The Peninsular War Saga

Beginning in 1802, the Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon, and in particular the story of Paul van Daan who joins the regiment as a young officer and rises through the ranks in Wellington’s army.

In a linked series, the Light Division romances, we follow the fortunes of some of the men of the 110th into peacetime.  Two books have been published so far, A Regrettable Reputation and The Reluctant Debutante

A second linked series, about a Manx naval officer, begins with An Unwilling Alliance, due to be published in April 2018 and tells the story of Captain Hugh Kelly of HMS Iris, Major Paul van Daan of the 110th infantry and the Copenhagen campaign of 1807.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer (Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga: 1802 – 1810)

It is 1802, and two new officers arrive at the Leicestershire barracks of the 110th infantry just in time to go to India.  Sergeant Michael O’Reilly and Lieutenant Johnny Wheeler have seen officers come and go and are ready to be unimpressed.  Neither of them have come across an officer like Lieutenant Paul van Daan.

Arrogant, ambitious and talented, Paul van Daan is a man who inspires loyalty, admiration and hatred in equal measure.  His unconventional approach to army life is about to change the 110th into a regiment like no other.

The novel follows Paul’s progress through the ranks of the 110th from the bloody field of Assaye into Portugal and Spain as Sir Arthur Wellesley takes command of the Anglo-Portuguese forces against Napoleon.  There are many women in Paul’s life but only two who touch his heart.

Rowena Summers, a shy young governess who brings him peace, stability and lasting affection.

Anne Carlyon, the wife of a fellow officer who changes everything Paul has ever believed about women.

As Europe explodes into war, an unforgettable love story unfolds which spans the continent and the years of the Peninsular War and changes the lives of everyone it touches.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment ( Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga: September 1810 – April 1811 )

It is 1810 and Major Paul van Daan and the 110th prepare to meet the French on the ridge of Bussaco in Portugal. Back on the battlefield only two weeks after his scandalous marriage to the young widow of Captain Robert Carlyon, Paul is ready for the challenge of the invading French army.

But after a successful battle, Lord Wellington has another posting for his most unorthodox officer and Paul and Anne find themselves back in Lisbon dealing with a whole new set of challenges with army supplies, new recruits and a young officer who seems to represent everything Paul despises in the army’s views on discipline and punishment. Anne is getting used to life as the wife of a newly promoted regimental colonel as two other women join the regiment under very different circumstances. And an old adversary appears in the shape of Captain Vincent Longford whose resentment at serving under Paul is as strong as ever.

It’s a relief to return to the field but Paul finds himself serving under the worst General in the army in a situation which could endanger his career, his regiment and his life.  Given a brief by Wellington which requires Paul to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is waiting for Wellington’s most headstrong colonel to fail dismally at last…

 

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro
An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro

An Uncommon Campaign (Book 3 of the Peninsular War Saga: April – June 1811)

Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida. As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men. His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities. And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.

A Redoubtable Citadel (Book of the Peninsular War Saga: January – June 1812)

In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences. Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England. With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure. But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul. As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife. Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way.

An Untrustworthy Army (Book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga: June – November 1812)

Back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division. Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos. But the end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat. At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, will Colonel van Daan’s legendary brigade manage to hold together and get themselves back to safety? (To be published in July 2018)

An Unrelenting Enmity (Book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga:  December 1812 – April 1813)

Wellington’s army is in winter quarters, licking it’s wounds after the retreat from Burgos. In the 110th and the rest of the Third Brigade, however, morale is high. Anne van Daan has successfully given birth to her second child and there is time for a trip to Lisbon to see the rest of the children. Things take a turn for the worse when a new commander is appointed to the 115th serving under Paul, a man who represents everything that Wellington’s most unconventional brigade commander despises. In addition, the new Major has a history with Sergeant Jamie Hammond which looks likely to set off a major explosion in the 110th. (To be published in December 2018)

An Uncivilised Storming (Book 7 of the Peninsular War Saga:  May- October 1813)

Lord Wellington leads his army into northern Spain. With a better supply train and a new determination the Anglo-Portuguese army are about to make a push to cross the Pyrenees and invade France. Wellington’s army, including Colonel Paul van Daan and the Third Brigade of the Light Division face the French at Vitoria win a comprehensive victory. There follows an exhausting series of battles as Marshal Soult tries desperately to rally his forces and push the English back. Weary of battle, Paul is appalled when he arrives in time to witness the sacking of San Sebastian by the Allied troops, an atrocity which makes him question his place in the British army. (To be published in April 2019)

An Inexorable Invasion (Book 8 of the Peninsular War Saga:  October 1813 – February 1814)

Wellington’s army is invading France. After almost five years of advancing and retreating across Portugal and Spain, Colonel Paul van Daan and his brigade are about to set foot on French soil, the first time many of them have ever done so. At the battles of the Bidassoa and the Nivelle, the men of the light division are at the forefront of the action as Wellington ruthlessly presses home his advantage. But behind the scenes, the European powers are negotiating for Bonaparte’s abdication and the end of hostilities and the disappearance of Sir Henry Grainger, British diplomat and intelligence agent sends Captain Michael O’Reilly and Sergeant Jamie Hammond with a small force into hostile country on a mission which could lead to peace – or cost them their lives. (To be published in August 2019)

An Improbable Abdication (Book 9 of the Peninsular War Saga:  March 1814 – January 1815)

Wellington’s army is in France, marching inexorably towards victory. An inconclusive engagement at Toulouse is cut unexpectedly short when the news comes in that Napoleon Bonaparte has abdicated and that France has surrendered. With war finally over, Colonel Paul van Daan and his battered and exhausted men are bound for England and a round of celebrations and gaiety which Colonel van Daan could do without.  While the crowned heads of Europe are feted in London, honours and promotions abound and Anne and Paul find themselves learning how to live a normal life again with their children around them. The light division is broken up with it’s various regiments sent to other duties and Lord Wellington, now a Duke, is despatched to Vienna to represent Britain in the complex peace negotiations which threaten to try his patience almost as much as Marshal Massena. But the early months of 1815 bring shocking news… (To be published in December 2019)

An Unmerciful Engagement (Book 10 of the Peninsular War Saga:  Waterloo 1815)

For Paul and Anne van Daan, domestic bliss has been interrupted long before they had grown used to it. Bonaparte is loose and with the light division disbanded and many of it’s crack regiments dispersed to other theatres of war around the globe, Wellington needs to pull together an army from the allied nations of Europe. His Peninsular army no longer exists but he still has Paul van Daan and the 110th. Promoted to General, Paul is on his way to Brussels and to a battle far worse than anything he has yet experienced. (To be published in June 2020)

An Amicable Occupation (Book 11 of the Peninsular War Saga:  1815 – 1818 the Army of Occupation)

With the horrors of Waterloo behind him, Paul van Daan is in France commanding a division of the Army of Occupation under Wellington. It is a whole new experience for the officers and men of the 110th, learning to live beside the men they fought against for six long and painful years.

A Civil Insurrection (Book 12 of the Peninsular War Saga: Yorkshire 1819)

Back in England finally, the 110th have settled back into barracks and are enjoying a rare spell of peace when trouble in the industrial towns of the North sends them to Thorndale, Anne’s home city where her father and other mill owners are under threat from what looks like a revival of the Luddite movement. After many years of fighting the French the men of the 110th are faced with a new challenge which might see them pitted against their own countrymen. (To be published in December 2020)

The Storming of Ciudad Rodrigo – an excerpt from A Redoubtable Citadel

The storming of Ciudad Rodrigo is the opening scene of book 4 of the Peninsular War Saga, A Redoubtable Citadel and took place in January 1812.

The light division had been instructed to storm the lesser breach, while Picton’s third division had been given the greater breach on the northwest. Paul walked up to meet his commander and found the two commanders of the other brigades already with him. Both men were relatively new in post although both had commanded brigades before. Colonel George Drummond had died of fever the previous September and Colonel Sydney Beckwith had been invalided home in August which placed Paul in the strange position of being the longest serving of the three brigade commanders albeit the youngest. It had cemented his position in the division. He was known to be close to both Wellington and Craufurd, and while Beckwith and Drummond had tended to look upon him as something of a young upstart at times, he found relations with Vandeleur and Barnard, who had not been present when he was surprisingly raised to command a brigade at the age of thirty, far easier.
Robert Craufurd glared at Paul as he saluted. “There you are! What the devil was that racket about earlier, I thought you were going over to the French!”
“Thought about it,” Paul said. “But I remembered in time how badly they tend to overdo the garlic in their cooking. I was retrieving one of my ensigns from an ill-judged attempt to join one of the forlorn hopes.”
Craufurd gave a crack of laughter. “He looking for early promotion, Paul?”
“He was looking to avoid gambling debts to some Highland major who’s been fleecing him at the headquarters mess,” Paul said grimly. “I don’t know who, but I’ll find out.”
“It’ll be Brodie,” Barnard said. “He’s known for it. Cards and swordplay. He’s a devil with a blade and he keeps up his lifestyle by challenging men to a friendly bout and betting on it. A couple of very promising young officers have had to sell out to meet their obligations, I’ve heard.”
Both Craufurd and Paul were staring at him. “Does Wellington know?” Craufurd demanded.
“He can’t, or Brodie would be up to his neck in it,” Paul said briefly. “Don’t worry, sir, I’ll deal with him after this mess is over. Trust me it’ll be the last time he tries to make money out of one of my junior officers. And if he kicks off about it, he can try challenging me to a friendly bout and having a bet on it.”
Craufurd gave a bark of laughter and the other two men smiled politely. “I admire your confidence, Colonel,” General Vandeleur said. “I believe he’s very good.”
“I’ll be surprised if he’s good enough to beat this arrogant young bastard,” Craufurd said dispassionately. “I’ve seen Colonel van Daan fight and he’s almost as good as he thinks he is. We’ll talk about it when this is over, Paul. I don’t mind you kicking his arse but I don’t want Lord Wellington on my back over it. For now, we’re going in over the lesser breach. Call them in around the San Francisco convent, I’d like a word with them before we go in. Vandeleur, your lads will lead us over, Barnard to follow. Colonel van Daan will bring his lads up behind to correct all of our mistakes.”
Barnard shot Paul a startled glance and seemed relieved to see him laughing. Neither of the other commanders had completely got to grips with Craufurd’s acerbic tongue and were not always sure when he was being genuinely offensive or when he was joking.
“It’s what I do best, sir,” Paul said. “You got any orders you particularly want me to ignore today or shall we just see how it goes?”
“You disobey an order of mine today, Colonel and I will shoot you in the head!” Craufurd said explosively.
“No you won’t, sir, you’re too fond of my wife,” Paul said with a grin. “I’ll bring them up. You going to make a stirring speech? I might make notes.”
“You should, Colonel,” Craufurd said shortly. “Then you can make another one telling them the best wine shops to loot when they get in there!”
Paul laughed aloud, aware of the shocked expressions of the other two men. “I would, sir, but I don’t know them, not been to Ciudad Rodrigo before.”
“Well for those in doubt, follow the 110th, they’ll find them! Get going!”
Paul was amused as he stood at the head of his brigade, listening to Craufurd’s speech. He was aware that not all the men would hear it all but the words would be passed among them and probably embellished. Craufurd was disliked by many of his officers but adored by his men despite his reputation as a strict disciplinarian, and his speech was unashamedly aimed at them, sentimental at times but guaranteed to touch their hearts.
“Soldiers,” he said finally, his voice carrying through the crisp cold evening air. “The eyes of your country are upon you. Be steady. Be cool. Be firm in the assault. The town must be yours this night. Once masters of the wall let your first duty be to clear the ramparts and in doing this, keep together!”
They cheered him with riotous enthusiasm and he smiled down at them, black browed and stocky, a man at home in his command and knowing himself loved. “Now lads, for the breach!”
They stirred, checking their arms, ready to move, and Paul stepped forward and stilled his brigade with a yell which surpassed anything his commanding officer had managed.
“Third brigade halt!”
The men froze and snapped to attention. Paul stepped up onto a chunk of broken masonry and looked down over them.
“Wine, ale, liquor – I don’t give a damn, providing you bring some back for me and I’m picky so make it good!” he said, and there was a gust of laughter through the brigade. “But if I catch any one of you looting houses or hurting the locals and I swear to God you’ll wish you’d died in that breach. As for the women – every single one of you bastards knows my views on rape and you touch a lassie against her will I will personally cut off your balls and nail your prick to the doorpost! You have been warned. Officers and NCOs make sure everybody heard that message, will you?”
“That’s all right, sir,” RSM Carter said pleasantly. “I’m fairly sure they heard that message in London at Horse Guards.”

(From A Redoubtable Citadel by Lynn Bryant)

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors

Fireworks in London
Fireworks in London

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors.  It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold.  In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.

It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night.  I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.

I think it has probably done me good, however.  Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going.  I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it.  I think my head may have needed the break.

It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward.  I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business.  I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.

This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth.  I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself.  I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool.  I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral.  And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year.  I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.

It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received.  I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar.  Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.

Lynn and Richard
Love and Marriage

I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this.  He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology.  He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous.  He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined.  He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones.  He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard.  You are the best.

My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me.  That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor.  He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books.  He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat.  Thanks, Jon.

Castletown 2017
Castletown 2017

My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day.  She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time.  She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense.  Thank you, bambino.

There are so many other people I should thank.  Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.

Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible.  There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular.  I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat.  A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.

The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live.  The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted.  It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner.  Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus.  It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…

The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well.  The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved.  The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.

In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign.  There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart.  While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army.  In An Unconventional Officer,  we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.

I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer.  After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.

We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem.  I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year.  My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time.  And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.

Writing with Labradors
Toby and Joey – Writing with Labradors

My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors.  Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did.  Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight.  They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come.  Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.

Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters.  Looking forward to 2018.

 

 

The Jolbokaflod – an Icelandic Christmas Tradition

Andreas Tille, from Wikimedia

In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as  the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.

Free Books on Amazon Kindle on Christmas Eve

At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi.  Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.  One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.

There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity.  In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books.  The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.

The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me.  Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient.  Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.

They are also easier to give away, and this year I want to celebrate my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of all eight of my books on kindle for one day, on Christmas Eve.  It is a year since I first made the decision to independently publish my historical novels, and it has gone better than I ever expected.  This is my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.

I now have eight books for sale on Amazon kindle.  Four of them are the first four books in a series which is intended to run for around ten books, following a fictional regiment through the bloody years of Wellington’s Peninsular War.  The Peninsular War Saga is proving very popular, with a combination of war, history and romance.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Unconventional Officer, Book 1, introduces the young Lieutenant Paul van Daan as he joins the 110th infantry which is about to sail to India and ends after the Battle of the Coa in Portugal, with Major Paul van Daan in command of a battalion and wed to the love of his life.

An Irregular Regiment, Book 2, begins with the Battle of Bussaco and then follows the newly married Paul and Anne van Daan through Massena’s retreat to the Battle of Sabugal.

An Uncommon Campaign finds Colonel Paul van Daan in command of a brigade at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro and Anne about to become a mother for the first time.

A Redoubtable Citadel begins with the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and ends with the taking of Badajoz; three months which turn Colonel van Daan’s well-ordered world on its head as his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a grudge.

An Untrustworthy Army, book 5 will be published in 2018.

A Regrettable Reputation (Book Two of the Light Division Romances)
A novel of Regency Yorkshire

As a spin off from this series, there are two books in the Light Division Romances, which follow the fortunes of some of the characters from the Peninsular War Saga into peacetime.  Both these books are available in paperback.  A Regrettable Reputation is a Regency romance set in Yorkshire in 1816.  Amidst the unrest of the Industrial Revolution, Mr Nicholas Witham, formerly of the 110th, has found work as estate manager to Lord Ashberry’s Yorkshire lands, a peaceful existence which is disrupted by the arrival of an heiress with a disreputable past.

The Reluctant Debutante is the story of Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe, former captain in the 110th and one of Wellington’s exploring officers.  Struggling with wartime memories of the horror of Waterloo, Giles meets Cordelia Summers, daughter of a wealthy merchant, a girl of decided opinions and a lively sense of humour.

A Respectable Woman - the history
A novel of Victorian London: book 1 in the Alverstone Saga

In addition to these books, there are two other novels, both intended as the first in a series also available on kindle and in paperback.   A Respectable Woman tells the story of Philippa Maclay, raised on a mission station in Africa, who finds herself obliged to support herself in the harsh setting of an East London charity school.  Only a respectable woman can hope to hold such a post and her relationship with Major Kit Clevedon, son of an Earl and a man in search of a diversion, can only lead to ruin.

A Marcher Lord tells the story of Jane Marchant and Will Scott, two people on opposite sides of a savage war on the Anglo-Scottish borders in the sixteenth century.  In a land torn apart by war and treachery, the Scottish baron and the daughter of an English mercenary find a surprising peace.

All eight of these books are free on Amazon kindle for one day on Christmas Eve.  Please download and enjoy.  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Writing with Labradors…

Merry Christmas from Joey

 

 

Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz – an Excerpt from A Redoubtable Citadel

The storming of the two great Spanish border citadels of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz were the first step in Wellington’s campaign of 1812.  It was essential for him to hold these fortresses, known as the keys to Spain and he pushed his army to it’s limits in order to capture them, with huge loss of life and appalling loss of discipline.

 

This is not good for the men of the third brigade of the light division because if there is one thing their unpredictable Colonel hates the most it’s storming a fortress and he is very prepared to let everybody know about it…

A Redoubtable Citadel is the fourth book in the popular Peninsular War Saga, telling the story of Paul and Anne van Daan and the officers and men of the 110th light infantry through the bloody campaigns of 1812.

It was early evening and already the skies were growing darker. All day the guns had fired, a deafening bombardment of the city walls which left men with their ears ringing even after the noise had stopped but it was becoming quieter now, with longer gaps between shots and the volunteers of the 88th Connaught Rangers stood immobile, so quiet that it was possible to hear the breathing of the next man as they waited for the order to begin the assault. They were all volunteers, this band of men, forming the Forlorn Hope, the first men over the breaches. Survival would bring glory and in some cases promotion but survival was very unlikely.
Sergeant Nathaniel Higgins was not one of the volunteers but they were his men and he ran an experienced eye over them and approved their steadiness. At the front of the line were two officers, also volunteers and neither of them from the 88th. The older of the two was a dark eyed captain of thirty-five and Higgins had been told that he was up on a charge of killing a fellow officer on a duel. Disgrace was his only future and he was probably lucky to have been offered this chance to lead these men to death or glory. The younger was no more than a lad, probably twenty, an ensign and too young for this. He was pale and sweating, but seemed calmer than Higgins would have expected, and he wondered what had driven the lad to this desperate end. Debt or a woman, Higgins supposed. Sometimes the young fools did not seem to realise what they were doing when they volunteered for this or how unlikely they were to survive. They saw it as the road to glory and quick promotion. Looking at this boy, Higgins was fairly sure he knew exactly what he was doing. Intelligent grey eyes were studying the walls.
Reaching into his coat Higgins took out his battered flask and drank, then touched the boy on the arm and offered him the rum. The young officer took it and drank with an attempt at a smile, handed it back.
“You all right, sir?” Higgins said, and the boy nodded, his eyes still on the fading bulk of the citadel of Ciudad Rodrigo, looming up in the falling darkness.
A sound broke through the silence and Higgins jumped. It was a shout, a bellow so loud that every man of the Forlorn Hope also jumped and turned, peering through the darkness. A tall figure was striding from the waiting lines towards them and he did not appear to be in the least concerned at the stir he was causing.
“Oh bloody hell,” the young ensign said, and he sounded, Higgins thought, suddenly more terrified than he had seemed to be of going over the wall.
“Mr Jackman. Am I seeing things or are you actually standing there with the Connaught Rangers when you should be back in line with your men?”
The tall figure resolved itself into an officer, fair haired and hatless with a long legged stride. Close up Higgins was aware of a pair of startling deep blue eyes which were fixed with ominous intensity on the young ensign. Jackman snapped to attention and saluted, and Higgins did the same realising that the man wore a colonel’s insignia on his red coat.
“Sir. Yes, sir.”
“Don’t give me ‘yes, sir’ you bloody idiot! What the hell are you doing here?”
“Volunteered, sir. Sorry, thought you’d know. Sergeant said commanding officers would be informed…”
“I was informed, that’s why I’m bloody well here chasing after you when I ought to be back there putting the fear of God into my lads! What made you think you had the right to volunteer for this suicidal piece of lunacy without my permission? Get your kit and get your arse back to your company before I kick you so hard you’ll scale that breach without your feet touching the ground!”
Higgins cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Colonel. But the lad is right. He’s entitled…”
“Not when he’s nineteen and being a bloody imbecile he isn’t!” the colonel said. He looked at Higgins. “You going over there, Sergeant?”
“Not with this lot, sir. With my men afterwards.”
“Good man.” Suddenly the colonel smiled. “Sorry, I should have introduced myself before, we’ve not met. Colonel Paul van Daan, 110th.”
Higgins stood to attention and saluted. The extraordinary scene was suddenly much clearer; he had heard of Colonel van Daan who had been given command of the newly formed third brigade of the light division. There were many legends in the army, most of whom, in Higgins opinion, fell woefully short of their reputations but he was already beginning to see why men spoke of Paul van Daan with something bordering on awe. The colonel looked at the captain commanding the troop.
“Name and regiment?”
“Captain James Harker, sir, of the 9th.”
“Ah. I rather see why you’re here.” Van Daan studied him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t on that disciplinary board. I hope you make it, Captain. If you do, come and see me, would you? I’ve heard good things about you and you might feel that a change of scene would do you good if you get to carry on in the army. I’m always short of good officers.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Van Daan’s blue eyes shifted back to Ensign Jackman. “Captain Manson has informed me that you are in debt, Mr Jackman.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Cards?”
“Yes, sir. In pretty deep. Can’t pay. Debts of honour, sir.”
Paul van Daan studied him. “To whom? Don’t tell me any of my officers are fleecing their juniors, I’ll skin them alive!”
“No, sir. I owe most of it to an officer of the Highlanders, a major. Got into a game up at the headquarters mess…”
“Mr Jackman, when you were offered the chance to serve in my regiment, did anybody give you any information about my rules on gambling?”
Jackman’s face was visibly scarlet even through the darkness. “Yes, sir. Not to gamble above our means and never with a senior officer. Sorry, sir. But it’s not in the army regulations.”
“Fuck the army regulations, most of them are bollocks anyway, you’re in the 110th and the only regulations that matter are the ones I tell you matter! And it serves you right for going to the headquarters mess anyway, the food’s dreadful and the wine is worse. No wonder Wellington never goes near it. I will deal with the major who thinks it is a good idea to flout my rules and gamble with my juniors at a later date. If he is extremely lucky he’ll get his head blown off before I catch up with him!”
Higgins gave a choke of laughter. “They’re in reserve sir, won’t be engaged today.”
“He bloody will when I get hold of him! Captain Harker, can you manage without this young fool? Despite his evident idiocy in matters of finance, he’s a surprisingly useful officer and I’d like him to go over with his men.”
Harker was smiling. “Gladly, sir.”
“Good. Jackman, if it becomes necessary I will settle your blasted debts of honour myself and you can pay me back gradually. And if I ever see you near a card table for anything greater than a penny a point I am going to shoot you in the head and display your bloody body as a warning to others. Now piss off back to your company and be thankful that I don’t have time to kick the shit out of you as you richly deserve! Move!”

(From A Redoubtable Citadel by Lynn Bryant)

The Sharpe Books by Bernard Cornwell- my elephant in the room…

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro

In describing the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell as my elephant in the room, I’m very definitely not being serious.  These novels are a lot bigger than an elephant.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

During the course of this year I have independently published the first four books of my Peninsular War Saga on Amazon, and before I did that I was already nervous about them being compared to the Sharpe novels, since those, for most people, are the gold standard of novels describing Wellington’s war in Portugal and Spain in the early nineteenth century.  Authors like C S Forester, Patrick O’Brian, Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope have depicted the navy in impressive detail, and in recent years, Cornwell has been joined by authors such as Adrian Goldsworthy and Iain Gale.  But Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe remains the character that most people remember from popular fiction when they think of the Peninsular War.

In part, of course, this has a lot to do with the classic TV adaptations starring Sean Bean which aired between 1993 and 2008, based loosely on the books.  But Cornwell’s books, with their meticulous research and brilliant battle descriptions are enduringly popular in their own right, and for a new writer, the thought of being compared to a writer who has already done something so extraordinarily well, is extremely daunting and definitely unavoidable.

The first four novels of my Peninsular War Saga were all published between May and September of 2017, but I had been writing them for a number of years.  My original hope was to try to find an agent and go the traditional publishing route, but the responses I received all gave me the same message; there is currently no market for historical novels set in the Peninsular War.  Unless, presumably, they’re written by Bernard Cornwell.  Left with the choice of abandoning the books or going the independent route, I chose the latter and I’m very glad I did.  In less than six months, I’ve sold some books and I’ve had a few reviews, mostly very positive, one or two less so.  I’m currently working on book five and I’m enjoying myself very much.  But good or bad, the reviews tend to mention the S word, and it’s led me to finally stop ignoring it and to stare straight at the elephant.  I’ve received a number of messages and posts asking questions about this, and I thought I’d use those as a basis to face up to my fear of Richard Sharpe…

Did you get the idea for your books from reading or watching Sharpe?

No.

The lead character in my books is called Paul van Daan, and he came into being very early on in my writing career.  I’ve always been obsessed with history, studied at school and then at university.  I’ve always read a lot, especially historical novels, and I started to write my own as a teenager.  They were dreadful and I destroyed them many years ago.

The first full length book I wrote was set in South Africa in the nineteenth century.  It was a period I’d studied and was fascinated by, especially given the political situation at the time with apartheid.  I read everything I could about how South Africa came to be the way it was, and I wrote a novel based around the early conflict between Boer and British which led to the Great Trek.  My leading character was a Boer who had lost family at Blood River, but who for various reasons found himself being educated and raised as an Englishman, with all the ensuing conflict.  The young officer’s name was Paul van Daan.

Over the years I wrote a lot of other stories and novels, most unfinished.  I made a few efforts at getting published, but it became obvious very early on that I was going to get nowhere with my South African novel.  The political climate became increasingly sensitive, and it was obvious that a white, English working class female was not the right person to publish a novel set in nineteenth century South Africa with all it’s complicated racial politics.  Paul and his story were abandoned in favour of other things.

A few years ago, with my children growing up, I decided to give writing another go and I worked on several other projects, while re-reading my earlier efforts.  Most of them were unceremoniously dumped at that point, but something about this novel stayed with me although I had no intention of going back to it. After a lot of thought, I realised that it was the characters that I liked.  Paul van Daan was a soldier, not particularly easy but to me, very appealing.  Carl, Johnny and Michael were all a part of that early book.  So was Anne.  Paul’s first wife was Dutch and was named Renata.  Of all of them, her character probably changed the most.  Renata was something of a mouse, while I really like Rowena.  But I was surprised overall at how happy I was with this little group of people even though I wasn’t that happy at where they were living.  But it occurred to me suddenly that I didn’t need to be wedded to one particular location or time period.

Once I was looking for somewhere to relocate my series, the Napoleonic wars were obvious.  I’d studied them and I’d read about them.  By this stage I had both read and watched Sharpe, and then followed up by a lot of reading of biographies.  In particular I was very attached to Sir Harry Smith who was a major character in the original novel as mentor and friend to the young Paul van Daan.  I’d read his autobiography as background and that played a big part in my decision to attempt the Peninsular war.  I’m rather delighted with the fact that in the novels I’ve published, their relationship is reversed and it’s Paul who is the senior, taking an interest in young Captain Smith’s career…

For a while, I pretended not to think about Sharpe, but it didn’t bother me anyway since I didn’t really think I’d ever get far enough to publish the books.

Is your lead character like Richard Sharpe?

Not much, to be honest.

Richard Sharpe was a lad from a poor background who joined the army and managed, through talent, courage and a lot of luck to get himself an officer’s commission at a time when most commissions were purchased.  He was a good soldier and a good leader but he struggled to fit in because of his background.  Every promotion was a fight for him and he had to be better than all the others to achieve them.

Paul van Daan, in contrast, was born with the proverbial silver spoon.  His father made his money through trade, his mother was English aristocracy and he went to Eton and Oxford.  He’s arrogant, clever and always knows best and he has enough money to buy his way to the top.  If he’d been around after Talavera, he would have been the man Josefina ran off with because he could have afforded her.  Richard Sharpe would have hated him on sight.

Looking a bit closer, however, maybe not.

Paul van Daan has one or two odd things in common with Sharpe.  One of them is a very pretty set of stripes across his back.  Sharpe got his during his early days in the army; Paul got his in the Royal Navy.  After he got thrown out of Eton for a long list of bad behaviour which culminated in him throwing the Greek master into a fountain, his father sent him to sea as a midshipman on one of his trading vessels to make a man of him.  The ship was wrecked and only one lifeboat made it to shore on Antigua where the men were scooped up by a press gang desperate for experienced sailors.  Nobody believed Paul’s story about his wealthy background, or perhaps they just didn’t care that much; they were desperate for men.  At fifteen, Paul fought at the Battle of the Nile under Nelson and earned himself a promotion to petty officer before he managed to get word to his father who secured his release.

Two years below decks gave Paul van Daan a slightly eccentric outlook for a young gentleman which he took into the army with him a few years later.  Sharpe might have hated him on sight, but I’d pretty much guarantee that after their first battle together, they’d have been getting happily drunk together.

What about promotions?

Not much doubt who is going to move faster through the hierarchy given Paul’s money and background.  Sharpe would definitely have been grouchy about that.  Paul is a major at 26 when Sharpe hadn’t even got started properly, and a colonel in his thirties.  Having got there, however, he stays there for a long time.  He’s found his niche, he’s not after more money and he wouldn’t take an administrative posting to move up if you begged him to; Paul likes to fight.  He’ll finally move up again for Waterloo, I suspect, but we’ll see…

And the Chosen Men?

Paul’s friendships aren’t always popular with the army establishment.  He’s on equally good terms with the son of an Earl and his cockney sergeant.  He’s not in the Rifles, but he is a light infantry officer.  After a lot of thought I invented a completely new regiment or two for my books and expanded the light division to accommodate them.

There is an Irish sergeant although he doesn’t resemble Patrick Harper very much since he’s an educated man who joined the ranks to hide after a failed rebellion in Ireland.

And Wellington?  Paul is close to him in a way that Sharpe could never have been.  Partly that’s because of his background; Wellington was a snob.  Almost as important, though, is the fact that Paul has the thickest skin in the British army and doesn’t care how much his chief yells at him, which is probably a pleasant change for Wellington who tended to upset more sensitive souls.  The only things Paul gets upset about are arseholes saying the wrong thing about his wife and any general whose incompetence puts his men at risk.

And what about the women?

Ah yes.  Well, there are a few, in the early days.  Definitely something Paul and Richard Sharpe have in common.  Actually, I think Sharpe was often better behaved about this than Paul.  But then during a thoroughly unpleasant posting to Yorkshire in 1808, Paul meets Anne Howard.  It’s not particularly simple since he’s married and she’s about to be, to a junior officer, but this particular love affair isn’t going to go away.  As for running around with other women once he’s with her, I wouldn’t personally recommend it…

If I liked Sharpe, will I enjoy your books?

I’ve got no idea.  Try one and if you like it, read the others.

A friend who read them suggested a tagline of Sharpe for Girls.  I don’t see it myself, since I know so many women who loved the Sharpe books, but I suspect that one of the biggest differences in style is that although Paul is the main character, once Anne comes on the scene she gets equal treatment a lot of the time.  She isn’t really a girl to be sitting around looking pretty and she spends a fair bit of her time in the surgeons tents covered in gore.  When she’s not doing that, she’s organising the quartermaster and bullying the commissariat, taking time out to flirt outrageously with the commander-in-chief and generally shocking the ladies of headquarters during winter quarters.

Both men and women seem to be reading and enjoying the books.  I’ve recently changed the covers; the first cover was very much a ‘romantic novel’ look and I didn’t think it reflected the books very well.  The new covers have definitely improved sales, and I’ve had a couple of very good reviews from men.

How would you describe the books?

Not as a Sharpe copy.

I can’t describe what I’ve written so I’m going to quote a couple of reviews.

“Absolutely brilliant. For 40 years I’ve been fascinated by this period of history, and have read everything I could my hands on, history, biography, memoirs and fiction. This series is the best fiction I’ve ever read – fantastically well researched and historically accurate, with wonderfully drawn characters and relationships. They give a brilliant idea of what war was like then, as well as a moving love story and brilliant relationships between the male characters. Got to the end of number 3 and luckily the fourth was published one day earlier, now I’m dying for no 5.” 

“What a great series. Loved the characters. Well researched, unputdownable!”

“Good book well written thoroughly researched.”

I’ve had two bad reviews for these books out of a fair few excellent ones.

One of them complains that the book is too like Sharpe and it’s the reason, to be honest, that I’m writing this post, because it made me think about it.  When I write about a particular campaign, my first thought is always, where were my regiment and what was their role in it.  When I read that review, I admit to a bit of a panic.  I couldn’t remember anything about Sharpe’s role in Massena’s 1811 retreat and I was worried that I’d accidentally copied Cornwell’s treatment of that.  I needn’t have worried, Sharpe wasn’t even involved in that campaign, he was off at Barossa.  Just as well actually, he’d have killed Erskine stone dead.  My lad came close.

When I looked again at the review I realised he’d given equally unfavourable reviews to other authors who had written books about this period, some of them well-known.  I’m taking the view that for this particular reviewer, if you’re not Cornwell you shouldn’t be writing about this.  Nothing I can do about that.

The other review was a lot more detailed and it was from a lady who seemed to object to the romance in the novel which she complained was too much of a contrast to the unpleasant descriptions of war.  I couldn’t establish which she wanted more or less of.

The rest of my reviews have been great and I’m so grateful to the people who have read the books, enjoyed them and taken the trouble to write a review.  Even a couple of lines is a big boost.

A few of them mention Sharpe.  Every time I see it, I feel very honoured at being mentioned in the same sentence as Bernard Cornwell, since I’ve been reading and loving his books for twenty years now.  I’m also completely terrified because I don’t want to let people down by not being as good.

During the years I’ve been working on these books I’ve done an unbelievable amount of research.  I’ve learned facts about Wellington’s army that I never thought I’d have reason to know.  I’ve also talked to some great people who are as passionate about the period as I am and that’s one of the things I love most about doing this.

Books one to four of the Peninsular War Saga are available on Amazon on kindle and in paperback.  Book five, which covers the Salamanca and Burgos campaign, will be published next year.  They’re not Richard Sharpe, they’re Paul van Daan.  I hope you enjoy them anyway…

 

 

The Organisation of Wellington’s Peninsular Army

Wellington’s HQ in Pere Negro, the Lines of Torres Vedras
Battle of Bussaco (organisation of Wellington’s Peninsular army)
Battle of Bussaco

The organisation of Wellington’s Peninsular Army can be split into three main areas; ranks of officers and men, the structure of the army and the support services.  Sir Arthur Wellesley arrived in Portugal in 1808 but did not take full command of the army until the following year.  Morale was poor and most officers believed that Wellesley would be lucky to hold Lisbon, let alone the rest of Portugal.  Wellesley himself seems always to have intended a more aggressive policy although he did not necessarily always share his intentions with the politicians in London.  After a resounding success at Oporto and a victory, albeit a difficult one, at Talavera, Wellington embarked on a reorganisation of the army into divisions.

Army Ranks

The ranks listed below show the traditional command structure of the army.  In practice, during the war, commands and ranks were very flexible.  It was not unusual for a Lieutenant to be found commanding a company or a Major in charge of a battalion.  Regiments were often commanded by Lieutenant-colonels if their Regimental Colonel was not in the field.

Officers acquired their commissions by purchase, and theoretically all promotions were also purchased up to the rank of colonel.  During the war, however, the large number of officers killed meant that many promotions were given without purchase – less than one in five first commissions were purchased.  In some regiments it was possible to advance quite quickly without needing to pay for a commission and a sympathetic regimental colonel could often help talented young officers up the ranks.

It was unusual for NCOs to be given a commission but it did sometimes happen, usually for `acts of specific courage in the field.  Because of the class distinctions of the day – officers were supposed to be ‘gentlemen’ it could be difficult for an enlisted man to fit in once he attained his commission.

The exception to this was in the case of ‘gentlemen volunteers’.  These were men of good birth who could not afford a commission so joined the ranks.  They trained and fought with the enlisted men but messed and socialised with the officers until a commission without purchase became available.

Officers                                                  Command

Ensign/Subaltern

Lieutenant  

Captain                                               Company

Major

Lieutenant Colonel                      Battalion

Colonel                                               Regiment

Brigadier                                            Brigade

Major General                                  Division

Lieutenant General                       Corps

General                                               Army

Field Marshal                                  Theatre of war  

Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs)                                       

Sergeant

Corporal

Chosen Man (an informal award to a promising private soldier, later formalised into the rank of Lance Corporal)

Structure of the Army

The Peninsular Army was structured as shown below.  As with the ranks listed above, there was a lot of variety in numbers and commands.  Most regiments were permanently under strength due to death, injury and sickness so the numbers below are very general and would have varied widely between different regiments and at different stages of the war.  The structure below is that of the infantry; cavalry was organised slightly differently.

Company                  

Each company consisted of around 100 men.  It was commanded by a Captain with two lieutenants and two ensigns.  There were two sergeants per company and three corporals.

Battalion

Each battalion consisted of 10 companies; 8 infantry companies, a company of guards and a light company.  The guards tended to be used for main assaults, they recruited big men and their job was to stand firm.  The light company were skirmishers; fast, agile and smart with the capacity to think independently.

Battalions also had their own Regimental Sergeant-Major who had overall charge of discipline.

Regiment

Most regiments consisted of two battalions although some had three or more, particularly the Rifles.  It was unusual for both battalions of a regiment to be serving in the same army although it did happen, once again most notably with the Rifles.  Usually the second battalion was either serving elsewhere, or back in barracks providing reinforcements to the first battalion in the field.

Confusingly, both officers and men often referred to their battalion as their regiment so that the two terms can be used interchangeably at times.  Each regiment had a Colonel in Chief who might have been serving in the field but was often more of a figurehead, with the actual command being left to a lieutenant colonel.

Each regiment usually had a Regimental Sergeant Major in charge of each battalion.

Brigade

Two to four regiments / battalions comprised a brigade, which was presided over by a brigade commander.  The actual term Brigadier was not often used.  A brigade commander could be a colonel or lieutenant colonel, usually of one of the regiments included in the brigade.

Division

A division consisted of two to four brigades, usually between 5,000 and 15,000 men with 10,000 being fairly normal.  Divisional commanders could be Major Generals or Lieutenant Generals.  Wellington had seven divisions and added an eighth in 1811.  The light division was generally the smallest.

In my Peninsular War saga, Paul van Daan joined the 110th in 1802 at the age of 21.  He was slightly older than most new officers and will have joined as an ensign but purchased immediately on to lieutenant.  This practice was not officially allowed, but often happened with men who could afford it if commissions were available and the regimental colonel agreed.

His first promotion was given in the field and he was fairly young for it although it was not unheard of.  After that his rise was fast; he could afford it and he was talented, but he never rose as quickly as Wellington had before him.  Wellington was an ensign at 18 and a lieutenant, like Paul, almost immediately afterwards.  He was a Captain at 22, also like Paul but gained his majority at only 24 and was a Colonel by the time he was 27 while Paul was thirty.  Unlike Wellington, Paul was in combat for most of the time, however, which made subsequent promotions easier.

Support Services

Regiments and battalions had their own quarter-masters, who were in charge of provisions and supplies for the regiment.  Wellington had a relatively small headquarters staff and worked them hard.  The medical services were under the control of the army medical board in London, and the commissariat which was responsible for supplying the army was also a separate body, a situation which caused a good deal of problems for the commander in chief.

In reality, how each section of the army was run tended to be very much down to local circumstances.  Commanding officers varied considerably in their attitudes to discipline and etiquette, and each regiment developed it’s own customs and traditions within the army regulations.

Army headquarters in London was known as Horse Guards and was situated in Whitehall.

Further Reading

There are a lot of good sites on the internet which go into considerable detail about the organisation of the Peninsular Army.  A very clear account of it is given in Stuart Reid’s Wellington’s Army in the Peninsula published by Osprey which is available on Amazon.

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The Battle of Fuentes d’Onoro: An Uncommon Campaign – Book Three in the Peninsular War Saga

An Uncommon Campaign, 110th at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro

Fuentes d’Onoro, May 1811

The battle of Fuentes d’Onoro was a near miss for Wellington’s army
The battle of Fuentes D’Onoro took place in 1811

Wellington had initially taken up a reasonably strong position on the line of the Dos Casas, a tributary of the Agueda River. Although the stream itself was insignificant, the section in front of the Allied left ran through a significant ravine that would effectively prevent any French attack on this part of Wellington’s troops. His right was not as strong. As the Dos Casas climbed into the hills the valley was less pronounced and provided less protection. The British position ended at the village of Fuentes de Oñoro, which climbed up from the river to the top of the ridge, and was itself a very defensible position. To the south, however the ravine disappeared and it would be very possible for the French to outflank the British.
With his troops in preliminary positions, Wellington summoned the three light division commanders.
“They’re on their way,” he said without preliminaries. “Marching down from Ciudad Rodrigo. We’ll see where he places them and then look at our positions.”
“If we get time,” Paul said.
His commander eyed him with a forbidding expression. “Have you something useful to say, Colonel van Daan or are you just making sure we all know that your new command is not going to stop you questioning my orders any time you feel like it?”
“Not questioning, sir, more of a comment. You already know we could have done with a bit more time, but we’ll manage. Where do you want us?”
Wellington studied him and then gave a small grim smile. “Out on the road initially, give them a hard time as they approach. I’m sending out four cavalry regiments as well. No major engagements and don’t take any risks, I will need your men intact for this battle, we’re short enough as it is. Have you heard me, Colonel van Daan?”
“Loud and clear, sir. Getting better at it all the time.”
Wellington shook his head. “I can’t wait until Craufurd gets back, he approved this but that’s because he’s forgotten what you’re like. You’re going to give him a seizure.”
“No, he’s easily as tough as you, sir, and I haven’t given you one yet.” Paul glanced at Drummond. “How do you want to do this, George?”
Drummond looked at him and smiled slightly. “Was that an attempt at tact, Paul? Why don’t Beckwith and I take the north side and you bring up the south with the cavalry, the ground on that side will suit them better. We’ll meet back before Fuentes once they’ve made camp.”
Paul nodded. “Sounds good. Sir, we could do with some fast riders to keep us in touch with each other. I can use some of my ensigns but frankly they’d be more use with their men…”
“I’ll get Julian Sanchez to lend you some of his horsemen they know the countryside.” Wellington eyed the three men. “I thought Craufurd would be here in time for this. And he still might make it, he must be very close. Which is why I haven’t appointed a temporary commander.”
There was a brief silence which extended and became difficult. Still nobody spoke. Paul took a deep breath. “I’m glad you shared that, sir, because I’ve been thinking you’d done that just to make my introduction to commanding a brigade more interesting.”
Beckwith gave a splutter of laughter, and Paul glanced at Drummond and saw that he was smiling too. He turned his gaze back to Wellington and for the first time during the briefing there was genuine amusement in the blue grey eyes.
“Colonel there are four of us here and not one of us is in any doubt that if something gets difficult out there you are going to start yelling orders without any thought for rank or protocol. I first saw you do it aged twenty-two at the battle of Assaye when you bullied poor Colonel Maxwell into going into battle ahead of orders and you had been promoted to captain at that point for approximately twenty-four hours. If that happens I trust Colonel Drummond and Colonel Beckwith to have the experience and common sense to judge for themselves whether to join you, ignore you or punch you, and they have my express permission to do any of those three. Get out of here and keep me informed.” From “An Uncommon Campaign’ by Lynn Bryant (Book Three of the Peninsular War Saga)

An Uncommon Campaign

The battle of Fuentes De Onoro took place at the beginning of May 1811.  After the retreat from Talavera in 1809 and then the successful battle of Bussaco in 1810, Wellington had kept most of his army behind the lines of Torres Vedras and used the time to train and recruit and recover from the mixed fortunes of the Spanish campaign.  The exception was the light division under the brilliant but irascible General Robert Craufurd, who spent the time guarding the border, constantly engaging the enemy in skirmishing, holding the line with men who were fast becoming the acknowledged elite of Wellington’s army.

Marshal Massena, unable to breach the formidable Anglo-Portuguese defences and unwilling to risk too many of his men trying, held on desperately in lands scorched and left bare by the retreating British.  By early 1811 it was clear that he could hold out no longer.  His army was starving and exhausted and the reinforcements he had asked for were nowhere in sight.  It was time to retreat.

Initially, Massena hoped to make for the Mondego valley which had escaped Wellington’s scorched earth policy and where food might be found for his starving men.  But the Anglo-Portuguese army were in hot pursuit and no way could be found across the river in time.  Fighting a skilful and desperate rearguard action, Massena retreated back to the Spanish border.

The Fortress at Almeida, Portugal

There were several great fortress towns along the Spanish-Portuguese border and in order to plan and execute an invasion of Spain safely, Wellington knew he needed to take possession of all of them.  The most formidable on the Portuguese side was at Almeida, and it was the last stronghold in Portugal held by the French.  Wellington besieged the city and Massena, his army finally fed and beginning to recover, marched to relieve it.  Having surveyed the ground, Wellington chose to take up a position along a line running through the little Spanish village of Fuentes D’Onoro.

Supplies were crucial in this stage of the conflict.  The French would have limited access to supplies whereas Wellington was well supplied and could hold out longer.  He had the choice of leaving his line of retreat exposed in order to cover all routes to Almeida or of covering his retreat, which was usually his preferred option but giving the French a possible way through.

Fuentes D’Onoro was a cluster of buildings on a slope with narrow cobbled streets and walled gardens.  It was well known to the men of Craufurd’s light division who had often been quartered there during their time on the border.  Many of the villagers were known personally to them.  With the people evacuated to a refugee camp, the British took up their positions.  The Anglo-Portuguese army had 34,000 infantry, 1,850 cavalry, and 48 guns, while the French had 42,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry, and 38 guns.  Massena had asked for reinforcements from Bessieres in the north, and Bessieres had come himself but with so few men that the reinforcements were pointless.  Wellington commanded six infantry divisions, Charles Ashworth’s independent Portuguese brigade, and three cavalry brigades along with some artillery.

On 3 May, Masséna launched a frontal assault against the British-Portuguese pickets holding the barricaded village, while bombarding the British-Portuguese on the heights east of the village with heavy artillery. The battle in the centre of the village went on throughout the day, with French soldiers of Ferey’s and Marchand’s divisions clashing with the British  1st and 3rd Divisions.

At first, the British-Portuguese were driven back under immense pressure, but a charge that included men of the 71st Highland Light Infantry reclaimed the streets and buildings lost earlier in the day. As the sun went down, the French withdrew and the village remained in British hands, with the former suffering 650 casualties against only 250 for the British.

Both sides spent 4 May recovering their dead and wounded from the streets of the village.  An informal truce was held and men from the two armies met across the Dos Casas brook to exchange food and tobacco and play card games.  When officers intervened, the French organised a series of intimidating parades to impress their enemy.  The English played football.

Meanwhile, French reconnaissance had discovered Wellington’s weakness.  

Fuentes de Onoro looking up from the French position.

His right flank was weakly held by a unit of Spanish partisans near the hamlet of Poco Velho.  The French attacked at dawn on 5 May, concentrating on Wellington’s right flank where the Spanish crumbled.  Allied cavalry held their positions with great courage but the 7th Division was left exposed.  Masséna launched a heavy attack on the weak British-Portuguese flank, led by Montbrun’s dragoons and supported by the infantry divisions of Marchand, Mermet, and Solignac.  Two 7th Division battalions were badly mauled by French light cavalry and Wellington needed to send reinforcements to save the 7th Division from annihilation.  Defeat looked possible, but Wellington had reserves in place and he sent in Robert Craufurd’s light division along with British and German cavalry.

On the threatened British-Portuguese right flank, the elite Light Division, well supported by cavalry and artillery, made a textbook fighting withdrawal.  With very few casualties, they covered the retreat of the 7th Division and fell back into a stronger position selected by Wellington. During the retreat, whenever French artillery ventured too close, the British cavalry charged or feinted a charge. This allowed the infantry time to retreat out of range. If the French horsemen pressed the outnumbered British cavalry back, the British-Portuguese infantry formed squares and, their volleys drove off the French.

It was an extraordinary display of military discipline and precision and a tribute to the genius of Robert Craufurd, who for all his reputation of a rude, over-sensitive disciplinarian who was disliked by many of his officers, could do anything with his enlisted men, who would follow him to hell and back for a word of approval.  The skill of the light division and the courage of the highly outnumbered Allied cavalry saved Wellington, who had undoubtedly made mistakes that day, from what might have been a defeat, and brought instead a victory.

Church in Fuentes de Onoro.

Masséna’s main aim was still to secure Fuentes de Oñoro. He sent forward massed columns of infantry from Ferey’s division. The village, filled with low stone walls, provided excellent cover for the British line infantry and skirmishers, while the French were severely restricted in the little narrow streets. At first, the French had some success, wiping out two companies of the 79th Highland Regiment and killing the regiment’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Philips Cameron. But a counterattack chased Ferey’s men out of the town.

Memorial to the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro 1811

launched a second attack on the town. This time, it was led by three battalions of grenadiers.  Again, the British fell back as Drouet threw in about half of the battalions from both Conroux and Claparède’s divisions, managing to take almost the entire town.

In response, Wellington counterattacked with units from the 1st and 3rd Divisions, plus the Portuguese 6th Caçadores and led by the 88th Connaught Rangers. This broke Drouet’s attack, and the tide began to turn. Low on ammunition, the French had to resort to the bayonet in a futile attempt to drive the British back. One party of 100 grenadiers was trapped in a tight spot and killed. Facing lethal volleys, the French retreated back to the Dos Casas, leaving their casualties behind.  By sunset, French morale had plummeted and many companies were down to 40% strength.

The French artillery tried to bombard the new British line into submission, but for once they were outgunned by Wellington’s cannons. Finally, with their ammunition dangerously low, the French attacks came to an end. Wellington’s men entrenched during the evening. After spending the next three days parading before the British position, Masséna gave up the attempt and retreated to Ciudad Rodrigo, furious with his subordinates whose refusal to obey orders at crucial moments had turned a potential victory into a defeat which would spell the end of his command in the Peninsula.

The battle of Fuentes d’Onoro was not claimed by Wellington as one of his great victories.  He had beaten back the French and was able to continue his blockade of Almeida.  However, he acknowledged how dangerous the situation had been, saying later, “If Boney had been there, we should have been beat.”  Wellington considered that he had unnecessarily extended his line, putting the 7th Division and Light Division in danger.

Two nights after Masséna’s withdrawal, Antoine Brenier’s 1,400-man French garrison of Almeida slipped through the British-Portuguese lines during the night. About 360 French troops were captured, but the rest escaped through a series of blunders.  An infuriated Wellington wrote, “I have never been so much distressed by any military event as by the escape of even a man of them.”

On reaching Ciudad Rodrigo, Masséna was recalled to Paris by a furious Napoleon to explain his actions.  He was replaced by Marshal Auguste Marmont. Masséna returned to France with a vast sum of gold, looted from Portugal and Spain. The defeated French marshal complained that Wellington “had not left him one black hair on his body—he had turned grey all over.”  Later, meeting in France after the war, Wellington and Massena met as former adversaries and got on very well.  On discussing their final campaign against one another, Massena said:

My Lord, you owe me a dinner – for you made me positively starve.”  Wellington laughed.  “You should give it to me, Marshal, for you prevented me from sleeping.”

We visited Fuentes d’Onoro earlier this year.  Despite being surrounded by modern roads it is surprisingly easy to see the layout of the very extended battlefield.  The third book of the Peninsular War saga, “An Uncommon Campaign” is centred around the battle, and in particular the Light Division part in it, since by now Paul van Daan’s 110th are fighting as part of Wellington’s elite division.  The first four books in the Peninsular War Saga are available in both Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon.

An Unconventional Officer

An Irregular Regiment

A Redoubtable Citadel

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General Robert Craufurd – you couldn’t make him up…

General Robert Craufurd fought the battle of the Coa on this bridge

Researching for the Peninsular War saga, I’ve met a few characters along the way and other than Lord Wellington, one of my absolute favourites has to be General Robert Craufurd, known to the army as Black Bob, the irascible genius who commanded the Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s army.

When I first created Lieutenant Paul van Daan who marched into the barracks of the 110th foot in 1802 ready to take over, my research into Wellington’s army was only just beginning.  I wasn’t sure how he was going to fit in.  I had thought, early on, that he might turn out to be one of Wellington’s exploring officers, a bit of a lone wolf, since he wasn’t really much like the other officers.  That idea was quickly abandoned.  Mr van Daan, it turned out, was better at the army than I thought he might be.  Besides which, extensive reading made it really clear to me that there was only one natural place for an over-confident individualist with a perfectionist attitude to training and a liking for eccentric characters.  Paul van Daan, although he didn’t know it yet, was clearly destined for Wellington’s Light Division under the grumpy, over-sensitive genius, General Robert Craufurd.

Craufurd was from a Scottish family and joined the army at fifteen.  He has a surprising amount in common with my fictional character, Paul van Daan.  Like Paul, he took the army seriously, studying at a military school in Berlin and travelling all over Europe and to South America and India on various postings.  Like Paul, he had varying success with his commanding officers.  He gained the reputation of being difficult, rude and bad-tempered.  More than once he seriously considered giving up the army, so disgusted was he with how poorly it was run in places.

Like Paul, Robert Craufurd married for love and was devoted to his young wife.  Mary Holland was a granddaughter of Lancelot Capability Brown the landscape designer and Craufurd was thirty-six when they married.  He fell in love relatively late but he fell hard and it was a source of exasperation to his future commanders, particularly Lord Wellington, that he frequently requested furlough home to see his love.  When Craufurd was in the Peninsular, Mary spent some time in Lisbon to be close to him and he returned to England, incurring the wrath of Wellington, for several months during 1811, arriving back literally on the battlefield in time to save the day at Fuentes de Onoro.  He had four children, three boys and a girl.

In 1808, Craufurd sailed for Corunna in Spain to reinforce Sir John Moore’s army.  Under Moore’s reorganisation, General Robert Craufurd was given command of what was called the 1st Flank Brigade which comprised the first battalions of the 43rd and 52nd and the second battalion of the 95th rifles, all light infantry.  The 2nd Flank Brigade, interestingly was commanded by Brigadier Charles von Alten who was to become Craufurd’s successor in command of the light division.  When Moore realised he was at risk of being cut off he began a brutal retreat to the coast.  The two flank brigades marched separately towards Orense.  Men died of cold and starvation and illness although unlike Moore’s main force they were not pursued by the French.  The retreat became famous for Craufurd’s brutal discipline, although surprisingly the enlisted men did not seem to resent this.  They considered that their safe arrival was due to their commander’s iron control of his brigade.  At the coast they awaited stragglers before returning to England, emaciated, sick and in rags.

Craufurd’s brigade, by now, known as the Light Brigade, returned to Portugal in May 1809, but poor weather delayed their sailing and despite a forced march which covered 45 miles in 26 hours they just missed the battle of Talavera.  Nevertheless, it is clear that despite numerous personal differences, Lord Wellington knew the worth of his most difficult commander and the Light Brigade was increased in number to become the Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s army.  Trained skirmishers, they could move fast and travel light and the French learned to fear them.

Craufurd was one of the few men that Wellington the control freak, trusted out of his sight.  The only generals with whom Wellington would ever enter into explanation and discussion were Hill, Beresford and Craufurd – the rest were simply given their orders and expected to obey them.  During that difficult winter Craufurd was sent with his division to hold the Allied outposts, patrolling the border and engaging in constant skirmishing with the French while other divisions rested.  By the time Wellington was ready to advance his army to the border, chasing Massena out of Portugal, Craufurd’s light division was legendary, a force of tough individualists led by the man often described as the rudest man in the army.

General Robert Craufurd had an unusually good relationship with his enlisted men despite being a harsh disciplinarian, very willing to use flogging.  This was because despite his strict reputation, he was also known to care for the welfare of his men in a way that few generals did, working hard to ensure that they were fed and well-equipped.  He seemed often to be more comfortable with the men than their officers.  With a few notable exceptions, the officers of the light division did not like Craufurd.  He had an uneven temper and thought nothing of yelling at officers in exactly the same way as he did the men.  They considered him rude, sarcastic and a bully.

In 1810 Craufurd was keen to show that the confidence which Wellington placed in him was not undeserved.  A sensitive man, he could not forget that he was four years older than Beresford, five years older than Wellington, eight years older than Hill, but still a junior brigadier-general in charge of a division.  He was older and had been in the army longer than most of Wellington’s other commanders but promotion was slow in coming, possibly because of his somewhat abrasive personality.

The Light Division was moved up to the Spanish frontier, and settled in the villages around the fortress town of Almeida with its outposts pushed forward to the line of the River Agueda. From March to July 1810 Craufurd accomplished the extraordinary feat of guarding a front of 40 miles against an active enemy with six times more men.  Not once did the French split his line or find out any information about Wellington’s gathering forces at his rear.  He was in constant and daily touch with Ney’s corps, but was never surprised, and seldom pushed back; he never lost a detachment or sent his commander false intelligence.  General Robert Craufurd’s activity on the border that year gave Wellington everything he needed for the coming campaign.

There were four bridges and around fifteen fords between Ciudad Rodrigo and the mouth of the Agueda, all of which were practicable in dry weather and some even after a day or two of rain. Craufurd insisted on reports being made on the state of the fords every morning.  Beacons were set up on the heights so as to communicate information about the French movements and it took less than ten minutes for his division to get under arms in the middle of the night, and a quarter of an hour, night or day, to bring it in to full order of battle with baggage loaded and assembled.

One of the light division’s most famous skirmishes during this period came at the old Roman bridge at Barba del Puerco.  Ferey sent six companies of voltigeurs, the French light skirmishers, to take the bridge before dawn.  He was able to bayonet the sentries on the bridge before they could get off a shot and was halfway up the slope towards the village of Puerto Seguro, but Craufurd’s system was foolproof and within ten minutes Sydney Beckwith’s detachment of rifles were upon him.  They drove him down the slope and back across the river at speed with the loss of almost fifty men, while Beckwith lost only four men killed and ten wounded.

Occasionally, Craufurd’s daring got the better of him.  At the combat of the Coa in July 1810 he took his men across the river in direct contravention of Wellington’s orders and escaped annihilation by the skin of his teeth.  Wellington was furious but quickly forgave the man he considered essential to his success in keeping the French at bay.  He later wrote:

“I cannot accuse a man who I believe has meant well, and whose error was one of judgement, not of intention.”

At this point, in my novels, Paul van Daan’s battalion of the 110th is still operating independently under Wellington’s command.  Increasingly, however, Wellington is sending Paul into action with the Light Division.  Initially the Captain of the 110th light company, Paul is now beginning to train his entire battalion as skirmishers and it is clear where he wants to be.  His relationship with Craufurd is surprisingly good, although with the frequent explosions to be expected of two determined individualists.  Their relationship might not have survived their very public disagreement at the Coa when Paul disobeys Craufurd’s direct order so that his men can cover the retreat.  It is Anne, newly married, who persuades Paul that as the junior of the two it is Paul’s job to apologise.  From this point on, no matter what their differences, Craufurd and Paul present a united front, something which must have surprised many people.  As with many other relationships in the army, Paul’s path is smoothed by his lovely, clever wife’s diplomatic skills and she and Craufurd are firm friends.

Craufurd’s Command Post at Bussaco

At Bussaco later that year, Craufurd more than redeemed himself, and Wellington was annoyed when his general insisted on returning to England for the winter to see Mary and recover from some health problems.  He threatened half heartedly to give Craufurd’s division to another to command, but the disaster of Sir William Erskine’s temporary command of the light division made it unlikely he would ever carry through on that threat.  In May, Craufurd reappeared on the field at Fuentes d’Onoro to the loud cheers of his men, a typically theatrical entrance.  He then proceeded, within twenty-four hours, to demonstrate just how it was done when he saved the 7th division and the whole of Wellington’s right flank by making a textbook fighting withdrawal.  By now, Paul is in charge of the third brigade, finally part of the light division, and takes an important part in the battle.  Robert Craufurd was promoted to Major-General on 4 June 1811.

Seven months later in January 1812, Black Bob Craufurd was shot down in the lesser breach during the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo at the age of 48.  Typically, he was high up, shouting orders to his men and did not seem to have realised how exposed his position had become, standing in two fire lines.  Typically, in my story at least, it was the youngest and most awkward of his brigade commanders who helps carry him from the field and is with him to the end.  The men of his light division were devastated.  Craufurd took four days to die, the bullet having passed through his lung and lodged against his spine, and he was buried with honour in the breach where he had fallen.  Wellington mourned him deeply and must have frequently wished, through the rest of the war, that his most difficult but talented commander had survived to make the journey with him.

Craufurd and Wellington were not close friends although in some ways they were very alike.  Both were brilliant commanders, clever and well-educated in military matters.  Both could be demanding, meticulous and found it hard to tolerate anything but perfection.  Both struggled at times with managing their officers although Craufurd was better than Wellington with his enlisted men, something he shares with his fictional junior.  The two men had an enormous respect for one another.  Craufurd was a sensitive man, considering his own rudeness at times, and Wellington frequently offended him but always made sure to put it right by complimenting Craufurd’s many talents soon afterwards.  He deeply mourned his difficult, irascible commander and on his deathbed, Craufurd apologised for the many occasions he had been less than supportive of his commander in chief.

The next commander of the Light Division was a surprise to many.  General Charles von Alten was German, very correct, very likely to obey orders, very different to Black Bob Craufurd.  Military historians have not all been kind to Von Alten, although he seems to have commanded the division very competently through the rest of the war.  He appeared to lack the zest and panache of his somewhat eccentric predecessor.

In my novels, there is a reason for Wellington’s choice, and it is summed up very succinctly by Anne van Daan, speaking of Von Alten.

“He’s not as staid as you’d think.  They’ll disagree at times, but Von Alten is a very clever man, Johnny.  He knows what he’s good at, but he also knows his limitations, and he’s going to use Paul to fill that gap.  In some ways it will work better than General Craufurd did.  Craufurd was every bit as brilliant an improviser as Paul.  They loved working together but it was overkill.  Von Alten is a far better fit.  He’ll bring the stability and the organisational skills and Paul will provide the flashes of brilliance.  And this – this is what they share.  The work ethic to be up at dawn when the rest of the army is still resting and recovering, training the new recruits.  Von Alten is genuinely keen to learn how this works, and Paul loves the fact that he’s down here listening and watching instead of being up at headquarters being nice to Wellington.” (An Uncommon Campaign)

Although the third brigade and its flamboyant commander are a figment of my imagination, perhaps there is something in this.  Wikipedia gives this brief description of an action from the Battle of the Nivelle:

Statue of General Colborne outside Winchester Barracks

While the 43rd and 95th were dealing with the French on the Rhune, there still remained one very strong star-shaped fort below on the Mouiz plateau which reached out towards the coast. This was attacked by Colborne’s 52nd, supported by riflemen from the 95th. Once again, the French were surprised and the British succeeded. They had, in the French eyes, appeared from the ground at which point, in danger of being cut off, the French soldiers quickly fled leaving Colborne in possession of the fort and other trenches without loss of a single fatal casualty.

It sounds like the kind of action at which Robert Craufurd would have excelled.  Perhaps after his death Wellington realized that the officers and men he had trained had turned into independent skirmishers to such a degree that a Charles von Alten was needed to rein them in.  Perhaps it was true that while he had men like Colborne and Vandeleur and Barnard, he did not need another Robert Craufurd.

Whatever the truth of it, I love Craufurd, a brilliant, flawed and very human man who believed in God, loved his children and adored his wife.

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The Customs of the Army – Life in Wellington’s Peninsular Army

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

With four of the Peninsular War Saga published on Kindle and in paperback, I thought it was time to update this post on life in Wellington’s Peninsular Army.

Leaving O’Reilly and Carter to line up the men and march them to the

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

barracks, Paul rode on ahead. He was surprised to hear signs of activity on his approach. Perhaps after all their new lieutenants were managing drills already. If that were true, it was a good sign. Touching his heel to Rufus’ flank he cantered further ahead of his company and rode in through the arched gate of the barracks, noticing that the painted sign was hanging down. He would set somebody to righting it tomorrow.
Abruptly Paul reined in, staring at the open square. The battalion was lined up around three sides, around three or four hundred men, he would guess. In the centre was a triangular wooden frame, and a man was tied to it. A corporal, sweating in the heat of the late morning sun, was wielding a lash and as it fell, the victim gave a scream of pain. His back was a bloody mess. Around a hundred, Paul estimated, as he swung down from the saddle.
The back rank of men noticed his arrival, and Paul motioned to the nearest man to take his horse. The infantryman did so with hesitation. Paul still wore the coat he had ridden in, with no insignia and there was no sign that he was anything other than a civilian. He walked forward. The two officers of the battalion were standing at the front of their men. They were young, probably no more than twenty-one or two, and both wore sparkling new uniforms, their hats cocked at exactly the right angle. There the resemblance ended. One was watching the flogging with an expression of apparent approval. He was tall and dark with a thin handsome face and hazel coloured eyes. The other lieutenant was shorter and slighter with soft brown hair and a pair of fine grey eyes, which watched in apparent horror. His face was white and he did not look well.
It was the dark man who saw him first. Paul walked past him towards the whipping post. The corporal paused in his work, looking unsurely at Paul and then over at the lieutenant.
“I think that’s probably enough for today, Corporal,” Paul said quietly. “Take him down. Carefully, now.”
“Who the devil are you, sir?” the dark lieutenant demanded. He had a clear baritone. “This man’s punishment is not yet finished!”
“I was going to ask you the same question,” Paul said turning to him. “Who is in command here?”
“I am. Lieutenant Lionel Manson, 112th foot. Don’t know who the devil you are, but you’ve no place coming in here interfering with discipline, sir! If you’ve a message, it can wait until we’re done!”
“You are done, Mr Manson. Cut him down, Corporal – don’t make me ask again, I’ve had a long ride.” Paul unbuttoned his great coat. He beckoned to a thin, white-faced private in the front row, who ran forward looking terrified. “What’s your name, lad?”
“T…t…terry, sir.”
“Well, Private Terry, will you take this to the officers quarters for me, please?” Paul said, taking off his coat and handing it to the boy with a pleasant smile. He turned to find that both officers had sprung to attention and were saluting. “Ah, that’s better.”
The corporal called out two names, and the men ran to help lift their comrade down, just as the rest of the light company marched through the gate. Paul walked over to the man and inspected his damaged back. “How many, Corporal?”
“A hundred ordered, sir. Ninety given.”
“What offence?”
“Don’t know, sir.”
Paul nodded. “Take him to the infirmary if you’ve one set up yet. If not, lay him on his bunk, face down, and give him some rum. I’ll get somebody to look at him presently.”
“Yes, sir.”
Paul turned to the two officers. Michael O’Reilly had dismounted and was coming forward. “Have you introduced yourself, sir?”
“I’ve not had time,” Paul said. “It’s busy in the 112th I can tell you, Mr O’Reilly.”
The Irishman surveyed the two lieutenants genially. “Lieutenant O’Reilly, 110th light company. You’ll be under the command of this officer for the foreseeable future, gentlemen – Colonel Paul van Daan who commands the 110th, and now your battalion. We’ve a bit of work to do, I can see, but for the time being lets get our men settled and see what arrangements you’ve already made and then we can have a bit of a chat. I didn’t catch your names.”
“I’ve met Lieutenant Manson here,” Paul said, indicating the dark lieutenant. “And this gentleman…?”
“Lieutenant William Grey, sir.”
“Welcome to Portugal, Lieutenant Grey. I’ll see my quarters and get settled in but you can both meet me in my office in – shall we say half an hour?”
“Yes, sir,” Manson said. “But…will you not want time to wash and change and…”
“Yes,” Paul said gently. “Which will take me approximately half an hour. Carry on.”

(From An Irregular Regiment, Book Two of the Peninsular War Saga by Lynn Bryant)

For the ordinary soldiers of Lord Wellington’s army, life was hard.

The British Army drew many of its raw recruits from the lowest classes of Britain. Since army life was known to be harsh and poorly paid it attracted mainly those for whom civilian life was worse. The Duke of Wellington’s famous quote describes them as “the scum of the earth” and claimed that many of the men “enlist from having got bastard children – some for minor offences – some for drink”.  But there were other reasons.

In Scotland for example, many men enlisted due to the collapse of the weaving trade and came from skilled artisan or even middle-class households.  Ireland, the source of many of Wellington’s recruits, sent men to the army in times of desperate hunger or in flight from failed rebellion.  And on a regular basis, local courts would offer thieves, pickpockets and other criminals the choice between enlisting or prison.  Knowing the conditions in local prisons, such men often chose the army.  Some would try to desert as soon as possible but many stayed.  Often, conditions in the army, although appalling, were better than at home.

Most soldiers at the time signed on for life in exchange for a “bounty” of £23 17s 6d, a lot of which was absorbed by the cost of outfitting “necessities” but a system of ‘limited service’ (seven years for infantry, ten for cavalry and artillery) was introduced in 1806 to attract recruits. Soldiers began, from 1800 onward, to receive a daily beer money allowance in addition to their regular wages; the practice was started on the orders of the Duke of York. Additionally, corporal punishment was removed for a large number of petty offences (while it was still retained for serious derelictions of duty) and the Shorncliffe System for light infantry was established in 1803, teaching skirmishing, self-reliance and initiative. Unlike other armies of the time, the British did not use conscription to bolster army numbers, with enlistment remaining voluntary.

The risk of death or permanent injury was huge.  During the Peninsular Campaign, the army lost almost 25,000 men from disease while fewer than 9,000 were killed in action; however more than 30,000 were wounded in action and most battalions were permanently short of officers and men. Seriously under-strength battalions might be dissolved, merged with other remnants into “Provisional battalions” or temporarily drafted into other regiments.

 Officers ranged in background as well.  Although an officer was supposed also to be a “gentleman”, this referred to an officer’s character and honourable conduct rather than his social standing. The system of sale of commissions officially governed the selection and promotion of officers, but the system was considerably relaxed during the wars. One in twenty (5%) of the officers from regular battalions had been raised from the ranks, and less than 20% of first commissions were by purchase.  The Duke of York oversaw a reform of the sale of commissions, making it necessary for officers to serve two full years before either promotion or purchase to captain and six years before becoming a major.  These changes however, applied more to regiments in barracks than to those on campaign.  In the Peninsular War, promotion was often fast as officers were killed in action or wounded and it was possible for a man who remained in the field to move up the ranks very quickly.

Only a few officers were from the nobility; in 1809, only 140 officers were peers or peers’ sons.   Many more officers came through the Militia and a small number had been gentlemen volunteers, who trained and fought as private soldiers but messed with the officers and remained as such until vacancies without purchase for commissions became available.  Promotion was mainly by seniority; less than 20% of line promotions were by purchase.   Promotion by merit alone did occur, but was less common, although this was very much down to the regimental commanders who could refuse to allow a promotion if they preferred another candidate.  This would have enabled Paul van Daan a good deal of freedom, once he was in command, to choose his own officers and select the candidates he wanted for promotion.  Officers who were disgruntled over his choices would have been free to apply to a transfer to another regiment.

In the 110th and it’s associated battalions, therefore, the mix of officers and men, their backgrounds and promotions and length of service is very typical.  Their commanding officer is very young for his rank, a consequence of plenty of money and a good background combined with a lot of talent and the friendship of the commander-in-chief.  The 110th is not a fashionable regiment and does not attract the aristocracy.  Most of Paul’s young officers are from the middle classes or county families and a lot of them live on their pay.  This works well for them in the 110th since Paul’s regiment is well organised and the mess bills are very reasonable.  In some regiments, particularly the cavalry, a man might buy a commission and then be unable to keep up with the expensive lifestyle of the regiment, where most of the officers came from wealthy families.  Some of Paul’s young officers can afford to purchase commissions and promotions, but for those who can not he is fierce in his willingness to fight with Horse Guards, Wellington and anybody else to make sure that the best men get the commissions they deserve.

The biggest difference in the 110th is in the conditions of the ordinary infantryman.  From the first, Paul van Daan takes a very different view of life in the army, probably stemming from his two years below decks in the Royal Navy as a boy.  He is on very good terms with his enlisted men and NCOs while at the same time having very high expectations of them.  He refuses to use flogging, and rarely gets the provost marshals – the policemen of Wellington’s army – involved with matters of discipline except in very serious cases such as rape and murder.

The 110th have tents for all their men as early as 1809 while the rest of Wellington’s army had to wait until 1813 before tents were issued to all of them.  By then Wellington had improved his supply lines and the commissariat was working better as well, but it was undoubtedly true in the earlier years of his campaigns that enlisted men and their wives and children often slept in the open in all weathers or under tents fashioned from their blankets, and when supplies failed which they did from time to time, they starved.

It was extraordinary how many men did have wives or girlfriends, often local women they met during campaigns.  Lord Wellington and many other senior officers preferred men not to have wives with them but the practice was tolerated largely because it was difficult to stop such liaisons springing up.  Theoretically only a few men in each company was allowed to take a wife on campaign with them but many women stowed away.  The women were invaluable doing laundry and mending, helping with the nursing and cooking and it would have been hard for the army to manage without them.  They too were subject to army discipline and could be flogged or punished.

It was a hard and dangerous life.  Into this world as an eighteen year old bride, Anne Carlyon arrived in 1809, just before Wellesley marched to drive the French out of Oporto.  Officers wives did come to Portugal and stayed in Lisbon or joined their men during winter quarters if the location was fairly safe.    But Anne was different from the start, choosing to make the army her home.  She rode and marched with the men, worked with the surgeons digging out shot and stitching sabre cuts and discovered a whole new side to herself that she would never have known if she had stayed at home.

She also fell in love.

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army
Book 1 in the Peninsular War Saga

The Peninsular War saga is a new series about the men and women of Wellington’s army and about the battles and the politics of the fight against Napoleon.  It is the story of a wealthy and privileged young man who rose to command one of the finest regiments in the army and of the extraordinary young woman who shared his life.

It is also the story of an army and it’s customs and of the ordinary men who fought and died with their officers.  And what Wellington actually said about them was that they were “the scum of the earth; it is really wonderful that we should have made them into the fine fellows they are.” 

The books are available on Amazon, both in kindle and in paperback.

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