I didn´t realise yesterday afternoon as I was driving to Concepción Reservoir, just inland from Marbella, that it was my destiny to reenact a famous military campaign single handedly. Instead, I had had a much more modest plan. I would park at a lay-by some distance above the reservoir and kit up with fishing gear and float tube and then walk down a mountain track to the reservoir below. Of course, at the end of my fishing adventure, I would have the more wearisome task of doing that trek again in reverse.

War reenactments are carried out in several countries but, to the best of my knowledge, the biggest ones are carried out in the United States. The 135th anniversary Gettysburg reenactment (1998) is generally believed to be the most-attended reenactment, according to Wikipedia, with attendance estimates ranging from 15,000 to over 20,000.

My own reenactment was a little more modest. One person. Moi. And to make things even worse, that one person had no idea that they were reenacting anything at all.

So what battle did I reenact? It could have been one of several, but its history has been cemented into common culture through the medium of a well-known nursery rhyme. I remember hearing this as a kid. If you are not familiar with it, here it is:

“The Grand Old Duke of York”

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down

I must admit I can´t read this without wanting to sing it. I guess it´s the child in me. It is sung to the tune of “A-hunting we will go”

Interestingly, even though this is an English nursery rhyme there are other European versions of it. This is from Holland:

De held prins Maurits kwam
met honderdduizend man
daar ging hij mee de heuvel op
en ook weer naar benee
en was ‘ie bovenan
dan was ‘ie niet benee
en was ‘ie halverwege
was ‘ie boven noch benee

If your Dutch is a little rusty, allow me to translate….. (or paste in the translation!)

The hero Prince Maurice came
with a hundred thousand men
with them he went up the hill
and also down again
and when he was up
then he wasn’t down
and when he was half-way
he was neither up nor down

And the French, not to be outdone, got in on the act too………

Le grand vieux duc d’York

Oh, le grand vieux duc d’York,
Il avait dix mille hommes ;
En haut de la colline il les fit marcher,
Et les a fait redescendre.

Une fois tout en haut, tout en haut,
Et une fois tout en bas, tout en bas,
Et quand ils étaient à mi-hauteur,
Ils n’étaient ni en haut ni en bas.

Funnily enough, the earliest version of this thing actually had a French king instead of the Duke. Here it is, from way back in 1642:

“The King of France with forty thousand men,
Came up a hill and so came downe againe.”

Looking at all this history, it becomes a little unclear who the Duke actually was. We have a French king, we have Prince Maurice, and to muddy the waters even further, we have several other candidates; Richard, Duke of York, James II and Prince Frederick.

Take your pick!

And I guess there must be many possible hills that these guys marched their troops up and, of course, back down again!

There is an interesting modern addition to this, very modern in fact. It is a parody from this year relating to our current Prince Andrew who seems to have taken up residence, more or less permanently, in the royal family´s dog house:

“The grand old Duke of York, he had twelve million quid.

He gave it to someone he never met, for something he never did.”

Let´s leave behind the unexpected but fascinating complexities surrounding a rather simple rhyme. The essential unifying idea, as far as I can see, is that the Duke, whoever he is, marches his troops, however many there may be of them, up and down a hill, wherever that happens to be, for some reason, whatever it is, but the the whole exercise TURNS OUT TO BE UTTERLY POINTLESS.

And that, in essence, is how yesterday´s expedition turned out to be for me. I walk down a mountain (this is where my version differs), then I paddle over to where some fish should be (and they are there) then I cast to one and my rod breaks on the top section, then I say things I won´t repeat here, then I paddle back, then I climb back up a mountain again.

This is not a lot to show for an exhausting evening but maybe there is some reward.

Can consider myself worthy of being called a Duke?

This, as you will immediately recognise, is Maurice, Prince of Orange. Like me, he is a Duke (or at least he was). He features, at least in one version, of the telling of the famous rhyme.