The Thin Red Line

Posted by John Milligan on August 01, 2003

In Reply to: Several points posted by Phil on July 17, 2003

: I was interested to read through the website and had the following miscellaneous comments:

: Bell, Book & Candle: is also taken up by Shakespeare:
: "Bell, book and candle shall not drive me back,
: When gold and silver becks me to come on"
: King John

: "Behind every successful man ...": I read somewhere that Voltaire wrote that: "Behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law".

: "Beware Greeks ..." is from the Aeneid: "Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentis". = Do not trust the horse, Trojans.
: Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts. (Aeneid 2.48)

: "Play the race card": this was a follow on from the nineteenth century phrase to "play the orange card" which Randolph Churchill used to describe his tactic of appealing to the Protestant / Unionist cause.
: POSH - it might be for the P&O's India run (where it was better to avoid the sun) - but it could also have been for the North Atlantic run (where people did want the sun)

: Ship shape and Bristol fashion: I've never used this to mean'ready to go' but rather to mean "in really well kept condition". The origin is that the old port of Bristol had the second highest tide in the world and the sailing ships needed to be especially well tied up to the quay to prevent them being damaged by the falling tide.

: "The thin red line": This is not 'Jingoistic folklore in the UK had it that a small group of British soldiers were good enough to hold back a mob of warlike foreigners'. It is in fact a reference to a historical event in the Crimean War where Campbell's Gordon (?) Highlanders stood firm against a Russian charge. Because the British regiment was so undermanned, Campbell had to draw up his line two deep instead of the normal three. The exploit was no mean feat in its day and a cause for some pride.

: "Willy nilly": yes it is "willing not willing" but only indirectly. The original phrase was the Latin "volens nolens" which means the same thing. In the old days the Latin letter 'v' was often pronounced 'w' by English schoolmasters. It still is, but not as often as in the past.

:The Thin Red Line: I concur that this phrase has nothing to do with jingoism.
In the mid 19th Century there was an understanding between officers and men (It may even have been enshrined in the 1847 Enlistment Act)that British Infantry would never be asked to stand and face an enemy onslaught in less than three ranks. The retreat would be sounded rather than allowing this to happen.
But it was a do or die situation at the Battle of Balaclava on October 25th 1864 (just prior to The Charge of the Light Brigade).
Colin Campbell's 93rd Highlanders (Argyll and Sutherland)stood in just 2 ranks and faced a Russian Cavalry charge.It was here that the phrase originated.
The 93rd stood their ground.
It was an act of extreme courage that should be
lauded - not dismissed as "jingoism". I'd have **** my pants and run!