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Revisiting Legendary last stands

Winston Churchill has entered the annals of history by saying “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

History reveals many instances of courage (often in the face of better advice) where a stand was taken against impossible odds.

The Flexicover Team takes a step back in time and considers some famous and infamous figures who drew a line in the sand.

The Battle of Little Big Horn; Montana, USA

The Battle of Little Big Horn – or the Battle of Greasy Grass, if you’re of Native American descent – took place on 25-26 June 1876 on the Montana plains. Sitting Bull's Sun Dance alliance, consisting of thousands of warriors of the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, took on Lt. Col. George A. Custer and some 260 men of the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Cavalry. Famed for being “Custer’s Last Stand”, this was effectively the tribes’ last armed effort to preserve their nomadic way of life. It was a decisive alliance victory in the Great Sioux War but eventually the Americans would force their surrender. Today you can walk round the historic site, up Sharp Shooter Hill and Greasy Grass Ridge, to the very spot where Custer eventually fell.

The Spartans’ Last Stand; Thermopylae, Greece

This was the battle that inspired Frank Miller's graphic novel 300. In 480BCE, King Leonidas I of Sparta and his handpicked guard of 300 warriors defended the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (“The Hot Gates”) against the might of King Xerxes and the Persian army. The battle lasted for 3 days and resulted in the death of all the defenders but succeeded in delaying a march on Athens. Contrary to popular belief the Spartans didn’t stand completely alone (other Greek city-states sent troops, to number close to 7,000) but they were still vastly outnumbered. Today the Spartan king is immortalised at the site in bronze. A sign under the statue simply reads ???O? ???? which translates as “Come and take them” in answer to Xerxes' demand for the Greeks to give up their weapons. Well worth a visit!

Battle of Rorke's Drift; Natal Province, South Africa

This battle from January 1879 in the Anglo-Zulu War is famously depicted in the 1964 movie Zulu with Michael Caine and colleagues facing down thousands of enemy fighters. A force of over 3,000 Zulus descended on the supply depot at Rorke’s Drift where around 150 men, mostly support staff and wounded soldiers, had to defend their remote post in the rugged bush. Despite the enemy’s great numbers, who used the element of surprise, the high ground and their knowledge of the terrain, the small force held out for two days before a British relief column, complete with cannon, was spotted and the Zulus hastily withdrew. Situated around 160 miles north of Durban, Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana (site of an earlier battle) are 9 miles apart and museums, welcoming tourists from all over the world, now stand at both sites via a connecting dirt road, whilst Isandlwana Hill is peppered with memorials, marking where each soldier fell.

The Sack of Rome; Vatican City/Rome, Italy

On 6 May 1527, disgruntled and underpaid Italian forces of the Holy Roman Empire (around 34,000 troops) marched on Rome. Intent on pillaging the riches of the Catholic Church for their pay, as Pope Clement VII had allied with France against the Empire, they descended on the Vatican. Standing between them and their goal were the 189 guardsmen of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. Making their valiant stand on the steps of St Peter's Basilica, they held off the army in hopes of buying the Pontiff time to escape the city. Only 42 survived (those directly guarding the Pope) to accomplish their mission. The Vatican even today shows off the troops wearing striped blue, red and gold uniforms and wielding halberds. They are still expected to be ready to lay down their lives in defence of the Pope and be of impeccable moral and religious character.

Battle of Hastings; Sussex, England

While many other last stands have been transformed into celluloid for today’s cinema, the Norman conquest of England in 1066 was immortalised on cloth, known as the Bayeux Tapestry (in reality, it’s not a tapestry but an embroidery). It provides a rundown of events leading up to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings where, as legend has it, Harold II of England was famously slain by an arrow to the eye. The action took place on Senlac Hill (now site of the appropriately named town of Battle, Sussex) and is considered the point at which William of Normandy defeated the Saxons and took control of England, becoming King William I. William then built the Abbey of St Martin on the site and had its altar placed on the very spot where Harold fell.

There are tours available for these easy-to-get-to famous battles and if you do get an opportunity to visit them, Flexicover Direct, the travel insurance specialists, is committed to providing the highest level of protection to ensure that you travel safe and secure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you are travelling soon, have a great trip and keep an eye out next week for something NEW!