Royal Navy thoughtfully sent the new
battlecruiser on a good will visit to New Zealand, to show the folks what
all that debt had gotten them.
While touring New Zealand in April, May, and June
of 1913, the ship was visited by a delegation of Maori chiefs. The chiefs pronounced some traditional Maori
blessings on her, and also presented a number of gifts. One of these was a ship’s wheel made from native
woods and inscribed with the defiant war cry of the famous Maori chief Rewi
Maniapoto, "Ake! Ake! Ake! Kia Kaha!
–We will fight on, for ever and ever and ever!” In addition, the ship’s captain was given a green stone tiki pendant and a traditional Maori piu-piu, a black and white flax war
kilt, and told that if he wore these in battle the ship would never come to
New Zealand’s captains followed these instructions. And no harm befell the ship at the battles of
Helgoland Bight (August 14, 1914) and Dogger Bank
(January 24, 1915). Indeed, at Dogger
Bank, when Vice-Admiral David Beatty came aboard New Zealand after having to abandon his flagship due to damage, he found
Captain Lionel Halsey wearing both the tiki and piu-piu.
At Jutland (May 31-June1, 1916),
New Zealand’s skipper, John Green, wore only the tiki, for he was little too plump to look good in the piu-piu. Nevertheless, Green kept the piu-piu
close at hand, hanging in the ship’s conning tower. Even so, the talismans provided excellent
protection; of six ships in the Battle Cruiser Fleet, two blew up under enemy
fire, Indefatigable and Queen Mary, while Princess Royal, Tiger, and Lion,
were heavily damaged, suffering several casualties, Lion only surviving by chance and raw courage. In contrast, New Zealand took a single hit,
and lost only one crewmember, a pet canary.
The battlecruiser returned to visit New Zealand in
1919, carrying Admiral Lord Jellicoe on a good will tour of the Dominions. She was shortly afterward decommissioned, and
was scrapped in 1922 as part of international arms reduction efforts.
Battlecruisers were known for the weakness of their armor,
but H.M.S. New Zealand was clearly much better protected than
most. And the tiki and piu-piu? Well, they’re preserved at a museum in New Zealand,
but are apparently not currently on exhibit.