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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 14:18 GMT
The secret of good fighting talk
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins
Way with words: Colonel Collins
Motivating soldiers to put their life on the line is no easy task, yet one pre-battle pep-talk has struck a chord with the public. What made Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins' oratory so special?

Battle ready they may be, but it took just a few choice words to penetrate the hardened souls of British troops amassed on the border with Iraq.

Colonel Tim Collins drew tears from some of his men with a stirring and heartfelt pre-battle address on the eve of Washington's deadline for Saddam Hussein to quit Iraq.

Fierce rhetoric was followed by human tenderness as he sought to psych-up his troops for what would doubtless be some deadly days ahead.

"If you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory," said Colonel Collins, seeking to set out a definite line between military professionalism and reckless jingoism.

Reach wider audience

"I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them."

The enemy should be in no doubt that we are his Nemesis and that we are bringing about his rightful destruction - there are many regional commanders who have stains on their souls and they are stoking the fires of hell for Saddam
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins

Colonel Collins' apparent ability to articulate emotions reached far beyond his immediate audience - soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. Extracts of the speech were splashed across the pages of many British newspapers on Thursday. For the Sun, it was oratory worthy of Shakespeare.

It was certainly dramatic, but says Major General Patrick Cordingley, formerly of the Desert Rats, this sort of rhetoric is perfect motivation material.

"You have to persuade them that it's right for them to go and kill somebody. I mean it's not natural for them to do that - for anyone to do that, but you have to build them up and get them to a high state of readiness."

The big themes - morality, mortality and loyalty - revived echoes of history's great military orators.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery
"Monty" used a cricketing analogy
"It was [Field Marshal] Montgomery who famously summoned cricketing imagery to inspire his troops before the battle of El-Alamein," says military historian Gary Sheffield. "He said he would 'knock Rommel for six out of Africa'."

But it's no surprise Colonel Collins' words may have sounded a little over the top to cynical civilian ears, says Mr Sheffield.

"This sounds quite odd and curiously old fashioned in the ears of early 21st Century Brits. But it brings out the fact that the military's values today are still those of an older generation - loyalty, respect and, up to a point, deference, are needed if you are to believe in these words."

Mention of Cain is notable, says Mr Sheffield, since it reveals how well Colonel Collins must know his men.

"It's a fair bet that the Royal Irish, which draws a large number of its personnel from Ireland, are a more religious regiment than most. These men will have a strong faith in God."

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility
But when the blast of war blows in our ears
Then imitate the action of the tiger
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage

Shakespeare's Henry V
Colonel Collins also played the regimental loyalty card with the assertion: "If you harm the regiment or its history by over enthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer."

Mr Sheffield says: "For all the criticism that exists about the British Army's regimental structure, it does foster great loyalty. So to compare the regiment with family is more than simple hyperbole."

Finally, it's worth noting how the speech did not shy from the chilling fact that British soldiers may see their friends killed in combat.

"He doesn't pull any punches on the dangers of war which is fair. You have to prepare your men psychologically for the worst. And if they get through unscathed, well, you've lost nothing."

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