Saturday 8 September 2012

Prince Harry and the Prince Imperial

LONDON — Britain's Prince Harry is back in Afghanistan to serve as a military helicopter pilot four years after his previous deployment there had to be cut short, the Ministry of Defence said on Friday.
The 27-year-old, who hit the headlines last month after he was photographed nude during a wild week of partying in Las Vegas, will spend four months based at Camp Bastion in the restive Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.

One of the loonier stories doing the rounds is a tinfoil hatter about the prince using this announcement to rehabilitate himself after his Vegas shenanigans.  Only those who believe everything is a conspiracy could believe that. Firstly, the MOD does not post a Prince to a war zone, without pre planning and a major security operation. Secondly, the pictures did no harm to Harry at all, except in the editorials of some faux moral newspaper columnists, anxious to show they had learned to behave after Leveson.

Its still very dangerous to send a royal into battle, so we tend not to do it. The skeptics might say that the Prince is in the heart of the British army's base in Helmand. He will never be alone unescorted. He flies the most powerful helicopter in the world, against backward, barbaric, tribesman armed with ancient weapons. .. That is all true. 

But it was a comparable situation for Louis Napoleon, Prince Imperial of France, only son of Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the infamous dictator, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. He was in a British army camp of several thousand soldiers. Protected by artillery and machine guns. He was placed under strict non combat orders and everywhere he went he was accompanied by a large armed guard. He was fighting a backward,barbaric,tribal people armed mostly with weapons of ridiculous inferiority.

Young Louis was last of the bloodline of the Bonarpartists and hopes of a revival of that factions fortunes, rested with him. The Napoleon family lived in exile in England, fleeing there after France's and Napoleon III's defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. The old ex emperor died in 1873 leaving his only son.

The son was made a Grenadier on his birth. He took the review of the troops of France when he was two. His father wanted his son to be a part of the families great military tradition and so he was always surrounded by military men and uniforms and parades. He wore his uncle's sword. But he wasn't a good student. Handsome, athletic, rich, pampered, personable and charming he was a very popular young man in the social circles of London. Well liked by all , but especially by rank and file who he , unusually for the age, especially considering his social status and the class system of the times, he wanted to befriend. But he never learned military tactics or military methods.

After the British invasion of Zululand in 1879 and the terrible defeat of the army at Isandlwana a call for many more troops and officers went out. Men were rushed from all over the British Empire to Natal and prince Louis demanded he go. He had been an officer cadet at the royal Woolwich arsenal, earning the respect of his social inferiors. He was liked for his ability to muck in and take his fair turn at the duties as any commoner. He wanted to go to war. The head of the army had no concerns, although prime minister Disraeli was worried.  His mother Empress Eugene pressed Queen Victoria and eventually the prince went to South Africa, with the honourary rank of lieutenant.

Lord Chelmsford, who had more than enough to worry about, having already lost half his army in the war, really didn't need the headache. He attached the prince to his headquarters staff and insisted that the prince be accompanied everywhere by an armed escort and never get into danger.

The prince became friends with a lieutenant Carey, and Carey was given the task of keeping the bored and impetuous prince out of mischief by finding him something to do. The prince was a good sketch artist and had some topographical skill so he went out with the cavalry patrols when they were searching for the next camp and minor reconnaissance duties. On one patrol to check a stream Carey arranged for 80 lancers to accompany them.  On its return he and the prince were teased mercilessly about needing such protection from a few Zulu herdsmen.

On the next patrol, which the Prince insisted hurry along, they left without a full escort. There were just six irregular troopers, Carey a guide and the prince. Their orders were to reconnoiter the area and select a camp site for the advancing troops. The party went deeper into Zululand than they had been instructed. They searched some deserted Zulu homesteads and spent the afternoon resting by a river confident that the area had already been surveyed for possible Zulu presence. No lookout was posted. As they were preparing to leave...
..about 40 Zulus fired upon them and rushed toward them screaming. The Prince's horse dashed off before he could mount, the Prince clinging to a holster on the saddle - after about a hundred yards a strap broke, and the Prince fell beneath his horse and his right arm was trampled. He lost his sword, that once belonged to his uncle Napoleon Bonaparte.  He leapt up, drawing his revolver with his left hand, and started to run - but the Zulus could run faster. The Prince was speared in the thigh but pulled the assegai from his wound. As he turned and fired on his pursuers, another spear struck his left shoulder. The Prince tried to fight on, using the assegai he had pulled from his leg, but, weakened by his wounds, he sank to the ground and was overwhelmed; 
His body had eighteen assegai wounds, five deemed to be mortal. One had penetrated his heart and another had been stabbed through the right eye which had burst it, and penetrated his brain.

 The future emperor Napoleon IV was dead. He was barely twenty-three years old.

Two of his escort had been killed and another was missing. Lt. Carey and the four men remaining came together about fifty yards from where the Prince made his final stand—but not a single shot did they fire at the Zulus..

The outcry was unprecedented. France went into turmoil. Now everyone loved the dead prince, where previously he was held in esteem only by a minority. Some claimed it was all a plot by Queen Victoria. In England more newspapers sold about the Prince's death than about the earlier Rourke's drift and Isandlwana battles.  Mass was held in every Catholic church in England.  He was the last of the line.

Lt. Carey's very bad day actually got worse. On his way back to camp he met Evelyn Wood and Redvers Buller, two larger than life Victorian military figures. Carey waved them down and said "The prince imperial is killed."
"Where sir? Where is his body?" Buller and Wood used a telescope and could  see Zulus taking away some horses.
"Where are your men sir? How many did you lose?"
"I don't know," said the dejected Carey. "They're behind me."
"You ought to be shot! I hope you will be. I could shoot you myself," cried Buller. 
Both Wood and Buller were very brave. Both were VC holders.

None of that did Carey much good at his court martial. No officer had greeted him warmly since his first return. After a week he begged for a court of inquiry to clear his name. The court found him guilty, and in truth much of the fault for the disaster was his. You can read it here .In hindsight the Prince should have been retained at the headquarters as a staff officer and not left to go roving at all. But having made the decision to allow the prince some movement the orders to restrict those movements were very clear.
Carey was cashiered but the court recommended mercy.  By the time Carey returned to England his inquiry's sentence had been overturned by Queen Victoria, after special pleading from Louis' mother , who wanted no one to suffer further. Chelmsford was exonerated but most people still blamed him anyway even though he had his ADC's written instructions.  To take care that the Prince was not to go out without an escort when working for him, and in the matter of escort to treat him, not as a royal person, but the same as any other officer, taking all due precautions. ”  
Carey was free to return to his regiment.

He continued to insist on his complete innocence and wanted to be absolved. He wrote the Empress Eugene repeatedly. He wanted her to meet with him, so vindicating him. In the end she released a letter that Carey's wife had sent her to comfort her. The letter, written the night after the princes' death, stated clearly how Carey had panicked and fled. How he had allowed the prince to issue orders, even though he had no official command. And how he failed to make reconnaissance properly, had not posted lookouts and ridden beyond their orders. Carey was destroyed.
Bizarrely he went back to his regiment where he was sent to Coventry and no brother officer ever spoke a friendly word to him ever again. He stayed,in this odd life, for six years, before dying after being kicked in the groin by a horse.
All the prince's wounds had been to his front. He had stood and faced seven or more attackers bravely. Another Victorian legend, General Garnet Wolsey, who arrived in Natal to take command  just as Lord Chelmsford finally won the war,  could never understand the fuss over the prince's demise.

"A plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?"


Elby the Beserk said...

"A plucky young man, and he died a soldier's death. What on earth could he have done better?"

Dulce et decorum est pro someone else's patria mori?

Raedwald said...

Ah, Bill - a story I know well, and I have to warn that all may not have been as remembered in the rosy glow of Imperial pride. At the 'Shop' he was not universally popular with fellow Sapper and Gunner cadets; being highly strung, highly bred and highly spirited he demanded a fair amount of forgiving.

And in Zululand he would keep haring off after stray Zulus, careless both of good discipline and the welfare of those charged with protecting him. Reckless is the appropriate word. Self willed, spoilt and selfish are also good words.

His corpse was utterly rotten by the time they got it back to James Wyatt's guardhouse at the Arsenal, but someone had made a death mask whilst he was still fresh and this can still be seen - with assegai wound above and below the eye.

He was undoubtedly brave, and popular with the rank and file as bad officers often are. As a child, being treated for a scraped arse, he was mortified that he had taken a wound 'from behind' and expressed the hope that all his future wounds would 'be in front'. He got his wish, and died with courage.

Electro-Kevin said...

At last. Harry is safe.

I think he's great.

Why the Apache training ? Surely a waste of human resource in straitened times given his limited availability. He could have participated in another, none combative, role. He wants to pop off a few at the enemy and be with his mates. What young man wouldn't ?

The other issue is that he's the grandson of the head of the Church of England.

How can we easily deny that this is a crusade against Islam if the charge is levelled against us ?

Sebastian Weetabix said...


I suspect the CofE is sufficiently effete and left wing these days not to give rise to accusations of Christianity.

What was it Sir Humphrey said?
'the Church of England is primarily a social organisation, not a religious one. No one believes in it minister, but we all feel better because it is there'

Bill Quango MP said...

A young man bred on stories of triumph and heroism. He was most concerned with honour.
Duelling had only just become outlawed.

Blue Eyes said...

Isn't the Harry conspiracy theory the wrong way around right from the off? The Las Vegas trip was a pre-deployment steam let-off, I thought. At least that was how it was reported at the outset.

Bill Quango MP said...

Raedwald: impetuous and rash undoubtedly. But he was quite well liked in England. This is unusual because he was a royal, privileged, spoilt frog. Nephew of the bogeyman of our island's mortal enemy.

He was certainly reckless. But he had not had proper military training. A report at the time said he was playing at soldiers. What was meant that he hadn't been trained to lead military formations.

This might be true of Harry. Not to denigrate him, but is he being trained exactly as a junior officer might be?
Has he ever commanded in battle?
The Prince Imperial would have been fine if he'd always Had a competent and experienced and clearly senior officer with him.

It is one of those remarkable tales though isn't it? Lord Chelmsford's backers seem to have lost the battle to exonerate him and in more modern accounts of the Zulu war he is a villain again.
When the news reached him if he hadnt already given up trying to explain his earlier defeat,

he must have thought " we'll, that's the end of me"

Always dangerous sending a target into battle.
The Zulus claim that if they had known who he was he would not have been killed. Honour amongst great chiefs. The Zulus were a royal family.
The Taliban would probably say the same but for hostage purposes.

Sw. Yes minister is iplayer radio 4 at the moment. Almost every episode has a plot that is still current. NHS waste is the one now. Still talking about it 30 years after the episode first aired.

Electro-Kevin said...

Sebastian - Ha ha.

BQ - Ooh. I wouldn't say he's a target - more the opposite.

Quite easy to view the young Christian Royal as a bit "Yeeeehaw !" dugga-dugga-dugga...

It seems a bit provocative to me. Though I love it that the Royals' boys are doing their bit when the politicians' aren't.

Anonymous said...

AFAIK Harry is the gunner, not the Apache pilot. Easy to confuse at the gunner sets in the forward position.