Black and Tans were freedom fighters


The Black and Tans were freedom fighters

The Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve is commonly know by the opprobrious soubriquet the Black and Tans. This title has to mention that nickname since the proper name of this body of men is not widely recognized. RICSR is much maligned. A century of contumely has been poured on this force. There is much disinformation abroad about RICSR. It is high time that the record be set straight.

Some people will be enraged that anyone should ask reasonable questions about accusations levelled at the RICSR. Raising doubts about contentious topics will caused many Irish republicans to throw a temper tantrum. That the RICSR were villains is an article of faith for them. Any rehabilitation of these much-maligned men however nuanced is unacceptable to them. Many people have deeply entrenched prejudices on this issue. They have made an emotional investment in a certain viewpoint. It becomes part of an identity. Casting aspersions on the name of the RICSR somehow demonstrates one’s patriotic credentials. A balanced and objective analysis of history is not what partisan people want to read. Fury is no substitute for logic and a dispassionate examination of the truth.

It was an Irish journalist William Howard Russell who acerbically observed ‘the first casualty of war is truth.’ Spot on! During the Irish Troubles of 1916-21 the republican movement considered besmirching the reputation of the Crown Forces to be a key objective. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) had its own propaganda department. It was patently adept in its role. The republican movement denied the many large-scale atrocities committed by the German Army in Belgium. Yet when it came to Ireland’s own police force the IRA was only too eager to demonise it. Assassination of the body was accompanied by assassination of the character.

The Crown Forces were doing what any security force is entirely legally entitled to do: quell a revolt. Ireland was lawfully UK sovereign territory. No sovereign state disputed that. The UK had been recognized as the United Kingdom of Great Britain AND IRELAND by every other sovereign state. Ireland was part of the UK due to the decision of our own Irish Parliament. At every election since 1800 almost every MP elected wanted to stay part of the UK albeit under a Home Rule arrangement in many cases. One election when Sinn Fein did well by huge scale fraud and intimidation did not change that. There was an is no right of secession under the UK constitution. A state has the right to maintain its territorial integrity as international courts have attested on numerous occasions. The IRA was there to oppress people. The Crown Forces were there to guarantee freedom of expression, fair trials, free elections, trade and security of person and property.

In 1919 an irregular conflict was started by the IRA killing two Irish police officers at Soloheadbeg. The ostensible objective of the IRA was to steal some gelignite that the officers were guarding. Dan Breen could not get his story straight. Was it to steal the explosives or to kill the men? If it was the former then this mission was an ignominious failure since the IRA abandoned the stolen gelignite only a mile away. You will not find that part of it mentioned in any republican account of this escapade. The IRA proceeded to tyrannise and terrorise.

The IRA started plundering houses, burning down buildings of all sorts, issuing death threats, meeting out savage beatings, slaughtering civilians and suchlike. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) did its best to combat the crime wave. The RIC were assassinated in significant numbers. Some of those shot were wounded not killed. The RIC also suffered attrition from people reaching retirement age and men dying through natural causes. By 1920 Ireland was perhaps the most perilous place on earth for a police officer. As you might expect very few men were volunteering for the RIC.

We are often exposed to panegyrics to the IRA. They appear to have been actuated by the worthiest of motives and never mere loot in such flattering accounts.

The IRA had killed so many officers and cowed so many people that the RIC was unable to function as an ordinary police forces in many counties. The RIC’s role became primarily counterinsurgent in about half of Ireland.

IRA violence was not as ubiquitous as you might imagine. Of Ireland’s 32 counties there were a couple of counties in which not a single RIC officer was killed.

Because of the paucity of police officers in Ireland it was needful to make up the shortfall from elsewhere. There were always a few non-Irish officers in the RIC. It was decided to form the RIC Special Reserve. The aim was to make up for the shortage of manpower in the RIC. The government advertised for former soldiers, sailors and airmen to enlist in the RIC. So soon after the end of the First World War Great Britain had a couple of million demobilized servicemen who had not yet found work. Because there was so much joblessness many men applied.

The government was frank with applicants that their task in Ireland was to combat the IRA and that this was hazardous in the extreme. The volunteers were rushed through training. They would not perform many normal police duties such as dealing with cattle rustling or finding lost children. In March 1920 the first RIC Special Reserve officers arrived in Ireland. They had to operate like gendarmerie.

The lie has long been abroad that the RICSR were the dregs of prisons. As policemen they were barred from joining if they had a criminal record. This is a flagrant and provable lie: that the RICSR was full of criminals or indeed had any members at all with a criminal record. The fact that republican propaganda makes so much of propagating this lie casts grave doubt on their veracity on other more tendentious questions.

The IRA were deeply worried about these reinforcements for the RIC. All these RIC Special Reserve men had combat experienced. They might not be as much of a pushover as the regular RIC most of whom had never been in combat until the IRA attacked. The IRA was therefore hellbent on besmirching the reputation of the RIC Special Reserve. The regular RIC was fairly popular until 1916. Thereafter there was some animus towards the RIC from republican minded people. If the RIC Special Reserve was something towards which the man in the street felt indifferent or even sympathetic then the conflict would be more difficult for the IRA.

The IRA did not adore their enemy. That is hardly surprising. They worked hard to destroy their enemy physically and in reputation. That wanted to create a stigma about serving in RICSR.

Within weeks of the RIC Special Reserve arriving in Ireland a Limerick comedian had dubbed them the black and tans after a local pack of hounds. The drollery stuck. These men were clad in a mélange of the bottle green uniforms of the RIC and khaki uniforms left over from the British Army. The RICSR was supposed to plug the gaps in the regular RIC. It did not work very well. The regular RIC officers had served for decades in many cases. They had their way of doing things. They were Irish and knew the locality and in some cases the Irish language. The RICSR were ex-soldiers mostly and few had any policing experience. They were most English, Scots and Welsh and very few spoke Irish. They were overwhelmingly Protestant which caused some animus. They were not au fait with the RIC way of doing things. They were handsomely remunerated which caused resentment among RIC officers who had served their whole careers on lower pay.

Lurid tales were told about savage act supposedly committed by the RICSR. One of these had them capturing several men and cutting off the tongue of one and various body parts of others. This fanciful story was retailed in the British House of Commons. But no corroborative testimony was ever evinced. Where did this happen? When? To whom? The victims would easily be identified if they existed. A lie is half-way around the world before the truth has got its pants on. Once people have a certain notion embedded in their minds it is very difficult to dislodge it. Many have developed a strong and emotive attachment to the idea that the RICSR was fiendish and sadistic. No amount of reason or evidence can disabuse certain persons of this misapprehension.

Tom Barry was the commandant of the West Cork flying column of the IRA. He was a thorn in the flesh of the Crown Forces and outfoxed them frequently. It would be had to find a more prejudiced source. He was briefly chief of staff of the IRA in the late 1930s. Barry wrote in his memoir Guerrilla Days in Ireland that the RICSR used to drive around West Cork and take pot shots at civilians. They tried to scare people but occasionally shot them dead. Barry does not cite a single name, a single date or a single location where this occurred. He lived in Cork his entire life and knew it like the back of his hand. Yet his statement despite lacking any supporting detail is simply accepted as Gospel truth. He also mentioned two incidents in which named men Fr Magner and a young Mr Crowley were killed by the RICSR. These were not random shootings from the back of a lorry. The deaths of two civilians is of course tragic. An RICSR officers was convicted for the murder of the priest. But killing two civilians is not the massive reign of terror by the RICSR that people seem to think pertained in West Cork at the time.

The RIC Special Reserve was not universally loathed as the IRA would have you think. Even among the Catholic majority there were people who were favourably disposed towards the RICSR. Some of these men had Irish girlfriends and indeed wed Irishwomen. Yet we are led to believe that the RICSR was virulently hibernophobic. The celebrated barrister George Carman QC was the progeny of a marriage between and RICSR officer and a Catholic Irishwoman.

The RICSR had to engage in some duties which necessarily caused friction between them and the general public. No one likes being stopped at a roadblock and questioned. No one like having his house searched. People do not like being subject to curfew. But a counterinsurgency necessitates all these methods. It was the IRA who initiated the conflict. None of these disagreeable things would have occurred had the IRA not done so. This unpleasantness was a consequence and not a cause of the conflict. The RICSR did not always carry out these disagreeable duties with tact and courtesy.

In Ireland we enjoyed liberty while the RICSR was there. There were pro-IRA protests and the Crown Forces did not interfere. The IRA were allowed to hold elaborate funerals for their men and these functioned as shows of strength. A remotely oppressive regime would not have stood for this. The GAA was allowed to play its matches despite it being IRA-linked. The GAA was secretly controlled by the Irish Republican Brotherhood as the GAA says on its own website. Many people in the GAA were simply there for sport. However, GAA matches and practices were sometimes used as a cover for IRA meetings. The free press flourished in in 1919-21.  There were certain restrictions in that the First World War was not definitely over until the Treaty of Sevres was founded in 1920. The newspapers were not allowed to publish militarily sensitive information even in 1921 since that would assist IRA attacks. The only attacks on the free press were from the IRA. We know about wrongdoing by the Crown Forces only because the newspapers were free to report such matters.

Contrariwise those who spoke up for the Crown faced condign punishment at the hands of the IRA. It was far riskier to be known to be a unionist in IRA dominated areas than to be known to be a republican in areas where the king’s writ still ran.

The Auxiliaries of the RIC came to Ireland in July 1920. These men were also recruited from overseas chiefly Great Britain but also places as far afield as Canada. They were all officers who had received field promotion in the Great War. The Auxiliaries – known as Auxies – operated in large independent units. That is to say they did not try to fit in with the regular RIC which the RIC Special Reserve tried to with mixed results. The Auxies were often confused with the RICSR. The demeaning term ‘black and tan’ was often used inaccurately to include the Auxies. The Auxies carried out two of the appalling actions committed by the Crown Forces in 1920. That is to say shooting dead 14 people at Croke Park Stadium and burning down Patrick Street in my home town, Cork.

The RICSR mostly operated in areas of high IRA activity. In these zones the IRA had considerable support – perhaps majority support – from the populace. Some people were armchair supporters of the IRA. Others were active in giving succour to the IRA. Certain peopled carried the means of life, ammunition and mail for the IRA. In this wise they acted as the commissariat of the IRA. As in a regular conflict a force would attempt to destroy the enemy’s communications and convoys so too an irregular conflict.  A few people acted as the intelligence department of the IRA. Giving aid and comfort to the king’s enemies in time of war was high treason and punishable by death. The Special Reserve sometimes found arms or a wanted man secreted in a civilian house. The Special Reserve therefore gave the occupants time to remove their chattels before burning it. By the standards of irregular conflict especially in 1920 this was very mild indeed. In other countries huge numbers of people were killed for far less. You might totally disapprove of upholding the unity of the United Kingdom. But leave aside your political inclination for a minute. If you had commanded a counterinsurgent force under suchlike circumstances would you not have ordered houses to be burnt if they had been used to store weapons on enemies on the run?

1922-23 the Irish Free State fought against the IRA. The Free State employed all the methods that the Crown Forces did and a few more besides. The Free State was much harsher on the IRA. No one doubts that at Oriel House, Dublin in particular the Free State used outright torture on a considerable scale. IRA men were allowed to die on hunger strike. Oddly we do not hear Irish republicans lamenting those hunger strikers. We do not read so many moist tales of the suffering visited upon the IRA by the Irish Government? Why not? Racism. It is sheer. Anglophobia. If an Irishman does it then it is acceptable. If an Englishman does even half that then it is not.

The Crown Forces held over 20 000 IRA prisoners at one stage. In the 1919-21 conflict only 24 of them were executed. This is very, very lenient indeed. 99.99% of IRA men captured by the Crown Forces were not put to death. The IRA’s rate of killing Crown Forces members it captured was far higher.

There are a few stories of members of the RIC Special Reserve mistreating prisoners. It would not be surprising if a few of these are true. Police around the world routinely beat up those suspected of serious crimes in the 1920s. In Ireland this was going on in the Garda Siochana in the 1970s with the heavy gang.

There were occasions when the RICSR shot a man shortly after capture. The IRA remembered this with bitterness and said this man was summarily executed and that that is murder. The RICSR often explained that this man tried to make a run for it or tried to grab a weapon. Republicans often dismiss these claims out of hand. How do we know such accounts to be fallacious? The IRA often escaped. IRA men often published boastful accounts of hair’s breadth escapes. As for grabbing weapons in Ernie O’Malley’s The Singing Flame he suggested doing just that just after capture in 1922.

The RIC were police officers and supposed to uphold the law. They did not always do so. But killing a prisoner without just cause was illegal. It was also stupid. The RIC needed information from a prisoner. Dead men tell no tales. Killing prisoners creates a scandal. It also makes the enemy more likely to fight to the death. Why surrender if you will get a bullet through the brain? If you fight on you have a slim chance of survival. Even if you get killed you have the satisfaction of knowing you will take a few enemy with you.

People who have commented on my articles have often thought it disgraceful that someone with an Irish surname should have the temerity to question republican mythology. I am not simply someone with an Irish surname. I am Irish. It is right that Irish people should scrutinize the nationalist narrative that they have been fed for so long.

It is right to pay tribute to the men of the RICSR. I do homage to their gallantry and skill. They battled against a determined and ruthless enemy. The RICSR demonstrated heroism in more than a few engagements. The IRA found it necessary to calumniate their foe precisely because the RICSR achieved a fair degree of success.

One has to be realistic. The conduct of an armed force in an irregular conflict is not going to be inculpable. The behaviour of the RICSR is not above criticism. The men of this force are often held to an impossibly high standard.

Contrast the conduct of the RICSR with other forces battling insurgencies at around the same time. Leave aside political preference for a moment. In the Russian Civil War armies battled partisans on both sides. The Green Army, the Black Army and all sorts of nationalists fought in various quarters of the former Tsarist Empire. In Morocco the Spaniards and the French fought against the Rifs. In the Ottoman Empire the Arab Revolt and the Armenian Dashnak fought against the Sublime Porte. In China warlords fought the central government. In Mexico the Civil War had raged until 1916. In the Philippines the United States had suppressed a struggle for independence. In Serbia the Austro-Hungarians fought against Serbs fighting a guerrilla campaign. In Finland a civil war was in full swing. The list could go on. If you compare the behaviour of the RICSR with the conduct of counter-insurgent forces in any conflict you care to mention the conduct of the RICSR comes out better. Yes, there were felonies committed by a small number of police officers in Ireland. However, the scale and the severity of the wrongdoing is much less than was the norm. This is not what aboutery. Wrongful actions by police officers are always a serious matter. My point is that in the context of an irregular conflict such things always occur. Relative to the conflict in which the RICSR was engaged its behaviour was on the whole commendable.

Nevertheless, discipline was a serious problem in the RICSR. All of these men were veterans of the First World War. Many of them will have suffered from what we would now recognize as post traumatic stress disorder. Some of them must have suffered tics and flashbacks at a time prior to medical science understanding their condition. Their erratic and sometimes alarming behaviour will in some cases be attributable to this. The senior officers tried to uphold discipline. A few RICSR men were sent to prison for crimes committed in Ireland. Dozens of men were dismissed from the RICSR during its brief existence and hundreds of others suffered lesser penalties such as stoppage of pay. It was very difficult to conduct a trial in Ireland in 1920-21. The IRA was determined to destroy the system of justice. Judges were in danger of being assassinated. Witnesses could not testify against the IRA. Witnesses could easily testify against the Crown Forces because of death threats from the IRA.

The IRA might say it was the United Kingdom’s fault for getting into the First World War in the first instance. This moronic line of unreasoning does not do well for the republican cause. Republicans would have us believe that Ireland was also a belligerent in that war but on the side of the Central Powers. In 1916 the IRA started a conflict in Ireland which had been peaceful for half a century. The IRA started to kill their fellow Irishmen and their fellow Britons: men of the RIC and the British Army. The mythical Irish Republic in 1916 was on the German side. So if it was wrong of the UK to get into that war it was also wrong of the ‘Irish Republic’ to do likewise. If the Irish Republic really was a party to the Great War then we lost because we were pro-German. When the United States entered the war in 1917 then Ireland became neutral according to Sinn Fein. With a typical illogic Sinn Fein asked for a place at Versailles despite also saying that we were a neutral country. As the republican movement is so self-contradictory, so irrational and dishonest it is difficult to credit anything else they say.


Not every allegation levelled at RICSR is bogus. There are numerous allegations of theft. I have read claims of an RICSR pointing a gun at a barman and demanding that the man fill his glass with beer. It cannot be proven whether this occurred or not. Even if it did that was one man among several thousand. Clearly armed robbery is reprehensible particularly from a policeman.

Some said that these men were drunk on duty. Looking 100 years in arrear this claim is unfalsifiable. The RIC often went around in lorries singing raucously. This may have been to keep morale up, to demonstrate their sang-froid or simply for glee. But this may have produced the impression that these men were in a crapulous state. To drink on duty is totally against regulations for a police officer. Quite apart from that being inebriated when on duty in a conflict zone is downright dangerous. These men had to keep their wits about them. They needed to have good hand eye coordination because there could be a firefight any time. Being inebriated was a death sentence.

Not a single allegation of rape was made against the RICSR. Rape is a crime that is invariably committed by young men. The RICSR were all young men and were away from their wives and girlfriends. As the RICSR were several thousand strong you might have expected that at least a handful of them would have committed this most detestable crime. But none did. This therefore suggests that the RICSR was better than most armed forces in a conflict situation.

There was severe wrongdoing committed by the Auxiliaries and occasionally the British Army. A very small number of civilians were killed. Every civilian death is regrettable. Security forces should strive to avoid collateral damage. However, it cannot always be obviated even in a regular conflict. Since the IRA operated out of uniform they put the civilian population at risk. Presumably this was partly so the Crown Forces would accidentally kill civilians and thereby make themselves unpopular. The IRA also operated in densely populated areas where civilians were bound to be slain in the crossfire. It was the IRA that repeatedly and deliberately jeopardized civilians.

The RICSR sometimes shot civilians for failing to halt. Why? They had roadblocks and if someone failed to halt they would assume this person was on the run or about to pull a gun. At night these shootings were more common. The RICSR came under fire almost every day. They were understandably jumpy. They were wont to shoot first and ask questions later. In this conflict whoever opened fire first survived.

There are a number of unproven allegations against the RICSR. They are said to have killed the Lord Mayor of Cork Tomas MacCurtain. There is a considerable possibility that they did. He was a senior officer in the IRA. The IRA had no compunction about killing unarmed people including civilians. The RICSR may have had enough of that and simply decided to kill him.  If so then it was wrong to do so and they ought to have arrested him. But the hypothesis that it was them is not as probable as many assume. There had been a heated dispute in the Cork IRA that day. It is possible that he was killed by another faction in the IRA.

It is virtually certain that a small number of civilians were purposively killed by the RICSR. That means deliberately killing these people whilst believing them to pose no threat. That is murder. Only a handful of RICSR officers did this. This is clearly the most serious crime of all. None of these men was ever convicted of these crimes. In an armed conflict on that scale and with a lack of chivalry on the part of the IRA it was inevitable that some RICSR men would see red.

Loyalist terrorists committed many unspeakable crimes. The Ulster Protestant Association (UPA) was the loyalist terrorist gang at the time. The UPA carried out hundreds of sectarian murders. The Crown Forces struggled to contain the UPA as they did the IRA. There were a very few members of the Crown Forces who assisted the UPA in their heinous offences.

The republican movement and nationalism as a whole tends to traduce RICSR. If this force was wicked then the IRA must be good. The RISCR are mischaracterised as brutes and psychopaths. These caricatures are IRA propaganda. The RICSR was tough and doughty. They were fighting a nemesis that did not adhere to the Geneva Convention or the Hague Convention. The IRA did not pretend to be a signatory to either. IRA men almost never wore uniforms. They often did not carry arms openly. They usually lacked a clear chain of command. They commonly killed prisoners. The IRA killed a few hundred civilians. But even if the IRA had abided by all the provisions of the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention it would have been an illegal insurgent force. Other sovereign states regard such combatants as freebooters.

Republican propagandists have so often likened the RICSR to the SS. This hideously offensive lie is yet another example of Godwin’s law. This comparison is stupid from the IRA’s point of view since the IRA was an enthusiastic Nazi ally. This was not a marriage of convenience but a love match. Dan Breen had a portrait of Hitler in his house well after 1945. The fiercest critic of the RICSR was the founder of the British Union of Fascists. Some members of the RICSR went on to join the international volunteers in Spain to fight against fascism. Some former IRA men led by Eoin O’Duffy joined the other side.

The SS killed hundreds of thousand of civilians. They were killed far from the battlefield in a manner totally unrelated to combat. The difference from this and the RICSR could not greater. It nauseatingly dishonest to compare the two. A few RICSR men also fought for the Allies in the Second World War.

Countless books and films are produced depicting the IRA in a favourable light. It is fashionable in the UK and in the US to do so. Take the Wind that shakes the Barley as a typical valentine to the IRA. Imagine a film which does something to redress the balance and show the RICSR not as angels but as human. Who would make that film? That really would be a courageous film to make. But many find the truth intolerable.

The RICSR is rightly castigated for the misdeeds of some of its men. Republicans have pretended that the worst acts of a few members of the RICSR typify the body as a whole. The republican propaganda machine has been in overdrive for a century smearing this force as a whole. There has been a Chinese whispers effect about this organization. A certain true story is told. It is then retold and retold until the version that is widely believed bears little relations to the truth.

This article is fair-minded and balanced unlike most other articles on this most contentious topic. Unlike republican publicity this article has gone out of its way to cite information likely to redound to the disadvantage of the cause I wish to make. Nor has this article indulged in denialism.

advanced course lesson 10 Coleridge


advanced course lesson 10


Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devon. This a county in south-western England. His father was a priest in the Church of England. 1772 is the year of Samuel’s birth. The Coleridge family had high social status because the church was held in great esteem. But they were not aristocrats. Financially they were much better off than most people. But their wealth did not match their standing. Samuel had a happy family life but was often ill with rheumatic fever and other ailments.  His fond parents did what they could for him. However, he was afflicted with severe worry. He also suffered bouts of melancholy. It is more than possible that he had bipolar disorder.

There were 11 children in the Coleridge family. His father wed twice because his first wife died. Divorce was vanishingly rare in those days. It was impossible for a priest.

Coleridge is one of the foremost poets of the Romantic Movement. He is well known for a number of masterful poems such as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He also wrote in prose. Samuel Taylor was a noted scholar of Shakespeare.

Christ’s Hospital is a school despite the name. In days of yore ‘hospital’ meant a charitable institution of any kind and not solely a place of medical care. It was thither that Samuel was sent at 8. As the school law over 200 leagues from his home per force he became a boarder. The boys wore cassocks as uniforms. In those days Christ’s Hospital was in the heart of London. It has since shifted to the countryside.

Many schoolboys passed their time playing sports. Samuel was not of a sporty bent. Instead he devoured books. He read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe when he was little. Samuel also read Arabian Nights – these tales had a profound affect on him. He dreamt of scenes from these narratives for a long time thereafter.

At school Coleridge was taught to construe Latin and Greek. His teacher was unusual in having them read English Literature. Back then English Literature was thought to be light reading. The master favoured the works of John Milton in particular.

Because of his bookishness , his frailty and his indifference to athletics he was unpopular. Samuel was often singular. He wrote Frost at Midnight to express how he felt.

In 1791 he went up to Jesus College, Cambridge. He studied hard. However, he met a young woman with whom he fell in love. He was jilted by her. Possibly because of this he dropped out of university and enlisted in the army. He made an unlikely soldier. The Napoleonic Wars were on and they needed more men. His family found him and paid the army to let him leave. Samuel went back to his college. However, he did not complete his degree. That was not an uncommon occurrence back then.

Samuel had been indifferent to politics. But he was a teenager during the French Revolution. It was impossible for an intelligent person not to become politically engaged. He had a friend called Robert Southey who was fascinated by politics. Southey wrote the Fall of Robespierre about the doyen of the French Revolution who was later convicted for counterrevolutionary activities.

Southey and Samuel came up with the quixotic idea of founding the ideal community in the United States. It was to be called Pantisocracy. In the end they did not even try to set it up. But the two wed sisters. Samuel and his wife Sara produced four children in short order. He came to rue his marriage and believe it was an error of the most grevious kind. After a few years they lived apart. They did not divorce.

In 1796 Samuel met Joseph Cottell. Cottell later helped him financially. That same year Samuel published his first volume of verse. He published a book which contained poems by Southey as well as himself.

Thomas Chatterton was a magnificent poet who died at the age of 17. Samuel’s interest was piqued by this maudlin tale. He composed a poem on it.

Charles Lamb was a close friend of Samuel. They co published a book too.

Samuel began to take a drug called laudunum. This was entirely lawful at the time. People took it for recreational purposes. He found that this alleviated the overwhelming worry that he felt.

In the late 1790s Coleridge worked as a private tutor. He moved to Somerset. This is a county in the south-western peninsula of England. This is adjacent to his native county. This proved to be a most productive period. He came to known William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy.

At this time Samuel composed Kubla Khan. In this poem he wrote ‘In Xanadu did Kublai Khan/ A stately pleasure dome decree.’ He later recalled that he composed this poem whilst under the influence of laudunum. Whilst writing this poem he was interrupted by a ‘person from Porlock’ whom some take to have been the postman. Had it not been for this then he would have written much more.

Somerset is a maritime county. Samuel interacted with sailors. This made him reflect on their hardihood and the travails that they braved. He was driven to write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which is his lengthiest poem. These days we spell the word ‘rhyme’. A ‘mariner’ is a sailor. Sailors were incredibly superstitious back then. Some of them believed that to kill an albatross would seal one’s doom. In this poem a sailor ill-advisedly shoots and albatross. The others feel foreboding. Of course calamity befalls them. Their ship sinks. They cling to a raft but have no drinking water. Samuel wrote ‘water, water everywhere but never a drop to drink.’

In 1798 Samuel and his pal William Wordsworth published Lyrical Ballads. Some take this as the start of the Romantic Age in English literature.

Though not religious in his youth he was friends with some clergy. Reverend Toumlin was a dear friend of his. Toumlin’s daughter was mentally ill and threw herself into the sea to commit suicide. Toumlin reacted with stoicism to his daughter drowning herself.

In 1797 Samuel spent some time in Shropshire. He was becoming more religious He assisted a local Unitarian minister. At this point Samuel considered becoming a religious leader.

Josiah Wedgwood paid Samuel an honorarium. But this was with the caveat that Samuel was not allowed to be a minister of religion. Samuel reluctantly accepted. Wedgwood was immensely impressed with Samuel’s verse and was his patron of the arts.

In 1798 Samuel sailed to Germany. Germany was not a united country back then. It was divided into 360 states. Some of the states were completely independent. Others were part of the Holy Roman Empire. The UK was at war against France. Most German states were pro-British or neutral. So Samuel could travel freely there. He enrolled at the University of Gottingen. There he mastered the German tongue. He became fascinated by philosophy.

Upon his return to the British Isles Samuel translated the works of German writers into English. He spent 1799 in northern England.

At this time Coleridge became more curious about politics. He read Political Justice by William Godwin. Samuel Taylor Coleridge inclined towards radicalism. However, he was cautious about enfranchising the masses. Some people were illiterate back then. Many were literate but to a very low level. Samuel feared that the majority were philistine. He did not idealise the lower orders.

In 1800 he resided at Keswick Hall in the Lake District. This was to be close to William Wordsworth. Dorothy cooked for Samuel. She found this exasperating as he often turned up his nose at the food she prepared. Samuel walked in the hills but pushed himself too hard. He fell ill and took too much laudanum. He also had heated arguments with Wordsworth.

In 1804 he worked in Spain and Malta.

In later life he wrote Biographia Literaria which is mainly autobiographical. It is his main prose work.

Coleridge spent the last ten years of his life in London. There he died. He is interred under a church floor in Highgate.



  1. Where was Coleridge born?
  2. What was his full name?
  3. What year was he born?
  4. What was his father’s occupation?
  5. How many children were in the family?
  6. What artistic movement was Coleridge part of?
  7. Which school did he attend?
  8. Which college did he go to?
  9. What is his poem about a sailor?
  10. What poem did he write whilst abusing drugs?
  11. Which foreign land did he study in?
  12. What was the Grand Tour?
  13. What was his relationship with Wordsworth like?
  14. Where did he die?
  15. Name a poem by Coleridge?
  16. Why is he important? Five sentences.





advanced course lesson 9 Thomas Gray


advanced course lesson 9


Gray was once one of the most widely appreciated poets in the English language. However, in recent decades he has fallen out of fashion. But he deserves to be more read than he is now.

London was the birthplace of Thomas Gray. His parents resided at Cornhill very close to St Pauls’ Cathedral. The boy’s father was a scrivener which meant that he wrote legal documents. Many people were illiterate back then. Few could write to a high standard. Thomas’ mother was a hatter.

Tragedy touched the Gray household. Twelve children were born to the couple but Thomas was the only one to survive. Infant mortality was high in the 18th century but to experience the deaths of so many babies took a toll on his parents. Thomas’ father was plagued by infirmity.

Perhaps it was providential that Thomas was born on Boxing Day. As people wassailed their saviour he came out. Thomas was to spend his life ruminating on the numinous and the eternal. His nativity took place in the year of grace some one thousand seven hundreds and sixteen.

Thomas went to Eton. By this time his mother was making more money that his much put upon pater. Thomas did not come from an upper class family unlike most boys at the school. Two of his maternal uncles were masters at the school. One of them, Robert Antrobus, taught Thomas. Mr Antrobus took a lively interest in what was then known as natural philosophy. We would now call it science.  Robert Antrobus taught his nephew a great deal about flora.

The curriculum at Eton consisted chiefly of classics. Thomas was quick at his books. He had been taught the rudiments of Greek and Latin at primary school. At Eton he had a bit of Hebrew knocked into him.

Not being one made for sportive pleasure he avoided the rough games which occupied so much of the time of his schoolfellows. They played football, fives and suchlike as well as rowing upon the River Thames which flowed hard by.  Instead his was given to daydreaming and voracious meaning. In this wise he felt he could commune with great minds of bygone centuries.

Mr Antrobus had his nephew living in his house. Thomas recalled his time at the school as being a time of exceptional gaiety. Thomas had three close friends at the school. They mockingly dubbed themselves the Quadruple Alliance which was an allusion to a military alliance between four mighty European nations. These four youths had certain points of fellowship. They share an appreciation for the aesthetic, they were mirthful and were erudite.

Honourable Horace Walpole was one of Gray’s boon companions. Horace Walpole was the son of the Prime Minister no less! Despite Gray coming from a much humbler background the Walpole family were fond of him.

At the age of 17 Gray went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge. He found it less agreeable than school. He wrote that the dons were crapulous. Thomas spent his time on literature. He was a keen amateur musician.

Mrs Gray intended her only child for a legal career. But Thomas declined to pursue one. Instead he wanted an academic and a literary career. Another obvious avenue for him to pursue was the church. But he chose not to take holy orders.

In 1738 Gray went off on the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour was a journey around Europe that upper class British youths undertook in the 18th century. They would go to France and Italy. The more venturesome went to Greece and even the Holy Land. Gray traveled with his chum Horace Walpole. The two had a row and parted company. Thomas was keen to visit all the ancient ruins and monuments. Walpole had other ideas. Horace Walpole wanted to socialise and womanise.

After his return from the Grand Tour he never sailed abroad again. He traveled extensively within his native island. He was especially taken with the Lake District. There he liked to think in solitude whilst ‘far from the madding crowd’ as he wrote. He was charmed by the simplicity of the people and saw a young woman who was his ‘unlettered muse.’

In 1742 Gray’s Irish friend Richard West died. This prompted Gray to turn his hand to poesy. He had scarcely composed any poems prior to that. He wrote sonnet as an elegy to his late friend. It marked a period where he become more pensive. As worldly troubles crowded in on him he returned to look at Eton. Then he composed Ode to the Distant Prospect of Eton College. In this poem he recalls his childhood days sporting with his schoolmates. He wishes he could lead such a carefree existence again. As a boy he had no idea what stresses and challenges lay ahead of him. He wrote ‘where ignorance is bliss tis folly to be wise.’

Pembroke College elected Gray as a fellow. He also spent some time at Peterhouse which is another Cambridge college. He spent many years lecturing and supervising undergraduates.

Thomas published only a baker’s dozen poems. His entire poetic oeuvre consisted of under 1 000 lines.

In 1757 Gray was offered to be Poet Laureate. This is the supreme accolade in British poetry. Thomas was so modest that he declined the gong. He was among the Graveyard Poets along with Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper and others. This is because they reflected a lot on mortality and the eternal.

The post of Regius Professor of Modern History was one which Thomas might have been awarded. In the end it went to another.

In 1771 Thomas was called to his reward. He is interred in Stoke Pages Graveyard. His lies near his mother. This was the scene of his most renowned poem: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. 

Gray penned some phrases which have entered common parlance. Among these are ‘kindred spirit ‘ – that is to say one of a like mind to oneself. Thomas was contemptuous of chauvinism and militarism. He wrote ‘paths of glory lead but to the grave’. He was lit with ‘celestial fire’ and wondered if some people buried beneath his feet were ‘some mute inglorious Milton.’

Not all Gray’s poems are on profound topics. His Ode to a Drowned Cat is droll. It is about the pet of his former friend Walpole.

Some of Gray’s poems are Pindaric Odes. He composed one called The Bard. The title persona is a wandering Welsh poet who in the Middle Ages prophecies to Edward I that his line will go extinct. The bard them commits suicide by hurling himself off a cliff.

Gray was a bit misogynistic. ‘What female heart can gold despise?’ he wrote. No woman could match his mother. He never wed.

Thomas was a formative influence on subsequent generators of versifiers. One of his most outspoken and effusive admirers was William Wordsworth. However, Wordsworth deprecated Gray’s poem on West.

Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey has a memorial to Gray.



advanced course lesson 8 Churchill later life


advanced course lesson 8


Winston Churchill was elected to Parliament in 1900. He was a Conservative. Conservative popularity soon dissipated. In 1904 Winston crossed the floor. That meant he became a Liberal. The Liberals were elated with their new star who appealed to some people who would otherwise vote Conservative. Naturally Winston was seen as a Judas by the Tories (Conservatives). The Liberals were cognizant that Winston had come over to them partly because he saw which way the wind was blowing. That was a welcome sign.

In the 1906 election the Liberals won by a landslide. They did very well in terms of seats but not so well in terms of votes. They got only 6% points more than the Tories.

The cabinet included Winston. Ere long he was appointed Home Secretary.

Some Latvian anarchist robbed a bank in London and killed people in furtherance of their robbery.  The robbers were tracked to a house on Sidney Street. Before the police could arrest them the anarchists realised that the bobbies were on their tail. The robbers opened fire. The cops surrounded the area. The Siege of Sidney Street commenced. Winston as Home Secretary hastened to the scene. He armed himself with a firearm. The police borrowed guns from the locals. A company of Scots Guards was called from the Tower of London. There was a shootout. The house caught fire. Winston ordered the fire brigade not to douse the conflagration. The residents of adjacent houses had already been evacuated. The robbers died in the blaze unless they had already been claimed by gunplay.

Some people felt that Winston had been ostentatious in going to the scene of the gun battle. There was no need for him to do so. Was he taking a photo opportunity? He was denounced as a poseur.

There was rising anti-German sentiment in the United Kingdom. Winston had once counseled against a European war. He started to feel it was inevitable and even desirable. Nonetheless he pulled strings to be allowed to attend German military manuevres in 1912.

Relations between the UK and Germany were not so fraught. There were many visits by high ranking politicians and indeed regal personages.

In 1914 Winston was made First Lord of the Admiralty. That meant he was the politician in charge of the Royal Navy.

In 1914 the First World War broke out. It was thought that the UK could stay aloof. When Germany invaded Belgium most of the Liberal cabinet thought that the United Kingdom could remain neutral. Churchill and some others cajoled the others into deciding that war must be declared.

The Royal Navy underperformed at first. This was Winston’s responsibility. The war on the Western Front was making no progress. The First Lord of the Admiralty hit on a new idea. The proposed that they attack the Ottomans to knock them out of the war. The Royal Navy would force the Straits of the Dardanelles and sail up to Istanbul the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The British warships would then shell the city until the Ottomans threw in the towel.

The British Navy attacked the Ottomans. The Royal Navy was beaten back in March 1915. Winston had a rethink. He decided that maritime mission was not enough. There would have to be a landing. The Allies would have to seize control of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Then they would be able to de-mine the Dardanelles and British warships could sail on to Istanbul (then called Constantinople). Many had misgivings about this. Nonetheless it was decided to press forward. The French, Australians, New Zealanders and Indians were also involved. The Gallipoli Landings in April 1915 did not go well for the Allies. One of Churchill’s long time chums Ian Hamilton was put in charge. The battle raged for a desultory 9 months.Hamilton was killed in action.  The Allies eventually withdrew in ignominy.

It was felt that Churchill must carry the can for Gallipoli. He volunteered to serve with a regiment called the Royal Scots. Winston served at the front. He was generous with giving cigars to his men.

Towards the end of the war Churchill was back in the cabinet. Some had argued for a negotiated peace. Winston was dead against it. He insisted that they must fight to the finish.

In 1918 the war ended. Churchill became Colonial Secretary. He made some racialist statements. He was a keen Zionist. He believed that Jews moving into Palestine was something to be encouraged.

In 1921 Churchill was involved in negotiations with Sinn Fein. He had been a mortal foe of Michael Collins. But they established a rapport. In 1922 Collins was killed by fellow Irish nationalists. Churchill delivered an elegy to him: the valiant leader of a gallant race.

In 1922 Churchill left the Liberal Party. He stood for Parliament as a Constitutionalist. He was defeated. Winston was perturbed by the rise of the Labour Party. He was an avowed anti-socialist.

In the early 1920s he was deeply impressed by fascism. He went to Italy and addressed a fascist rally. He heaped praise on Benito Mussolini as ‘a great lawgiver’ and assured fascists that if he were an Italian he would be in their ranks.

As Winston could not get back into Parliament on his own he rejoined the Conservative Party. In the late 1920s he was made Chancellor of the Exchequer. That means finance minister. A crucial decision he had to take was about the gold standard. Against his better judgement he took Britain back onto it. It was later blamed for keeping unemployment obstinately high. The General Strike ensued in 1926. Winston was adamantine in his opposition to it. He organised a newspaper called the British Gazette.

As Chancellor Churchill insisted on retrenchment. He was notable for his parsimony towards the armed forces.

In the 1930s Churchill was out of the cabinet. His best days were behind him – or so it was assumed. He turned into a curmudgeon. He launched into regular jeremiads against appeasement. He was thersitical against Adolf Hitler.

Winston went to Germany to research a book on his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough. He arranged to meet Adolf. At the last minute Winston had to cancel.

In the mid 30s Churchill was deeply unpopular. People did not want to hear his bellicose rhetoric. Appeasement was wildly popular. He was very immoderate on India. He set his face like flint against concessions to Indian nationalism.

In March 1939 attitudes changed. People began to think that Churchill was right. The Prime Minister Chamberlain ordered a massive increase in defence spending.

On September 3 the United Kingdom declared war on the Third Reich. Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. A message was sent to all ships of the Royal Navy. It said: Winston is back. It was the same office he had held a quarter of a century earlier.

  1. Did he fight in the First World War?
  2. What party did he join initially?
  3. In which year did the Liberals win a big victory?
  4. Which party did he move to second?
  5. What was his job during the Sidney Street Siege?
  6. Why did some dislike him?
  7. What was his job in 1914?
  8. Did he believe in the war?
  9. What happened at Gallipoli? Five marks
  10. Which of Winston’s friend was killed there?
  11. Which regiment did Winston join?
  12. What did he smoke?
  13. What job did he have in 1919?
  14.  Had he supported a negotiated settlement?
  15. Did he take part in talks in 1921?
  16. What did he say about Collins?
  17. What was his job in the late 1920s?
  18.  What did he say about the gold standard?
  19. Which newspaper did he found?
  20. What was his view of Indian independence?
  21. What did he make of appeasement?
  22. What job was he given in 1939?
  23.  What is your assessment of him? Five marks

advanced course lesson 7 Churchill early life



Advanced course lesson 7


Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born in November 1874. He was born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. This is the only non-royal and non-episcopal palace in the British Isles. It is the seat of the Duke of Marlborough. Winston was the grandson of the Duke of Marlborough. Winston’s father was Lord Randolph Churchill. Lord Randolph was a younger son of the duke so was not in line to inherit the dukedom. Winston’s mother was Jenny Jerome who was American.

In August 1873 Miss Jerome had come from New York to England to find a husband. Her father was a highly successful banker. The family had money but they feared not class. Jenny Jerome was 18 and she went to Cowes Week. This was a yachting even on the Isle of Wight. It was very fashionable at the time. That was because international travel was much slower before the plane was invented. Jenny met Lord Randolph who was a few years older than her. Within weeks of a whirlwind romance they wed.

Winston was born early. He was always below average height. He also suffered from a shoulder that often became dislocated. This might have been due to his premature birth.

A few years later Winston was followed by a brother named Jack. The two were not close.

The Spencer-Churchill family had been prominent in politics since the 17th century. They originated in a Oxfordshire village named Churchill from which they took their name. They moved to Wiltshire in the Middle Ages. There they became gentry. Sir John Churchill fought for the king in the English Civil War. Sir John became a close advisor to Charles II. His sister became the mistress of James II who was the brother of Charles II.

As a toddler Winston moved to Dublin. His father was Under Secretary for Ireland. His grandfather was the Viceroy of Ireland. Winston dwelt in the Under Secretary’s Lodge. He was fond of a kindly civil servant Thomas H Burke. After some years they left Ireland. When Winston was 7 he found out that that lovely Mr Burke had been murdered by the Fenians. Winston developed a lifelong aversion to Irish republicanism.

Winston attended St George’s School in Ascot. He did not excel. He found Latin and Greek dull. The headmaster was a flagellomaniac.

Later Winston went on to Harrow School in London. His pater had attended Eton and loathed it. Therefore he sent his son to Eton’s rival. Winston had to parade in alphabetical order like the rest of the school. His surname was Spencer-Churchill. This put him far down the alphabet. He chose to drop the ‘Spencer’ part. As a Churchill he was much higher up the alphabet. Winston struggled with classics and French. He did well only at history and English.

The cleverest boys concentrated on classics. Middling ability boys did some classics but a lot of other subjects such as Maths, sciences and modern languages.  The dimmest did little classics and were called the army class. The dimmest of the dim were guided towards joining the cavalry. Winston was in the army class and was told to aim to become a cavalry officer.

By the time Winston was a teenager his parents were estranged. They both carried on extramarital affairs. They had little regard for their eldest son. He knew his lack of academic aptitude disappointed them. He wrote to them begging for them to visit him. They seldom replied. His emotional bond was with his nanny Mrs Everest. He called her ‘Womany’ as he had done since toddlerhood.

At Harrow Winston showed prowess in fencing. He was the public schools champion. He also won a declamation competition for reciting Macaulay’s the Lays of Ancient Rome. One of the most renowned quatrains is ‘How can man die better/ than facing fearful odds /for the ashes of his fathers /and the temples of his gods.’ By ‘fathers’ Macaulay meant ‘ancestors’.

Winston left Harrow a year early. He was enrolled in a crammer to prepare him for Sandhurst. This is the Royal Military Academy. The crammer was not fun or prestigious but it got the job done.

At Sandhurst Winston trained to be a cavalry officer. He passed out successfully. By then his father was stricken with syphilis. He died when Winston was 20. That same year Womany also died. Winston paid for her funeral.

Lady Churchill soon married a man only a little older than Winston. Winston loathed his stepfather.

The young Winston went to India with the British Army. There he read with avidity. His voracious desire for knowledge was limited to European history. He decided that he was a Liberal in politics. However, his family connections were all to the Conservative Party.

The British and Indians were fighting against rebellious tribes on the North West Frontier. Winston was sent there with the Malakand Field Force. He distinguished himself by his contempt for death. He exposed himself to enemy fire when there was no need to do so. He wished to make a name for himself. Winston was adamant that he must demonstrated his gallantry. He said that he was playing for high stakes and therefore must risk his life. He later wrote a history of this military expedition. The young officer was convinced that India had nothing to teach him. He soon returned to the British Isles. Winston then wrote a book entitled ‘The Malakand Field Force’. It was the first of his many tomes.

In the 1890s the British Empire was fighting in Egypt. The British were assisting the Egyptians to defeat the Mahdist Revolt. Many Sudanese were against the extremist sect ruling the country. Winston was eager to participate in what he saw as an adventure. He wangled his way onto the expedition. He set sail for Egypt. Then he took a boat down the Nile to Sudan.

On one occasion Winston had to report to the British commander Herbert Kitchener. Winston found this nerve wracking. He fought at the Battle of Omdurman. Winston later wrote about killing an enemy soldier, ‘how easy it is to kill a man’. He later wrote how some British soldiers killed wounded enemy fighters. His book on the campaign was entitled ‘The River War’.

At this time there was a rebellion in Spanish Cuba. Winston managed to go there as a war correspondent. He could not make up his mind which side he sympathised with. He accompanied the Spanish Army so had to keep his views to himself.

Later Winston went to South Africa as a war correspondent. The British were fighting against the Boers. The Boers were white people living in South Africa. The Boers had moved from the Netherlands 250 years earlier and they spoke the Dutch language. He not only reported on the fighting but participated in it. He was on a train that was ambushed. He carried a gun and fired at  the enemy. He was taken prisoner. The Boers were irate. This man was masquerading as a journalist. The Boers considered executing him. He managed to escape. Winston walked through the night and hid out in the day. He took a risk and asked a man for help. A friendly civilian hid him in a mine for a few days. In the end he managed to get onto a train to Portuguese South-East Africa (now called Mozambique). He got to Lourenco Marques. At this time the conflict was going badly for the empire. Winston’s escape was a ray of hope. The war was going very badly for the British at the time. Therefore Winston was lionised.

The young journalist to the United Kingdom to a hero’s welcome. Winston soon stood for Parliament. He was elected as a Conservative. He was instantly regarded as a rising star.


  1. In which year was Winston born?
  2. Where was his mother from?
  3. Which building was Winston born in?
  4. Did Winston have any siblings?
  5. Who was Winston’s father?
  6. What was Winston’s real surname?
  7. Which school in London did Winston attend?
  8. Why was he considered a laggard at school?
  9. What party did Lord Randolph Churchill belong to?
  10. What sport was Winston best at?
  11. Who was Womany?
  12. In what sense was Winston a neglected child?
  13. Who wrote the Lays of Ancient Rome?
  14. What is Sandhurst?
  15. Which branch of the army did Winston join?
  16. In which part of India did Winston fight?
  17. What was his first book?
  18. Where was the Mahdist Revolt?
  19. Which key battle did he take part in in Sudan?
  20. Why was it controversial that Winston fought in South Africa?
  21. What were Winston strengths? Five marks.