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A Happy Anniversary!

September 11, 2013

It’s the 11th of September, and it’s an important anniversary. Some people will probably have assumed they already know what I’m talking about and even been offended by the cheerful title. But they’d be wrong. I suppose the picture should have been a clue. The anniversary of which I speak is none other than that of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, in 1297.

Never heard of it? Why would you? Except of course that anyone who has seen ‘Braveheart’ has seen a passionate, if completely historically inaccurate, portrayal of this battle. The Scottish Wars of Independence, of which it was a part, went on for decades. Had already been going on for about eleven years before it in fact. But it was pivotal in a couple of respects.

It was the Scots’ first big victory. It wasn’t the fall of Berlin, it was Stalingrad, or El Alamein. It wasn’t the end, it wasn’t even the beginning of the end, but maybe it was the end of the beginning, to paraphrase Churchill. It helped us to believe we could resist the might of what was the greatest military machine in the world at the time. It brought many more supporters to the cause, not just at the time, but as tales were told of it over the years. It would be seventeen years till the decisive battle, Bannockburn, effectively ended the conflict and forcibly established Scottish independence.

Secondly, that military machine. The English force was mainly comprised of armoured knights. They were like the jet fighters of their day. They could inflict massive damage on the common infantrymen whilst remaining almost completely invulnerable themselves. The army led by William Wallace, and Andrew Moray, was an army of commoners, with virtually no cavalry. They prevailed by superior tactics, strategy and, well, trees. They didn’t have much, but they had plenty of trees, so they made some of them into really long stakes. With these, when they formed up in tight formation they became a bristling hedgehog which was cavalry charge-proof. Thus it was not only when the Scots beat the English, it was also one of the earliest examples of an army of common footsoldiers defeating an army of mounted knights, the ‘flower of chivalry.’ The tactic was used on a larger scale, and to even greater effect seventeen years later at Bannockburn.

(In an interesting postscript to these events, seven hundred years later to the day, in 1997, Scotland voted in a devolution referendum for a Scottish parliament to be re-established, with the proposition receiving over 74% support)

For Scots this is an inspirational story of freedom and people power, so the anniversary was something to celebrate. There would probably be some sort of ceremony at the Wallace Memorial, outside Stirling on a hill over looking the scene of the battle.

View from the top (it’s a big tower) showing the River Forth and the battlefield, © Me, 2010.

It is interesting that this anniversary is now shared with another dramatic and much more recent event. It happens of course. Let’s see, the current queen was crowned and Everest was conquered on the same actual day, not just the same date. So the diamond jubilee was also the 60th anniversary of Tensing and Hilary’s feat. Piece of trivia for you. But I think this particular coincidence is interesting because it says something important about what is and is not OK in times of conflict.

You see, whenever you hear terrorists justify their methods, it always starts with an excuse. The forces ranged against them are too powerful, their technology’s too advanced, there’s too many of them, we can’t confront them directly. I’m not even talking about whether the cause itself is a valid one or not, leave that aside for a moment. Most Scots believe our cause was valid, but then we would, wouldn’t we? That’s not the point. This is: We were confronting an adversary who outnumbered and outgunned us in every way. Did William Wallace attack civilians? Take hostages? He did not! When the English sent two Dominican friars as messengers to negotiate what they expected to be a surrender, He said, “Tell your commander that we are not here to make peace but to do battle to defend ourselves and liberate our kingdom. Let them come and we shall prove this in their very beards.”

The next day they did exactly that, and that’s why we’ve all seen the movie. That’s how you do resistance. Did William Wallace sit in the rear and send his footsoldiers out on suicide missions? No, he did not! He led from the front, like a Celtic warrior. So to anybody out there who thinks they have a cause worth dying for, if you’re not prepared to do what Wallace did (and of course the first thing he did was to get the people to agree with and follow him), then you must lack the courage of your convictions and you don’t deserve to be taken seriously. You certainly don’t deserve our anniversary. So go out and read the stories of Wallace, and Robert the Bruce. Learn how real warriors behave.

This statue of Wallace (© David Keith) is the centrepiece of the public gardens in Ballarat, Victoria.

Wallace and Bruce, in my opinion, wrote the book on what constitutes legitimate resistance. Read it. And if you’re ready to do what they did, to make the sacrifices they made, and to face the overwhelming odds they faced, maybe then we’ll listen to what you’ve got to say. While you skulk in a cave and send impressionable young men out to do your dirty work, and attack innocent civilians, well, fuck off al Q’aeda, we’re taking our anniversary back!

For Wallace, Scotland and Freedom!!!

  1. George permalink

    could you follow HrH Princess Elizabeth Stuart on Facebook please,

  2. A very good article, Derek, and you are right – it is one of your shortest! 😆

    I have shared on Twitter and Facebook – you should add Google+ as well. Also add StumbleUpon, although I don’t think it is as popular as it used to be since they changed the user interface.

    • Thanks Robyn!

      I’ve always been a bit afraid of Google+ and the way they want to follow every little detail of your life. Maybe I should get over it. 🙂

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