George William Bryant: a good life

Me and my Dad

George William Bryant: a good life

I wanted to write a post about my Dad on what would have been his birthday, as I wrote one about my Mum, Iris, on hers, but this time I hesitated. I adored both my parents equally, but coming to write this, I’m uncomfortably aware that I don’t know as much about my Dad’s early life as I do about my Mum’s.

I wonder about that. Was it because I was less close, as a child, to his family and therefore didn’t hear all the childhood tales which were part of my growing years in the East End? Or was it simply the difference between them as people, where my Mum talked freely and openly and ALL THE TIME while my Dad was more of an observer, watching the females take the limelight with great affection and appreciation. Afterwards, I decided it was silly anyway. I know loads about my Dad; not necessarily the accurate details about the streets he lived on and the schools he attended, but all the important things about the man he was.

George William Bryant was born on 9th November 1929 in Southwark, the eldest son of George and Elizabeth Bryant. Like Mum’s family, they were very much working class, and living close to the Thames, the occupations on the various birth, marriage and death certificates in the family reflect the importance of the river in their lives. My great-grandfathers were both porters and waterside labourers and my grandfather was a furnace-man in a metal working factory, a relatively well-paid occupation for a young man. It was also lethal, and a lifetime’s exposure to dust, high temperatures, and chemicals left him with damaged lungs which eventually led to his death.

Dad, Bill and Tom, around 1998 I think.

My grandparents lived in Jamaica Road in Bermondsey when my father was born, and never moved far away from there. They always lived in rented flats and raised four sons, George, William, Johnny and Tom, in similar cramped conditions to my Mum’s family across the water.

My Dad’s childhood stories were all about the river. He could remember swimming in the Thames with his brothers, fishing with his Dad and mudlarking along the banks with his friends. The river was special to Dad, and in later life he passed on something of that reverence and affection to my Mum and then to us. The sight of the Thames on a visit to London still touches my heart in a very special way and I know I got that from him.

Like most London children, Dad was evacuated during the war. His father was in the army, and as Tommy was still a very young baby, his mum was able to go with them to a farm in Kent. I don’t know as much detail as I do of my Mum’s evacuation days, but I do know that my father loved living in the country, and it was a love that stayed with him all his life.

Like my Mum, Dad left school at fourteen. I don’t know much about his schooling, apart from the fact that during evacuation, it didn’t really happen at all. For most of his life, Dad was self-conscious about his lack of education. It gave him a determination to make up for it as an adult. Like Mum, he was a voracious reader, and introduced me to all his favourite thrillers and war stories. From his bookshelves, I devoured Alistair Maclean, Neville Shute and Douglas Reeman. He loved military and naval history and through him I discovered CS Forester, Patrick O’Brien and Bernard Cornwell. He also read non-fiction history, especially biographies, and he was utterly devoted to Charles Dickens. Somewhat eccentrically for a working-class boy from Southwark, he had a passion for beautiful looking books as well, and one of his only personal extravagances in later life were several bound sets of his favourite authors, which he would read on a regular basis.

National Service

Dad’s early jobs were in the building trade, interrupted by National Service in the army. When he came out, he went back to building and decorating. He doesn’t seem to have been much of a planner in those days, living at home, paying rent to his parents and the rest of his pay on enjoying himself. He liked going to the pub and going to dances, and had a big group of friends and a love affair that broke his heart. He was still suffering when his best friend, a lad named Bobby Mooney, started trying to get him together with a friend of his fiancee, a girl from the East End who had just come out of the Land Army. My Dad resisted for a long time, but he was best man at Bobby and Violet’s wedding where Iris Taylor was maid of honour, and meeting her changed everything.

George and Iris Bryant

My parents courtship was less straightforward than it should have been, as my Mum was involved in a long-distance relationship with a young German, a former POW who had settled near Cambridge, a story I’ve told elsewhere. She always used to tease my Dad, saying that she eventually chose him for his good looks. Actually I think she may have had a point, he looked like a film star.

With marriage, came the need for more financial security, and my Dad took a job as a railway porter. Eventually, encouraged by my Mum, who had all the confidence in him that he lacked for himself, he applied to what was then the Post Office and later became British Telecom, and trained as a telephone engineer. The money was less to start with, but got better as he obtained more and more qualifications. It was also a very steady job, and made it possible for them to start a family.

Dad with his girls. And yes, I am the little chubby one…

My Dad loved fatherhood. He was the most involved father out of all my friends families. Growing up, I had no idea how unusual he was, in a generation where raising children was still women’s work. He was there at every crucial point of my upbringing, taking turns with nappies, bottle feeding and bathing as if it was the most natural thing in the world. As we grew older, he became an expert in managing shift work so that he could be home early enough to take us to the park, or swimming, or to play tennis. I spent more time with my Dad than any of my friends.

My parents were poor at times, in a way we find difficult to understand now, but they were good managers. They never owned a house, but saved their money and made sure we had everything we needed, and as we grew older, and money became more available, we had holidays and days out and although we never toured the world, I have so many happy memories of exploring castles and climbing rocks and paddling with him.

But there was more to Dad than just a father. He had interests and hobbies and for a shy man, he loved people. A self-taught but talented amateur artist, I can’t remember a time when he didn’t have a sketch book with him, and his paintings and drawings adorned our walls. He was very fit, a powerful swimmer, probably from his boyhood, growing up by the river, and a very good tennis player. I’ve never known where he learned that, but he used to play with my uncle every weekend through the summer.

Dad was also a very spiritual man. I don’t know if church featured much in his childhood, but we were raised in it, and so much of my young days centred around church activities at St Paul’s in Old Ford. Dad was a church warden and a member of a lot of church groups. As a child, singing in the choir and acting in the nativity plays, going to church was so natural to me that I never really gave much thought to Dad’s faith, but as he grew older and moved to different churches and different activities, I had a better understanding of him. His was a gentle faith, which took into account difference. He never argued religion, never really talked much about it at all. It was just part of who he was.

Dad also loved to fish, and as we lived within easy reach of the canal, and several lakes, he spent many happy hours sitting peacefully with his rod. He made friends fishing, especially after his retirement, and when I went home on visits, he would always find an excuse to take a walk along the tow path, especially after I had the children, proud of his family and wanting to show us off to all his friends, including the lock keeper.

Music was another important part of Dad’s life. He never learned to play an instrument, although he could pick out a tune on a piano very well, but he adored classical music, and introduced it to my sister and I from a very early age. We had an enormous old gramophone in a cabinet in our living room, and Dad built up a treasured collection of classical albums. He loved Schubert and Mozart and Chopin, but his absolute favourite was Grieg, and the sound of that piano concerto makes me feel as though I’m in a room with him to this day.

Dad was a devoted husband, who visibly adored my Mum, even while teasing her about her eccentricities. They shared a lot of interests, including history, dancing, and going for long walks. Other pastimes, they did separately, and I’ve always thought it might have been one of the reasons their marriage was so successful that they were never joined at the hip but both had other interests and other friends.

I had no idea how badly my Dad longed for grandchildren, until I presented him with two, quite late on. He was involved from the start, drove me mad during both pregnancies by trying to wrap me in cotton wool, and became a beloved Papa (my son couldn’t say Grandpa, so that became his name) to both of them, babysitting whenever he could, reading endless stories and spending hours drawing and painting with them.

Dad was a very physically fit man, and the news that he had prostate cancer in his seventies, was a shock although we were not especially worried at the start. The disease progressed with horrible speed, and the quality of care received was hampered by his stubborn reluctance to allow my sister and I to get involved until it was too late. For Dad, it was his job to take care of us, not the other way around, and when he finally caved in and agreed to move closer to one of us, he had too little time left.

He came to the Isle of Man. From the day we first moved here, Dad fell passionately in love with the place, and was on a plane three or four times a year to spend as much time with us as he could. A city boy, he had always yearned to live in the country, and especially by the sea, and I think he would have made the move much sooner if my Mum had not been so firmly devoted to London. We found him an apartment overlooking the sea, and although he had only a few months left to live, it gave him pleasure to sit in the big bay window and watch the waves and the seagulls swooping over. He loved the slower pace of life of the island, and it was a grief to me that he wasn’t able to enjoy it for longer.

Dad died in Nobles Hospital on 13th June 2007, just after the end of TT. I sat with him in his room on the day before he died, watching The Quiet Man with John Wayne. It was one of his favourite old movies, and I’d watched it with him so many times throughout my childhood. I didn’t know then it would be for the last time, but it still made him laugh out loud.

When my sister and I were going through his things after his death, there were so many things that made us laugh and cry, because they were so typical of him. There was a mountain of artwork and artists materials, and my daughter still uses a lovely wooden refillable watercolour set belonging to him. There were more coats than a man could wear in one lifetime. Dad spent his life searching for the perfect coat, and he very clearly never threw one away. There was a huge collection of classical music CDs and old movies on DVD.  We found paperwork, neatly filed, telling the story of several adoptions, including a boy at an orphanage in Burma who still wrote to my Dad, who had funded his schooling and an elephant in a sanctuary in South Africa. After his death, we adopted a koala saved from wildfires in Australia and named it George Bryant in his honour. He’d have liked that.

George William Bryant is buried with my Mum on a windy hillside in Braddan, with horses grazing in the neighbouring field. I go up there regularly to take flowers to them both, and in good weather I sit for a while and enjoy the quiet. Dad would have been happy he was buried near us, he was more interested in people than places, and he wanted to be where we were.

I remember him as a quiet man, who tended to take a back seat in his very noisy family, but a man of principle, who would say what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to express a controversial opinion if he thought it was the right thing to do. A generous man, he would give both time and money to anybody in need. After his death, we received letters from all over the world, and discovered that for years he’d been an active member of a local International Club which was run through his church for overseas students and young people working in London, and he had friends in China, Indonesia and various parts of Africa who cared enough to write expressing their sorrow at his death. He was an animal lover, devoted to his various pets over the years, and supporting wildlife charities. And he was a family man, who loved his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren.

Happy ninety-first birthday Dad. I wish you’d lived long enough to hold my first published book in your hands, you’d have been so proud, but you read enough to know what I was writing and you loved it. You also had a lot to do with why I write what I do. Your life touched so many people, and they remember you as a good man. That’s not a bad epitaph.

Sir Edward Codrington

When I decided to write a post on Sir Edward Codrington for the latest Historical Writers Forum blog hop, I can honestly say that I hadn’t really taken on board, that the title of the blog hop was going to be “My favourite historical character” or I might have chosen somebody else. Codrington is by no means my favourite. Anybody who has read my books will know that the Duke of Wellington tops my list, with honourable mentions for General Robert Craufurd and General Charles Alten. However, I’ve already written blog posts on all of these, and I wanted to do somebody different.

I introduced Codrington and his wife in This Blighted Expedition, and he is going to be an important character in the next book in the Manxman series, This Bloody Shore, which will be out during the second half of next year. And having spent some time reading his published memoirs, as well as looking into his career, I admit, that while Codrington isn’t my favourite, I do like him. So what’s the problem?

The problem, dear reader, is that Edward Codrington was a slave owner. But we’ll come back to that later.

 

Edward Codrington was born in 1770, a youngest son in an aristocratic family. His mother died the same year, possibly giving birth to him, and his father died when he was five, leaving him to the care of an uncle by the name of Bethell. He was educated at Harrow for a short time and entered the Royal Navy in 1783 at the age of thirteen.

Codrington served in the Mediterranean, off the United States and in home waters, until 1793 when he was promoted to lieutenant. By this time, he seems to have been under the patronage of Lord Howe, who was possibly an acquaintance of his uncle, and he was chosen as signal lieutenant in the Channel fleet and served on HMS Queen Charlotte in the battle of the Glorious First of June. Having distinguished himself during the battle, he was promoted to commander in October 1794 and then post-captain in April 1795 at the age of 25. He commanded HMS Babet and then HMS Druid in the Channel and off Portugal, and took part in the capture of a French vessel carrying troops to assist the rebels in Ireland in 1797.

This was followed by a period on land and on half-pay. This was not unusual as there were always more captains than ships to command. Patronage was vitally important and Lord Howe, Codrington’s patron, died at his home in London in 1799. Codrington did not waste his time on land, however, and was married in 1802 to Jane Hall, a young woman from Kingston, Jamaica. The Codringtons had three sons and two daughters and appear to have been a devoted couple. In 1810, Codrington wrote to his wife:

“To be a hero one needs not to be a bad husband, most certainly; but I fear that, in order to obtain the lofty situation from which heroism can be adopted practically, in the mode of external warfare to which the sons of England are subject in these times, a man must possess none of those yearnings after his wife and children which interfere with all my official proceedings. And therefore, my dear Jane, never expect that your weak, loving husband will become a hero, a Nelson, until some other Lady Hamilton shall, by her wicked influence, utterly quench those feelings of father and husband which are now his pride and his consolation. My only resource will be, if ever I should become an admiral and Commander – in – chief, to petition that my wife may be allowed to accompany me as my secretary; – and therefore prepare yourself for this contingency!”

Pocock, Nicholas; The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805: End of the Action; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-battle-of-trafalgar-21-october-1805-end-of-the-action-175342

In 1803 the Peace of Amiens ended and England was once more at war with France. Codrington was back at sea, initially in a series of small frigates, and finally in 1805,  in HMS Orion, a ship of the line. Codrington fought at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October. The Orion attacked the French ship, the Swiftsure, forcing her to surrender, made an unsuccessful attack on the Spanish flagship and then attacked the Intrepide along with several other English ships.

For the following few years, in command of HMS Blake, Codrington fought in the Mediterranean alongside the Spanish, commanding a squadron to harry the French along the coast. He was then called to take part in the disastrous Walcheren expedition in 1809, and it was at this point, researching This Blighted Expedition, that I first came across him. Codrington and his wife would have been only a few years older than my fictional navy couple, Hugh and Roseen Kelly, with children of a similar age, and a friendship seemed like a good plot device. In Codrington’s published memoirs is a vivid description of Jane’s terrifying ordeal during the shipwreck of HMS Venerable when she travelled to visit him in Walcheren, and in the novel, Roseen accompanies her.

After Walcheren, Codrington returned to Spain’s eastern seaboard. He was very involved when Tarragona was besieged by the French army, bringing in reinforcements, guiding cannon launches against the enemy and trying to assist the garrison. When the city fell, he performed a daring rescue operation on the beach, under fire from enemy guns and rescued more than 600 people, going to the trouble to personally reunite families who were separated during the evacuation. Codrington also showed a willingness to intervene in political matters when he spoke against the disarming of the local Catalan militia.

Codrington’s distinguished service was rewarded when he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Blue in 1814, while serving off the coast of North America as Cochrane’s captain of the fleet. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1815, a rear admiral of the Red in 1819, and a vice admiral in 1821. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1822.

Tragedy struck the family some time in 1821 or 1822 when Codrington’s son Edward,  a midshipman aboard Cambrian was drowned in the Mediterranean. He was taking a cutter to Hydra when a squall overturned the boat, drowning Edward, a merchant, and three crewmen.

In 1826, Codrington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet and sailed for Greek waters in 1827, with orders to impose a peaceful solution on the chaos of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. Codrington was in command of a combined British, French and Russian fleet, and had been told to find a diplomatic solution. Diplomacy does not seem to have been Codrington’s strong point, and although he appears to have been under the mistaken impression that the Ottomans had broke an agreed truce, I suspect that the suffering of the local population would have been enough to set him off anyway. On 20 October 1827, in an action which very clearly exceeded his orders, Codrington destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Navarino.

After the battle Codrington went to Malta to refit his ships, then in May 1828, he sailed to join the French and Russian fleets on the coast of the Morea to attempt to force the capitulation of the governor, Ibrahim Pasha, who was employing brutal tactics to suppress rebellion in the area, desolating the countryside and sending thousands of the inhabitants into slavery in Egypt, intending to replace them with Muslim settlers from Africa.

On 22 June, Codrington received the news that he was to be recalled, probably to account for his actions. Before his successor could arrive, however, the three admirals agreed that Codrington should travel to Alexandria to persuade Mehemet Ali to recall Ibrahim Pasha. With typical disregard for the probable terms of his recall, Codrington went, and the evacuation of the Morea was settled in the treaty 6 August 1828. A French expeditionary force landed, and in October 1828 Ibrahim Pasha evacuated the country.

After his return home, Codrington mounted a spirited defence of his actions, and was fully exonerated and rewarded by the grant of the Grand Cross of the Bath, although there is no doubt that the British government was embarrassed by his intervention. It was considered that his action had further weakened the Ottoman Empire, which was seen as a bulwark against the ambitions of Russia.

Codrington spent the rest of his career close to home. He commanded a training squadron in the Channel in 1831 and became a full admiral in 1837. He was an MP between 1832 and 1839, when he became Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth until 1842. His beloved Jane died in 1837.

Codrington died in London on 28 April 1851. He was survived by two sons, both of whom achieved distinction in the British armed forces. Sir William Codrington was a commander in the Crimean War and Sir Henry Codrington  became an Admiral of the Fleet. His daughter Jane, married Sir Thomas Bourchier and was responsible for the publication of Codrington’s memoirs. There was another daughter, Elizabeth, but I’ve not  yet been able to find out much about her, so I’m wondering if she died young.

Codrington was buried in St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square, then in 1954, the remains were reburied at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. Plaques to his memory can be found in St Paul’s Cathedral and All Saints Church, Dodington, close to the family home and there is an obelisk dedicated to the memory of Codrington and his officers who fought at Navarino at Pylos, in Greece. Numerous roads are named after him in Greece, and stamps with his image have been issued.

That was Sir Edward Codrington the hero. He was brave, intelligent and not afraid to put his own life and reputation on the line in order to do the right thing. He was well-liked and had many friends. He was a devoted husband, who adored his wife. He was compassionate, as demonstrated by his personal quest to reunite mothers and babies separated during the evacuation of Tarragona.

And he was a slave owner.

I’ve spent some time trying to find out more about this aspect of Codrington’s life. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Codringtons, the Bethell and the Hall families were plantation owners, slave owners and an integral part of the high-ranking families who made fortunes from the human misery of slavery in eighteenth century Britain. It’s much harder to establish the actual personal involvement of each individual member of every family to the institution of slavery. From my little outpost on the Isle of Man, especially in the middle of a pandemic, my research facilities are limited. Having said that, thanks to the fantastic website run by The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at UCL, I’ve been able to find out a surprising amount about Sir Edward Codrington’s family, and I’m going to follow this up with another blog post, since that has been a whole different research rabbit hole.

Here’s what I know so far about Sir Edward Codrington and slavery. On 5th October 1835, under the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, Codrington was awarded government compensation of £2588 6s 6d for the 190 slaves he had owned at the Rooms plantation on Antigua, and who had been freed under the terms of the act. The plantation was part of an inheritance shared by his siblings, from his uncle, Christopher Bethell in 1797.

Sir Edward’s memoirs and published letters are very quiet on the subject of slavery. Most of the references I could find, concerned his horrified indictment of the Ottoman practice of taking Greek prisoners into slavery in Egypt, but there is no hint in any of his letters that he drew any parallel with the slaves he owned in Antigua. This is probably not surprising, since most of these letters were of a professional and highly public nature and Codrington was fighting for his career after Navarino.

The only reference I could find to plantation slavery, is in a letter to his wife, dated February 1806. It seems that Codrington sent Jane an article from the Edinburgh Review which he hoped she would read.

“As I see no marks whatever, I fancy you did not look over the (article in the Edinburgh Review on) the Examen de l’Esclavage; which I lament, because that brutal publication has called forth from these gentlemen an investigation into the merits of the slave trade, and some reasoning on its merits and consequences, which I think well worthy the consideration of the planters. A new system must take place sooner or later in that part of the world; and I am fully convinced that it would be much better for it to originate with the most interested; and I think also, that they would find their advantage in anticipation, instead of waiting till the necessity of the case runs away with all the credit which might be due to the measure.”

The book to which Codrington refers was “Examen de l’esclavage in général, et particulierement de l’esclavage des Nègres dans les colonies françaises de l’Amérique” which was published in 1802. I’ve not yet managed to read it, given that my French takes a while and a lot of patience, but as far as I am able to judge, it is written from an abolitionist standpoint. Britain was in the process of abolishing the slave trade, if not yet slavery itself, and it is interesting to see that Codrington was engaging with the debate in a way that suggests that he saw abolition as both desirable and inevitable. This was a very different standpoint to his brother, Christopher Bethell-Codrington, who in the same year rejected pressure from constituents to support the abolition of the slave trade, and continued to oppose abolition right to the bitter end.

However, whatever doubts Edward Codrington may have entertained about slavery did not cause him to free the slaves he owned in Antigua. Slaves they remained until emancipation, and Codrington accepted government compensation along with the other slave owners of the British Isles. I find myself wondering if Codrington ever visited the West Indies. There is no mention of it in his published memoirs. Did he ever even see the men, woman and children he owned, or was he, like so many others, an absentee plantation owner, who took the revenue and gave no thought to the misery behind it?

In 2009, the Greek Ambassador unveiled a blue plaque at the former home of Sir Edward Codrington in Brighton, and local newspapers spoke of Codrington as a hero. In 2020, the plaque was removed after local protests, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd.

So who was Edward Codrington – compassionate war hero who risked his life and reputation for the citizens of Tarragona and the freedom of Greece or a man who made money from the misery of black African slaves? The truth is, of course, that he was both

My fictionalised Ned Codrington needs to encompass all aspects of his character as far as I can discover them. I’d no idea what I was taking on when I decided to include him in my novels, but he’s there now. I already have a sense of how he might be, and I’m looking forward to getting to understand him better.

There is undoubtedly more to know about Codrington, and one day I’d like to try to find out. Perhaps lurking in some archive that I don’t currently have access to, there is evidence that he did speak out openly against slavery during his lifetime. Or perhaps there is evidence that he was the opposite, a man actively involved either in the trade or the running of his plantation, greedy for profit and careless of the lives he ruined. Perhaps, and this would be my guess, Codrington didn’t spend much time thinking about it at all. Antigua was a long way away, and it must have been so easy for a man with a burgeoning career and a growing family to make use of that extra income and ignore where the money came from. I’ll let you know if I find out more. What I do know, is researching this blog post has given me an entire raft of new ideas for the future of the Manxman series.

I wonder what Codrington would have thought of the removal of that blue plaque, if he could somehow see it? I think he might have been surprised that it was there in the first place, Codrington didn’t strike me as a man chasing fame. But he was a man who valued his good name and I think he’d have been sad that a hundred and sixty-nine years after his death, his reputation seems to have been tarnished not by active cruelty but by indifference. 

Sources

The Memoir of the Life of Edward Codrington vols 1 and 2, edited by Lady Jane Bourchier available online here.

The Centre for the Studies of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership at UCL available online here.

The History of Parliament Online, a work in progress, but available here.

Historic Hansard available here.

Don’t forget to watch out for the rest of the Historical Writers Forum October Blog Hop. Author Jen Wilson is up next with her take on Mary, Queen of Scots on Tuesday October 13th.

You can buy the first two books in the Manxman series on Kindle or in paperback over on Amazon.

An Unwilling Alliance: the story of the Copenhagen campaign of 1807

This Blighted Expedition: the story of the Walcheren campaign of 1809

Book three of the series, This Bloody Shore will be published in 2021.

If you have any comments or questions or just want to say hello, please feel free to join me on facebook, twitter or instagram, I always love to talk to readers.

The Story of the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s armyThe Story of the Peninsular War Saga is based on readers’ questions over the three years since the publication of An Unconventional Officer, the book which launched the series and introduced Paul van Daan to the unsuspecting reading public. I’ve just revisited that book, as I’m in the process of re-editing the whole series for paperback.

This is something I’ve been intending to do for several years, but I’ve continually put it off. Researching and writing the books is much more fun than the boring technical details of formatting and re-editing, and somehow I always delay this job until after the next book. My readers, who are an enthusiastic lot, make this far more difficult by constantly screeching for more in the series. However, after the very successful launch of book six, a number of people contacted me asking when the series would be available in paperback as they wanted to be able to buy them as gifts for friends and family who don’t use kindle. This made a lot of sense.

I also found myself in the unusual position of being unsure whether to move on with book seven or to write book three in my linked Manxman series. It seemed to make sense to do some reading for both, before making a decision, while working with Heather, my editor, to make the books as perfect as possible before launching the paperback editions. It also felt like a good time for me to look back over the past three years at both the story behind the story, and at my own development as a writer.

I get a lot of questions sent to me by e-mail and messenger and I try, if possible, to reply. When I was trying to write this post, I looked back over both questions and answers, and decided this was a good way of structuring the article, so I’ve reproduced some of them here, often with extended answers.

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  1. What made you want to write about the Napoleonic Wars?

I first got interested in the Napoleonic wars at University, although I never actually studied them then. I did a course on the history of South Africa, and was introduced to a larger than life character by the name of Sir Harry Smith. As background reading, I got hold of his autobiography and read about his younger days fighting under Wellington in the Peninsula. That led me on to Georgette Heyer’s fabulous novel about Harry and his Spanish wife Juana, and also to other Peninsular War memoirs like Kincaid.

I was completely hooked. I already had ambitions to write historical novels, and I’d thought of various different periods including the English Civil Wars, which I studied at Uni, or the Anglo-Scottish conflicts in the sixteenth century. I also really wanted to write a novel set in nineteenth century South Africa. But the Napoleonic Wars seemed to me to be an excellent setting for a series.

I messed around with a lot of ideas for all of these over the next few years, but I was also busy getting my degrees, finding jobs and getting on with life. I wrote several books of various types during this time, none of which stood a hope in hell of getting published, and even scribbled down some ideas for the Peninsular War Saga. Then in 1993 a TV series began, starring Sean Bean. That led me to read some of the Sharpe novels, and I decided that with Bernard Cornwell doing it so well, and a lot of other authors publishing similar books off the back of his success, there was no chance that anybody was going to pick up a series by an unknown writer who also happened to be a woman.

2. Was An Unconventional Officer your first book?

Written or published? The answer is no and no. I tried to get an agent and a traditional publishing contract for many years before the advent of Kindle and self-publishing, and I wrote a number of different books on advice from people in the industry. I was usually told that as a woman, I should write romance, and that my best chance was with Mills and Boon, so I tried both historical and contemporary with a lot of very positive comments, but no success.

By the time I decided to publish independently, I was sick of the whole thing. I had four completed historical novels that I was reasonably happy with, none of which, I was told, were ‘marketable’. An Unconventional Officer was one of them. I still really wanted to write the full series, and I was already almost at the end of book two, with two more fully researched and planned out, when I made the decision to go for it, egged on by my husband.

Because the publishing process was new to me, and I had literally NO idea how to market my books, I decided to publish the three ‘standalone’ novels first to see how they went. So I published A Respectable Woman, A Marcher Lord and The Reluctant Debutante fairly close together, before being brave enough to put An Unconventional Officer out there. Later on, I re-edited The Reluctant Debutante, in order to link it in with the Peninsular War Saga and wrote a second Regency to go with it.

3. How did Paul van Daan come about? Is he based on a real historical person?

Paul isn’t based on a real person, although he has characteristics of a number of different people. 

There’s definitely something of Harry Smith in there, and I’ve deliberately included Harry and Juana in the books as minor characters. Smith was a flamboyant character, very full of himself, and a favourite of Wellington’s despite not being of the social class most generally favoured by his Lordship. He also had a much adored young wife who shared all the dangers of life on campaign with him, and I don’t think anybody would believe me if I said that idea didn’t make its way into the Peninsular War Saga.

With regard to Paul’s care for the welfare of his men, I’ve taken some of that from Rowland ‘Daddy’ Hill although I can’t really imagine any of Paul’s lot nicknaming him ‘Daddy’. But in terms of his eccentric style of managing his men and his aversion to flogging, I got the idea from a rather fabulous book called The Letters of Private Wheeler.

William Wheeler of the 51st wrote a series of letters which began with his early days in the regiment, shortly before embarking on the disastrous Walcheren campaign in 1809 and run through to 1828. They are an amazing source of information on the life of an infantryman during this period and I use them all the time. They also introduced me to Wheeler’s first commanding officer, an eccentric gentleman by the name of Lt-Colonel Mainwaring. Wheeler gives several different anecdotes about the colonel, but this gives the flavour of the man.

“It is the general custom of most regiments to shut up the gates, and confine the men to Barracks when under orders for Foreign service. Not so with us. Colonel Mainwaring does not approve of this plan. When he received the order, the gates were thrown wide open that the good soldier might make merry and enjoy himself, at the same time adding that if there should be any poltroons in disguise among us they might be off, it was only the good soldiers he wished to take with him. We were going to reap laurels, therefore he should not hinder the good soldier from enjoying himself for the sake of keeping a few good for nothing fellows. If any such had crept into the Corps, they would only cover the regiment with disgrace. The confidence reposed in us was not in one singe instance abused, not one man having deserted.”

With regard to the practice of flogging, Wheeler tells us that:

“Lt-Colonel Mainwaring is a very humane man. He is no advocate for the cat o’nine tails. I have more than once heard it remarked that if he could not stand fire better than witness a flogging, he would be the worst soldier in the army.”

Over the years I have had one or two reviewers complaining that Paul van Daan’s attitude to discipline is unrealistic and could not possibly have existed at this period. Colonel Mainwaring is my answer to that one. He probably wasn’t the only one, but he is certainly my favourite.

4. Why is Paul half Dutch?

I’m amazed this question hasn’t been asked more often. The answer is very simple and has nothing to do with the Peninsular War Saga. As I mentioned above, before I wrote An Unconventional Officer, I wrote another book which was set in South Africa in the early to mid-nineteenth century. The main character was a young Boer from an Anglicised family who was partly educated in England, and who served under Sir Harry Smith, and one of the themes of the book was his struggle to come to terms with the conflicting parts of his heritage. The character’s name was Paul van Daan. At a certain point it became clear that book was never going to be published for a number of reasons, but I rather fell in love with him, so I decided to transport him back in time to the Peninsular War. I had every intention of changing the surname and making him English, but it just didn’t work, he was too well established in my head. So I gave him a Dutch father instead.

5. How did you come up with Anne’s character and is she based on anybody real?

Anne isn’t really based on any one person. I wanted my heroine to be able to fit into the period and into army life, so I gave her a background which I thought made that possible. I wanted a hard-headed, practical woman who was very intelligent, and very adaptable. The daughter of a Yorkshire mill owner sounded down-to-earth, but because I also wanted her to have the social skills to shine at headquarters, I gave her a well-born stepmother who taught her to ride and to manage a large household. I also deliberately made her quite young, to give her that adaptability. 

When I first wrote the books, Anne was not traditionally beautiful. I re-thought that, and decided that it would be more of a contrast for a girl with the wow-factor to turn out to be more interested in keeping accounts and learning how to sew up battle wounds than she is in fashion and parties. I also wanted Anne to have her own friendship with Wellington, to bring out his softer side, so she needed to combine both beauty and brains.

6. A lot of heroes in other books, like Sharpe, are known for moving from one woman to another? Why did you decide to give your hero a wife and a steady family life?

I thought it would be more interesting. Partly it was the Harry and Juana factor, but mostly it was because I wanted to be able to write from both a male and a female perspective, and the only way I could really do that was by giving my leading man a leading lady.

7. How much research do you do for each book?

How long is a piece of string? I do an enormous amount of reading. I know the period details fairly well by now, so I don’t have to keep checking things like uniform and commanding officers every five minutes, but I do need to do detailed research into every campaign, and I also like to find contemporary accounts like Wheeler’s as they are a fabulous source of anecdotes that I can weave into my fictional storyline. I wrote a post about my research and note taking for anybody who is interested in learning more.

8. Who are your favourite real characters in the books?

Wellington has to be top of the list, he is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve spent so much time reading his correspondence by now, I feel as though I know him really well. Of course that’s just my personal version of Wellington, but it is based on a lot of research.

I really like both the Light Division commanders, Craufurd and Alten. They are totally different personalities, but I’ve given each of them their own character in the books and I love their different relationships with Paul. Harry and Juana Smith are favourites, of course, and because of Heyer’s book, The Spanish Bride, so many of my readers recognise them. And I’m a little in love with Colonel Andrew Barnard, a man who genuinely knew how to enjoy himself in the middle of a campaign.

 

9. Do you already know which characters are going to make it through the war?

Some. Not all. I’ve made no secret of the fact that Paul and Anne make it, and there are a few spoilers scattered through my short stories and the Regency romances. But there are some names you won’t hear mentioned in those.

10. Are you going to write the books all the way through Waterloo, as Bernard Cornwell did?

If I don’t get run over by a bus, I promise I am. I’m about halfway through now, maybe a little more, as I’ve not yet decided how I’m going to split up the Pyrenees campaigns, they’re terribly all over the place.

11. Are you going to write any more books after Waterloo? Will they be about Paul van Daan?

I’m going to write until I can’t write any more. Whether that will follow Paul, or pick up some other characters in other campaigns, or even take a look at his children, I don’t know yet. I just hope I live a long time, I’ve got so many ideas.

12. What made you start writing the Manxman series?

Local pressure. I live on the Isle of Man and I was always being asked in local interviews, if I would ever write a book set on the island. The Isle of Man was more suited to a book about the navy than the army, so I began An Unwilling Alliance as a standalone novel. Then I remembered that Paul van Daan had been at Copenhagen and thought I could give him a small cameo role. Then he took over a third of the book. Then I realised I needed to know what happened to Hugh Kelly and Alfred Durrell next.

13. Will Hugh Kelly and Paul meet again during the war?

I think so. Almost certainly. I know where Hugh will be for the next couple of books, but there’s a book after that which could very easily bring the two series together, and I think I’ll write it.

14. Why did you decide to publish independently?

I couldn’t get a publisher for the stories I was writing because I was told nobody wanted to read that kind of book any more. I couldn’t stop writing, and it proved impossible to swap genres, I just couldn’t manage it. I resisted for a long time, because I felt as though it was ‘vanity publishing’. But eventually, I figured that even if only a few people read them, it was better than having half a dozen completed books sitting on my laptop doing nothing.

It turned out that the agents and publishers were wrong, and there was very definitely a market for this series.

15. What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

Don’t wait as long as I did. By all means try the traditional route, and keep doing so if that’s what you want. But if you’ve written something you’re proud of, make it as good as you know how, take all the advice you can, and then go for it. If nobody buys it, all it has cost you is some time.

16. Have you ever written any non-fiction or contemporary fiction?

I’ve written some articles and blog posts for people. And I made a couple of attempts at writing contemporary romances for Mills and Boon. They were pretty awful.

17. Will you write any more Regency romances?

A Regrettable Reputation (Book Two of the Light Division Romances)I’m sure I will. Before I started the Manxman series, my intention was to intersperse the Peninsular books with the Regency series. But I’ve decided that I can’t manage three series on the go, plus regular short stories. Besides, writing books set after the war meant that I was at risk of introducing too many spoilers. I will go back to them, however.

18. Will any of your other books have sequels?

Well as I just said, I think I’ll continue the Regency series. And I have ideas for sequels to both A Respectable Woman and A Marcher Lord. 

In A Marcher Lord, I’d like to follow up the story of Jenny’s cousin. And I’d also like to take the characters forward into the period of Mary, Queen of Scots reign. I think that would be fascinating.

I actually started writing a sequel to A Respectable Woman, following the fortunes of Kit and Philippa’s grown up children. Their adopted son Alex is definitely an army man, and I suspect one of their daughters to be a bit of a radical politically. I think I will come back to that.

19. What are your plans for future books?  How many are you going to write in both series?

The Peninsular War Saga will go through to Waterloo, and I quite fancy doing a book set during the period of the Army of Occupation. I also have a real yen to write a novel set during the Congress of Vienna, but that will not feature Paul, as I am not taking him into the middle of a pack of diplomats, it would end in murder.

The navy books will probably continue beyond the war, and I’d like to feature the war of 1812 with the USA. I might even do some of the land battles featuring the second battalion. There are a few other campaigns like Bergen op Zoom that I wouldn’t mind looking at.

20. How long does it take you to write a book?

Six months to a year, depending on how much research and what else is going on in my life. This year has been tricky, with the pandemic, it’s been hard to concentrate and I’ve had a house full of people working at home, but once these paperbacks are up and running, I’d like to try to speed up a bit.

***

And there we have it – the story behind the Peninsular War Saga in twenty questions. Thanks so much to all of you who have written to me over the years to find out more about the books and my writing. Keep the questions coming, I love hearing from you, and I’d be very happy to make contact on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram or you can e-mail me at info@lynnbryant.co.uk or leave a comment below.

Organised Chaos

The idea for a post entitled Organised Chaos arose when somebody asked me a  question a few days ago about how I organise my research when I’m writing a new book. I gave, what was for me, quite a sensible answer. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that I actually do have a system for this. Many other areas in my life bumble along without much of a plan, but when it comes to writing, I’ve learned what works and I stick to it.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

I’m not sure if my system would work for anybody else, but I know that I quite like reading other people’s ideas about organisation, so I thought I’d share the tools I use, in case any of them come in handy for other people. At the very least, you can all have a good laugh at them.

My writing life is very complicated, and every time it threatens to get easier, I find new ways to complicate it further. I’ve published eleven historical novels so far. The earliest two were standalone books but all of the others are linked in some way, although I’ve written them at different times and they are all set at different points of my timeline. So, the Peninsular War Saga begins in 1802 and I’ve published five books, taking me to the end of 1812 and I’m now working on book six. The Manxman series has two books so far and begins in 1806 with the second one taking us into 1810. The two Regency romances are set in 1816 and 1818. In addition, I’ve written eight short stories, all of which are linked to the main books and run from around 1809 through to Waterloo in 1815.

Characters move regularly between the different series. Because I had already published the first four Peninsular books and the two Regencies before I started the Manxman series, I’m not writing the books consecutively. This means that I need to constantly be aware of what my characters do or don’t already know and whom they might have met at a different part of the timeline. I’m time hopping every time I start a new book, which means I need to keep very good records of my characters, even the minor ones. Before I had set up a good system, I discovered during editing that several soldiers who died at Assaye or Talavera were up and fighting again at Bussaco, it was like an episode of the Walking Dead.

A good example of the challenge of this is Giles Fenwick. I first wrote about Giles in one of the Regency romances, where in true romantic hero style, he is a cynical war veteran, emotionally shut down and struggling with what we would call PTSD today. He’s also an Earl. There is a brief mention of his wartime service, where he spent part of his time as an exploring officer.

I then decided to use him in a short story set during the war, and also to introduce him as a minor character into the Peninsular War Saga. From there, I was writing about Walcheren in the second Manxman book and realised that I’d mentioned somewhere that Giles had been there, so introduced him as one of my main characters. Now I’ve moved back to the Peninsula, I’ve given him a bigger role there, but need to remember that Walcheren, although it was the last book I wrote, was four years ago for Giles. Is anybody else confused yet?

I use several tools to keep on top of my characters and my research.

Character List Spreadsheet

This one speaks for itself, really. I use Excel and when I’m editing, I check every single character against this list and add any new information. It has columns for all the basic information such as name, age, physical appearance if I’ve mentioned it, family relationships etc. Then there is a notes column where I can not any significant role the character has played in the book. I don’t use this much for the main characters, since I know what they’ve been up to, but it’s useful to remember, for example, that Private Thompson sometimes acted as orderly and valet to Colonel Wheeler, because it means I’ll be consistent about that. A very important column is headed ‘Death’ and I record the date and how they died. This avoids any zombie resurrections, which is always what we want. I keep a single list for all the books, since the characters move between them.

Book Folder

For each book I’ve written or am about to write, I create a book folder. Everything associated with this book, is stored in the one place, including the book itself, the blurb,  the online source folder, book covers, pictures I might like to use on the web page for the book and an ideas folder.

Online Source Folder

In the early days, I used to bookmark really useful sources which are available online, but I found that I was losing track of what I’d found. I might remember reading something about promotion without purchase, but couldn’t remember where. These days, I create a new research folder every time I start a new book and keep it in the same place as my Scrivener files, and I’ll store links to good online resources relevant to this book all in the same place, under headings that make sense to me. It saves a lot of time searching online for something I’ve already found.

Ideas Folder

Every book in the series has a provisional title, even those I’ve not yet written. I might change that when I come to write it, in fact my current work in progress has just been changed from an Unrelenting Enmity to An Unmerciful Incursion to reflect the change in emphasis of the storyline. This means that if I have a sudden idea while writing one book, that I might like to use in a future book, I can make some notes and store them in the folder.

Notebook

When it comes to the day to day planning for a book, I have to use an old fashioned notebook. Scrivener, which I write with, has the facility to store research and planning notes, and I tried it. I’ve also tried other software such as Aeon, for doing timelines. None of these worked for me. While I’m typing, I much prefer to reach for a book than have endless tabs open on a screen, it just works better. 

It’s also an excuse to use a selection of lovely notebooks. A plain A4 pad would work perfectly well, but of course I don’t use that. As you’ll see from my current notebook, I work best with cute animals, but I’m flexible.

In my notebook, I keep a detailed timeline, almost a diary, of what happened during the period I’m writing about, with quick references to books if I found something particularly useful. I leave a lot of space between dates.  Once I’ve got the historical timeline worked out, I’ll go back as I’m writing, and slot in my fictional characters, so that I can weave my own story into the fabric of the historical events. It’s a bit like a diary, and it can change the direction of the book if I find out something interesting while I’m putting this together.

A good example of this is the shipwreck of the Venerable in 1809 off the coast of Walcheren. I first learned about this from the autobiography of Dr McGrigor, who was on the ship, and I slotted it into the timeline, and read about it. It occurred to me that it might be interesting to mention this in the novel, but I wanted to know a bit more about it. McGrigor mentioned two ladies aboard as well as some soldiers wives below decks, and I went through the sources I was using to try to find out more. In the bibliography of a thesis I’d been using, I came across a reference to the diaries and letters of Captain Codrington, whose wife was one of the ladies on the ship. These were available online and were pure gold. I also realised, to my surprise, that it gave me the opportunity to give a much bigger role to the heroine of my previous book as it was a way of bringing her out to join her husband along with Jane Codrington.

In addition, reading the Codrington letters, which were fairly addictive, gave me an idea for a future book in the Manxman series, which immediately went into the ideas folder. The Venerable shipwreck was added into my timeline along with a lot of useful information gleaned from a friend who was doing research on Sir Home Popham and was able to send me photos of the original logs of the ship during this period along with a huge amount of other useful information.

Along with the timeline, I also write a plan in my notebook. Initially this is just an outline, but once I’ve got the storyline clear in my head, I do a detailed chapter by chapter plan. This will probably change a few times, so by the time I’ve finished, I’ll have several of these in the book. I also have a page for each character who has a point of view in the book, so that I can scribble notes about their development, motivation and role in the story.

I find maps useful. I own a fabulous Peninsular War Atlas, which is marvellous for all the major battles but I also need to be able to trace the routes my characters take when marching. A lot of the diaries and letters published are great for this, particularly Wellington’s correspondence, since you can see where headquarters was situated on the march by the headings of his letters. I have a beautiful set of his correspondence which my husband bought me for our 25th wedding anniversary and I use them all the time, they’re the joy of my life.

To keep track of where we are, I use Google maps to trace what I know of the routes taken. Most of this is done online as I go along, but occasionally it’s useful to have hard copy to keep referring back to. For example, I’ve printed out a couple of maps and put them in my notebook for book six, showing the location of Wellington’s various divisions through winter quarters. It’s a quick and easy reference tool and stops me making stupid mistakes, such as sending Colonel van Daan to visit the fifth division for a couple of hours when it would actually have taken him a couple of days to get there.

I also keep handy lists in the notebook. At the beginning of each book, I make a new list of my fictional brigade, by battalion and company, and include most of the officers and any significant NCOs and privates. This is a simple word document, which I update when I start a new book, removing anybody who has died, noting promotions and transfers. I then print it out and stick it in the notebook for easy reference. Other lists are specific to each book; I’ve compiled one of Wellington’s staff at HQ since that’s important for this book.

 

My notebook probably looks chaotic to anybody else, but it’s the basic tool that I work with every day. I started using this method for book four and I love it. I don’t throw the notebooks away when the book is finished, so I have a collection of them now, and they’re quite fun to look through to see how the book developed as I was writing it. More importantly, it stops me writing quick notes on scraps of paper which I then lose. Anything that I need to write down while writing this book goes in that notebook.

Sticky Notes and tags

When I’m first reading up about a campaign, I use a lot of sticky notes and tags to mark pages or sections that are particularly useful. As with notebooks, I much prefer cute tags to plain yellow post it notes, and Sir Charles Oman is currently sporting a fine collection of sea bird tags and Me to You bear post it notes. I’ve got some llama ones that I really like as well. It’s best to be an adult about these things. I don’t make a lot of notes from books, I simply keep the books to hand and refer to them directly as I’m writing.

The End

There’s a magical feeling when the last word is typed, the last edit is done, and the book is finally out there for people to read. One of the great things about writing a series, or even two, is that people are waiting for the books, particularly the Peninsula ones. It can also feel a bit sad. For months, occasionally as long as a year, I’ve lived with these people in my heads every day and now they belong to somebody else. I’ve no control over what people will think of them. Some people will love them, a few won’t, and will say so very vocally in reviews. 

There’s a little ritual that I go through once the book is published, clearing my desk. I remove all the tags from the books and put them back on the shelves, I do a final backup of my computer files to make sure and I close my notebook and put it on the shelf with the previous ones. The desk looks empty and very tidy, usually for about twenty-four hours.

Then I get a new notebook out. I always have a stash, I can’t stop buying pretty notebooks. I write the title of the next book on the cover and I put it on my desk. I sit down at my computer and open a new Scrivener file.

And it all begins again.

I hope that “Organised Chaos” gives a little insight into how I work, and answers my reader’s question. I’d be interested to hear how other writers go about organising their work.

 

 

The Battle of Tenerife (Comedy version)

The Battle of Tenerife, (Comedy Version) was written sitting by a pool in Tenerife last year. For several years, various historian friends and I have occasionally lightened the mood of researching and writing about some of the darker moments of history by writing sketches about how things might really have happened on the day.

In real life, these were battles and things went wrong and men died and there is no intention to forget this. I write about that aspect in my novels. On the other hand, sometimes, reading about and researching a particular military episode, I find myself thinking just….why? How? Who even thought this was a good idea? And I’m sure that there were men out there at the time, who were thinking pretty much the same thing. 

I knew nothing about the Battle of Tenerife other than the fact that Nelson lost his arm there, until I visited Santa Cruz last year and toured the various sites and museums. This sketch is the result of my bewilderment.

Today is the anniversary of the victory at Cape St Vincent. A naval historian friend has been very cross that the shops are full of Valentines Day cards, with not one card celebrating this famous battle. I didn’t have time to write anything about Cape St Vincent, so I thought I’d resurrect this instead, in honour of Admiral Jervis who was probably glad he didnt go to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in person.

Please enjoy, and remember that Nelson went on to far greater things…

 

Somewhere at Sea, 1797…
Admiral Jervis is still celebrating his memorable victory at Cape St Vincent. He’s also a bit cross about Cadiz not working out quite so well and those pesky Spanish whizzing treasure ships around right under his nose. The sailors are getting restive. The Admiral is feeling the pressure. It’s Saturday night, a few drinks in the Admiral’s dining cabin and Jervis has had enough…
Jervis: What we need is a win. A nice little win. No, a nice big win. Big fat hairy prizes. Loadsa money…”
Captain: I say, Admiral, are you all right? Good wine, this. Strong, though. Maybe we should…
Jervis: Pour another one. A big one. Cadiz was a stupid idea anyway. Who goes there? Nobody. Nothing to see, nothing to do. We want somewhere nice. Somewhere sunny. Somewhere popular, full of treasure ships and nice forts we can blow up. We want….I know – Tenerife!
Captain: Tenerife, sir? Are you sure? I mean, why?
Jervis: Lovely place. Great for holidays. Should be British. Don’t argue with me and pour another glass. Now, who shall we send? I know! Whatshisname! You know. Little fella with the funny hair and squeaky voice.
Captain: Do you mean Admiral Nelson, sir?
Jervis: Nelson. That’s the one. Send him a message, will you? Now, anybody for charades?
Portrait of Nelson by Healy, George Peter Alexander (Wikimedia Commons)

HMS Theseus, July 1797

Nelson: Well here we are, chaps. Almost at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and a very fine day for it. Now, I’ve got my plan of attack all worked out and if everybody does exactly as I say, it will all go swimmingly.
Troubridge: I hope not, Admiral.
Nelson: What the devil do you mean, Troubridge?
Troubridge: Swimmingly, sir. Swimming not really the idea here, what?
Nelson: Was that a joke, Troubridge?
Troubridge: Er – yes, sir.
Nelson: Not funny. Not even slightly. If there are jokes to be made, I’ll make them. I’m the Admiral. All jokes should be run past me, clear?
Troubridge: Yes, sir.
Nelson: Now, here’s the plan. Troubridge, you’ll lead a night time landing. The frigates will approach the shore stealthily and disembark troops then attack the Spanish batteries north east of the harbour. Crompton, you’ll open mortar fire on the city. My ships of the line will enter the harbour at break of dawn, gloriously, seize the Spanish merchant ships and win the day.
Troubridge: Gloriously.
Nelson: That’s me. I’m going in gloriously, you’re going in stealthily. Is that clear?
Troubridge: Do they know we’re coming, sir?
Nelson: Don’t be an ass, Troubridge, it wouldn’t be stealthy if they knew we were coming, would it?
Troubridge: No, sir. It’s just there are those mountains and cliffs. They’re pretty high, you can see them for miles. And I sort of think maybe they can see us coming for miles.
Nelson: Mountains? Cliffs? What nonsense, I see no mountains or cliffs. Anyway, these are the Spanish. Admiral Jervis assures me they’re hopeless. Haven’t a clue. Totally disorganised. No, stealth is the word here. Followed by glory. It’ll be no trouble.
Troubridge: Glad to hear it, sir.
Nelson: Oh, and by the way, I sent a note to the Spanish authorities demanding the surrender of all Spanish cargo, and threatening the destruction of the city. That’ll show them.
Troubridge: Very stealthy, sir.
20 July aboard the Theseus
Nelson: Right, chaps, final plans. Two phases to the attack. 1000 seamen and marines will land at Valle Seco beach and surround and capture Fort Paso Alto. I’m sure they’ll surrender immediately but if by some remote chance they don’t, the landing party will march on the port and attack.
Troubridge: Stealthily, sir?
Nelson: Exactly, Captain. Everybody ready? Good. Let’s go get ‘em, boys. I’d stay to chat but I need to pop off and write my glorious victory speech along with the prayer I’m going to say before going into battle.
Hood: You write out your prayers, Admiral?
Nelson: Not all of them, Hood, only the ones the newspapers might want to publish. Otherwise the fools might get it wrong.
The attack, Part 1
Troubridge: Right, men, we’re off. 23 boats aiming for the Bufadero cliff, the other 16 head straight for the city. Let’s go.
Marine 1: Huzzah, we’re off! We’ll show those Spaniards.
Marine 2: Great prize money out of this. Good job too, I could do with new trousers.These make me look fat.
Marine 3: Bollocks, Smithy, your gut makes you look fat. What’s going on?
Marine 1: Not much, by the looks of it. We’re getting nowhere here. These currents are impossible.
Marine 3: Row harder, lads. We can do it.
Marine 2: Er…is that gunfire I can hear? From the city?
Marine 3: Oh bugger.
Troubridge: Back to the ships, lads. Row for your lives, they’re sinking our boats. Some bloody stealth attack this was…
Interlude, aboard the Theseus
Troubridge: It was impossible, Admiral. The tides were against us, the city guns were sinking our boats and we seemed to get no help from our ships.
Pointed silence
Nelson: Well what help could we give, Captain? The big ships can’t get close enough, the frigates can, but their guns can’t fire high enough to hit the city, the mortar is doing no good at all and the carronades are useless in this situation. We did the best we could.
Troubridge: What did you do, sir?
Nelson: We cheered you on. We supported you. I even said a prayer. I’ve got a copy of it if you want one.
Troubridge: Thank you, Admiral, that’s a big help.
Nelson: I knew you’d appreciate it. Right, time for another attempt. I’ve got the perfect plan this time, it can’t fail.
Troubridge: Like the last one then.
Nelson: Button it, Captain. This time we’ll get the boats to tow the frigates in, so they can anchor close to the cliffs. That way we’ll get past the currents and land men and equipment. After that it’ll be a piece of cake. Admiral Jervis is going to be so pleased, I can’t wait to tell him.
The Attack, part 2
Troubridge: Right, we’ve landed. Thank God for that, bit hairy with those guns firing on us. Right, Crompton, Thompson, let’s get this artillery moving and into place.
Crompton: How, sir?
Troubridge: Well I don’t know, I’m not a soldier or a marine. How do we usually move guns?
Thompson: Horses, sir. Or mules, in an emergency.
Troubridge: This is an emergency.
Crompton: Didn’t Admiral Nelson give any orders about this, sir?
Troubridge: No. But it’s all right, Captain Jackson of the marines will know. Where the devil is he?
Thompson: Er – still at sea, sir. Saw half the boats going off in that direction and he was in one of them.
Troubridge: What the devil is in that direction?
Thompson: Not much that I know of, sir. But then I didn’t know what was in this direction either. I don’t think any of the officers knew where we were going.
Troubridge: For God’s sake, didn’t someone tell them they were going the wrong way?
Crompton: Orders were to land in complete silence, sir, otherwise I’d have yelled. Because of stealth.
Troubridge: Didn’t anybody do anything?
Thompson: We waved, sir. And jumped up and down.
Troubridge: And?
Crompton: I think a couple of them waved back, sir. Hard to tell in the dark. But cheer up,we were very stealthy.
Shell lands close by them on the beach
Troubridge: Ha bloody ha, Captain, clearly they’ve no idea we’re here. Take cover!
July 23, aboard the Theseus
Nelson: Troubridge, I have had enough! Two days, God knows how many landings and withdrawals, half the boats spent the night wandering around aimlessly in circles and the rest of you couldn’t even make it off the beaches. This is not how it was meant to go! Admiral Jervis assured me it would be easy!
Troubridge: Anybody know if Admiral Jervis has actually been to Santa Cruz, sir?
Nelson: Don’t get funny with me, Captain. Right, new orders. Now that all the troops are back aboard, I’m sending the three frigates past that beach and I want them to fire at those big cliffs.
Troubridge: At the cliffs, sir? Any particular reason?
Nelson: They keep shooting at us, Captain
Troubridge: From the forts, sir. Which we can’t reach
Nelson: There might be some defenders up there
Troubridge: We haven’t seen any, sir.
Nelson: Shut up, Troubridge. I’m as mad as a wet hen and I just want to shoot something.
Troubridge: I’ll send the signal then, sir
Later that day, aboard the Theseus, Nelson has called a meeting of all his captains…
Nelson: Right, I feel a bit better now. By gum, those guns did some damage to those cliffs. And now I’ve worked out what I’ve been doing wrong. I’ve been trying to run this campaign from behind the scenes. It’s time I stepped up and got involved personally. I’m leading the attack. No more Admiral Nice Guy. Once they see me in the boats they’ll know we mean business.
Miller: Sir, is that a good idea? I mean you don’t have much experience of fighting on land, and…
Nelson: Nonsense, how hard can it be?. Have you seen some of the idiots who lead the army, they don’t even have to pass an examination to get in? We’ll attack the San Cristobal fort directly and put a stop to this nonsense. Assemble the troops. I’ll be in the lead boat, when they see me the men will scent victory! Troubrige, Miller, Hood, Waller and Thompson you’ll lead the other boats. Huzzah!
Troubrige, Miller, Hood, Waller and Thompson (Gloomily): Huzzah.
10.30pm, 24 July, in the boats
Nelson: Cloth-padded oars to keep the noise down. Genius, eh, Nesbit? Now this is what I call stealth. Should have done this right from the start, never wise to delegate too much. Heard that from an army chap called Wellesley I ran into one day. He was definite that you can’t leave anything to anybody else if you want it done properly and I’m beginning to think the man had a point. They won’t see us coming, they’ll have no idea and we’ll be upon them before…what was that?
Nesbit: Warning shot, sir, from that frigate. I think they know we’re coming.
Nelson: Well row faster, for God’s sake!
Nesbit: Going as fast as we can, Admiral. Winds and tides are against us. You remember Captain Troubridge mentioned the winds and tides?
Suddenly a hail of cannonballs and musket bullets from the batteries of Paso Alto, San Miguel, San Antonio and San Pedro begins to rain down on the British boats
Nelson: Shoot back! Fire! Why is nobody shooting back, for God’s sake?
Nesbit: Powder’s wet, sir, seawater. Nobody can fire.
Nelson: Never mind! Once we’ve landed and they see our brave lads advancing up into the town, they’ll turn and run. Admiral Jarvis assured me…oh F**k.
La Consolación convent, Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Troubridge: Right, we’re in.
Hood: But we can’t get out
Troubridge: Any news of the rest of the troops?
Hood: Not good, sir. A lot of the boats were hit and the Fox was sunk. A lot of casualties on the beach. Bowen managed to spike some of the guns and rushed the town but he and his men were cut down by grapeshot. Most of the troops had to retreat. And there’s worse news. Admiral Nelson was wounded in the boat and had to be rowed back to the Theseus. I am sorry.
Troubridge: So the Admiral isn’t able to give any more orders?
Hood: I don’t think so.
Troubridge: Well cheer up, Hood. We might get out of this alive after all. Right, send a message to Gutierrez demanding the surrender of the San Jose or we will burn the town.
Two hours later
Hood: There’s a reply from General Gutierrez, Captain.
Troubridge: What does he say?
Hood: I don’t know that word. Anybody here speak Spanish?
Troubridge: Don’t bother, Hood, I know that word. What’s that noise…oh bloody hell. Take cover, everybody!
One hour later
Hood: Good news, Captain. We’ve got a message from the fleet. Admiral Nelson has survived the amputation of his arm and is sitting up and able to give orders again.
Troubridge: Bugger.
Hood: Also bad news. The Spanish have blockaded the pier so we can’t escape. Admiral Nelson tried to send 15 boats with reinforcements but they were driven back with the loss of 3 boats.
Troubridge: Oh stuff it, I’ve had enough. Send another message, Hood. In fact take it yourself. Find out what Gutierrez will accept in terms of surrender and let’s get out of here.
Some time later, somewhere in England, debriefing meeting
Jervis: So you surrendered to the Spanish, Nelson?
Nelson: Not in so many words, Admiral. Technically, Troubridge did. I was disappointed. If only I’d not been wounded, I’m sure we would have prevailed.
Jervis: What terms?
Nelson: Very generous, I thought. Very good chap, Gutierrez, very gentlemanly. Our men were allowed to return to their ships with full military honours as long as Hood undertook not to burn the town, or make any further attacks on Tenerife or the Canary Islands. And he lent us two schooners to help us on the way back, we were a bit short with so many being shot up and sunk. As a matter of fact I sent a thank you letter to Gutiérrez along with some beer and cheese. I got a very nice reply with some Spanish wine and cheese. Dreadful stuff but he meant well.
Jervis: Well I’m disappointed, Admiral. In fact, I’m more than a bit cross. When you think of my own glorious achievements, and you couldn’t even manage a smelly little port in the Canary Islands. Still, I suppose every man deserves a second chance. How do you fancy having another crack at it when you’re fully recovered?
Nelson: Another crack?
Jervis: Yes.
Nelson: At Santa Cruz?
Jervis: Yes.
Nelson: Tenerife?
Jervis: I can tell you’re following my train of thought here
Nelson: No
Jervis: No?
Nelson: No
Jervis: Are you sure?
Nelson: Admiral, I would rather lead a column of ships into a hail of broadside fire from the ships of two navies in a full scale sea battle than go back to that hell hole again.
Jervis: Oh all right, I get the point. Who needs Tenerife anyway, leave it to the Spanish. And I suppose even with your defeatist attitude we can find you something else to do…

 

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

St Michael’s Isle to Derbyhaven #OscarWalks

Good weather gave us the chance for a beautiful walk in the south of the island. Oscar was on the lead for most of the way, but was able to have a couple of off-lead runs which he loves. I have to tell you in advance that he was a VERY GOOD BOY today.

 

 

 

The old chapel on St Michael’s Isle

St Michael’s Isle, also known in the past as Fort Island, is about 400 metres long and is just off the Langness Peninsula, joined by a narrow causeway and it features in An Unwilling Alliance, when Hugh Kelly takes Roseen to visit. It’s a beautiful place, covered in springy grass and vegetation, surrounded on all sides by a rocky coastline. I’ve been there in a high wind and it’s a wild place, but today was sunny and calm, although freezing, and there were few people about.

“I’ve been here before, haven’t I, Mum?”

“A few times, Oscar. The last time we came, Anya was with us. And Joey.”

“Don’t cry, Mum. He’s all right, really he is.”

“I know that, Oscar. I just miss him.”

“So do I. Do you remember that day, when he ran off?”

Joey and Oscar at Derby Fort last year

“I really do. We were so concerned about you, we kept you on the long lead, but we let him off. He gave us one look and then started waddling at high speed right towards the rocks and Anya had to run after him.”

“He was after a swim, he loved swimming. Can I swim today?”

“Not here, it’s too rocky. Later you can go in at the beach.”

“What’s that, Mum?”

“That’s St Michael’s Chapel, Oscar. It was built in the twelfth century on the site of an older Celtic keeill.”

“A what?”

“A keeill. It’s a Manx Gaelic word for a chapel. Very old.”

“It looks it. What’s that other building over there. It’s broken too.”

“Ruined, Oscar.”

“Ruined. Broken. Whatever. What is it?”

“It’s called Derby Fort, it was built in the 17th century by James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby who was Lord of Mann during the English Civil War, to protect what was then the very busy port of Derbyhaven.”

“Doesn’t look that busy now.”

“Nowadays we have an airport, Oscar. Times change.”

“I suppose so. Can I look inside?”

“Through the gate, it’s not open. Over here.”

Interior of Derby Fort

“What’s that?”

“A cannon.”

“A what?”

“A big gun.”

“Oh right. Like the ones at the bottom of Summerhill Glen?”

“That’s right.”

 

“I like it here. Lots of grass and rocks and sea and smells and…what are those flying things that I like to chase?”

“Birds.”

“That’s right.”

“It’s a bird sanctuary.”

“It must be. I never catch them. But look, Mum – DOOOOOGS!!! Can I go and play?”

“Off you go then.”

“Whew, that was fun. They’re not youngsters, those two, but they could run. Although that one waddled a bit like old Joey. Where now?”

“Let’s get your lead back on. We’re going along the coast towards Derbyhaven.”

The walk along the Derbyhaven coast was just over three miles and we were able to do a lot of it on the beach although retreated up to the path or the road where it was too wet or too rocky. Oscar loves the beach, but needs watching as bizarrely, he likes to eat seaweed. This was new to me; neither Toby or Joey would have dreamed of eating anything so nasty and smelly. Recently, Oscar has been learning the valuable command “Leave” and we had the chance to practice this a lot today. It went very well.

“You’re being very good, Oscar.”

“Thanks. What’s that?”

“It’s the back of the airport. When we go away, we sometimes go on airplanes.”

“That’s why I hate airplanes. You should stay here. What’s that big building over there. It’s not broken.”

“Ruined. No, that’s King William’s College. It’s the only public school on the island. Which really means it’s a private school, because you have to pay to go there. I’ve never really understood that.”

“I don’t care. Did Jon go there?”

“No.”

“Did Anya?”

“No.”

“Not an interesting place then. What’s that?”

“It used to be a cafe and bar. I’ve never been in, but I think it’s closed down now.”

“Pity. We could have gone for tea. I like this walk.”

“So do I, it’s very pretty. Right, we’re going to turn back and go up to Hango Hill on the way back.”

“Can I go on the beach?”

“Yes, but don’t eat the seaweed.”

“Okay.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave!”

“Sorry.”

“Oscar, leave it!”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“What is it with you and seaweed? Neither of your brothers ate seaweed.”

“I just like the smell. And the taste.”

“Try not to, Oscar, it’s really bad for your tummy.”

“I’ll do my best. I’ll go and paddle instead.”

“Good idea. A bit cold to swim.”

“Ooh. What’s that?”

“Hango Hill.”

“Eh?”

“It’s called Hango Hill.”

“It’s a very small hill.”

“More of a mound, really, but it’s very old.”

“It’s got another one of those broken buildings on top.”

“You mean ruins?”

“That’s them. You really like ruins, don’t you, Mum? Ruins and books. And dogs, of course.”

“Yes, that pretty much sums me up. Come and see, Oscar.”

Hango Hill is a small mound by the side of the coast road between Castletown and Derbyhaven, overlooking the beach. It was possibly an ancient burial site and a Bronze Age flat axe was apparently discovered there. The name derives from the Norse words for Gallows Hill and was used as a place of execution until the seventeenth or possibly early eighteenth century.

The most famous execution to take place on Hango Hill was that of William Christian, also known as Illiam Dhone, (Brown William) for his participation in the 1651 Manx rebellion against the Derby family who were Lords of Mann at the time.

Illiam Dhone, from the National Art Gallery at the Manx Museum

Christian was a Manx politician of his day and is seen variously as a patriot, a rebel or a traitor. He was appointed as Receiver-General by Derby and when the Earl left for England to fight for Charles II he left Christian in charge of the island militia. Derby was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester and his wife,  a redoubtable lady called Charlotte de la Tremouille, who held Castle Rushen for the King, tried to save her husband’s life by negotiating the surrender of the island to Parliament.

The ensuing rebellion, led by Christian in 1651, was partly due to national politics and partly due to local discontent at some of Derby’s new agrarian policies. The rebels took several local forts and Christian then began negotiations with the Parliamentarians. The Countess was forced to surrender Castle Rushen and Peel Castle, and failed to prevent the execution of her husband. Christian remained Receiver-General and became Governor of the Isle of Man in 1656.

Derby’s family did not forgive or forget. Fraud charges were brought against Christian, who fled to England and was imprisoned for a year in London. On his release he chose to return to Mann, believing that his rebellion against the Earl would be covered by the Act of Indemnity, but the new Earl immediately ordered his arrest. Christian refused to plead at his trial, was found guilty and executed by shooting on Hango Hill on 2 January 1663.

Oscar enjoying my lecture about Illiam Dhone

“So what was this place before it was ruined, Mum?”

“I’m not sure, Oscar, but I think it’s the remains of a kind of summerhouse used by the Earl of Derby. It was built after Illiam Dhone’s execution. They used it as a banqueting hall as well, and used to organise horse racing along these dunes towards Langness. I read somewhere that these were the very first “Derby” races. I suppose that’s when they stopped using it for executions.”

“Good thing too. Bet it’s spooky at night.”

“Shall we come down here one evening and see?”

“Not funny, Mum, you know what I’m like in the dark. What does that writing say?”

“It’s just a little bit about the history of the place and Illiam Dhone. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, they have a gathering here and make a speech in the Manx language.”

“I’m surprised you don’t come, it’s the sort of thing you’d do.”

“I might one year. It’s always so cold in January, though.”

“It’s blowing up a bit now.”

“It is. The light’s starting to fade as well, I forget how early it gets dark. Right, back to the car then, we’ll be warmer if we’re walking.”

“Mum. This was a long walk. How far?”

“Probably almost six miles with all the detours and the running around on the beach and the island, Oscar.”

“That’s a long way. I’m going to need a long sleep when I get back. And dinner. I’m starving.”

“Have a biscuit, then. You’ve been such a good boy today, Oscar, I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Mum. Won’t be going out next week much, I suppose?”

“No, you’ve got your operation on Friday. But it won’t take long to recover and the weather will be getting better soon. There’s the car. Hop in, baby boy.”

Oscar about to settle for his post-walk nap

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, or find out about my books, why not follow me on Facebook,Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peel #OscarWalks

Peel #OscarWalks is the first of Oscar’s posts for 2020 and he’s very excited about it. Since the appearance of the dog trainer at the end of last year, we’ve been working very hard to get Oscar to behave better on the lead so that we can take him to more interesting places. Peel was a bit of an experiment, but on the whole it worked very well, apart from one minor incident involving Vikings which I’ll leave him to explain for himself.

Peel is a seaside town and small fishing port on the west of the Isle of Man and the third largest town on the island after Douglas and Ramsey. It is a charming little town, with the older part of Peel mostly built of reddish sandstone, the narrow streets of the old fishing and merchant community winding down to the quayside. In the early eighteenth century, Peel had a thriving trade with European ports such as Amsterdam, and by the end of the nineteenth century it was a busy fishing port.

We parked the car at Fenella Beach, at the foot of Peel Hill and the castle and ten minutes was spent walking Oscar up and down the car park to get him to calm down. It didn’t help that it was fairly breezy and the tide was in, with huge waves crashing onto the little beach.

 

“OMG, it’s so exciting. Mum, can I go on the beach and swim?”

“Not today, Oscar, it’s a bit wild. Look at those waves.”

“Those waves are bigger than me.”

“Exactly.” 

“Where are we going, then?”

“We’re going to explore Peel, Oscar. Stop jumping about and we can get going.”

Peel was the capital of the island before 1344 and is still the island’s main fishing port, while St German’s Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Sodor and Man. It it still a pretty seaside resort and has a Victorian promenade and sandy beach. From Fenella Beach, we walked towards Peel Castle which overlooks the town from St Patrick’s Isle. The castle was first built in the eleventh century and is now largely ruined, but definitely worth visiting. There are walkways up around the outside of the castle with a lot of steps, a challenge with an excitable young Labrador but well worth it for the views.

“Mum, stop pulling on the lead!”

“Oscar, it’s you that’s pulling on the lead, I cannot run this. Settle down.”

“Sorry. It’s great up here, I can see for miles. Are those white dots over there sheep?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t like sheep.”

“They’re miles away, Oscar. Come on, let’s go down and walk into town. And calm down a bit, they’ll be thinking the Moddy Dhoo is on the loose up here.”

“I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he a demon dog?”

“Yes, he’s supposed to haunt Peel Castle. People used to call Toby the Moddy Dhoo”

“Someone called me that down Summerhill Glen one night.”

“I’m not surprised, you frightened the life out of them in the dark. This way.”

“What’s that water?”

“It’s the River Neb.”

“What are those things with big poles?”

“They’re boats, Oscar, there’s a marina here. And some fishing boats. When we first moved to the island, this area was tidal, but in 2005 they built a new floodgate to keep the river water in, so that the moored boats can float at low tide. This way.”

There’s a footbridge over the river, but Oscar and I walked the long way round by the road, skirting the bottom of Peel Hill. The hill was one of my favourite walks with Joey and Toby, but it’s very steep in places and when he was only a little older than Oscar is now, Toby injured himself by taking off after a rabbit and rolling a very long way down the hill, rather like the heroine of An Unwilling Alliance, only with more legs and a tail. I’m going to give it another few months before I take Oscar up there, but we did climb a little way up and sit on one of the benches to admire the view over the town. There’s a lovely woodcarving at the foot of the path, which Toby used to take exception to. Oscar was doubtful, but seemed to accept my word for it that Fenella, the seven foot tall carving, was harmless. After that, following the road round, we arrived on the far side of the river.

“What’s that smell?”

“Smell?”

“Smell? That amazing smell. It’s fantastic. It smells of food. Yummy, yummy food cooking. Where is it? Can I have some? I’m hungry. Muuuummmmm!!!”

Photo by Chris Gunns (Wikimedia)

“Calm down, Oscar, it’s just the kipper smokeries. There are a couple of them here, they smoke kippers the traditional way. You can do a tour of Moore’s to see how the smoking is done, but I doubt I could take a Labrador. I have been though, and it’s really interesting. I agree, the smell is amazing, but I can’t take you to buy kippers today. We’ll get some another day though, I think you’d love them.”

“I already love them and I’ve not eaten them yet. What’s that building?”

“That’s the Manx Transportation Museum, it’s in the old brickworks. I’ve never been inside, but I must do so this summer.”

“Can I come?”

“I’ll find out. This way. Heel, remember.”

“Sorry. It’s that smell. What’s that?”

“That’s the back of the House of Mannanan. It’s one of the best museums on the island, it’s partly a new building and partly built in the old Peel railway station. It covers the history of the island right up to the present and contains Odin’s Raven, which is a two-thirds scale replica of a Viking longship which was built in Norway, and sailed to the island to arrive on 4 July 1979 to celebrate the millennium of Tynwald, the legislature of the Isle of Man. Fascinating.”

“Not sure I’d like museums, but I do like this place, it’s by the sea and it’s got great smells, and it’s…Oh My God, what’s that??????”

“Oscar, calm down, it’s all right, it’s not real.”

“Whaddd’you mean it’s not real? Of course it’s real, I’m looking right at it, it’s right here on the pavement. They’re terrifying! They’re huge! They’re worse than sheep! How did they get here? Why are they walking through walls? Why is nobody doing anything about them? Well I’m not having this, it’s not safe! I’m going to tell them what for! Woof! Woof woof woof! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, calm down, they’re just statues. It’s a sculpture. They’re Vikings.”

“Woof woof woof! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, sit!”

“Woof, woof, woof woof, woof! Woof, woof….OMG what this now? What’s happening to my paws? I’m being attacked from all sides, it’s sharp! Woof, woof, woof woof, woof!”

“Oscar, heel! Over here, now. Come and sit on this bench, have a drink of water and calm down.”

“Woof!”

“That’s enough. Look at you, you’re shaking. Here, have a drink, there’s a water bowl here. That’s better. Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Those aren’t real Vikings, they’re statues. The boat itself is inside the museum, and they’ve carried on the Viking theme out here, which is why it looks like they’re coming through the walls. I know they made you jump but they’re no more real than the two statues of the dogs outside that house at the top of our road.”

“I barked at them too.”

“I know, but you don’t any more, because you know they’re not real.”

“My paws hurt.”

“It’s just a gravel pathway around the display, I think the stones were a bit sharp and you were jumping on them. There, are you calm now?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“It’s all right. Had enough Vikings?”

“More than enough.”

“Lets walk along the prom. If the sea is calm enough, you can have a paddle.”

Peel Beach was one of my favourites when the children were young. It’s very sandy, with a good kiosk serving food, drinks and ice creams, and it’s just over the road to Davison’s Ice Cream Parlour. Oddly enough, though, it’s not brilliant for building sandcastles, the consistency of the sand isn’t quite right. Still, Oscar doesn’t mind that, and a good splash in the sea soothed his paws and restored his equilibrium.

By Petepetepete (Wikimedia Commons)

From there, we walked up through the narrow streets of the town towards St German’s Cathedral. This is no bigger than a large church, but it’s very pretty and has a very welcoming feel to it. Churches vary when it comes to allowing dogs, but I wasn’t going to chance it anyway with Oscar, in case he saw a religious statue that he took a dislike to, it seemed to be a bit of a theme today. Instead, we walked all around the outside, admiring the work that’s been done on the new gardens. A series of seventeen small gardens are being developed within the grounds; twelve will tell the story of the island and how Christianity has affected it and five will have special themes. I’ve been enjoying watching this develop and Oscar seemed to enjoy the peace and quiet after his encounter with Vikings.

“Are you getting tired, Oscar?”

“A bit. It’s been a great day, though.”

“Come on, let’s walk back to the car along the prom.”

“What’s that building, Mum?”

“That’s the Leece Museum. It used to be the old courthouse and gaol and it has exhibitions about the history of Peel, it’s very interesting. One day, I’m going to do a post or two about the island museums, but I’ll have to do that without you, I don’t think they’d cope with you in a museum, and frankly the idea terrifies me.”

“I don’t mind. They’re probably all full of Vikings. And Fenellas. And possibly sheep.”

“Here we are, back at the car. Hop in.”

“Might have a sleep on the way back, Mum.”

“Go ahead, Oscar. You’ve been a very good boy. I’ve got work to do when I get back, so you can have a snooze on the sofa.”

“Where are we going next week?”

“I don’t know. Castletown, perhaps. We could get pizza for lunch.”

“Castletown it is then!”

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

St Adamnan’s Church and Groudle Glen #OscarWalks

St Adamnan’s Church and Groudle Glen #OscarWalks

St Adamnan’s Church

There was a slight delay in the opening post of Oscar’s weekly adventures, because of the sad loss of Joey. We’ve all been struggling a bit with this, but Oscar and I agree that it’s time to get back into action again. Joey was very enthusiastic about the new series, and gave us some excellent suggestions in the weeks before he died. According to Oscar, he is still getting excellent suggestions from both Joey and Toby, many of which seem to involve stealing food from kitchen surfaces and trying to get books down off my shelves. I’m not sure about this. Either Oscar is a Medium and is receiving messages from the doggie spirit world or he thinks he can blame his crimes onto his departed brothers. Could be either, really.

View from St Adamnan’s Church, Lonan

Anyway, we did these two walks a few weeks back. Oscar loves Groudle Glen and beach and I wanted to walk up to St Adamnan’s Church and take a few photos since both these locations featured in my Christmas story, Colby Fair. We’d had five days of rain and then unexpectedly, after lunch, the sun came out and it was a beautiful, cold afternoon when we parked and set off up a narrow road towards the church.

”Where are we going, Mum?”

“We’re visiting a church, Oscar.”

“What’s a church?”

“It’s a building where people go to pray.”

“Do dogs pray?”

“I don’t know, Oscar. You’d have to ask some other dogs.”

“I’ll ask Joey. And Toby. Toby must know this stuff. He knows a lot more than he did when he was alive.”

“It would be hard for him to know less. Stop pulling, Oscar.”

“Sorry. What’s that smell? And that one? And that one and…what’s that?”

“It’s a sheep. Don’t worry it.”

“It’s enormous. It’s worrying me.”

“You’re not like Joey, I must say, he’d have been trying to get over that gate to visit the sheep.”

“I always knew Joey was brave. I’m not going near that thing. What’s that?”

“It’s the church.”

“It’s broken.”

“It’s partly ruined, Oscar. Come and have a look round.”

There has been a church on this site since the middle of the fifth century, and it was probably a centre of pagan worship before that. The first church or keeill was built by travelling monks on a main pack horse road between Douglas and the north. There was a well with running water and it was close to two good landing beaches. The church was rebuilt a number of times and remained the parish church until 1733 when parishioners complained that the location was inconvenient, and it was decided to build a new parish church in a more central position. 

After the new church was built, which took almost 100 years, St Adamnan’s fell into disrepair, but fortunately was not demolished. It was rediscovered when John Quine became Vicar of Lonan in 1895 and he set out to restore the ancient building.

“Why doesn’t this half have a roof?”

“It’s a ruin. This is the old part of the church. The other part was restored later on, it’s still a church.”

“With a roof.”

“That’s right.”

“Can we go in?”

“If you promise to be very good. I’d like to take some photos.”

“Of me?”

“Not this time, Oscar.”

“Good. I HATE posing for photos when I’m out, I don’t like standing still.”

“I can see that.”

“Mum. Bored now.”

“All right. Let’s have a quick look round the churchyard and then we’ll drive down to Groudle. There are some Celtic Crosses here.”

“Boring. Can we walk to Groudle?”

“We could, but we’re going in the car.”

“Boring.”

“Because it will be dark soon, and you don’t like walking when it’s very dark.”

“Who does? It’s full of shadows and weird shapes and those big woolly things.”

“Sheep, Oscar.”

“That’s ‘em. Don’t trust ‘em.”

Groudle Glen is close to Onchan and is formed in a valley leading down to a small beach. It was developed as a tourist attraction in the nineteenth century when it was planted with a variety of trees. In its Victorian heyday there were bowling and croquet greens, a holiday camp on the headland and a water wheel. The wheel was still visible until very recently, when it was removed for restoration. There was a refreshment kiosk, a bandstand and at the edge of the glen, a small zoo featuring sea lions and polar bears, created by damming a small cove. This was reached by a narrow gauge steam railway, which still exists today and is run by a dedicated team of volunteers.

The glen was a major tourist attraction in Victorian times, with a dance floor, a bandstand, a playground, stalls, kiosks and even a fortune teller. Most of these have now disappeared apart from the railway, and the glen today consists of peaceful footpaths which are much frequented by dog walkers.

“DOOOOOOOGS! I love coming down here. There are smells and water and a beach and trees and paths and mud and other DOOOOOGS!”

“Calm down, Oscar. You’re supposed to be giving our readers a description of the glen and the beach from a Labrador’s point of view.”

“I am. DOOOOOOGS! TREEEEES! All the SMEEELLLLLS! And no sheep. I hate sheep.”

“I know, Oscar. Some dogs chase sheep, you know.”

“Not me.  I hide when I see sheep.”

“I know. Behind me. Last week you nearly tripped me up by wrapping the lead round my legs when you saw a sheep. It was half a mile away on the other side of a fence.”

“It looked at me funny. OMG it’s the SEEEEAAA!!! Swimming! Throw the ball, Mum! Further than that! Aren’t you coming in, it’s great!!!”

“Maybe in the summer, Oscar.”

“Do sheep swim?”

“Not willingly.”

“Good. That’s why I love the sea.”

“Come on, Oscar, I want to walk up the path to the railway track before it’s dark to take a photo. You could do with a run to dry off a bit.”

“I don’t need to dry. I’m a Labrador, we like water. I can run round like this all day.”

“Good boy.”

“Mum…I’m cold.”

“Back to the car then, Oscar. I’ve got your towel there. Was that a good walk?”

“Great. Where next?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

“Tired now…”

Look out for more #OscarWalks posts to come and if you enjoyed this and want to hear more from Writing with Labradors, why not follow me on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram or  Medium?

 

 

Colby Fair: a Manx Christmas story

Groudle Beach

This year’s Christmas story is part of the Historical Fiction Writers’ December Blog Hop and I’ve chosen to return to the Isle of Man, my adopted homeland. Colby Fair: a Manx Christmas story takes place in the winter of 1809-10. For regular readers of both the Peninsular War Saga and the Manxman series, Hugh Kelly and Alfred Durrell have just arrived back in England after the Walcheren campaign and Paul van Daan is in Portugal, rebuilding his battalion after the bloody Talavera campaign.

When we moved to the island in 2002, I fell in love with Manx culture and loved learning about some of the traditional customs and I’m glad to be able to share them with you. As with all my short stories, it’s free, so please share as much as you like.

Colby Fair: a Manx Christmas story

It was frosty on the morning of Colby Fair, an icy wind blowing in from the Irish sea. Lieutenant Thomas Young of  His Majesty’s Revenue Service was without a ship or any useful occupation and agreed to accompany the officers from the Castletown garrison to the fair on a whim. He quickly regretted it, shivering on his hired horse, wrapped in his worn blue cloak which had seen better days.

Thomas knew the officers had invited him out of kindness and was trying to be grateful. He was billeted with two of them in a cosy inn on the edge of Castletown, while the revenue cutter he commanded underwent essential repairs and Thomas recovered from a shot through the arm received in a deserted bay near Santon when he had been chasing down a fast brig bringing in contraband. His ship, the Bluebird, had hit a rock and his crew had manhandled him ashore and protected him, letting the smugglers get on with their business. Thomas remembered little of the night. His wound was trivial compared to previous hurts and as he recovered he had appreciated the hospitality of the commander of the garrison, Lieutenant-Colonel Steuart, who found him accommodation and included him in the officers’ mess of the four companies of the Royal Manx Fencibles remaining on the island.

“You won’t get much done on your ship until after Twelfth Night, Lieutenant. On Mann we take our celebrations seriously, only essential work will be done.”

“Does that include the smugglers, sir?” 

Steuart gave a wry smile. “I wouldn’t know. There isn’t much you can do about it either way, so why not take some time to recover and enjoy our hospitality? We’ve seen very little of you since you were stationed here.”

Thomas agreed, since he had little choice. He had arrived off the coast of the Isle of Mann three months earlier and found it an odd posting. Fresh from the Sussex coast, where the lives of every riding officer and revenue man were constantly at risk, he had been told that the island was a hotbed of smuggling and had come prepared for battle. In three months he had seen his fair share of action and had known some successes, but there had been remarkably little violence. The shot fired on that November evening had seemed random, and there was no attempt to follow it up.

“A warning shot, most like, sir,” his pilot had said reassuringly, as he helped lift Thomas into the borrowed gig to take him to the surgeon. “Unlucky, like.”

Thomas, used to attempted murder on the south coast, had been slightly bewildered. His reception in Castletown confused him still more. The officers of the garrison, about half of whom were Manx, were very friendly and spent a lot of time trying to get him drunk. The inhabitants of the town were distant but civil. No small boys cried insults at him or threw stones from behind walls. For the most part, the people of Mann seemed to see an injured revenue officer as none of their business. It was curious but very peaceful.

Colby Village was some three miles from Castletown and the annual fair was held in a field close to the whitewashed church with its square tower. Already, despite the early hour, stalls and booths were set up and the ground was alive with people. Thomas followed his companions along the village street to a solidly built inn.

“They’ll stable our horses here, and we can order dinner, the food’s good,” Captain Tobin said. He was Manx and spoke with the authority of a local.

“Why are we here so early?” Thomas asked. “They’ve barely set up.”

“To see the procession,” Lieutenant Taylor said. “I came last year, it’s the quaintest thing. I swear half these people are savages, you wouldn’t believe their customs.”

“Thank you, Mr Taylor.”

Taylor flushed. “I didn’t mean you, sir. Or, you know, the better sort. But honestly, it’s a funny place, Young. Not like England.”

“Not so much like Scotland either, although we’ve some odd customs of our own,” Captain Maclay said with a grin. “Come on, the procession will come this way.”

Standing at the edge of the field, Thomas watched them come, around thirty men, the youth of Colby and its environs. The women and children of the village lined the main street, and visitors from around the island stood with them, cheering as the parade approached, two by two, bearing something on a raised bier made of entwined sticks between them. They were singing.

“What in God’s name is that?”

“A dead hen,” Tobin said. “The song is about Catherine’s hen being dead. They’ll parade it around the field, take it to the inn to be cooked and they’ll all get drunk. Tomorrow they’ll bury its head and feet in the fair field.”

“Why?” Thomas asked. He wondered if it was a stupid question.

“God knows. There are various stories, probably dating back centuries. Something about burying their disputes for the new year. Utter rubbish, of course, it’s an excuse to get drunk. But it’s traditional. St Catherine’s Day.”

“I thought this was St Nicholas’ Day.”

“It’s the same day. Welcome to the Isle of Mann, Lieutenant Young.”

As the parade dispersed, the crowd drifted onto the field. Thomas had seen many country fairs as a boy, growing up in the green prosperity of his parents’ Hampshire estate, and this was no different, although it was smaller than he was used to. The main purpose of the fair was to buy and sell livestock and farm and dairy produce, and on the eastern edge of the field, farmers paraded their stock and bartering was already underway.

There were stalls selling hams and cheeses and all kinds of preserves, and thrifty Manx housewives studied the wares, questioned the prices in scornful tones and ignored their children who chased each other between stalls and booths, shrieking loudly. It seemed as though every tradesman in Mann had set up shop in St Catherine’s field. There were stalls selling saddles and clothing and lengths of good, locally woven cloth. One stall displayed lace goods and Thomas paused, studying a pretty lace collar and cuffs.

“For your sweetheart, Young?”

“For my mother. I’ve sent her nothing for the season and I should.” Thomas took out his purse then tucked the small parcel into his pocket. They passed stalls selling gingerbread and sweets, a rope maker and a knife grinder and a carpenter mending broken chairs. In one corner were several herbalists and travelling doctors, shouting out miracle cures for warts, fevers and nervous disorders.

Finally there were the side shows; casting dice for prizes, climbing a slippery pole to ring a bell and a fortune teller draped in gaudy scarves reading palms for pennies. Tobin, Maclay and Taylor crowded around the striped tent, laughing, and the woman, who was young and attractive, predicted glory in battle, promotion to general and marriage to wealthy and beautiful wives.

“If only,” Maclay said, still laughing as they crossed the field to an area where several tents had been set up selling food and drink. “By the time I can afford to marry, I’ll be too old to care.”

Tobin, who was already married with a young son and another on the way, looked over at Thomas. “No wish to hear your fortune, Young?”

“Not really,” Thomas said, trying to sound lighthearted. “I wonder what she said to Mr Taylor, he went very red. Was that a prediction or a promise?”

They laughed, surprised, Thomas thought, at a joke from a man considered very serious. Thomas knew that he was so, although he had not always been, but the kindness of the colonel and the cheerful friendliness of these young men, none of whom had ever seen a battle, made him determined to make an effort to seem grateful.

An ox and a pig were roasting on spits, the smell making Thomas hungry although he had broken his fast early with fresh bread and Manx honey. The meat was not ready but they bought pies and pasties at a booth, warming their hands on crumbling pastry and hot spiced meat, while joining the crowd surrounding a group of mummers. All were men, dressed in a variety of white draperies, with their faces painted. The play was bewildering, and it must have showed on Thomas’ face, because Tobin laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.

“The plot is very simple. St Denis fights St George and kills him, and he is then killed by St Patrick. That crazy looking fella in the hat is the doctor who brings them all back to life. In a moment he is going to ask for his fee for this miracle, and the audience will drop their contributions in the hat, and then there will be a sword dance, during which it’s surprising they all aren’t killed over again. It’s a traditional mummers play, they’re called the White Boys. This is more of a rehearsal for them, the real day for mumming is the Saturday before Christmas day, there are several troupes of them and they’ll perform all around Douglas, Peel and Castletown. The Governor always invites them into Castle Rushen for a show and provides them with food and ale afterwards.”

Thomas was grateful for the explanation, although he was not sure how much it helped, but the sword fight was genuinely funny. The mummers wielded their wooden weapons in a choreographed dance for approximately a minute and then quickly degenerated into a fierce mock battle. The young men leaped around each other, hacking at their friends and there was the occasional yell when a wooden blade bruised an arm or cracked a knuckle while the fiddler accompanying the dance played faster and faster. A crack on the head of one of the combatants brought the battle to an abrupt halt and the mummers led their battered member away to the comfort of the ale tent followed by the cheers and whoops of the crowd.

“I need a drink after that,” Tobin said. “My hands are freezing, standing around. Come on, I see old Crellin has set up his tent by the churchyard again.”

“Crellin?” Thomas enquired.

“Josiah Crellin, MHK. Owns the Top House over at Malew, we passed it on the way.”

“MHK?”

“Member of the House of Keys. Tynwald, our Parliament.”

“Oh. Oh, yes.” Thomas felt rather foolish. He had temporarily forgotten that this was anything other than a winter fair in a typical English country district, but he knew better than to say so. “Why does Mr Crellin have a tent?”

“Hospitality. He does it every year, his servants provide spiced wine and fruit punch for the gentry who attend the fair. You were here last year, weren’t you Taylor?”

“Yes, sir. Very pleasant afternoon.”

The tent was large and surprisingly warm, with several small braziers providing both heat and a means of warming the big vats of wine and hot punch. Wooden trestles were set up and a dozen servants distributed drinks, while their master stood with his family to greet his guests. Crellin  gave the impression of being an intelligent active man in his sixties, accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law, who was heavily pregnant. Colonel Smelt, the lieutenant-governor and Lieutenant-Colonel Steuart had joined his party and Thomas was amused to see a manservant stationed at both entrances to the tent to ensure that only the better class of people were admitted. 

“Lieutenant Young, I’m glad you could join us,” Steuart said. “Have you met our kind host? Mr Crellin, this is Lieutenant Young of the Revenue cutter Bluebird. You’ll have heard of the incident, I’m sure.”

Crellin offered his hand. Thomas took it, aware that he was holding his breath. He saw the older man’s brown eyes widen in shock and then look away. Thomas tried not to flinch. In the five years since Trafalgar, he had tried to get used to that first shocked reaction when strangers saw the ruin of his face, but it still hurt. 

Crellin recovered quickly and shook his hand warmly. “Welcome, Lieutenant Young. A cold day, aye, and you’ll be in need of a drink. Spiced wine or hot fruit punch, sir?”

Equipped with wine, Thomas made awkward conversation for a while then moved to join the other officers. Tobin was talking to some friends, while Taylor and Maclay surveyed the room. 

“I didn’t expect so many people,” Thomas said.

“Aye, it’s always the way over here, there’s not much to do. The same people, at the same receptions and dinners. It gets tedious, and since society is so narrow, everybody knows all the gossip. The advantage, though, is that we’re very popular with the young ladies. They like a man in a red coat, and a new face as well.”

Taylor broke off, blushing scarlet as he realised what he had said. Thomas felt sorry for him and at the same time exasperated at having to rescue him. “Well my coat’s the wrong colour and my face is likely to scare them off,” he said, as lightly as he could.

“Sorry, old man. So sorry.”

“It’s all right, I’m used to it. Tell me about some of the people.”

Thomas listened for a while, smiling at some of the more scurrilous stories and trying to ignore covert looks and some open stares. The scar had faded from a scarlet horror to white, but it could not be ignored. The splinter of wood, blown apart by French cannon, had driven into his jaw and travelled upwards to his temple, breaking his cheekbone on the way. It had remained lodged there as he lay in agony waiting for his turn on the surgeon’s bloody table, and when it was gone, his face was bisected, cobbled together with rough stitches. Infection came and went, but the wound touched neither his eye or his mouth. From the right side, Thomas was the same as he had always been, a face of distinction and even some beauty, crowned with bright chestnut hair and well-shaped green eyes with lashes a woman might have envied. From the left, he was a monster and when possible he avoided society so that he did not have to see its reaction.

“That’s old Quayle. Two sons, one’s gone into the law, the other’s learning the business. The daughter went off to London to seek her fortune and did very nicely for herself, some East India merchant, I fancy. She was back here last Christmas showing off the London gowns and diamonds. I danced with her a couple of times. Very pretty.”

Tobin had joined them. “Did you know Crellin has a daughter?”

“No. Where, I’ve never seen her?” Taylor said.

Tobin grinned. “Now that really was a scandal,” he said. “She was a wild one, Roseen Crellin. Set tongues wagging all over the island and then ran away to sea and married a Manx navy captain. He wasn’t from the gentry, but they’ll forgive him because he’s made a fortune in prize money.”

“Who’s that?” Taylor asked, looking across the tent.

Thomas had noticed the girl earlier. She stood beside an older couple, probably her grandparents, and she had been staring very openly at Thomas, making no attempt to hide the fact. Thomas had been trying to ignore it, but now he looked back, hoping she would be embarrassed and look away. To his surprise, she gave him a warm smile instead.

She was probably around twenty, very tall and well-proportioned with shining brown hair curled around a vivid face with well-defined cheekbones and beautiful green eyes. She was dressed very stylishly in a dark green velvet gown, topped with a black cape trimmed with white fur.  Thomas looked at Tobin enquiringly.

“Aalin Kennaugh,” the captain said obligingly. “Those are her grandparents, they raised her after her parents died. Very wealthy, he was an  East India merchant, retired now. They’ve property in Liverpool and Bristol and a fortune in stocks, I’m told. There was a proposed match with some wealthy plantation owner, Mrs Kennaugh spent some time in London trying to bring it off, but the lady is having none of it. She’s turned down a few local gentlemen in the past few years. She’ll inherit a fortune when the old man dies, so she can afford to be choosy. She’s also the worst flirt on the island.” Tobin smiled at Thomas. “Our young ladies aren’t raised quite as strictly as you’ll be used to, Lieutenant. There are rules, of course, but on a small island, the chances are that the lass you’re dancing with was a childhood playmate so it’s hard to be formal.”

“It seems the young lady agrees,” Taylor said, smirking. Miss Kennaugh was making her way around the tent towards them. Tobin bowed slightly and accepted the hand she held out to him.

“Miss Kennaugh, how are you?”

“Very well, Captain Tobin. How are you? Is your brother well?”

“Yes, I had a letter from him a few days ago, he is with the Mediterranean fleet.”

“I hope he is warmer than I am, then. Why do we do this every year, I wonder, when we have houses with walls, ceilings and fires? Next year, I shall refuse. I have seen St Catherine’s hen massacred all my life, it is enough. Does it not seem barbaric to you, Lieutenant Young?”

Thomas was startled. She was regarding him steadily from eyes which were close in colour to his own. There was no sign of discomfort as her gaze rested on his marred face, but he supposed her open stares had given her plenty of opportunity to get used to it.

“I see no introductions are necessary,” Tobin said dryly. “Nevertheless, I shall make them. Miss Kennaugh, this is Captain Maclay and Lieutenant Taylor from the Royal Manx Fencibles, and Lieutenant Young from the Revenue service. Gentlemen, Miss Kennaugh.”

Thomas bowed. Taylor said enthusiastically:

“Capital to meet you, Miss Kennaugh. I’ve been here a while but I’ve not had the pleasure.”

“No, I’ve been away,” the girl said. “My grandmother took me to London to see the sights. At least that was her stated intention, but truthfully, it was to try to persuade me to accept a marriage I did not want. I have no idea why she thought the location would make a difference, but I think she knows my mind now. I heard about your cutter being wrecked, Lieutenant. Were you not shot, as well?”

Her tone was faintly mocking. Thomas looked back without smiling. One of the advantages of having no expectation of attracting a pretty girl was that he felt no need to impress. “Yes,” he said evenly. “A minor wound only, I think it was probably a warning shot gone astray. I have had far worse, as you have observed.”

Thomas sensed the shock of his companions and he supposed he had been rude, but then so had she, and he had no reason to care. The girl did not seem to react at all, but he saw a slight flush mount to her pale cheeks. Nobody spoke for an agonising moment and Thomas wondered if he should apologise for the sake of his companions. He saw her lift her chin and stand a little more upright. 

“I’m surprised they hit you, Lieutenant, it’s clear you’re not afraid to return fire. My grandfather has expressed a wish to meet you. Should you object?”

Thomas felt his face redden. “I…no. No, of course not.”

She nodded and bowed to the other three men, all of whom seemed stunned into silence. Thomas stepped forward and she did not move but looked at him pointedly. Thomas flushed again and offered his arm. The girl accepted as regally as a duchess.

Halfway around the tent, she said:

“At least you can blush.”

“Only on one half of my face.”

Aalin Kennaugh raised furious eyes to meet his. “Generally, Englishmen have better manners than the Manx. You are an exception, sir.”

“I’m sorry. I thought, by the way you were staring at me earlier, and your reference to my recent misfortunes, that we had decided to dispense with the pleasantries.”

They had reached the elderly couple. Thomas had not been sure that the request for an introduction was genuine, but as he bowed, the old man’s face lit up into a particularly sweet smile.

“It is Lieutenant Young, is it not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lieutenant, allow me to introduce you to my wife. My dear, this is the young man that Colonel Smelt spoke of at dinner last week.”

Mrs Kennaugh was pink cheeked and round faced and made Thomas ache suddenly for his home and his family. He bowed over her hand and wished he could take back everything he had said to her granddaughter. “Lieutenant Young, I am delighted,” she said. “The lieutenant-governor was telling us of your misfortunes. And – forgive me for referring to it – your previous fine service. You may not know that we lost both our son and our grandson at Trafalgar. He was captain of the Tulip and his son served as midshipman.”

Shock froze Thomas for a moment. He knew that he needed to say something, but all he could think about was his appalling rudeness to a girl who had lost so much. He turned and looked at her. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, no, that’s awful. I’m so sorry, ma’am. Sir. And Miss Kennaugh, you must think me the world’s worst boor. I’m over-sensitive, sometimes, but there was no excuse…”

“No, you were right,” the girl said unexpectedly. “I was staring. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. I have no idea exactly how my father and brother died, it was pure vulgar curiosity.”

Thomas felt rather as though he had been punched in the stomach. “I’m sorry,” he said again, helplessly.

Mrs Kennaugh came to his rescue. “A misunderstanding, I’m sure. You could not have known and Aalin has a very unruly tongue and speaks her mind. Forgive me, sir, you may have made other arrangements, but we were wondering if you would care to spend Christmas with us at our house just outside Douglas. I know the officers will take care of  you, but you will be so much more comfortable in a home and we would like to offer hospitality to a navy man.”

Something about the warmth of her tone drew a smile from Thomas. He did not smile very often, it twisted the scar on the side of his face into a bizarre crescent. “I’m not really a navy man any more, ma’am. With such a long convalescence I was put on half-pay, and have remained there ever since. It was the revenue service or the impress service and I didn’t like the idea of that.”

“I imagine not. My son used to tell me that impressment was essential to keep the navy functioning and ready to defend our shores, but it’s very hard on families whose sons and husbands and fathers are snatched away. I do not blame you for preferring to chase smugglers, Lieutenant. Do join us.”

Thomas was smiling, he could not stop himself. “I am so grateful for your kindness, but you cannot wish for a stranger in the house, especially one making himself unpopular on the island by interfering in the smuggling trade.”

“That is exactly what we wish for, Lieutenant,” Kennaugh said breezily. “You’ve no duties at present, I’m told the Bluebird won’t be fit to sail until January. Pack up your things and I’ll send the carriage for you tomorrow. It’ll be good for Aalin to have a young person around the house for a while.”

Thomas glanced nervously at the girl. She was looking at him with clinical interest. “How old are you, Lieutenant?” she enquired.

“None of your business, Miss,” her grandfather growled affectionately. Thomas was beginning to realise that Miss Kennaugh’s elderly relatives indulged her beyond permission but he understood why. Having lost so much must have drawn the three closer.

“I will attempt to make up for my horrible rudeness by answering frankly, Miss Kennaugh. I’m twenty five.”

Unexpectedly the pert line of Aalin Kennaugh’s mouth softened into a genuine smile. “Oh no, I thought you must be older,” she said. “You’ve done so much. I’m twenty. I was fifteen that year. It was horrible, and must have been so for you too. Please accept. I cannot promise to behave all the time, because I don’t know how, but I will promise not to be beastly to you again. You don’t deserve it.”

Thomas melted. “Then I’ll accept with pleasure,” he said gravely. “Thank you.”

***

Aalin Kennaugh spent the twenty-four hours before the arrival of Lieutenant Thomas Young in a flutter of nervous anticipation which infuriated her. A young woman of decided opinions and independent spirit, she had reached the age of twenty without ever feeling the slightest interest in the various young men that her grandparents threw in her way. Most of them were boys she had grown up with, and Aalin already knew that she wanted more than a steady Manx businessman or landowner as her partner in life. She was young for marriage, but along with her grandmother, whom she adored, Aalin accepted her limitations and realised that it would not hurt to plan ahead.

It was not that she was unattractive. Aalin approved the natural curl of her dark brown hair and the wide, well spaced green eyes. Her skin, which had struggled with hideous spots for several years had miraculously cleared about a week after her nineteenth birthday, with no explanation, and she had excellent posture and was a graceful dancer. In terms of accomplishments, she was very well-read, could sing better than any of her contemporaries and was a talented artist. She had a good seat on a horse and light hands and knew how to sew although she seldom bothered, since she could think of nothing more boring. She had all the essential attributes that a gentleman might require in a wife. It was simply that she was so tall and built on far more generous lines than any of the other girls.

When she was younger, Aalin had shed tears over it. Her older cousin, a waif-like creature now married to a Douglas advocate, was three years older than her, and her aunt had sent bundles of clothing over to Aalin regularly through childhood. Aalin had opened the parcels and tried to struggle into the tiny garments until she wept, and eventually her grandmother had put a stop to the process, telling her aunt firmly to stop sending them. Aalin was a head taller than Emma, with curved hips and an impressive bosom, even at the age of fourteen. Dressmakers, arriving to measure for the garments necessary for Aalin’s introduction into society would pause, and study her, and then sigh.

“The young lady is so tall. And so…so womanly.”

Aalin had heard the word ‘fat’ behind the remarks and had cried herself to sleep. The floating muslins of girlhood had made her feel enormous, the white and pale blue and pinks of the debutante had never suited her and none of her grandmother’s soothing words had helped.

London had changed that. One evening spent in the company of Mr David Claybourne had convinced her that she would never wish to marry him, but the city itself had intrigued her. On the one hand, she had hated the crowds and the noise and the sense of never being able to find a moment of solitude. On the other hand, she realised that among so many people, she could become invisible and the experience had been amazingly liberating.

Accompanied by the companion hired by her grandmother, she had explored the city, wandered through the parks and visited libraries and art galleries and museums. She had sat for a portrait, and been gratified at the artist’s blatant admiration. She had been attended by dressmakers, far more experienced and sophisticated than her island could produce and had begun to realise that there was far more to beauty and fashion than a slender figure and an air of innocence. And she had realised, with passionate gratitude, that the proposed marriage had simply been her shrewd and kindly grandmother’s excuse to show her a different world.

Returning home after months away was confusing. Aalin loved being back among her own people and relished silent walks over the hills with her dogs and long fire lit evenings with her grandparents. On the other hand, she found local society parochial and often boring. She was stifled by the small concerns of the Manx gentry and wanted to scream as they picked over every scandal and item of gossip repeatedly. She had grown up and had no idea what to do about it.

Lieutenant Thomas Young was a very welcome distraction. Flirtation was a skill Aalin had learned during her time away and she had been surprised to find that she was good at it and enjoyed it. She no longer felt at a disadvantage among her more dainty fellow debutantes, and she found that the definite colours and well cut clothing she had learned to wear in London made her stand out. Marriage was a different prospect to flirting but Aalin had taken a long look at Thomas Young’s perfect profile across the tent and wanted to know more about him. The scar had been a shock, but his defensive rudeness had not upset her. She understood, better than Mr Young could know, how easy it was for self-consciousness to spill over into bad manners.

On the day of his arrival, Aalin found herself hanging back. They dined that afternoon, and she was content, for once, to listen, as her grandparents gently questioned him and drew out the story she was dying to know. He was, as Aalin had supposed, of good family, a third son, with the estate and lands going to his eldest brother. The second brother had chosen the army and had died on the brutal field of Talavera. Thomas had chosen the navy over the church and had passed his lieutenant’s exam before the bloody battle at Trafalgar had brought glory to England, robbed them of Nelson and left Thomas Young scarred, angry and defensive, trapped in a posting he hated with no prospect of returning to the navy. Without influence or patronage, a young and newly qualified lieutenant might wait a long time once he was placed on half-pay. He had chosen not to return home to rely on the support of his parents and his brother and Aalin strongly approved of his quiet independence.

December proved bright and sunny, although cold, and as her grandparents’ activities were limited, it was left to Aalin to entertain their guest through the daytime. The revenue man had hired a horse from the Castletown inn, but Aalin cast it a scornful glance and produced her own second mount, a tall grey gelding with a sweet temperament. She enjoyed watching Thomas make friends with Diamond and as they clattered out of the yard, she silently approved his seat on the horse. Thomas was several inches taller than Aalin and a good fit for the horse, and she could see he was enjoying himself. 

“You approve, Lieutenant?”

Thomas glanced over at her. “Yes, thank you. He’s beautiful.”

“My father bought him in Ireland the year before he died, he was intended for my brother. He’s tall for me, Ruby here is a better fit, but I could never get rid of him and he’s so well-mannered. Far more so than I am.”

“Your manners have been impeccable since I arrived, Miss Kennaugh.”

“So have yours. We got off to a poor start, but I’m proud of us since.”

To her delight, he laughed aloud. “It would be impossible to be rude to your grandparents,” he said. “Where are we going?”

“To Douglas. I’m sure you’ve been there already, but I thought we could ride up to Douglas Head and along the coastal path, the weather is so fine. It’s a beautiful view from up there.”

“It’s a beautiful island. I realise I’ve only seen it from the perspective of the best beaches to land run goods so far. I’ve been surprised at how welcoming the people have been. Not just your grandparents, but generally. In Sussex, I’m a pariah, they hate the revenue and excisemen. I can’t even get served in some of the inns. Which is probably just as well, since I’d be drinking run brandy.”

It was a long sentence, for this reserved young man, and a way in, and Aalin seized it. “Would you tell me more about your work? I know a little about the trade of course, since I live in the middle of it, but only from the Manx perspective. I’m interested.”

Thomas shot her a surprised look, but complied readily. Once he began to talk, he was a good storyteller, and she was fascinated by his tales of the smuggling trade in Sussex, of dark nights and sudden conflict, of intimidation and violence and even murder. It bore no resemblance to the casual acceptance of the trade in Mann and she told him so, although she was careful only to refer to stories thirty years in the past that her grandfather had told her, and she knew by his quiet amusement that he realised it. It set the tone for the following week, and by St Thomas’ Eve, as they rode out to watch the men cutting the huge peat turf which would burn through Christmas and bring good luck into the house, Aalin was on very comfortable terms with their guest and she knew that her grandmother was watching with great interest.

“I am told that you intend to take our guest to church on Christmas Eve for the carval singing,” she said to Aalin, as they sat together writing letters one morning. “I hope he doesn’t find it too tedious.”

“He will find it enormously tedious after the third song,” Aalin said composedly. “But I was telling him about the custom and he was interested. I have told him he should remain close to the back door and leave when he wants to. I’ll be able to see him from the gallery and will slip out to join him.”

“Or you could throw a dried pea at him to attract his attention,” Mrs Kennaugh said placidly.

Aalin blushed scarlet and kept her head bent over the letter she was failing to write. The Christmas Eve service ended with local maidens throwing dried peas down from the gallery at their bachelor acquaintances, and it was an accepted way for a girl to express her interest in a man. The scene usually degenerated quickly into chaos and the parish clerk, whose job it was to oversee the carval singing, would clear the church with the congregation, their religious duty done, making their way to the local public house to continue the festivities.

“I shall do nothing of the kind,” Aalin said firmly. “We shall leave before it becomes disorderly. Anyway, I don’t suppose he knows what that is supposed to mean.”

“He may have found somebody to tell him,” Mrs Kennaugh said.

Aalin looked up. “Grandmother, are you trying to tell me something?”

“I think I am trying to ask you something, child. You are spending a great deal of time with this young man.”

“You told me that you wanted me to entertain him. I am never alone with him. If we ride, my groom follows us. If we walk or drive, I take my maid. It is perfectly…”

“Aalin, I am not scolding you, you have done nothing wrong. It is just that I am beginning to wonder if there is more to this than taking care of a guest. You like him, don’t you?”

Aalin could feel herself blushing. “Do you not like him?”

Mrs Kennaugh smiled. “I like him very much. We invited him, as you know, in memory of your father and your brother. At this time of year, it seemed right to offer hospitality to a Trafalgar veteran, especially one who has suffered so much. Since then, I have got to know him a little, and I find him a most estimable young man. It is a shame he is so very conscious of his scar, since I think it stops him smiling as much as he ought.”

“One can hardly blame him when you see the way people stare. It infuriates me. Did you see Mrs Quayle at dinner last night? She stared at him, as though he was some kind of side show at St Catherine’s Fair, I wanted to slap her. To make it worse, she did not listen properly to his conversation, she was so busy staring at his scar. It was so obvious. No wonder he dislikes going into society if it is full of such ill-mannered fools.”

“I see he has a champion in you.”

Aalin sighed. “Don’t matchmake, Grandmama, it’s a repulsive habit.”

“I have certainly proved a failure at it so far,” Mrs Kennaugh agreed. 

“Lieutenant Young is not going to propose marriage to me,” Aalin said firmly. She realised that it would be better to have this conversation and dispose of any false hopes. “He dreams of returning to the navy some day. Besides, he is ridiculously scrupulous and does not believe that a man should offer marriage when he cannot support a wife.”

“Has he told you that?”

“Yes. We have talked of marriage in general, as people do. I wish there was a way he could return to the navy, he misses it desperately, although he tries very hard to make the best of his current work. I think he must have made a very good and conscientious officer.”

“I’m sure he did,” her grandmother said gently. “But you would not wish to be married to a navy officer, would you, Aalin?”

Aalin realised that she was close to tears, and she knew that her grandmother would see it. She looked up, blinking hard, and managed a smile. “Ma’am, if it was a man I cared about, I would not refuse because of his profession,” she said. “But it can not be. He is not…he does not…will you excuse me?”

She did not hear her grandmother’s response as she sought the safety of her bedchamber. Lying full length on her bed, Aalin fought against her tears, knowing that she was being silly. It was not sensible to pine over a man who clearly saw her in the light of a cousin or a sister, and not wise to spend too much time dwelling on the joy of every crooked smile or the flutter she felt every time he took her arm, or lifted her from her horse. She was determined just to enjoy this Christmas then let him go with the memory of friendship and no embarrassment. It had been a mistake to let Grandmama see how she felt, but it was more important to ensure that Thomas had no idea. He would be kind, but it would be painfully awkward, and Aalin had no intention of giving him a moment’s discomfort. It was not his fault that she had developed these feelings and she would manage them herself.

Christmas Eve dawned crisp and dry, but by the afternoon a sharp wind was rising and dark clouds obscured the sun. No rain had fallen by the time they set out for church, but Aalin was fairly sure it would fall before Christmas day. The church was barely half full, mostly with people of the more respectable sort. There were few of the local gentry present, they would go to church the following morning while their servants prepared Christmas dinner, but Mr and Mrs Kennaugh had elected to come. The service was short, dwelling on the story of the nativity and the celebration of Christ’s birth.

When the final prayer was said, the parson gathered together his sermon and prepared to leave. He was followed out by the gentry. Aalin joined them, flashing a reassuring smile to Thomas, who was stationed by the back door of the church, looking nervous. She mounted the stairs to the wooden gallery as sounds of laughter and chatter suddenly filled the church, and the aisle was filled with young men and women. The girls climbed to the gallery and the men filled the pews. There were a number of older men, regular singers at the Oiel Verree service. Mr Corlett, the parish clerk, took up his station just inside the communion rail. Aalin had attended this service many times and wondered what her English guest made of it. Most of the congregation carried a lighted candle. The girls decorated their candles with red ribbons and rosettes. Aalin lit her own candle from one of the others and stood by the door, enjoying the brilliance of the lighted church and the feeling of community. 

The carvels began. Most were written in Manx and one or two in English. There were one or two traditional carols but most were written by previous parishioners. Few of them were about the nativity and the themes were usually grim and dark, dwelling more on sin and the prospect of eternal damnation than the hope of Christ’s birth. Sometimes men sang together, sometimes alone. They carried lighted tapers, and could sing until the taper burned down, when they made way for the next singer.

Halfway through the fourth carvel, some of the girls were becoming restless, and one or two had begun to throw the hard, dried peas down into the men below. Voices hushed them. The song being sung was an old one, known locally as Bad Women, and spoke of the sinful nature of some of womankind, with Biblical references. It was never popular with the girls, and Aalin thought dispassionately that the clerk might have done better to leave that one to the end.

Peering over into the body of the church, Aalin almost laughed aloud. The singer of Bad Women, the blacksmith from Lonan, had chosen to sing the carvel in English, and it was the first that Thomas would have understood. The revenue man was staring at the singer as though he could not believe his ears. Aalin leaned on the wooden balcony and watched appreciatively.

“Here, missus, throw this at him.”

Aalin turned, startled, and a thin faced elf of a girl was laughing back at her, holding out several dried peas. The temptation was irresistible. Aalin took aim. The first pea missed, bouncing off the wood of the back pew but the second struck Thomas squarely on the top of his head. He looked up, startled, and caught her eye. Aalin jerked her head towards the door and saw, to her secret delight, a broad smile in response. It happened so seldom. Aalin smiled at the elf girl and returned the remainder of the peas then slipped down the stairs and joined Thomas outside in the cold dark night.

As Aalin had suspected, it was raining. The wind was gusting fiercely, threatening Aalin’s riding hat. They stood in the church porch, listening to the growing hilarity within.

“What on earth was he singing about?”

“Sinful women,” Aalin said. “It’s traditional.”

“At Christmas?”

“Come to church tomorrow, you’ll hear pretty carols about the birth of Jesus. Carval singing concentrates on the darker side of God.”

“I would never have guessed it.”

“Mind, the clerk is going to wish he’d not permitted that one so early in the evening, it’s stirred up some of the sinful women in the gallery, he’s going to get a dried pea in the eye if he’s not careful. This is not pleasant. I knew it was going to rain, we should have asked my grandparents to send the carriage back for us.” Aalin glanced at her companion. “We could take refuge at the parsonage and send Orry back to get it.”

“I’ll be guided by you, Miss Kennaugh. If I was alone, I’d make the ride, it’s not that far, but for a lady…”

“I’m Manx, Lieutenant, we’re used to a bit of rain and wind.” Aalin surveyed the weather thoughtfully. “We could ride back along the coastal path, which would save us ten minutes or more. I’d rather avoid the parsonage, it will be full of very worthy people clicking their tongues over the shocking conduct of the young people at the carvel singing. Shall we?”

“By all means. What are you doing?”

“Saving my hat,” Aalin said. As the groom led the horses forward, she removed her riding hat and tied it by its strings to her saddle. “It will be wet but will probably dry out. If I try to ride with it, it’ll end up in the Irish Sea.”

“You’ll get soaked.”

“That hat is not going to keep me dry,” Aalin said as they set their horses into the wind. Glancing sideways she saw that he was smiling, the second time in one evening. It felt like an achievement.

“You are the most practical-minded female I have ever encountered, Miss Kennaugh.”

“Thank you,” Aalin said, somewhat miserably.

To her surprise, he picked up her tone. “I’m sorry, that was meant as a compliment. I’ve spent little time in society these past years and almost none in the company of a pretty girl, but I like your common sense. It is reassuring to know that the possession of a lovely face doesn’t automatically make a girl an idiot. I had wondered until I met you.”

Aalin did not reply. She could not, and was glad of a sudden huge gust of wind which made it necessary to pay attention to her horse. Thomas had said it in such matter-of-fact tones, there was no hint of flirtation or flattery and he could have no idea how much it meant to her. She had been complimented before, on her graceful dancing and excellent sense of style. She had been called, by various hopeful gentlemen with an eye on her fortune, such epithets as magnificent, queenly and glorious and had been referred to as an Amazon. She had never once been called either pretty or lovely and she had told herself that it did not matter. She discovered that it did.

“Have I offended you?” Thomas said, sounding anxious.

“No, of course not. Thank you. I was just surprised.”

“I can understand that, I’m not very good at giving compliments where they’re due. Or at all, really. My older brother Kit inherited all the charm in the family, Edward and I were always rather envious.”

“Was it Kit who died?”

“Yes. Earlier this year.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise it was so recent.”

“He’s buried in Spain, which is hard for my mother, I think. They held a memorial service in the parish church, but…what was that?”

Aalin had heard it too. Thomas reined in, listening. The path ran fairly close to the cliff edge, and they could hear the sound of the sea, waves crashing onto the rocks below. At first, Aalin thought that she had imagined the noise, that it had just been the howling of the wind between the rocks, but then it came again and this time it was unmistakably human voices, not coming back from the direction of the church, but from below the cliff edge.

“Is there a beach down there?” Thomas demanded.

“No. There’s a small cove about half a mile on, you can reach it through a little glen. Down from here, there’s only rocks.”

It was hard to see his face through the dark and rain, but Aalin could sense him thinking quickly. “You, what’s your name? Orry, isn’t it? Come and take my horse. Move them back from the cliff edge, along with Miss Kennaugh, I don’t want them spooked.”

He dismounted and Orry took the horses. Aalin watched as Thomas moved forward. She longed to join him but knew that in this weather, she should not leave the groom to manage three nervous animals alone. She watched, her heart beating faster, as Thomas reached the edge and then lowered himself to the wet grass. He lay full length peering down into the darkness for no more than a minute, then he scrambled to his feet and ran back to them, squinting through the rain, which was little more than a drizzle now.

“It’s a boat, it’s hit the rocks.”

“Oh no.”

“It’s still afloat, I think they’re trying to row to the beach, but I doubt they’ll make it the state of her, she’s lost the mast and she’s listing badly. Orry, you’ll need to ride for help. Back to the church, it’s closest. I hope to God they’re still singing Manx dirges and haven’t got to the public house yet or they’ll be of no use. Take Miss Kennaugh with you and leave her at the parsonage.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Where are you going?” Aalin said.

“Down the glen to the beach. The wind will push them that way. If they can stay afloat long enough to round the rocks, they might make it ashore. If they’re in the water, they’ll need help.”

“You can’t go alone.”

“You’re not coming.”

“I’ll go back to get help. Orry can…”

“No, I’m not having you ride alone along this path in this weather. If your horse stumbles…”

“You don’t know where you’re going,” Aalin said furiously. “Use some of the common sense you claim to value so highly and stop being a hero. Two people should go to the beach.”

Thomas hesitated, then nodded. “Come with me, then,” he said. “Get going, Orry.”

They watched the groom ride off, then Thomas mounted his horse. “Show me,” he said, and Aalin, appreciating his brisk acceptance of the situation, led the way towards Caly Glen.

***

The glen was short and steep, not ideal for horses in the darkness, although the advantage was that it was somewhat sheltered from the wind. There were a few trees clinging to the steep sides, but mostly the hills were covered with tangled undergrowth, a narrow slippery track winding its way down to a stony beach. The rain had eased, which made visibility a little better, and Thomas concentrated on getting Diamond safely to the bottom, following Aalin. Ruby, her tall mare, was sure-footed in the darkness and they paused on the rocky shore. The sea was a dark boiling mass, capped with white foam, and huge waves crashed onto the beach, sending up spray which could make them no wetter. At some point during the speedy descent, Thomas realised he had lost his hat.

“There’s somebody on the beach,” Aalin said. 

Thomas saw it too, dark figures outlined against the waves, speaking in urgent tones. They had two closed lanterns which bobbed furiously in the wind as they held them up, peering out into the waves. Thomas urged his horse forward and the strangers turned to face him. Both were men, wrapped up in dark coats with woollen fishermen’s hats pulled low over their heads and he could see little of them apart from their faces, one young, one old and lined.

“Any sign of them?” Thomas asked, dismounting.

“Out there.” The younger man’s voice was anguished. “They were rounding the head and hit a rock. She’s broken up, sir.”

Thomas could hear them now, the cries of men in the water, and he felt sick with horror. It was the fear of every seagoing man, to find himself clinging to a flimsy piece of wreckage in a dark, angry sea with no hope of rescue. He guessed all these Manxmen were strong swimmers but it would not matter out there tonight.

“Where’ve you come from?”

“Cottage up on the cliff there,” the older man said. “On our way back from church and heard the noise. Sent my lad running for rope, but we’ve no way to use it, they’re too far to throw it.”

Thomas heard the lie and understood. He was not sure if the two men had been on the beach waiting to guide the boat in with the lights or if they had run down as the storm worsened, but he was certain they had been expecting the craft and knew who manned her and what she carried. Christmas Eve in a rising storm was no time to put to sea, but a good time to evade detection with all law-abiding folk either in church or at home, celebrating the season with family and friends. Thomas guessed they knew who he was. Even without his uniform, the island was too small for any smuggler not to know about the red-headed, scarred revenue officer currently on shore leave. But he had not noticed the rope and it galvanised him into sudden action.

“How many aboard?”

“Don’t know, sir,” the older man said. “Like I said…”

“What’s your name?”

“Kinvig, sir. Illiam Kinvig, that’s my boy Jemmy.”

“Right, Mr Kinvig, I don’t give a single damn what cargo that boat carries or what you know about it, I’m here to save lives tonight. You give me a straight answer or you’ll be going head first into that water, and it looks bloody cold. How many?”

“Six, sir,” Jemmy said instantly. “It’s Colin Shimmin’s boat, two of his lads, Adam Joughin, Juan Kermode and my brother Eedin.”

“Good lad. Give me that rope.”

Thomas turned to Aalin. The wind had torn her hair loose from its pins and it blew in wild curls around her face, the big green eyes looking steadily at him. He wondered if she knew what he was about to ask her.

“Miss Kennaugh, it’s your decision. I can ride out with Diamond, and I can probably reach them. If we tie the rope to him, Kinvig and his boy can help pull us back in. He’s a strong horse, I think he’ll make it. But he might not.”

Aalin’s face was white in the lantern light and her expression pulled at his heartstrings, but she did not hesitate. “You might not make it either, Thomas, and I find that worries me far more. Do it.”

There was no time for more and Thomas could not, in any case, say any of the things he badly wanted to say to this girl, who had walked  into his life and made him painfully aware of all the things he did not have. Even in this desperate moment, he felt simple happiness that she had used his first name. Thomas reached for her hand, encased in soaked riding gloves, and kissed it.

“I will buy you the finest pair of gloves this island can produce as a New Year’s gift,” he said, and she smiled through tears.

“See that you are here to keep that promise, Mr Young.”

Diamond reared up as Thomas urged him into the raging sea. Waves thundered around them, pushing the horse back, and Thomas held on with an iron grip, forcing his mount forward. He had developed a good relationship with the horse these past weeks and now, when it mattered, Diamond steadied and held and then began to make his way forward into the sea. Thomas felt the moment that the horse was out of his depth, but he kept moving forward, swimming strongly. Thomas reached behind to check that the rope was secure although he had tied it himself.

Then they were among the wreckage and he heard a cry close by. There were two men, clinging to a wooden board, and he could see that they were both quite young. Thomas manoeuvred Diamond around then reached out a hand.

“Let go,” he yelled, his voice a scream to be heard over the sound of the storm. “One at a time. Hold on to the saddle. One each side.”

It took some time to move the two terrified boys over to the horse. One of them struggled to let go of the plank, his face a mask of fear in the darkness, but it was done finally, and Thomas urged Diamond back to shore. It was harder going, the tide pulling seawards, but Diamond was very strong and knew he was heading for safety, and Kinvig and Jemmy hauled on the rope, helping the horse. His hooves found sand and he trudged through the turbulent waves. In the shallows, Kinvig and Jem splashed towards them, lifting the survivors away from Diamond and up onto the shore.

“Where’s the lantern, I can’t see,” Thomas yelled.

“Here.” Aalin was beside him on Ruby, the oil lamp swinging in the wind, the faint light picking up shapes in the swirling gunmetal waves. Several pieces of wood floated quite close to the shore, and what looked like a barrel was bouncing further out. 

“Shine it over towards the rocks, Aalin, I can’t see…”

“Fella coming in. Swimming. He’s caught in the tide.”

Aalin lifted the lantern and Thomas saw immediately, the desperate strokes that were making no progress. The tide was not impossible to surmount, but this man was exhausted. He was not that far out, and Thomas urged Diamond forward into the waves. He could feel the pull of the water as the horse struck out strongly, but they reached the swimmer quickly, a burly young man and quick-witted for all his exhaustion. He clung to Thomas’ stirrup and Thomas turned the horse and towed him in. The man kept his feet in the shallows and staggered up the beach into the waiting embrace of Kinvig and Jemmy.

“Eedin. Ah, lad, thank God.”

“Any sign of the others?” Thomas asked.

Eedin Kinvig turned, his startled eyes, taking in Thomas’ uniform and clearly understanding. “We lost Joughin when we hit the rocks,” he said. “He went under, we tried to find him. He’s gone sir. Colin is hanging on for his life to the mast. You might see him.”

Thomas took the lantern and raised it. He could feel Diamond beginning to tremble under him and he was shivering himself. He scanned the waves and then saw it, a faint movement, which might have been a waving arm. For a moment, Thomas knew a sense of sheer misery at the thought of going back into the freezing grey water. He leaned forward and patted Diamond’s neck. 

“Reckon we can do it once more, boy?”

The horse baulked as he felt the cold water churning around his legs and for a moment, Thomas thought he had asked too much. Then Diamond steadied and moved forward, striking out strongly towards the faint shape in the distance. The light of one of the lanterns glimmered over the water and Thomas knew that Aalin was holding it high, guiding him towards Colin Shimmin. Diamond swam slowly and Thomas could feel his exhaustion. Whatever happened now, he could not push the horse to do this again.

Shimmin was there, barely conscious, half lying across the broken wooden mast. Thomas tried hard to get him to cling to the saddle, but the older man was too exhausted, and Thomas suspected that if he managed it, he would let go halfway and go under. Desperation lent him strength, and Thomas hauled him up until he was face down over the saddle bow. He concentrated, on the way back, on keeping Shimmin’s head out of the water and thanked God for the rope and the strong arms pulling him in, since he could feel that the horse was spent. As they splashed through the shallows, Thomas could feel Diamond’s legs wobbling and as hands reached up to take Shimmin, he slid from the saddle and put both arms around the horse’s wet, smooth neck.

“All right. It’s all right, boy. No more. You’ve done enough.”

“Thomas.”

Thomas turned. He realised they were no longer alone on the shore. Other men were coming down the beach, some with blankets and flasks, and the survivors were being wrapped up warmly and given brandy. Thomas recognised the parson, Mr Gawne. 

“Lieutenant Young, well done, sir. Four lives saved, thanks to your bravery.”

“Two lost,” Thomas said, bitterly. He was scanning the dark sea, but he could see no sign of life, only a few dark shapes as the wreckage of the boat and her cargo were tossed about on the stormy sea. The wind was beginning to die down finally and it had stopped raining, but Thomas was soaked to his underclothes and shivering. A man he did not know came forward with a rough blanket and draped it awkwardly around Thomas’ shoulders and Thomas nodded his thanks, almost too tired to speak. He looked over at Aalin. She was standing with Diamond, whispering to him, kissing his nose. Somebody had provided a blanket for her as well. She looked as wet as he was, her soaked hair falling in mad curls down her back. Thomas stood watching her and then she looked around and saw him, and smiled.

“You did it,” she said. “You were so brave. Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“You know my name,” Thomas said. “You cannot go back now.”

“Oh. I didn’t think you had noticed.”

“It was my favourite part of the evening,” Thomas said gravely, and loved the splutter of laughter she gave.

“Then you should call me Aalin. Although I don’t know what my grandmother will say about it.”

“We’ll ask her, shall we?” Thomas said. Aalin looked at him uncertainly, and Thomas smiled, not caring what it did to his scar. “We should get this lad back, he’s exhausted.”

“Orry has gone for the carriage, it will be here at any moment. He’ll walk Diamond back. Here, have some of the parson’s brandy. I have told him I don’t think he’ll see us in church tomorrow, but I think he will forgive us.”

“Christmas,” Thomas said. “I’d totally forgotten.”

Aalin was looking around the beach. “These people won’t forget, Thomas,” she said. “And neither shall I.”

***

Aalin slept late, exhausted, and on waking, went first to the stables. She was surprised to find Thomas already there, fussing Diamond in his stall. Aalin stood watching him for a moment. He was neat and trim again, the red hair tied back. At some point during the previous night he had acquired a cut across his temple and both his hands were covered in scratches and tears, the nails broken and black. Thomas turned and saw her and smiled broadly and Aalin’s heart melted, remembering when he had not smiled at all.

“I thought you’d sleep later,” he said.

“I thought the same of you. He seems well.”

“He’ll be fine, no lasting damage, although he should be rested for a few days. I was just about to go in to breakfast, but there’s something I wanted to show you first.”

He took her hand and led her through the stables, past the stalls and out into the yard. Two of the men were carrying a small barrel and a box towards the kitchen door. One of them grinned at their approach.

“Morning, miss. Unexpected delivery, this morning.”

“What is it?”

“Tea, miss. And good French brandy. There was a note nailed to the box. Seems it’s a gift for the lieutenant from an unknown admirer.”

“Oh.” Aalin glanced at Thomas in some trepidation and saw that he was laughing. 

“That’s the first time I’ve knowingly been in receipt of smuggled goods. I am gifting it to your grandparents in gratitude for their hospitality. The parson was here earlier, and brought news that was a better gift to me than illicit brandy. It seems we only lost one man.”

“How?”

“For reasons I shall not examine, half the village was on the beach at dawn to see what had washed up on the incoming tide. They heard cries and scrambled down the tail of rocks to find Juan Kermode lying across a boulder with a cracked head and a broken leg. I don’t know how he didn’t freeze to death in the night but he’s alive and he’s home.”

“Oh that’s such good news,” Aalin said. “Thank heavens for the greed of the smuggling trade or he might never have been found.”

The house was decorated for Christmas with boughs of greenery from around the estate. Holly, ivy and other evergreens were interspersed with ribbons and candles. Guests had been invited for Christmas dinner. After all, Aalin and Thomas accompanied her grandparents to church and Aalin was pleased by the unmistakable warmth of the welcome given to Thomas, who seemed to have made the step from outsider to valued neighbour overnight. They returned to dinner and ate goose and duck and Twelfth Cake until Aalin was not sure that she could move. After the meal, they played blind man’s buff, hunt the slipper and charades and Aalin spent the day in a daze of happiness that she could not explain. Outwardly little had changed, but every time Thomas said her name, he smiled at her and Aalin’s heart beat faster. In the dark of the evening, carol singers came and they stood in the big square hallway joining in with the old carols. Aalin could feel Thomas’ shoulder against hers. She felt him stir, and then to her astonishment, his fingers curled around hers. Aalin did not speak. All her hard won London sophistication had deserted her and she felt girlish and vulnerable and very much out of her depth.

On St Stephen’s Day, the wren boys toured the villages, parading the dead wren at the end of a decorated pole, beating a drum and singing the Hunting of the Wren song outside the great houses in return for food and small gifts. Thomas stood on the front steps of the house beside Aalin watching the proceedings, as the servants cheered the group of young men and joined in the song. 

“I would hate to be any kind of bird during your Manx Christmas celebrations,” he said in Aalin’s ear, and she looked up at him, surprised into bubbling laughter. “Am I to expect any other kind of dead bird before Twelfth Night?”

“Only from the kitchens, Thomas, and I notice you’ve no objection to those.”

“Not in the least, I’ve not been fed this well for years. Which reminds me, since I collect there are guests again for dinner. Do you have time to walk with me before we need to change?”

Aalin felt her heart beat faster. “Of course. Where do you wish to go? I’ll ring for my maid.”

“Do you think it would be very shocking to ask you to dispense with her today? I thought we could walk up to the old church, it’s not far.”

“St Adamnan’s? Yes, of course. I’ll get my cloak and change my shoes.”

It was not far up to the partially ruined church, but the walk was fairly steep. The weather had changed again and St Stephen’s Day brought brilliant blue skies and a light breeze. It was cold, but the exercise warmed Aalin and by the time Thomas opened the gate into the small, tangled churchyard with its broken stones and Celtic crosses, she could feel her cheeks flushed with exertion. 

“How long has this been unused?” Thomas asked, as they explored the churchyard and peered into the musty interior of the remaining part of the church.

“As long as I can remember. They’re building a new church although it’s taking them forever, which is why we travel back to Douglas for most services. This one isn’t really used. I hope they don’t allow it to fall wholly into ruin, though, it’s so pretty, especially in summer.”

“It’s cold today,” Thomas said. She heard laughter in his voice, and turned to find him studying her, smiling. “I was just thinking that I would very much like to spend some time with you when we’re not at risk of freezing to death.”

“I don’t feel cold after that walk,” Aalin said. “Are you warm enough in that light jacket, though? Your uniform…”

“Every stitch I had on me that night is ruined beyond repair,” Thomas said. “I am reduced to civilian clothing.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I can buy new clothing. In fact, I probably should, I look like a pauper. Which I’m not, entirely, although as a younger son, I’m not wealthy. The estate goes to my brother, of course, but there are some bonds and investments left to me by my grandfather which bring in a small income. There will also be a little family money from my mother.”

Aalin knew that she was blushing bright red and she hoped he would think it was from the walk in the cold air. “What…why are you telling me this, Thomas?”

Thomas walked forward, taking her hand in his. “Aalin, you must know what I want to say. I spent Christmas Day wrestling with the knotty problem of whether I should speak to your grandfather first. I probably should have, but to tell you the truth I am not sure what your answer is going to be, so I thought I would find out first.”

Aalin’s eyes opened very wide. “Thomas, are you proposing to me?”

“I’m trying to. I don’t seem to have quite reached the sticking point yet. You look astonished. Didn’t you realise?”

“No. I had no idea,” Aalin said honestly.

“I must be even worse at this than I thought,” Thomas said. He raised her hand to his lips and suddenly seemed to notice that she wore no gloves. “Where are your gloves? Do not tell me you ruined your only pair?”

“No. Only I could not find them and I was hurrying.”

Thomas made an exasperated sound, released her hand and began to strip off his own gloves. “Your hands are freezing. Here, put these on. Honestly, Aalin…”

“Thomas!” Aalin said furiously. “You cannot stop halfway through a proposal to scold me about my gloves, it is too bad.”

Thomas stopped, staring at her. Unexpectedly, he dropped the gloves, reached out and took her into his arms. Aalin froze in a moment of appalled awkwardness. She felt his lips brush hers very gently and she could feel that he was smiling.

“I love you, Aalin Kennaugh. Don’t look so panicked, I’m not going to carry you into the undergrowth, it’s far too cold. I would like to kiss you though. May I?”

Aalin looked up. Suddenly she felt very sure. Reaching up, she touched her lips very gently to the line of his scar and felt him shiver a little in her arms. “Yes,” she said. 

“Was that to the kiss or my proposal?”

“You haven’t asked me, Thomas.”

“Oh. No. The gloves.”

“Yes, the gloves. Which neither of us are now wearing. Should you object if I called you Tommy? I rather like it.”

“Marry me, love, and you can call me anything.”

“Then, yes, Tommy Young. To both.”

***

Twelfth Night was a celebration both of the season and of the engagement, and Thomas realised he had not danced, or laughed like this, since that moment of agony below decks four years earlier had changed his life. He and Aalin drifted through the remainder of the season wrapped up in their own happiness. They spent Oie Houney, or New Year’s Eve, dancing at a neighbour’s house. It was the beginning of the season of Sauin, marking the formal start of winter and for the Manx farming community, rents were due, new leases began and the livestock was brought in for the winter. Thomas listened to Aalin explaining the various customs of the season, his eyes on her vivid, laughing face.

“You are not listening to me, Tommy.”

“I am. Is there an examination at the end of it?”

“If there is, you will fail.”

“I have never failed an examination. I did very well in the lieutenants’ examination.”

“What was I saying?”

“It involved ashes in the fireplace and something about a cake. Some kind of divination, I think? But no dead birds this time, which is a relief. Have I passed?”

“No. But you may kiss me anyway.”

Thomas wrote to his family, and waited without impatience for their reply. He had no doubt of their approval. His mother had cried many tears over her youngest son’s withdrawal from the world and would welcome the girl who had helped him to find his way back. In the meantime, after lengthy discussions with Aalin, he wrote his resignation from the revenue service. He would remain on half-pay, and accepted without resentment that he brought far less to the marriage than his wife. Thomas did not expect their happiness to depend on how wealthy either of them might be, and it was clear that Aalin and her grandparents cared nothing at all.

They had been discussing spring wedding plans over breakfast when the maid brought in the post. There were two letters for Thomas, one the expected happy response from his mother and the other, to his surprise, bearing an Admiralty seal. Thomas broke it open and read the rather long letter in growing astonishment. Getting to the end, he sat thinking about it for a moment then read it again, to be sure that he had not misunderstood. When he had done, he looked up into the wide green eyes of his betrothed. They were fixed on him anxiously and Thomas realised that she knew exactly what the letter contained.

“Tommy?”

“It’s an offer of a posting,” Thomas said. “It appears that I have been recommended for the position of second lieutenant aboard HMS Iris, a 74 gun third rater currently under refit in Chatham.” He met Aalin’s worried gaze. “But this isn’t news to you, is it, love of my life?”

Mrs Kennaugh rose stiffly. “You will want to discuss this privately, my children, so I will leave you.”

“No,” Thomas said quickly. “No, ma’am, please stay. Since I know very well that it must have been you and Mr Kennaugh who arranged this for me.”

“We arranged nothing,” Mrs Kennaugh said firmly. “I was asked by an old friend, what your situation was with the navy. You have met Mr Crellin many times. I explained to him, and I believe he wrote to his son-in-law.”

“Captain Hugh Kelly is married to his daughter?”

“Yes. They returned to England at the end of last year after that dreadful Walcheren business. I met Captain Kelly several times when he was last home, and of course I’ve known Roseen since she was a child. A dreadful tomboy, but a very good girl.”

“Are you angry, Tommy?” 

Thomas could hear the anxiety in Aalin’s voice and he thought about it and decided that he was not angry at all. “No,” he said. “Although I wish you had asked me first.”

“I thought you might refuse because of me,” Aalin said, and she sounded close to tears. Thomas wanted to laugh and stopped himself. Then he changed his mind and gave a broad smile. When he had first begun to smile again, it had felt strange, as though his facial muscles had forgotten how, but he was getting used to it.

“I am going to refuse because of you,” he said. “In a month’s time, I am going to get up in that church and swear before God that I’ll take care of you. It’s a vow I intend to take very seriously. I don’t think leaving you to wait for letters and dread bad news is the best way of doing that.”

“I’m so afraid you’ll come to regret it, love. If you feel that your duty…”

“Hang my duty. Sorry, ma’am. But honestly, my duty took half my face away and Kit’s duty cost him his life. I think my country has had good value out of my family’s sense of duty.” Thomas looked over at Mr Kennaugh who had not spoken. “When we’re married, I’ll be your heir. I should be here, getting to know the land and your people. I should be learning from you what I need to know, not wasting my life on a man o’war doing a job that a dozen other men could do as well. I’ve resigned from the revenue service, sir, and I intend to resign my commission in the navy.”

Aalin was crying. Thomas got up and took her into his arms. “I thought you wanted it so badly,” she said.

“I had nothing else. I have now.”

“I think my granddaughter has made a very good choice,” Mr Kennaugh said. “I’ll speak to Mr Crellin…”

“No, sir. With your permission, I’d like to write to him myself. I’ll send in my papers and I’ll write to Captain Kelly, to thank him for offering me the chance. It was a good opportunity, I’ve heard of Kelly, he’s very well thought of. And I’ve a friend who is in a similar situation to me. Captain Kelly will have a lot of officers interested in this posting, but Alex is a good man, he deserves a chance. It’s worth a shot.”

Mr and Mrs Kennaugh removed themselves tactfully and Thomas was left alone with Aalin. She had stopped crying and they sat quietly for a while, his arms about her. Eventually, she stirred. 

“I should go and wash my face, I am supposed to have a fitting at the dressmaker and she’ll think I’m regretting my choice if I turn up like this.”

Thomas kissed her soundly and when she had gone, he took Diamond from the stables and rode out, as he did most days, taking the coast road towards Kion Droghead. He reined in at the narrow path down through the glen and then on impulse, turned Diamond down towards the shore. Today the beach was quiet and the sea still and calm, reflecting bright sparks from the spring sunlight. Thomas dismounted and led the horse down to the edge of the surf.

“Bit calmer today, sir.”

Thomas turned, startled. “Mr Kinvig. Yes, I was just thinking that.”

The old fisherman strolled down to join him, puffing on a strong smelling pipe. “I hear you won’t be putting on that revenue coat again, then, sir.”

“No.”

“Didn’t suit you anyway, that. How ’bout the navy?”

Thomas wanted to laugh aloud. He was trying to imagine having this conversation on an English beach with a chance met fisherman. “I’m resigning my commission. Plenty to do on the land here.”

“That’s good, then, no call for a nice lad like you to be running around wi’ them excise fellas. She’s a good lass and you’ll fit in here.”

“And you’ll have no need to shoot me again,” Thomas said placidly. The old man gave a cackle of laughter.

“Oh bless you, sir, that weren’t me, I got no call to be firing off shots at a revenue man.”

“No, but you know who did.”

“Accident, sir, plain and simple.”

“I hope my new neighbours won’t hold it against me that I took up a few cargoes last year.”

Kinvig grinned, showing yellowed teeth. “Got a fair few past you as well, beggin’ your pardon, sir.”

“I’ll just bet you did, you unprincipled old rogue. Best take care, the next man they send might not be so casual about his duties.”

“We’ll be careful, sir. It’s not that much these days, not like the old days, before the revocation. Just a few local lads trying to make a bit extra to put food on the table. Nothing to worry about. Should mention, though, keep an eye out in the barn, there’ll be a couple of barrels wi’ your name on, and a bale of silk. Just in time for your wedding.”

“You paid your debt, Mr Kinvig.”

The fisherman puffed on his pipe and withdrew it again. “No, sir. Three lads, I had. Lost one a few years back, impress service picked him up out fishing and he died of some shipboard fever. Thought I was about to lose another. That debt stands.”

Thomas made no reply and Kinvig seemed to need none. They stood watching the tiny waves running in on the sand for a few minutes and then Kinvig turned and lifted his cap with an awkward bobbing bow. Thomas watched him head up the glen towards his cottage and then mounted Diamond, patted his smooth neck, and turned the horse back up the path towards the main road and home. 

Author’s Note

I’ve very much enjoyed returning to the Isle of Man for this year’s Christmas story and it was fun to research some of the old Manx traditions. I’d like to express my appreciation to Culture Vannin’s excellent online resources for helping with this and suggest you have a look at their site if you’d like to know more. I find Hall Caine’s nineteenth century novels set in the Isle of Man very hard to read, but his account of carvel singing in She’s all the World to Me is genuinely worth it and I have him to thank for the idea of interrupting the service with a shipwreck.

Some of the locations in the story are real such as St Adamnan’s Church and the village of Kion Droghead, which was the old name for Onchan. To make my story work, I’ve taken a few liberties with the exact location of the parish church and the fictional Caly Glen and beach, although I had Groudle Beach in mind for the wreck.

As always, I’ve dropped in the odd reference to my regular characters from the books. For readers of my latest, This Blighted Expedition, I had every intention of allowing my scarred revenue man to join Captain Hugh Kelly and First Lieutenant Alfred Durrell aboard the Iris in the next book, but he surprised me at the end and flatly refused to go. I was quite pleased, so many of my heroes have an unbending sense of duty it was quite refreshing to find one who was prepared to put his girl first. As for his elder brother, it was indeed Captain Kit Young who served under Major Paul van Daan in the 110th and died at Talavera in An Unconventional Officer.

I’d like to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Writing with Labradors. Thank you so much for your support. To keep in touch, you can subscribe to the website and follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Medium, I’d love to hear from you.

There are some great posts in the December Blog Hop and I really recommend you keep an eye out for more. This is the full list. Tomorrow’s post will be from the fabulous Samantha Wilcoxson    

 

Walcheren 1809 A Blighted Expedition

Today on Blogging with Labradors, I am delighted to welcome back  Jacqueline Reiter with a guest post on the Walcheren campaign of 1809. Jacqueline is a historian and the author of a biography entitled The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham and also a novel called Earl of Shadows which covers Chatham’s life up to the death of his brother, William Pitt, in 1806.

Jacqueline is currently researching the life of Sir Home Riggs Popham, the controversial navy officer who plays a key role in both An Unwilling Alliance and This Blighted Expedition.

This Blighted Expedition  follows the story of the navy, the army and the local population during the Walcheren campaign of 1809 and in this post, Jacqueline explains the background to one of Britain’s greatest military disasters.

Walcheren 1809: A ‘Blighted Expedition’

The British leaving Walcheren

The expedition to Walcheren in 1809 overshadowed all Britain’s prior wartime preparations, including those for the Peninsula. Consisting of 40,000 men and over 600 ships, ‘it was incomparably the greatest armament that had ever left the shores of England’. [1] It was also one of Britain’s greatest military disasters. Within six weeks of leaving the shores of Great Britain, more than one in four soldiers were ill. At least one in ten died.

 

 

Why Walcheren?

The campaign represented Britain’s commitment to an alliance with Austria as part of the War of the Fifth Coalition. Austria received £2 million and a subsidy of £400,000 a month to fight Napoleon in central Europe, and the British government pledged to provide a military diversion in a sphere of their own choosing.

The plan was to capture the island of Walcheren in the Kingdom of Holland – currently a French satellite state ruled by Napoleon’s brother Louis – and destroy the French fleet and dockyards at Flushing and Antwerp. Antwerp was the second largest French naval base after Toulon, and the British had been receiving reports for some time that the French had a fleet of men of war fitting out there. One of Britain’s worst nightmares was that Napoleon would rebuild the fleet he had lost after the battle of Trafalgar and invade Britain (or worse, Ireland).

The dockyards at Antwerp

The attack on Walcheren and Antwerp was not intended to lead to any long-term continental military commitment. It was effectively a raid – in the words of Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War, ‘a Coup de Main.’ [2] Speed and near-perfect military and naval cooperation would be crucial to get an enormous army and huge numbers of ships down the complicated navigation of the Scheldt River (and bring them back again)

John Pitt, 2ndEarl of Chatham, studio of John Hoppner (1799, courtesy of the Commando Forces Officers’ Mess, Royal Marines Barracks, Plymouth)

An unfortunate choice of commanders

For the military command, Lord Castlereagh chose Lieutenant General John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham. Chatham was more a politician than a soldier; there were rumours that he had only been appointed because he was close to King George III. This was probably untrue, but Chatham was almost totally inexperienced and notoriously lazy. His nickname was ‘the late Lord Chatham’, because he nearly always was.

 

 

 

The naval command went to Rear Admiral Sir Richard Strachan. Strachan’s most famous exploit was off Cape Ortegal when he captured several French vessels that had escaped after Trafalgar, but he had never participated in an amphibious operation. ‘Mad Dick’, as he was known, was impatient, impulsive, and difficult to work with.

The expedition sails (… eventually)

The plan had been for the expedition to leave before the end of June, but preparations were not complete until mid-July, and contrary winds delayed the departure still further. At this point, bad news arrived: on 6 July, Napoleon had defeated the Austrians at Wagram. This tremendous blow removed one of the main strategic reasons for the expedition, but it was not called off on the grounds that victory might keep Britain’s only ally in the war.

The expedition finally sailed on 28 July and immediately ran into trouble. The fleet reached the Stone Deep off Walcheren as intended, but a gale blew up, dismasting two ships and running a third aground. This led to a significant change of plan.

The Walcheren Expedition, 1809 (map drawn by Martin Brown)

The Scheldt River basin was divided into the East and West Scheldt by Walcheren and the nearby island of South Beveland. Only half the fleet should have entered the East Scheldt to land 12,000 men on Walcheren and 8,000 men on South Beveland. The other half of the fleet should have waited for the narrow channel into the West Scheldt to be secured, then carried the remaining 20,000 men directly to the designated landing place at Sandvliet.

The 29 July storm, however, forced almost all the fleet to enter the East Scheldt and shelter in a protected anchorage known as the Roompot. This meant the army now had to wait for the fleet to dash past Flushing into the West Scheldt, or funnel the siege resources for Antwerp through the Sloe Passage (the narrow channel between Walcheren and South Beveland). Both options would be difficult and potentially time-consuming.

Breezand, Walcheren (photo by Jacqueline Reiter)

Keep calm and carry on

For now, the British landed at Breezand on Walcheren and Welmedinge on South Beveland and initially made rapid progress. By 3 August, South Beveland and almost all Walcheren was in British hands, and the army laid siege to Flushing.

 

At this point, however, the expedition became bogged down. An intended landing to disable the French battery at Cadzand failed. With both Cadzand and Flushing in French hands, the fleet could not easily enter the West Scheldt to carry Chatham’s army and siege equipment to Sandvliet. Worse, Strachan was struggling against contrary winds and could not blockade Flushing from the sea until 8 August. The same winds helped hundreds of French troops sail into Flushing every day.

The bombardment of Flushing

Flushing now had to fall, and fast, so the British decided to attack Flushing the same way they had assaulted Copenhagen in 1807: by bombardment. But constructing the batteries was delayed by the dreadful weather, by lack of leadership among the engineers, and by the enemy, who cut the dykes on 10 August to flood the British lines.

The batteries finally opened on 13 August at 1 pm. Five of the six British batteries (the sixth was not fully ready until the following day) poured fire on the town from 52 pieces of ordnance. The bombardment was supported by several gunboats from the sea and, on 14 August, by seven ships of the line that Strachan had daringly brought through the channel between Flushing and Cadzand.

The bombardment of Flushing, from British Battles on Land and Sea(vol. 3), by James Grant, 1873.

The bombardment went on almost continuously for 36 hours. By 2:30 am on the 15th, however, the French could clearly resist no longer. They surrendered unconditionally, and at 3:30 am the land batteries and men of war fell silent.

 

 

 

Flushing’s garrison of 5,000–6,000 men went to Britain as prisoners of war, and the British finally entered the ruined town. Even seasoned campaigners were horrified at the destruction that had taken place: ‘I beheld the most deplorable picture that can be conceived. Scarcely one single house in it, that has not received some shots, but the greater part of them … altogether destroyed. Many houses are burnt to the ground, and among them is the handsome stadthuis, and one large church. A more complete ruin cannot be fancied. [3]

On to Antwerp! (… or maybe not)

The first stage of British operations was now complete. The second stage – Antwerp – was still to come. Chatham, however, took his time. He did not set out until 21 August on a stately three-day journey to Fort Batz, the southernmost point on South Beveland, preceded ‘by a column of eight waggons, in the first of which was a live turtle.’ [4] (Chatham’s fondness for turtle soup, combined with his habit of sleeping in till past noon, earned him the sobriquet ‘Turtle Chatham’.)

Chatham’s lack of hurry also mystified the French, who nicknamed him ‘MilordJ’Attends’ (‘My Lord I-Am-Waiting’), [5] but Chatham probably considered Antwerp out of reach: 30,000 French troops were in the area, 11,000 in Antwerp alone, under the command of Marshal Bernadotte.

In any case, Chatham had other things on his mind. ‘Walcheren fever’ – probably a combination of malaria, typhoid, typhus, and dysentery – had struck.

Walcheren fever

The fever was sudden, sharp, and devastating, and by the time Chatham reached Fort Batz, it was spreading at a terrifying rate. Of 37,727 men, 2,702 were in hospital, and 14 had already died. By 3 September, only 11 days after first records of the epidemic, 8,194 men were sick – nearly a quarter of the whole army. [6]

On 26 August, Chatham called a meeting of his lieutenants general to discuss proceeding to Antwerp. The next day, the generals submitted their unanimous recommendation: with so many sick and so many French reinforcements round Antwerp, the only viable option was to suspend the campaign.

The evacuation of Walcheren (public domain)

The British now began a hellish retreat to Walcheren. Sick men were left lying on the ground without shelter for as long as two hours because the available spaces on the transports were soon outstripped by the spread of disease. The doctors themselves were also falling ill, and medical supplies – particularly bark (quinine) – were running low.

By 4 September, the British had fully evacuated South Beveland. The next day, the French took possession of the island again.

Things fall apart

On 7 September, Chatham was recalled – but ordered to hold onto Walcheren at all costs, as the government hoped to use the island as a military base. By now there were nearly 11,000 sick, close to a third of the entire army. Chatham sailed home on 14 September, leaving a garrison of 16,000 men under Lieutenant General Sir Eyre Coote.

Sir Eyre Coote (public domain)

Coote was (to put it mildly) not happy. On 23 September, with more than 9,000 men in hospital and 300 new cases of sickness a day, Coote wrote home: ‘The alarming progress hourly made by this fatal disease, is such that if it should continue in the same proportion for three weeks longer … our possession of this island must become very precarious … [as] it is scarcely to be supposed that he [Napoleon] will lose so favourable an opportunity of attacking.’ [7]

 

Miraculously, the French held back, but the British government was in no state to make quick decisions. The Walcheren failure had blown the cabinet spectacularly apart; Lord Castlereagh even fought a duel with Foreign Secretary George Canning. When the government finally turned its thoughts to the Scheldt at the end of October, it decided nothing more could be done and sent Lieutenant General George Don to evacuate what was left of the army.

After destroying the dockyards at Flushing, the last British troops left Walcheren on 23 December. Four days later the island was again in French hands.

Satire on Lord Chatham’s disgrace by George Cruickshank

Walcheren’s long shadow

The campaign left a bitter legacy. Parliament held an inquiry into the disaster in 1810. Chatham did not help his cause by submitting a narrative to the King exculpating himself and blaming all delays on Strachan and the navy; his reputation was destroyed and he was forced to resign his government post. Strachan got off more lightly, but neither he nor Chatham was actively employed again.

Despite this, the inquiry was something of a whitewash. The government’s decision to keep Walcheren until December was even approved by a parliamentary majority.

The real victims were the sick. By February 1810, nearly 4,000 men were already dead of Walcheren fever. The final number of dead was probably closer to 8,000. [8] Of the survivors, many never fully recovered. In 1812, Wellington complained that many units under his command in the Peninsula had been ‘so much shaken by Walcheren’ that they were near-useless. [9] As late as 1824, a doctor commented on a regiment that had served at Walcheren: ‘So many years afterwards, the disease is even at this period occasioned by relapses.’ [10]

Further Reading

Gordon Bond, The Grand Expedition (Athens, GA, 1971)

Martin R. Howard, Walcheren 1809 (Barnsley, 2011)

Jacqueline Reiter, The Late Lord: The Life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Barnsley, 2017)

Notes

[1] Sir John Fortescue, History of the British Army (London, 1899–1930), vol. VII, p. 56.

[2] Lord Castlereagh to Lord Chatham, July 1809, Correspondence, despatches, and other papers of Viscount Castlereagh… (London: William Shoberl, 1851), vol. 6, p. 292.

[3] Jacqueline Reiter, ‘“Day after day adds to our miseries”: the private diary of a staff officer on the Walcheren Expedition, 1809, Part 2’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 96 (2019), pp. 231–250, p. 239.

[4] Diary of Sir Frederick Trench, National Army Museum 1968-07-261, ff. 65–66.

[5] Théo Fleischman, L’Éxpédition Anglaise sur le continent en 1809 (Mouscron, 1973), p. 70 n. 7.

[6] Journal of the Proceedings of the Army under the Command of Lieutenant General the Earl of Chatham, The National Archives, WO 190.

[7] Sir Eyre Coote to Lord Castlereagh, 23 September 1809, A Collection of Papers relating to the expedition to the Scheldt presented to Parliament in 1810 (London, 1811), pp. 147–149.

[8] Martin R. Howard, Walcheren 1809 (Barnsley, 2011), p. 201.

[9 ]Quoted in Howard, Walcheren 1809, p. 215.

[10] House of Commons, Report from the Select Committee on the Penitentiary at Milbank (London, 1824), p. 74.

This Blighted Expedition (The Manxman Book 2)  is due to be published on 31st October 2019 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

An Unwilling Alliance (The Manxman Book 1) has been shortlisted for the Society for Army Historical Research Fiction Prize and is available on Kindle and paperback from Amazon.