Early in the Spanish Civil War, a British parliamentary delegation went to Madrid on a “fact finding” mission. Although undertaken at the behest of LabourParty, the delegation include a number of Conservative Party members, some ofwhom were uneasy about the nature of the Spanish Republic. Naturally, the group was accompanied by severalreporters, among whom was Geoffrey Cox, of the leftist New Chronicle, who told an amusing tale in his book The Defence of Madrid (London: 1937), one of the earliest treatments of thewar.
It seems that one of the visiting Britons was a crusty oldTory MP who was distinctly hostile to the Republic. Almost literally at every turn he expressedconsiderable criticism about everything the delegation saw and heard. Until that is, one day.
By chance, while the parliamentary delegation was visiting Madrid, a number ofNationalist bombers appeared overhead. They began dropping bombs, sparking considerable panic. The Britons, leftists, rightists, and inbetweens, all fled for cover.
Then, quite suddenly, a Republican fighter appeared,plunging out of the sky with machine guns blazing to down one of the attackers,whereupon the crusty old MP cried out, “It’s one of ours!”
“What has Become of Your General Eel?”
As a young man, Jean-BaptisteDrouet (1765-1844), joined theFrench Royal Army, and shortly rose to corporal. Then came the Revolution, which sparked thelong wars with Britainand pretty much every other country in Europefor nearly 25 years. Drouet rose quicklyduring the wars, fighting on many a field and ultimately being made the Countd’Erlon by Napoleon, for whom he commanded the I Corps of the Army of the Northduring the Waterloo Campaign. Followingthe final defeat of Napoleon, d’Erlon went into exile for about a decade, butwas then restored to the army as a major general. In 1834 King Louis Philippe made d’Erlongovernor of Algiers.
Not long afterwards, a new British Consul-General arrived,and he quite naturally paid a courtesy call on d’Erlon. After the usual exchange of pleasantries overrefreshments, the Count began talking about “the good old days,” during thewars.
Paying his host a compliment, d’Erlon said, “What brave menare your British soldiers., and how loyal their officers.” He went on in this vein for some time, reminiscingabout the brotherhood of arms and chivalry among warriors, recalling incidentsfrom his days in Spain during the Peninsular War, albeit, like many an oldsoldier, conveniently omitting recollections of the atrocities and brutality thatcharacterized the fighting by both sides. After a time, the Count asked his guest, “Tell me, what became of yourGeneral Eel? I had many parlays withthat gallant man.”
The Consul-General was caught off guard, having never heard of ageneral so-named. But in a moment, allbecame clear. One of his aides leanedover and quietly suggested that d’Erlon was perhaps referring to GeneralLord Hill. Thus enlightened, theConsul-General was happy to inform the Count that the Hill was in fine healthand serving as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, a matter that leftd’Erlon quite happy.
Years later, recounting the incident, the Consul wouldremark that when d’Erlon asked about “General Eel,” he’d thought to himself, “Whois this military fish?”
As for d’Erlon, well, he continued in the French Army,rising to marshal in 1843.
Sic Transit . . . .
On February 22, 2007, Howard V. Ramsey passed away. He was the last surviving combat veteran ofthe American Expeditionary Force during World War I. Ramsey, a resident of Oregon, was 109 years old. Born in Colorado in 1898, Ramsey enlisted in theArmy as a volunteer, being underage by the terms of the draft at the time.
By the time he reached France, in September of 1918,Ramsay was a corporal. He drove trucks, cars,and ambulances, delivering supplies to the front or retrieving wounded troops,often under enemy artillery fire. Following the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Ramsey spent seven months assisting inthe recovery of the remains of dead American soldiers before returning to the United Statesin mid-1919.
Although three men still survive of the 4.7 millionAmericans who served in World War, none of them saw combat.