The Passing of L'Arme Blanche: The Last Cavalry Charge in British Military History

On March 19th, 1942, a British officer, riding the “best polo pony in Burma,” launched a headlong charge against a Japanese machine-gun emplacement. He died as he would probably have chosen to die; and with his death, writes James Lunt, concluded a long and distinguished chapter in the history of the British Army.

During the first decade of this century, the pages of military journals were filled with a furious controversy that seems completely fantastic to us today. The argument raged round the question of how the cavalry should be armed. Should the lance replace the sword as the cavalry soldier’s main weapon, or should both lance and sword give way to the rifle?

Should the glittering cuirassiers and dragoons follow the example of the uncouth Boers, and the scarcely less uncouth Confederate and Federal cavalry of the American Civil War, and discard the shock action of l'arme blanche for the less glamorous but more workmanlike role of the mounted rifleman?

The Cavalry Journal of 1907, attempting to sum up the conflicting views on this subject, concluded that in France the sword was the main cavalry weapon and in Germany the lance, but that both were wrong. The main cavalry weapon, said the journal, is the horse, and “the charge will always remain the thing in which it will be the cavalryman’s pride to die sword in hand.”

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