St. Crispin's Day
The New Orleans Connection
This Thursday, Oct. 25 is St. Crispin’s Day. The feast, named in honor of a third century martyred saint, would be obscure had it not been that the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, matching the forces of King Henry V of England vs. the French was fought on that date. In one of history’s great upsets Henry’s outnumbered army won partially because of this successful use of newfangled weapons called longbows.
In another example of that domino effect by which history works, from that setting something would evolve out of New Orleans centuries later that would today have an impact on our knowledge of World War II.
Here’s what happened:
Agincourt itself might have been forgotten as just another one of many European battles with the French and the English pounding each other, except that in approximately 1599 one of the most famous of all Englishmen, William Shakespeare (or whomever wrote under that name) wrote a play called “Henry V.” In the drama the warrior King Harry (as he was known to his pals) addresses his army the night before the battle. Shakespeare’s words become a moving soliloquy as Harry tells his troop that tomorrow, the day of the battle, is St. Crispin’s Day and that those who fight and survive will forever be remembered by that day.
This being Shakespeare there are many great lines in the speech but one that would reverberate in New Orleans comes near the end:
But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
Now this story shifts to the New Orleans area where in 2001 historian Stephen Ambrose published a book about a U.S. Army unit known as “Easy Company,” a part of the 506th Airborne Division. The book traced the group from basic training through D- Day and across Northern Europe into Germany and Hitler’s Eagles Nest. Borrowing from King Harry via Shakespeare, Ambrose called his book, “Band of Brothers.” The story was so compelling that HBO made it into a mini-series, itself a masterpiece.
A few years ago, I took a tour of Normandy and then into Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany – the places where the fighting was hard. During the tour, episodes of “Band of Brothers” were played on the bus’ TV system. Historic markers along the way referred to scenes from Band of Brothers. Tourists were snapping picture of sites they were familiar with because of the book. Much has been written about the Allied invasion of Europe. Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 masterpiece “The Longest Day,” which was made into a popular movie in 1962, was the early most important effort. Now the bible is “Band Of Brothers.” Each year tourists invade the beaches not for sun but for solace. For many, their inspiration is a book from New Orleans with a title inspired by an ancient battle fought on St. Crispin’s Day.
Unrealized by many of those visitors is that Agincourt, the battle site, is not far from where they are. It is near the Pas-De-Calais, famous because it is the shortest point across the English Channel and the spot where the Allies duped the Nazis into thinking they would arrive. Agincourt goes down in history as an unusual battle. It was originally studied for its weaponry; now it is remembered for it words.
ON THE TUBE
(In the 1989 movie remake of the play Kenneth Brangh, as Henry V, delivered a stirring version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech.)
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.