Today is a very special day in Fredericia. For, 162 years ago, a battle was fought on the beaches and hills of Fredericia which decided the fate of Denmark. This battle was won and the invading forces of Schleswig-Holstein (A Danish-German royal family), were repelled. What started the war?
The Danish people had demanded a more liberal constitution and the Schleswig-Holstein bigwigs were appalled that the monarchy had been overrun by revolutionaries. They were worried that Schleswig would be partitioned from Holstein and that having a constitutional monarchy would threaten the aristocratic lifestyle the top brass in the duchy so enjoyed. The Danish king had offered to bring the duchy more into Denmark and the Schleswig-Holstein’s freaked. As all of this was a part of Denmark, what happened was a civil war.
One of the battles that Denmark won in the first war was in F-town. This was an important battle because Fredericia guards the entry onto the next big island Fyn and from there you can take Sjælland (where the capital Copenhagen is). The whole town is set up so it can be besieged without ill effect for a long time. Its streets were designed as “blocks” so that you can see down the end of the road to the sea or the man made rampart hill. The town was heavily fortified and had a large water tower. Churches were not allowed steeples, so they could not be used as targets. They meant business.
The Schleswig-Holsteins ALSO meant business and they had laid F-town under siege since 9th May that year. They had also heavily shelled the town, causing a lot of it to burn down (the civilians had fled to the island of Fyn).
The Frederician army prepared to attack on 5th July. There was a cock up and so it was postponed for one day. The Schleswig-Holsteins expected to be attacked on the 5th so were fast asleep in their camps when the Danes did attack at 1am on the 6th. A lot of people died and were wounded (1285 from S-H and 1781 from DK), including General Rye the leader of the Danish forces. The battle was over by 9am.
The upshot was a ceasefire (until a constitutional crisis started the second Schleswig-Holstein war).
Fredericia celebrates the battle with all the flags ever, canons and a marching band going through the streets at 7am. The Danish forces might have used straw to dampen the sound of their passage all that time ago but the commemorative forces announce themselves with drums and brass instruments.
There are two focus points for the day. The “Landsoldat” memorial and the churchyard mass grave for the men that died. Both are guarded by soldiers in fancy dress, both are decorated with flags and flowers but only one is attended by the people of F-town.
The mass grave is ignored for the excitement of the canons on the ramparts.
For the most part, children are taken by their dagplejemor to see them as their ægtemor is at work. There are old canons which are merely ceremonial and some old canons bought after the second world war that are used to go BANG. The Danish army are in charge of making it go BANG, so there are soldiers everywhere (not all in ceremonial battle costume).
On some streets there are flags every 100 metres. There is a special 6. juli cake, even.
Though it was 162 years ago and we are all friends now, so any urge to yell “IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO GET OVER IT!” might be a tiny little bit justified.