March 1918

Blood is Thicker Than Water

Volume 3, Issue 1


WHEN the American Public noted in the morning papers of June 10 that Major General John J. Pershing, Commander of our Armies to be sent to France, had at last disembarked from the Baltic and set foot on British soil, they read there with satisfaction that the military bands greeted him with but one air, that to which the national hymns: "America" and "God Save the King" are set. But there were a few of us, American Marines, who were filled with greater pride in reading this welcome news. We saw there that the Guard of Honor that presented arms to our most distinguished soldier was composed of a battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the famous Twenty-Third Regiment of Foot. For the selection of the Welsh for that duty is of particular significance to all Americans; the Twenty-Third Foot is the only regiment of British regular infantry that has ever served with regular forces of the United States in battle against a common enemy. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the Twenty-Third Regiment of Foot, has a record of distinguished service covering more than two centuries. Called into being in 1689, it was created to take part there in the struggle of William of Orange, on the English throne, against the well organized attempts of a mighty Bourbon military autocrat, to force his will upon other freer but less disciplined nations of Europe. History is now repeating itself in this particular-the Twenty-Third is now engaged again in a like struggle with the greatest of military autocrats of all times, in a cause in which the American people are also consecrated-it is, therefore, most fitting that all Americans should know the famous Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the circumstances of their previous service with the United States Forces.

It was during the Boxer Uprising in China, in the summer of 1900, that we, of the United States Marines, formed our acquaintance with the Twenty-Third Foot. When General (then Major) Waller of the Marine Corps landed at Taku, China, with a battalion of American Marines hurriedly dispatched from the Philippines, he was joined by a battalion of the Royal Welsh. There at the mouth of the Pieho River, more than fifty years before, Captain Josiah Tattnall, of the United States Navy, on the American manof-war "Toeywan," uttered his memorable words "Blood is thicker than water," words forever to be cherished by all the English speaking peoples. But the Royal Welsh and the American Marines there wrote these words into actual deeds, for almost with their arrival they became engaged in battle against the common enemy. These British and American forces were at once merged into a column in military operations, having for their immediate object the relief of the Tientsin Foreign Concessions near the Walled City of Tientsin where European and American residents, including women and children, were beleaguered under fire of hostile Chinese troops associated with the Boxer rebels. With them later came Russian, Italian, Japanese and other forces. Tientsin stood squarely on the way to Peking. It had to be taken first. These forces accomplished this task; opened up the Concessions after marching ninety-seven miles in all directions in five days, fighting all the way, living on one meal a day for the entire time. With them there was a force of British bluejackets under command of Admiral (then Commander) Cradock, Royal Navy, whom we remember now as the British Commander who more recently went to his death on his flagship, the Good Hope, in battle early in the great war between his fleet and the German under Von Spee. But the writer's acquaintance with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers came later, for after the Tientsin Foreign Concessions were relieved it became necessary immediately to take the walled city of Tientsin, a sterner task. So on the night of July 12 all available troops were collected at the Concessions for an early morning attack the day following. In the darkness of that night we American Marines assembled on Victoria Road in the British Concession. The Twenty-Third Foot came up and halted in our immediate presence. Presently the word was given to advance, "Royal-Welsh!" was the command instead of our "Forward -March!" and away went those khaki clad British soldiers into the darkness, the Marines following. When dawn came on the open plain on our left there was revealed to us the deployed skirmish line of the Welsh with the khaki covered helmets standing clear on the sky line. But on the backs of the British officers we noted something black in the shape of a triangle. "A good idea," we thought, "the men will know their officers in the scrimmage but the enemy in front will see no difference in the dress of either." But we thought no more of that for interesting things immediately began to happen to us. But, later in the day, after we had advanced under fire with heavy losses, we finally reached a position from which we could proceed no farther. We were then under the walls of the fortified city of Tientsin on the extreme left of the line, the exposed flank, and there we were joined by the Royal Welsh. We promptly "dug in" together, prepared to stay. In this effort we got to know the British officers better. When we had settled there to stick we turned to Captain Gwynne, who commanded the battalion. Noting that the black triangle was of ribbons, we mentioned that we thought it a clever idea so to distinguish their officers to their men and not to the enemy's snipers. "Not so," said Gwynne. "It serves that purpose here, but such is not the object. These ribbons are the 'flash' preserved by us in memory of our service in America during your Revolutionary War." Then we pressed him for particulars. He said: "When we left England for the American Colonies before your battle of Lexington, and during our service there, everyone wore pigtails or queues, soldiers and civilians alike. Our active service began at Bunker Hill and did not end until the surrender at Yorktown. Afterwards the Twenty-Third reached England, went to Martinique and San Domingo, then later to Nova Scotia. There we learned, a year or more after its discontinuance, that the pigtail was no longer in fashion. As we were the last regiment to wear the queue we took the black velvet ribbons with which the periwig was tied and sewed them to the backs of the collars of our tunics. Years after, at Gosport, the Inspector General wanted to know what those ribbons were doing there. He declared there was nothing in the regulations so authorizing, and ordered their discontinuance. Consternation filed us, but our Colonel appealed to the War Office. Sir Francis Gordon, at one time our Colonel, was then Quartermaster General of Forces; his influence we at once sought. And so, very shortly afterwards, an order was given which read: 'The King has been graciously pleased to approve the "flashies" now worn by the officers of the Twenty-Third Foot, or Royal Welsh Fusiliers, being henceforth worn and established as a peculiarity whereby to mark the dress of that distinguished regiment.' "All of which was told us while we were under the constant fire of the Chinese, with our own American dead and the British dead and wounded all about us. "And so you fought at Bunker Hill," we said. "Yes," said Captain Gwynne, "and you jolly well shot us up there. Some sort of an order given your people to wait until we got to the top of the hill. At least our regimental history so states." "Yes," we said, "every American schoolboy knows that that order was, 'Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.'" "Well," said the British officer, "It cost us 800 men out of 1,200 that day. But this is all history. It's all over. But it is worth noting here, that this is a proud day for us, for this is the first time in the history of the two nations that the regular forces of each have acted together against a common enemy." So we became real friends, to remain so forever. And Major Waller wrote in his official report: "I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the officers of the Fusiliers. This battalion has been at our side since June 23. They have responded to my orders with the greatest alacrity and willingness, all the officers and men ready to go anywhere." And the British Brigadier General Dorward, who commanded our left wing before Tientsin, not to be outdone by Waller, declared in his report:

"I desire to express the high appreciation of the British troops of the honor done them in serving alongside their comrades of the American Army during the long and hard fight ing of the 13th instant and the subsequent capture of Tientsin City, and of my own appreciation of the high honor accorded to me by having them under my command.

"The American troops formed a part of the front line of the British attack and so had more than their share of the fighting that took place. The ready and willing spirit of the officers and men will always make their command easy and pleasant and when one adds to that the steady gallantry and power of holding on to extreme positions, which they displayed on the 13th instant, the result is soldiers of the highest class."

But there are many other things that might have been told us about the Royal Welsh we have since learned.

The Honorable Sir William Howe, Knight of the Bath and Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's armies in America after Gage and until 1777, was designated to that high command from service as a Colonel of the Royal Welsh. When he was relieved as Commander-in-Chief and Sir Henry Clinton designated in his stead, his brother, the famous Admiral Howe, came to American shores in command of the British fleet. At that time the French had openly come to our help with a French squadron, stronger than that of Admiral Howe, under the command of Count d'Estaigne, ready to dispute with the British the control of American seas. Howe's ships were insufficiently manned; he had no marines; he needed soldiers and made his wants known. Out of compliment to their former Colonel's brother, the Royal Welsh volunteered for this duty. The fleet went into engagement with the French, but a gale dispersed them. But there were isolated fights, the most notable of which was hat of the French Caesar, a seventy-two, with the British Isis, of fifty guns, where the British ship carried a light infantry company of the Twenty-Third. In Howe's report to the Admiralty, he made particular mention of the spirited and gallant behavior of the Royal Welsh.

During its two hundred years of existence, this famous regiment has been the recipient of many honors. The Prince of Wales' Feathers, The Red Dragon and the Rising Sun are the badges of the Prince of Wales. They were given to the Welsh for its services in the Marlborough campaigns, when George the First, in 1714, conferred on them the title "The Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Welsh Fusiliers." To commemorate this distinction, it advances to the command of "Royal-Welsh!" instead of to our "Forward-March!" And the White Horse of Hanover, the badge of George the second, as granted to the Twenty-Third after the Battle of Dettingen (1743), where the King personally witnessed the regiment's gallantry. The Sphinx was awarded them after the Egyptian campaign in 1801, where the Twenty-Third carried a high disputed sand-hill at the landing. Its battle honors began with Namur (1695) on what is now Belgian soil near which the greater part of the regiment is now fighting in the great war of today. Its honors also include such names as Blenheim, Oudemarde, Egypt, Martinique, Corunna, Salamanca, Peninsula, Waterloo, Inkerman, Sebastapol, Lucknow, Burmah, Peking and Ladysmith. No regiment which, during by far the larger part of its history, has consisted of a single battalion has a list of "battle honor" as long as that of the Twenty-Third Foot. And it is worth mentioning that they were offered the right to inscribe on their colors "Bunker Hill," an honor they declined because that fight, they said, was with Englishmen, and they didn't wish it commemorated. Which expresses in another way what was said more recently by one of our foremost public men, that the Revolution was a revolt against a Teutonic king, George the Third, led by an English gentleman-George Washington.

We are fortunate to know a little of the service of the Royal Welsh in this great war. Four days after its commencement in 1914, its home battalions were assembled at Wrexham depot for service in France. One battalion, however, remained abroad where its service continued in the German Cameroons with the Anglo-French forces under Brigadier General Dobell, a distinguished officer of the Royal Welsh. But the battalions from Wrexham were dispatched immediately to France where they fought and bled in the stress of these times. When after the German advance was hurled back from the Marne, and the modern trench warfare was initiated on the Aisne, after months of the fiercest fighting there occurred an incident, a moment of relaxation, if it may be so called, that many of us read of at the time. On Christmas Eve of 1914, on a sector manned respectively on opposites sides by the Saxons and the British, the firing suddenly ceased, but not by orders. The Saxons shouted out first, "Don't shoot." The British lads held up their hands in assent. A barrel of beer came over the trenches. And the British in return gave over surplus rations the Saxons were eager to get. These British troops who responded to this invitation were none other than the famous Twenty-Third, the Royal Welsh, the old associates in China of the United States Marines. Let us remember that Christmas Eve of 1914, and those Saxons, our enemies now, in the great war of today. The carol chorus that arose from the German trenches that night came from hearts that for the time being expressed "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Mankind." Their ways are not our ways now, though their strain is in the Anglo-Saxon stock. But their song silenced for the time the crack of the rifles of the snipers levelled across "No Man's Land." "You English there, why don't you come out?" the Saxons called. And the candles then burned along the parapets that were hitherto guarded with ceaseless vigilance. A British chaplain gave to a Saxon colonel a copy of the English Soldier's Prayer, and in return received a cigar with a message for the bereaved family of a certain wounded British officer who had recently died a prisoner of war. And on the following Christmas day, the Saxons and Welsh buried their dead, and even played together a game of football, which the Saxons won. That such things could have occurred in the midst of war seems unbelievable to us, but that they did occur there can be no mistake; it brings back our faith in the virtues of all mankind. But that truce was not an official truce, for no Kaiser willed or authorized it. It came from the hearts of those who were bearing the brunt of the war, but it expressed a sentiment upon which in the end the world will once again be united in a "Peace on Earth and a Good Will to Mankind."

The aims of the great democracies in this great struggle are clear to all English-speaking peoples and to all others allied with us in this great struggle. We know the part we are to play in making this world safe for democracy; we know our task to establish in the end a league of honor under which an enduring peace for all mankind is possible. The resources of the entire nation have been pledged to the fulfillment of these aims. And, in this connection, something else was taught to the Marines in China by these self-same Fusiliers, but in this case by an humble private who served in their ranks. Toward the close of that eventful day before Tientsin, the 13th of July, when we British and Americans had fought together for 12 long hours in the broiling sun, without food or water, with ammunition wellnigh exhausted, it became necessary-in fact it was imperative-that a message be sent back to General Dorward, British Army, our Brigade Commander, giving him an account of our condition. Captain Gwynne asked for an orderly: "A nippy chap," he cried out, and a little Tommy Atkins was sent him. He was told by Gwynne of the message he was to carry, he repeated it back to show that he understood it, and then said, "Might I choose me own way?" Now the field in the rear of us was well covered with the enemy's fire. "Of course," said the Welsh captain. We were not concerned with the manner or method in which he carried the message; all that we wanted was that it should be delivered, so that we might receive in reply the Brigade Commander's instructions. He had a right to choose his own way.

So has it been with us in the great task to which we, from our hearts, have set our efforts. No other nation, no other peoples, pointed to us the way in which we should come into this great war. We choose our own way, and gladly and willingly have we entered it, knowing at last that it was God's will that we should be there. And so must it be with all others who will yet come with us when the truth is known; when all peoples recognize the Divine purpose of this struggle. We know that the brotherhood of man as taught by that lowly Nazarene at whose birth there came the message of "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Mankind," seems to have been almost forgotten in that German Empire, where the only gospel preached today is the Prussion pretension that "might makes right." We know that there can be no good will between all men until there be peace and we also know there can be no enduring peace without good will to all. Well, therefore, should we remember what was voiced on that Christmas Eve from the hearts of those Saxons chained, unknowingly to them, to the wheels of the Prussian military despotism we are seeking now to destroy. That there is no room in this world for two such systems, autocracy and democracy, so directly opposed in principle to each other, we, the English speaking peoples, are certain. But there are not many of us who know from what source came that system of democracy we purpose to maintain. The body of Anglo-Saxon rights such as representative government, trial by jury, no taxation without representation, free speech, free press, habeas-corpus, the right of petition, the right of protest, the right of public assembly, owe their origin to beginnings of fifteen hundred years ago. All through the Dark Ages and in Middle Ages, and in modern times down to the abolition of slavery, these rights have been held and added to by the Anglo-Saxon race. But they did not come as summer breezes; most of them came in storm and stress, for many centuries Anglo-Saxon skies have resounded with combats for liberties, while the German in Germany knew nothing of this. For, during all those centuries, liberty has been dumb in Germany. But none the less the very germ of the institutions we enjoy, the liberty we fight for and propose to spread the world over, came from the ancestors of those very Saxons who declared that informal and unofficial truce that recent Christmas night. Their forefathers carried representative government from the forests of Germany into England. With them, it flourished in the hundred-moot, the shire-moot and the folk-moot. Puny and imperfect, but well defined, the seed found lodgment on English soil; there it was nourished and has grown into the institutions we cherish today. From these moots of the Saxons and the Angles there have grown parliaments, congresses, legislatures and constitutions, and governments expressive of the public will, the very institutions we, with all other great democracies, all liberty-loving peoples, are consecrated in arms to defend, lest they be crushed absolutely. In the proper hands the fulfillment of that task is entrusted; we, the people, will finally attain the goal by manifesting in this conflict a love for our ideals as deep as the ocean, animated by a patriotism as eternal as the stars.

By courtesy of the Century Publishing Company, of New York.