Written by Ellis Ian Fields
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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

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Russia... no socks... the end?

Papers recently discovered in France suggest that Napoleon might have invaded Russia successfully if his army had better sock supplies.

The Corsican general famously said that an army marches on its stomach, but these papers prove he believed the more traditional notion that marching involves the feet.

The papers are from a cache of previously undiscovered documents from the collections of Napoleon's on-off advisor, Talleyrand. They had been undisturbed in the library at Les Invalides, in Paris, for nearly 200 years before French historians unearthed them.

Our contributor and reviewer, Ken Lucid, chair of history at The University of Thames Valley East, was invited to inspect the documents.

"Earth-shattering, mate!," he said. "Really gob-smacking.

"We always thought that Bonaparte abandoned the Russian campaign when he found Moscow burning and he couldn't maintain supply lines for his troops, but these letters show otherwise."

One despatch, to Talleyrand, reads, according to Professor Lucid's translation: "Sod the horses and food! We have plenty to last forever. What the men need is socks - it's getting brass monkeys out here and your feet get like blocks of ice. Socks, socks, socks - I cannot stress too greatly the importance of socks."

A desperate Talleyrand replies: "Most gracious imperial majesty... you must know that the British blockade of our ports and their domination of the world's supplies of socks renders all efforts to obtain sufficient pairs well-nigh impossible.

"Believe me, sire, the women of Paris knit day and night, but they are too few, I fear."

Professor Lucid added: "That's the beginning of the end... Bonaparte has the Spanish Ulcer to contend with and no socks for his Grande Armee.

"Talleyrand will shortly make overtures to the allies to secure France a seat at the peace conference and the rest, as they say, is history."


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The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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