Men of Harlech: A Wandering Essay of Sorts

A repeat from 2016. I finished the battle scene and final chapters of Malevolently Familiar this past week, and a little voice inside my head asked, “What is Arthur fighting for?” I’m merely the author, far be it from me to ask Arthur Saldovado a personal question! But perhaps . . .

What is heroism and manhood? Why do we fight? I’ve been thinking about that question for a couple of reasons. In part because I was watching the last battle scene from the movie Zulu and thinking back to a conversation-over-beer one night in grad school. Somehow the topic had drifted to guys, and how can you encapsulate the best and worst of guy behavior to show to women? The movie Animal House (and Dumb and Dumber) came up as the worst, and the professor said that small unit battles revealed the best. I suggested the movie Zulu, and he jumped on it. “Yes! Yes, that is the perfect combination – Animal House and Zulu.” (He taught British history and specialized in the 19th century.) I needed the clip to demonstrate firing by ranks, but started at the part where the men are singing.

And “Men of Harlech” stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. It makes me stand straighter for some reason, and gets the blood flowing. No idea why, although having imprinted on military history and tales of battle may have something to do with it. And the thought of chasing the friskiest students outside and marching them around the track until they get tired, while singing this, has some appeal. (Although with my luck, the motion and sunlight would probably just recharge their batteries.)

I think what stiffens my spine and makes me sit up (and makes me want to write a battle scene) is the ideals in the song and the scene. Standing with one’s fellows, facing honorable enemies, absolute determination to survive, discipline . . . I know there is far, far more to life than that, but there’s something there, something precious to civilization. Rising above one’s self to be part of something greater, standing or falling with brothers in arms.

What is worth fighting for? Home and hearth, family, those are as old as time, and common to every culture. Tribe and clan, fellow religionists, also old values that are practiced through history. But what about an ideal, a dream, something distant but desirable, a goal you may never reach but that your physical or spiritual descendants might? A woman waiting, hoping that her man, her men, come home safely but willing to give them up for the greater good?

The blogger Grim of Grim’s Hall once theorized that part of why so many men volunteered to serve in the British military and colonial service between 1840 and 1900 was Queen Victoria. She gave them a way to look back to the ideals of chivalry, of serving and honoring a woman they could never attain. Given the popularity of neo-Medieval stuff during the early Victorian period (Sir Walter Scott), you almost wonder. It is an interesting supposition, and one I have not seen much written about. Probably because if it was a motivator, the men never wrote about it. It was one of those private understood things one did not talk about. I’m Romantic enough I can imagine that happening, given the atmosphere of the British public schools and training in the 1800s, and the emphasis on service and family. “The Widow at Windsor” had been beautiful, was maternal (smotheringly so, according to modern historians), passionately loved her husband, and was unreachable. And she ruled (after 1876) an empire that spanned the globe.

Another reason this bubbled up is that I’ve been looking over the material for the next-next Cat book. Sergeant Lee becomes a more important character, and his relationship to Rada Ni Drako developed in ways the author did not anticipate. Without giving too much away, he decides that she is his Lady in the Medieval sense. And because he is a mature grown-up, he sorts this out himself, without making a public mess of things and without causing problems for the Regiment. No, I had no idea this would develop when he came on scene as an awkward corporal. But neither did I have a clue about Joschka or Rahoul’s backgrounds, either. I’m always the last to know.

I’ve wondered before about modern chivalry. Is there a place for that kind of manhood, for men who silently honor the unattainable and in so doing make the world a better place? I don’t know, in this hang-it-all-out world. “Men of Harlech” in a way belongs to that long-ago time.

Men of Harlech, stop your dreaming
Can’t you see their spear points gleaming
See their warrior pennants streaming
To this battle field

Men of Harlech stand ye steady
It can not be ever said ye
For the battle were not ready
Welshmen never yield

From the hills rebounding
Let this war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria’s call
The mighty foe surrounding

Men of Harlech on to glory
This will every be your story
Keep these burning words before ye
Welshmen will not yield

There are a number of versions of the lyrics, probably as many as singers and recordings and translations of the Welsh.

Modern Words used by Regimental Band

Tongues of fire on Idris flaring,
news of foe-men near declaring,
to heroic deeds of daring,
calls you Harlech men

Groans of wounded peasants dying,
wails of wives and children flying,
for the distant succour crying,
calls you Harlech men.

Shall the voice of wailing,
now be unavailing,
You to rouse who never yet
in battles hour were failing,

His our answer crowds down pouring
swift as winter torrents roaring,
Not in vain the voice imploring,
calls on Harlech men

Loud the martial pipes are sounding
every manly heart is bounding
As our trusted chief surrounding,
march we Harlech men.

Short the sleep the foe is taking,
ere the morrow’s morn is breaking,
They shall have a rude awakening,
roused by Harlech men.

Mothers cease your weeping,
calm may be your sleeping,
you and yours in safety now
the Harlech men are keeping,

ere the sun is high in heaven
they you fear by panic riven
shall like frightened sheep be driven,
far by Harlech men.  (From

 No matter the translation, the spirit is the same: men shall defend, no matter what it takes. “March of the Cambreath” by (the artist formerly known as) Heather Alexander is another blood stirrer with a similar philosophical take on the matter.

Happily, the world I live in still has men of this kind in it. And I have seen men (and women) rise to meet challenges when pushed to the point. It would be a sad day if nothing remains worth fighting for, and if the world no honors those who dig in and say a version of, “No. No farther. You shall not take Rorke’s Drift.”


29 thoughts on “Men of Harlech: A Wandering Essay of Sorts

  1. I wonder: to what extent are some of ‘the Woke’ attempting by their activism to experience the kind of emotional intensity and bonding which has traditionally been associated with combat?

    • Jamie Glazov argues that there is a very strong element of that. I think it was in _United in Hate_ where he quotes letters and essays from several Americans who went to Mao’s China. They wanted to “lose themselves” in the greater cause, even if it was fatal to them.

      • Arthur Koestler wrote about the Tragic and the Trivial planes of life. As explained by his friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary:

        “K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.”

        I think many of the Woke have existences which are largely on the Trivial plane, and are trying to escape from same.

        See my post The Romance of Terrorism and War, which excerpts Postrel and Remarque:

  2. Arthur is Arthur.

    Who cares “why he fights” as long as he’s an ally or at least not after you. 😀

      • Well, Arthur isn’t a Black Knight sort of character.

        For all that he scares Leila from time to time, it’s for a reason not because “Arthur is a force of nature that just happens”.

        I’d note that in the latest Familiar he really really scared Leila but Tay talked him down.

        Tay obviously knows more about Arthur than he’s telling Leila but Arthur is still on the Side Of Light.

  3. Arthurs’ motivation is a part of his identity, and a part of his nature, whatever that is revealed to be.
    He is, in some respects, the Paladin, who has, because of birth, necessity, and choice, become that which stands between good and evil.
    Can’t wait to read Malevolently Familiar.

  4. Whenever this subject comes up, I remember something I read, or perhaps saw in a TV documentary, about the American Civil War. That war occurred at the crux of a fundamental change in warfare: new advances in weapons technology led to unprotected infantry making Napoleonic-style charges against defensive fire that could turn a charging infantry unit into a bloody mist in a heartbeat. This gave rise to a pretty striking question: why on God’s earth would volunteer troops stage infantry charges against such defensive works, when they knew that it was an effective death sentence?

    The answer, apparently, was that Civil War regiments were raised from towns or small regions, and pretty much everybody knew everybody else in their unit. And their primary motivation for fighting was that they didn’t want their neighbors and friends to see them as cowards.

  5. A.E.Housman wrote more than one poem about the soldier who transfers his devotion to the Queen after being rejected by a girl: “And I never knew a sweetheart spend her money on a chap’.

  6. It’s becoming ever more apparent that the current era has no room for awesome women. They must be cancelled, silenced, their spirits broken – or they may become ersatz men and be briefly celebrated for so doing before being pressured to conform to the group identity and lose all individuality.
    No awesome women, no men motivated by them. No epic deeds, no epic poetry. Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan, and all that.

      • “A womanly woman is to be despised, not respected.”
        Ah… I’d mostly been noticing the push to eliminate tomboys, maybe because the women who get my attention tend to be a bit on the masculine side. (By current standards, I think my wife and at least three of my ex-girlfriends would be considered transmale, which must make me transgay or something. See, I can be intersectional too!)
        But, then… yeah. The egregiously sexist attacks on Amy Coney Barrett, and Sarah Palin, and… well, they’re successful, they have accomplishments, and yet they persist in being women, which is unacceptable.
        On reflection, this goes back to maybe the 60s, with fashionable insults for women who fail to conform to the “liberated” mold. (All who are liberated must conform! Also, war is peace, etc.)

        • The Real problem with those two ladies is that they failed to hold the Proper Beliefs.

          In Sarah Palin case, some idiot apparently said “Palin isn’t a Woman, Palin is a Republican”.

        • Apparently cross-dressers are now informed that they are transgender, not people who prefer to wear the clothing of the opposite sex. Tomboys get more pressure than boys, at least in lower grades.

  7. The historian who blogs at has been doing essays on whether or not there’s a universal warrior experience. I believe he’s come down on the ‘no’ side. (haven’t had the bandwidth to do more than skim recently.) But he’s very interesting and backs up his conclusions. His teasing out of various historical cultures’ experiences of war and battle and unit bonding mechanisms is worth a look. They DO vary across societies.

    I suspect at this point in Arthur’s life part of what he fights for is that whatever drove his family from South America to settle in.. whatever state of the alt/USA they’re in Pennsylvania? – doesn’t come CLOSE to happening again to anyone he cares about. I also am darn sure that Lelia’s occasional speculations on his past and why he is the way he is don’t come close to the actual. Too nice, too … sheltered American, in her ideas.

    • Too nice, too … sheltered American, in her ideas.

      Chuckle Chuckle

      I doubt that Lelia would think her life on the Street was “sheltered American”. 😀

      Still, it is likely that compared to what Arthur “went through”, her life was sheltered. 😦

      • Yeah. she keeps speculating personal things, and I think, probably based on what the author has dropped here and there that it was more like a very ugly secret war, and that he likely was married (or close to it/interested) and she (along with most of the clan down there) was killed. Badly.

        • Some of the hints are that Arthur had a daughter who was killed in the “secret war” and Lelia reminds Arthur of his daughter.

  8. I think David makes a good point, but there is a SIGNIFICANT difference between what they are playing at and actual combat. There isn’t a reset button, nor can you ‘make bail’ and be back on the street in four hours. Their ‘version’ of danger is not the same as those of us who have seen the elephant.

    • Sometimes they remind me of the IRA terrorist in Clancy’s book _Patriot Games_ who breaks when he realizes that there’s no escape, no court room this time. Jack Ryan WILL kill him. What the riot-types (for the most part) think is combat-level fighting is nowhere close to reality.

  9. Arthur now has an adoptive daughter, with son-in-law, namesake grandson, and special granddaughter, considered part of the clan and particularly part of his line; imagine his ferocity and ruthlessness turned up to about 20, should they be threatened directly. Wonder how far up the chain that Tay can ‘speed-dial’. Wait, never mind, I’m afraid it begins “Mike, we have a situation …”

    • Clues in =Learnedly= have me wondering if there’s a deeper connection with the clan.

      Anyway, I’m really glad to hear of the progress on M-Familiar.

      • After reading some of those clues, I’m thinking Lelia has a deeper connection with some group other than the clan.

  10. Old NFO…a lot of the people I have in mind aren’t of even the street-fighting type, more of the ‘posting social media memes and saying the right things in conversation’ types, maybe sometimes attending (safe) demonstrations…but still, getting something out of the sense that they are the Resistance, standing up against bad people.

    Sebastian Haffner, who wrote an important memoir of life in Germany between the wars, noted that when the political & economic climate looked like they were stabilizing, *most* people were happy…but not everybody:

    “A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.


    “To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.”

    I’m afraid we in America today have quite a significant number of people who have “become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions”

  11. Born to the Hunter, the fight against evil defines his life. More specifically, one manifestation of evil. Among his people, it was necessary for survival. Now, it’s what they know. He’s paid a personal price, and that may fire him further. His people have paid a greater price, and continuing the fight is loyalty to them and hope for their future. It is protecting and preserving what he treasures.

    Isn’t that what you wrote?

  12. Quote that just showed up at Instapundit:

    “Covid has given a lot of (bored) people a sense of meaning, purpose, morality, authority, and community.

    That’s why the whole mask/lockdown/vaccine thing has become so cultish.

    To truly understand what’s going on, better to look to religion and politics than science and logic.”

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