'Reconciliation is tough'

“This is a soulful and mournful place.
Colonel James Royds delivering his oration on Branxton Hill. Photo: Susan Hughes.Colonel James Royds delivering his oration on Branxton Hill. Photo: Susan Hughes.
Colonel James Royds delivering his oration on Branxton Hill. Photo: Susan Hughes.

“I know a little of the soldier’s craft … I also know a little of what it means to command soldiers and officers across adjacent boundaries.

"And so it’s with great pleasure and huge honour – not to mention a little apprehension – to be with you here today because although I have been coming here for years, last year was the first time I had ever taken part in the official Flodden Memorial, privileged to be generously invited as High Sheriff of Northumberland. I venture to suggest it was one of only a handful of times in the last 500 years that a High Sheriff from south of the Border has dared to cross our common border in full military kit. Thank you for granting me safe passage then and again today.

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“I was first touched by this place about 30 years ago while taking part in what the army calls a TEWT – a tactical exercise without troops – to explore and learn the military lessons of the past in order that we might do things differently next time. Our study was full of promise and purposefulness and we strode about this and other local points of interest dressed in combat kit doing a quick and hasty military appreciation of how we would fight the battle shaped by the doctrine of ends, ways and means. In simple terms by looking at what each side was trying to achieve, the options open to them to achieve their objectives and the resources they needed to do this.

“We noted that in almost every logistic consideration these were not balanced forces in numbers of combatants. The final outcome – hardly in need of a reminder from me – was that many people died in the service of a noble cause to which each side cleaved with all their might.

“If we stand back from the detail here at Flodden and consider the outcome in the same breath as any other battle of its day, we conclude for better or worse that the outcomes are broadly the same: death and destruction; misery and pain, slaughter and savagery. People and precious moments lost permanently to time.

“As for the lessons learned, we continue the killing just in different and more imaginative ways, one thing which history teaches is that man rarely learns the lessons of history. What draws me back is that this battlefield marks a full stop and a turning point in history. The last medieval battle to be fought on English soil. The end of the romantic ideal – of knights fighting in shining armour.

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"Flodden Field also moves me not just because people once fought here in pursuit of the terms of “the Auld Alliance” and died for it in industrial quantities, but because it provides us with a focal point for reconciliation or the act of restoring and maintaining friendly relations between adversaries.

“Without reconciliation there can exist a perpetual state of war at times cold and at other times hot. To reconcile is perhaps the most difficult act of war and in my 45 years experience I don’t ever recall discussing it in the classroom or in the field. Making war and killing large numbers of people is relatively easy and even easier to teach. The acts of war being framed in the emotive language of glory, sacrifice and triumph.

“Agreeing a truce or ceasefire is also relatively easy though easily broken. Securing a peace can also be relatively easy given the right conditions but ensuring a lasting perpetual peace is more difficult. But to reconcile and I’m not just talking about reverting to the terms of an “auld alliance” between neighbours and ensuring a lasting peace seems to be as difficult as it humanly gets.”

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