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Telling the time...

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Telling the time...

Postby jf42 » February 16th, 2013, 5:53 pm

Greetings. I'm not sure where to post this but this seems a reasonable starting place

I have difficulty enough with time in the 21st century but before GMT etc, how did armies on the move in foreign countries decide what time it was?

To be specific, if an officer serving in the Duke of York''s army in December 1794 wrote "We stood to at 5 o'clock every morning" would that have been just in his regiment? Did the Brigade commander establish local time in Orders ? Did ADC's from HQ ride around synchronising watches? Or did they just go by the local church tower and hope for the best? How did it work?

How dependable is any reference to a specific time of day in this period? General David Dundas reports the French attacking on the 4th of January at about 2 pm. His C-in C at HQ 15 or so miles away reports it was on the 5th at 10 am. Typos and plain error aside, was that discrepancy less strange than it appears? Dundas was the man on the spot but he only got the date wrong. Easy to do of course. Morning and afternoon: a little more fundamental, perhaps.

My basic question: If I know that at Geldermalsen in the Netherlands on January 5th 2013 dawn broke around 8.30, how can I tell at what time dawn broke on January 5th 1795?

All advice gratefully received.

JF
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby Maximrac » February 17th, 2013, 9:50 am

Hello,
According to my charts and some calculations. Dawn broke at 8:09 AM on that day Dutch time. The sun set at 4:02 PM. This is ofcourse following information which has been back traced.
Some other information about that day: it was a full moon, a monday and it has been 79666 days ago.

It seems that the watches were 30 minutes off, from Dutch time and GMT. So there's no conclusion to be drawn from this information about the accuracy of time or whether they corrected their watches to the correct time zone.

If you have any other date with a timed sunrise or sunset I could check again for you.
Greetings from Holland,
Max
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » February 17th, 2013, 11:02 am

jf42 wrote: before GMT etc, how did armies on the move in foreign countries decide what time it was? JF

Good question!

Chronometers, and sextants were in use by the end of the 18th century, Jesuits produced pendulum clocks, officers had pocket watches but how an army decided on the time could depend on where it was. Around 1795 the French government changed to decimal clocks, with a day divided into 10 hours of 100 minutes each. A clock in the Palais des Tuileries kept decimal time as late as 1801. It was one of the most unpopular changes associated with the metric system and abandoned.

I've read that Louis Napoleon, when he was briefly king of the Netherlands, standardised Dutch time that until then had varied per region. The Duke of York's army was in Flanders in 1794, still part of the Netherlands.

Sarah
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby jf42 » February 18th, 2013, 1:27 am

Thank you both. Very helpful. So it would seem that, in general, standard time in the Netherlands in 1794-95 wasn't far off whatever we in the C21st call the standard for Northwest Europe in January (?GMT +1).

I was in fact aware that the 5th Jan 1795 was the day of a full moon- which rose confusingly around 0940 am. Does that mean it had been a moonless night?

The point about time differing between regions is interesting. I remember reading something similar about time differences between London and Edinburgh, etc.

Geldermalsen is not in Flanders by the way- although the 'battle' is often described as taking place during the Duke of York's "disastrous Flanders campaign." (etc.) In fact, Geldermalsen [Pronounced: HELDER-MOLLSEN] lies in the Dutch province of Gelderland, specifically on the river Linge in the district of Betuwe (Cognate with the Latin 'Batavia)'. 'Flanders' seems frequently to be used as a synonym for the Low Countries.

It was after the closely fought battle of Fleurus in June 1794 that the Austrians finally abandoned Flanders. In the face of superior French forces, the Duke of York's Anglo-German contingent withdrew through the southern Netherlands, their flanks being turned repeatedly, until they crossed the Waal into Gelderland and turned to make a stand, hoping to shelter behind the waterways of the Meuse-Rhine delta until winter brought a pause. The repeated falling back of their Austrian and Dutch allies on each flank and extreme winter weather meant that this strategy fairly quickly proved unworkable. The waterways and inundations of the Zuider Waterlinie, key element in the defences of the United Provinces, froze solid, rendering the allies' defensive moat ineffective along much of its length and, after a few defiant parrying thrusts that only delayed the inevitable (including not one but two actions at Geldermalsen), the British fell back from the Rhine with the French pressing hard on their tail and Holland was abandoned to the Revolution.

I digress. Max, what is the starting point of the back tracing you mention? I'm curious -which sometimes helps chip away at my extensive ignorance- How does that work?
Last edited by jf42 on February 22nd, 2013, 2:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby Maximrac » February 18th, 2013, 6:27 pm

Data about dutch daylight durations sunsets etc was kept by an astronomer. He lived in Eindhoven(Noord-Brabant). His records were also kept in Eindhoven and are digitized by the TU/e. Which happens to be the university were I study, so coincidentaly I have access to these files.
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby jf42 » February 18th, 2013, 6:50 pm

What a useful resource to have. I have just found images online of a tithe map (? tiendkaart) from the early 18th, kept in archives at Utrecht, which is almost like aerial photographs of the township. Thanks again to the very organised Dutch!
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby Maximrac » February 18th, 2013, 7:20 pm

The tiendkaart of a town was made by the Catholic church. Loosly translated it's a 'tenth map', the Catholic church had a tax on 1/10 of some revenues. As the Catholic church liked it's money and had enough time on their hands, they created very detailed maps of plots of land and who owned them.

It looks like you're very interested in campaigns which took place in The Netherlands, if you ever need help with translations or a Dutch view on the subject don't hesitate to PM me!
Greetings,
Max
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby jf42 » February 18th, 2013, 8:23 pm

Thanks, Max. Indeed, I am. The fighting at Geldermalsen in 1795 was origin of a long standing tradition in Scottish regimental history that now proves to have had little foundation in fact. Now that it has been generally agreed what didn't happen at Geldermalsen in 1795, I decided to research what did happen there to understand the relationship between unreliable eye-witness reports on which the legend was based and the available facts.

Thank you for the kind offer of assistance. I may well take you up on it.

JF
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Re: Telling the time...

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » February 19th, 2013, 9:30 am

jf42 wrote:The fighting at Geldermalsen in 1795 was origin of a long standing tradition in Scottish regimental history that now proves to have had little foundation in fact. Now that it has been generally agreed what didn't happen at Geldermalsen in 1795, I decided to research what did happen there to understand the relationship between unreliable eye-witness reports on which the legend was based and the available facts. JF

A valuable research goal that I hope you’ll share with us. Thank you for the information about the Battle of Geldermalsen. I didn't quite connect the dots between Geldermalsen and your query about time in your first post! I lived in the Netherlands and continue to be interested in its history. The effect of the Napoleonic annexation of the country had a profound effect on it – both positive [reform] and negative [no longer a Dutch navy to defend its trade routes].

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Re: Telling the time...

Postby Mark » February 21st, 2013, 9:57 pm

A fascinating discussion! I have long had an interest in watches (both modern and antique) and have often thought about acquiring a Georgian period pocket watch. However, what I haven't considered is the finer points regarding time during this period. While I was aware of the different times employed before the standardisation of time I didn't apply this thought to the difficulties it must have posed the armies and military commanders of the French Revolutionary and Napolonic Wars period. I will be watching this thread with great interest.

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