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Guy Farrish

I’m not sure what a last stand is.

I thought I knew until I thought about it.

Take Rorke’s Drift. They survived. Against the odds yes, but they ‘won’. Was that a last stand? Do the defenders have to expect to lose, to be killed? Did the defenders at Rorke’s Drift expect to die? Or is it the judgement of the soldier on the ‘Clapham Omnibus’ we have to consider. Would a reasonable military judgement have been that they would be wiped out?

Assuming for a second both the subjective (actual defender) and objective (reasonable soldier) test were passed, then Rorke’s Drift was a failed last stand. It wasn’t a last act of defiance at all, it was part of their continuing service.

Long Tan is another case where the defenders survived. My only quibble would be about whether the Australians believed beforehand or even at the time of the fight, how terminal their condition should have been.

Do the defenders have to be defeated for it to be a ‘last’ stand?

I suppose Camarón is a last stand, although what the point was is hard to say. Once Danjou had got them stuck in the hacienda they made a conscious decision to fight to the death, or at least that’s the story the Legion like to tell, and carried on until only 17 out of the 60 were taken prisoner.

Isandlwhana is interesting because the commanders and men thought they were off to thrash the Zulu, right up to the point where they weren’t. Was this a last stand? Or a monumental cock up, glorified as a ‘last stand’ to save face? There wasn’t really a chance to do anything else except fight. The choice of surrender appears not to have been an option under the circumstances. So was that a last stand? Or just a very bad defeat? Does ‘Last Stand suggest an element of choice is required like Camarón? Is it otherwise just fighting to the last man?

The Alamo was a case of deliberately sacrificing a group of people to make a political point and shame the rest of a nation into supporting the political position taken by the ‘defenders’. There wasn’t really any military reason to fight there, no real chance of winning and everything to gain by losing ‘gloriously’. Does that count as a last stand? They were defeated but it wasn’t a terminal act of defiance when everything else was lost.

The 300 at Thermopylae was a last stand. But the cultural reasons for it may not easily resonate with us.

I’m not sure I fancy refighting many of these – except those like Long Tan, and perhaps Isandlwhana where as the defender you don’t think you are going to be the defender until it all goes tango uniform. But of course you can’t fight them as the actual named action as everyone would know what was about to happen. Disguised scenarios obligatory.