I wrote a Peek into the Future, which is the imaginary obituary of Paul van Daan recently for a guest blog but ended up using something else. I enjoyed it and wanted to share it with my readers, although I found it surprisingly painful writing about the death of one of my all time favourite characters.
The post takes the form of a letter from one of Paul’s grandsons to another who is currently serving overseas…
Letter from Captain Michael van Daan to Lieutenant James Manson, India, 1866
You must already have heard the sad news officially, but I wanted to write to you myself about Grandfather’s death. It has been a few weeks now but most of us are still finding it hard to believe he is gone. I enclose a cutting of his obituary from the Times which is very flattering about his long and distinguished career.
The Times regretfully announces the death of General Sir Paul van Daan, Colonel-in-Chief of the 110th Light Infantry and Governor of the Craufurd Officer Training College. Sir Paul died peacefully at his home in Leicestershire after a short illness. He was eighty-five.
Sir Paul’s long and distinguished career began in 1802 when he joined the 110th foot as ensign and then lieutenant. He fought with great courage at the Battle of Assaye the following year and was promoted to captain by General Wellesley and then to major in 1806.
Sir Paul is best known for his service during the long years of the war against Bonaparte. He served in Naples and Sicily and then in Denmark but came to prominence in the Peninsula under the late Duke of Wellington. He fought at Rolica and Vimeiro and at the famous victory at the Douro his men had the honour of being the first to cross the river. He was wounded at Talavera but remained in Portugal and was promoted to colonel-in-charge of the regiment in 1810.
From 1811, Sir Paul commanded the third brigade of the famous Light Division. Further battle honours include Bussaco, Sabugal, Fuentes de Onoro, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Alba de Tormes, Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Bidassoa, the Nivelle and Toulouse along with many minor actions. He was wounded several times but his sense of duty always took him back into the field. He was known to be a close friend and confidant to the late Duke, who placed him in charge of a division at Waterloo.
At the close of the war, Sir Paul remained with the Army of Occupation in France. His later career took him to Africa and India. When he retired from active service, he took charge of the newly established Craufurd College for the training of light infantry officers, a foundation which he helped to set up, and of which he remained a dedicated patron until his death. He was an active supporter of many charities and served on various boards and committees pertaining to the armed forces. He was well known for his vocal opinions on the need for army reform, in particular with regard to conditions of service and the abolition of flogging.
Sir Paul is survived by his devoted wife, Anne, six children and eleven grandchildren. Two sons and four grandsons followed him into the army.
The funeral will be held at the regimental chapel in Melton on Friday next, and there will be a memorial service in London later this year, date to be announced. Her Majesty the Queen sent a personal message of sympathy to the grieving widow.
You will be glad to hear that he was not ill for long, a winter cold which turned quickly to bronchitis. He died with Grandmamma beside him which is exactly what he wanted.
I must tell you of the funeral which was so well attended there was not room in the church for them all. You would not have thought it a time for laughter, but laugh we did. Lady Denny was there, draped in so much black you’d have thought her the widow, and came up to our party afterwards to speak to Grandmamma. She went on and on about my Grandfather’s virtues and then at the end she spoke of the Duke in the most familiar way, as though she had known him personally.
“It must console you, dear Lady van Daan, to think that such two good friends are reunited at last,” she said, in such a syrupy voice. My grandmother looked at her very hard for a moment.
“Dear Lady Denny, it doesn’t console me in the least,” she said finally. “By now, if they’ve met up, I rather imagine they are yelling at each other about the abolition of flogging. They haven’t seen each other for fourteen years, they have a lot of arguing time to catch up on. I think I may delay my own demise for a few years until they are over it.”
Somewhere in the middle of disgracing myself laughing at a funeral, I’d swear I could hear him laughing too…
Write soon, cousin. I miss you.
For anybody wanting to read the story of Paul and Anne van Daan and the 110th infantry from the beginning, the first four books are available on Amazon kindle
I’ve spent some time over the past week or two reading accounts of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century courts martial for my next book, An Unwilling Alliance. A surprising number of them came to absolutely nothing and the novelist in me desperately wants to know the full story behind how they came about. Were charges brought maliciously? Commanding officer didn’t like the look on your face? Got off because you were really good at hiding the evidence? Or because you were really good at your job and nobody wants to lose you? So many possibilities, I’m going to have to be forcibly restrained from court martialling half my characters now, it sounds like so much fun…
Surgeon James Dalzell of the 32nd in 1800 is my favourite so far, though. He got into it in an Assembly Room (probably drunk or fancied the same girl in my opinion) with his commanding officer Major James Wentworth Mansergh and made use of “unwarrantable and most offensive language” by telling him “the said Major Mansergh that he was a damned rascal and a Scoundrel and no Gentleman and threatening to pull him by the nose and afterwards on the same night repeating the same language raising his hand in a threatening manner and again threatening to pull him, the said Major Mansergh, by the nose.”
Surgeon Dalzell seems not to have actually been arrested for this until six months later and on that occasion he really kicked off and informed Major Mansergh in the presence of soldiers of the 32nd in the barrack yard that “his command was a damned rascally one to the prejudice of good Order and Military Discipline.”
Clearly something had ticked Surgeon Dalzell off beyond the telling and if there was a man on that court martial with a straight face by that point, he was a better man than I am. A brief search has revealed that to threaten to “pull a man’s nose” was considered an insult likely to lead to a duel in the ante-bellum South and when I need another distraction I am going to download that article in full as I want to find out the origin of that one. Certainly it is clear that Surgeon Dalzell and Major Mansergh were not going to be exchanging Christmas gifts.
But the plot thickens even further. Enter Captain William Davis who was also court-martialled in 1800. Captain Davis was also charged with using disrespectful and improper language to Major Mansergh in the barrack yard on the same evening that Surgeon Dalzell hit the proverbial roof. While no nose pulling appears to have been involved here, Captain Davis followed the major, attempted forcibly to stop him and called him “a damned Rascal and a Scoundrel and at the same time raising his hand in a threatening manner to the prejudice of good Order and Military Discipline.”
Now there is clearly a bit of a theme here, and it looks as though the court was able to spot it. Surgeon Dalzell, interestingly was acquitted of the charges of nose-threatening and general name-calling. The court made mention of something that Mansergh said about the surgeon in a conversation with Captain Davis that evening in the barrack yard which had caused Dalzell to lose his temper. Although he was acquitted, he was instructed to make an apology to Major Mansergh for improper language and conduct. The wording of the apology is very specific – I’m guessing all Dalzell had to do was read it out and the matter was over. Clearly the court felt that whatever had happened, Dalzell was provoked.
Captain Davis wasn’t quite so lucky and I wonder if that was because of his rank. Certainly given that he went for his commanding officer in front of the enlisted men on the parade ground, he was very unlikely to get away with it. Captain Davis was found guilty and suspended without rank or pay for the term of two years. Even so, the court expressed some sympathy for Davis, pointing out that his treatment by Mansergh, while it can’t justify his actions, certainly mitigated his sentence. Presumably without it, he might have been cashiered.
The editor has very kindly provided footnotes of what happened to the principals in the various cases and that’s where it becomes interesting. Captain Davis sold out the following month, presumably unable or unwilling to live without pay or rank for the next two years. Surgeon Dalzell must have taken his medicine and made his stilted apology to Major Mansergh because he remained in the army and was appointed Surgeon to the Forces in Ireland in 1804. Clearly he managed to control his temper better in the future.
Major Mansergh was not the subject of the court martial but that did not stop the court from expressing its opinion that his conduct appeared “highly reprehensible, in not having supported his command with more propriety and energy”. What else was said off the record, or by Mansergh’s own commanding officers is not recorded, but Major Mansergh sold out the following month and did not return to military service. Somehow I have a feeling there might have been a celebration in the mess at some point…
Until I started looking in to military discipline in more detail, I think I had assumed that a court martial was seen as a disgrace and the end of an officer’s career but clearly that is not the case. In both the army and the navy, officers were court-martialled, acquitted or received minor punishments and went on to do very well. Captain Bligh of the Bounty survived no less than three courts martial during his career.
Court martial seems to have been a valid way of seeking an enquiry into an incident. An officer censured for some error would often ask for a court martial to clear his name; a good example of this would be Lt-Colonel Charles Bevan after the fiasco at Almeida in 1811 whose request for a court martial was denied, a fact which contributed to his suicide.
The other fact about a court martial which came as a surprise to me was that the King looked at all trial records and had the right to override either the verdict or the punishment. I was aware through research into the Peninsular War that the commander-in-chief had the right to commute sentences on men convicted of local offences but it appears that it was not uncommon for the King to completely overturn the decision of the General Court Martial, either in deciding to declare a verdict of not guilty, or simply to announce that he no longer required the services of the officers involved.
In matters of military discipline in the 18th and 19th century there must always have been a lot of leeway depending on individual circumstances. An officer committing an offence needed to be charged by a senior officer and there must have been many occasions where a good officer got away with an informal reprimand simply because he was good at his job and valued. Equally there would have been senior officers with a bee in their bonnet about particular issues for example Admiral Gambier was known to be an evangelical Christian and used to fine his officers for bad language. Commanders confident in their relationships with their officers will have used different methods of management, saving court martial for extreme cases in the same way that a good manager rarely uses the formal disciplinary process. There are always variations from the strict letter of the law.
And that’s probably a good thing for one of the officers of the 110th infantry…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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…
A Regimental Christmas is a short story based in Lisbon during the winter of 1810-11 while Wellington’s army occupied the Lines of Torres Vedras against Massena’s French army and the Portuguese civilians who had fled behind the lines suffered and starved in the cause of scorching the land and driving the French out. For readers of the Peninsular War Saga, this fits into book two, An Irregular Regiment, while Paul and Anne are based in Lisbon for the winter.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Labradors and I on the Isle of Man…
After two weeks of miserably damp weather, two days before Christmas dawned exceptionally bright, with wispy clouds decorating a brilliant blue sky. It was cold, not with the freezing weather of England but certainly much colder than was usual for Portugal, and as Colonel Paul van Daan watched his wife emerge from the officers’ block to watch early drill, he could see her breath in the chill air.
There were twelve companies on the parade ground. To the fore, neatly turned out and moving through the drill with immaculate timing was the light company of the 110th infantry under the temporary command of Lieutenant Michael O’Reilly. At the sight of Anne, the Irishman saluted but did not pause in his work. Anne stood watching, shivering slightly, and Paul looked around and saw one of her maids just coming out of the block.
“Captain Corrigan, take over, please,” he said. “Keren, do me a favour and get my wife’s cloak, would you? She’s going to freeze out here like this.”
“Yes, sir.” Anne’s maid disappeared into the block and Paul took his wife’s hands between his.
“Gloves?” he enquired and Anne laughed.
“I do own some.”
“In order to work, they need to be on your hands. You’re hopeless, Nan.”
“I am.” Anne was watching the drill. “They’re looking better,” she commented.
Colonel van Daan turned, running an experienced eye over the companies. In addition to his light company there was a company of new recruits, recently arrived from the second battalion, eight companies of the 112th infantry which had been in complete disarray when they arrived in Lisbon and the seventh and eighth company of the 110th who were serving directly under him for the first time.
“Better,” he admitted. “They still need some work.”
Anne laughed, accepting her cloak from her maid with a smile of thanks. “Paul, they are never going to be good enough for you.”
“They will when they look as good as my light company, girl of my heart. What are your plans for the day?”
“Breakfast. Then I’m riding into Lisbon with Caroline, I’ve some last minute shopping to do. After that…”
“Take an escort.”
“Keren and Teresa are coming with us, Paul. I…”
“Take an escort. Don’t look at me like that, Nan. I know Lisbon is usually very safe. But just at the moment there are refugees dying in the streets. It’s not a good place to be.”
Anne looked at him soberly. “I know,” she said. “I hate it, Paul. Those poor people.”
Paul nodded, without speaking. Retreating south after his victory at Bussaco, Lord Wellington had instructed the Portuguese population to go with him, leaving the land scorched so that Marshal Massena’s French army would have nothing to live on. The success of this had been very mixed. Some people had refused to go, believing they would be able to hide from the advancing French troops. Others had fled as instructed, crowding behind Wellington’s defensive Lines of Torres Vedras, but too many of them had left food hidden, hoping to be able to find it when they were finally able to return to their farms and villages. The French had become experts in discovering caches and it had enabled them to remain outside the lines for far longer than Wellington had thought possible.
Paul had expected to remain with his battalion up at the lines or possibly outside them patrolling the border along with General Robert Craufurd’s light division. His battalion was still there under the temporary and very competent command of Captain Johnny Wheeler and Captain Carl Swanson but in the aftermath of Bussaco, Lord Wellington had given Paul the glad news of his promotion to colonel in charge of the 110th, a command that Paul had wanted, but not expected to achieve so young.
He had also given him a temporary posting for winter quarters which had been less welcome. In preparation for the next campaigning season, Wellington wanted to ensure that his army was properly supplied with sufficient transport and instead of protecting the border with Craufurd, Paul found himself in Lisbon struggling with requisitions and orders and the knotty problem of the 112th infantry, a battalion which had been sent out under two very young and inexperienced officers. The 112th had proved a bigger headache than the commissariat and the quartermaster’s department combined. Many of them were ill with fever after their time in the Indies, discipline and training were appalling and there were only two officers to staff eight companies. At times during the past few months, buried in paperwork and working insane hours to try to prepare the 112th for combat, Paul had contemplated shooting his chief.
Paul looked over at his wife, who was watching drill. They had been married now for less than six months although he had known her for two years before that, but this would be their first Christmas as a married couple. He was aware of a sense of guilt about his dead wife along with a sense of pure joy at spending the season with Anne. Christmas on campaign often passed without more than a passing acknowledgement but this year was different. They were away from the war zone and there was time to enjoy the season. And he was with Anne.
“Is there anything I need to do, bonny lass? I’ve a feeling this is the easiest Christmas since I joined the army.”
Anne turned, smiling. “You’re all right, Colonel. Get on with training. Just remember we have this ball at Dom Alfonso’s tonight.”
“I’m trying to forget,” Paul said and she laughed and stood on tiptoe to kiss him.
Paul moved back towards his men, aware of covert smiles from some of them. There were men of his light company who had been with him since he had first joined eight years ago and they had followed the difficult progress of his love affair with the lovely young wife of Captain Robert Carlyon with considerable sympathy. Anne was not the only officer’s wife to have accompanied her husband to war, and not the only one to have found herself stranded in the middle of a difficult retreat, but in Paul’s experience she was the only one to have made herself quite so beloved by the enlisted men. She had marched with his wounded and his light company through the difficult weeks of the retreat from Talavera and by the time she had been returned to her undeserving spouse in Lisbon, the 110th had adopted her as their own.
A voice from the far side of the training ground interrupted his thoughts. “Sergeant Williams! Get them back into line, we’ll do that again, I’ve seen a flock of sheep with more precision! Move it, you slovenly bastards, unless you want to spend the rest of Christmas practicing short order drills out here with me!”
Paul grinned and moved to stand beside Lieutenant O’Reilly of the light company. “Mr Manson’s in good voice this morning,” he said softly.
“Mr Manson isn’t giving that lot an inch,” O’Reilly said, equally quietly. “It’s working, too, they’re looking bloody good. In fact, I might give them an outside chance against our seventh and eighth companies just now.”
Paul glanced over at the seventh. “Where’s Longford?” he asked.
“No idea, sir. Still in bed?”
“Even he’s not that stupid.” Paul raised his voice. “Mr Fenwick, where’s Captain Longford?”
“He’s in Lisbon, sir. Was invited to dinner with the captain of the Berwick. He sent a message just now with apologies, he was taken ill but will be back later.”
“Just in time to accompany his wife to this ball and with no time to do any bloody work!” Paul snapped. “All right, Mr Fenwick, carry on. See if you can run that again a bit faster, will you? The French are surprisingly quick you’ll find.”
“Yes, sir,” Fenwick said woodenly. He moved back to his company, yelling an order and Paul went back to O’Reilly who was grinning.
“He does not like to be told,” he said.
“No, he doesn’t. But he’s getting better. He’s a very good officer, it’s not his fault he’s been stuck with Longford all these years. He knows they’re not as good as they should be and it pisses him off, but he’s a worker.”
“Unlike his captain. You should leave him in charge of barracks tonight, serve him right.”
“It would. It wouldn’t be fair on Caroline, though and she can hardly attend without him. I’m leaving Sergeant Carter in charge of barracks. I know officially there ought to be a duty officer, but sod it, it’s Christmas and the French aren’t going to invade. If there’s a crisis, Carter knows where to find us.”
Paul had hired a carriage for his wife’s use while they were in Lisbon, although she seldom used it other than to attend evening parties. The local Portuguese grandees were very hospitable to the English officers in Lisbon. There were not many of them; most of Wellington’s troops were up at the lines, but there were a number of officers of the quartermaster’s department based in Lisbon along with a collection who were recovering from illness or injury. In addition, there was a battalion of one of the Borders regiments who had recently arrived to replace their existing battalion, and a dozen or more officers who had been granted leave during winter quarters.
Dom Alfonso’s house was in the upper part of Lisbon, not far from the villa which Paul rented, an elegant white building with graceful arched windows and a red tiled roof. Dona Juana had opened up the whole of the ground floor, with an orchestra playing in the largest salon for dancing and drinks and refreshments set out in several other rooms. For Anne’s sake, Paul had invited Captain Vincent Longford and his wife to accompany them in the carriage. His dislike of Longford did not extend to the man’s wife. Although she had only been with them for a few weeks, Paul liked what he had seen of Caroline Longford and he knew that his wife was enjoying her company. Anne did not make friends easily among the officers’ wives, many of whom tended to look down their noses at her unconventionality and to whisper behind their hands about past scandals, but if Caroline Longford had heard any of the gossip she gave no sign of it.
Paul glanced at his wife as they entered the brilliantly lit rooms to be greeted by their hostess. Anne was dressed in white, trimmed with black embroidery and a black sash. The gown was not new but the trimming was and he wondered whose idea it had been and who had done the embroidery, which was very effective. It was definitely not Anne, who regarded household sewing and fine embroidery with equal disdain. She wore her dark hair in smooth coils on her head pinned with one white silk rose and Paul was aware of male heads turning as they made their way into the room.
He led her first onto the dance floor, enjoying dancing with her, remembering the first time he had done so at her coming out ball in Yorkshire more than three years ago. She had been seventeen and he had been on temporary secondment to the 115th Yorkshire, a man already married with two young children, who should not have been flirting with the lovely daughter of Sir Matthew Howard. He met her eyes and she smiled at him.
“You’re a good dancer, Colonel.”
“So are you, Mrs van Daan. I can feel them watching me here. Once I let you go, I am not going to get anywhere near you for the rest of the evening.”
“Better make the most of me now then, Colonel.”
He grinned and raised her hand to his lips. “You look very lovely, lass, I can’t say I blame them.”
The music ended and he surrendered her to his officers and went to join Captain Corrigan, watching as she danced her way through the evening. He danced with Caroline Longford and with several Portuguese ladies and reclaimed his wife finally as the supper bell rang, neatly removing her from three disappointed ensigns of the Royal Marines.
“They’ll be crying into their wine,” he said, leading her to a table. “Wait there, I’ll get you some food. And if I find anybody else sitting there when I get back I’m going to challenge him.”
“You’re so dramatic, Paul,” his wife said, arranging her skirts elegantly. Paul collected food and champagne and seated himself opposite her.
“Caroline is proving very popular,” Anne said, watching her friend who was seated at a table surrounded by a collection of young officers who were falling over themselves to provide her with supper.
“She is. I don’t see her husband fighting them off, mind. It’ll serve him right if she finds herself some pretty young officer of the line who will treat her properly.”
“I quite agree,” Anne said serenely, tucking in to cold chicken. “After all, I did.”
Paul choked on his wine. “Are you calling me pretty?” he demanded.
Anne put her head on one side and surveyed him thoughtfully. “I don’t know that I’d go that far,” she said. “But you’re definitely easy on the eye, Colonel, especially in dress uniform.”
Paul was laughing. “Make the most of it, girl of my heart, in a few weeks’ time you’ll have forgotten I was ever this clean.”
“Clean,” Anne said thoughtfully. “Now that reminds me of something.”
“What?” Paul asked, faintly suspicious and his wife gave him a smile sweet enough to chill him.
“Nothing you need to worry about, love. Do you still have that meeting in the morning with the Lisbon Council?”
“I do. I’m trying to get them to set up a more organised system for supplying the refugees. There is food coming in from England but it’s not getting to where it’s needed.”
She was smiling, sipping her champagne. “It’s not really your problem, Colonel.”
“No. And in a few weeks’ time I’ll have to leave it alone. But at the moment…”
He broke off, slightly sheepishly and she laughed. “Well I’m busy tomorrow. But if you want me to come to a meeting with you after Christmas, Paul, let me know.”
“I wonder what they would say?” he asked.
“Oh they’d be appalled. A woman applying herself to men’s business? Shocking. But that won’t stop me if you’d let me.”
Paul studied her for a moment. He was thinking of his gentle sister-in-law, Patience, who was rearing his children and taking care of his father and brother and who had probably never once stepped out of her domestic sphere. Anne’s willingness to become involved had surprised him when she had first arrived in Portugal with her first husband but he had become accustomed to it by now.
“Yes, why not?” he said. “You’ll shock the hell out of them, but that might do them some good. Come and dance with me, if you’re finished. I’ve just remembered how much I love you.”
They left under a soft new moon. Paul handed both women into the carriage and climbed in. The streets were very dark and quiet under a midnight hush, and he reached for his wife’s hand in the folds of her cape and held it, feeling very content. There had been times when he had railed against Lord Wellington for sending him on this posting, so far from what action there was, but tonight he felt a sense of gratitude to his commander for giving him this first Christmas with Anne beside him. He knew that the idea would not have occurred to his chief, who had thought only of the job he wanted done, but it had given Paul a brief spell of normality with his new wife before the war overtook them again.
There was a squeal of carriage brakes, and the vehicle lurched suddenly as one of the two horses reared up, whinnying in fright. Paul caught Caroline Longford who had been thrown forward and would have ended up on the floor. His own wife had managed to steady herself without aid.
“What the bloody hell was that?” Captain Longford demanded. “Sorry, ma’am, forgot myself.”
“Don’t worry about it, Captain. Paul…”
“I’ll see,” Paul said, his hand already on the carriage door. He jumped down onto the cobbled street and saw his coachman, lantern in hand, peering into the darkness. “What happened, Jose?”
“Your pardon, Colonel. Are the ladies injured?”
“No, they’re fine. What is it?”
“Beggars, sir.” Jose waved his whip in the direction of a huddled form by the side of the road. “Stupid fool almost got herself killed. Be off with you!”
The form shifted and began to move, hunched and shapeless in the darkness, and Paul hesitated, torn between a desire to find out if the woman was hurt and the wish to get his wife away from a dark street where anybody might be lurking. Lisbon was generally very safe, but he was not naive enough to believe that some of the refugees might not be desperate enough to snatch what they could. As he dithered, a sound emerged from the woman, a keening wail of distress. The woman spoke quickly, trying to quiet the noise, and behind him Paul heard the carriage door open.
“Paul, what was that?”
“I’ll find out. Get back inside, Nan.”
She had already jumped down and the lantern light picked out the gleam of pearls at her neck. “I’ll be fine,” she said.
“Nan, get back in the damned carriage, I’m not armed and you’re wearing a small fortune around your neck and in your ears. I’ll…”
His wife shot him a look which he could only partially see in the darkness. He suspected he should be grateful for that. “That was a child’s cry,” she said, and turned to the woman. “Wait,” she called, in Portuguese. “Are you hurt? Let me see.”
The woman turned. Paul could see nothing of her in the enveloping cloak apart from a flash of white face and enormous frightened eyes. His wife moved forward quickly and Paul bit back his urge to yell at her and followed.
“I am sorry, Senora,” the woman whispered. Anne had reached her and Paul saw her kneel down on the cobbles.
“Your children?” she asked.
“My sister and brother,” the woman said. Her voice was hoarse, but Paul realised that she was younger than he had first realised. “We are not hurt. Your coachman was quick…”
“Let me see her,” Anne said, gently but firmly, and the woman allowed her to draw the folds of the cloak back. “She’s ill.”
“Not fever, Senora, I promise you. Just hungry.”
Anne placed her hand on the forehead of the child in her arms, and then reached down and took one of the hands of the boy. He was probably five or six, Paul guessed, thin and shivering in a ragged jacket and bare feet. He wondered suddenly how tall his own son had grown now and felt unexpectedly sick at the thought that Francis might be the same age as this skeletal child.
“I’m not leaving them here,” Anne said.
There was a challenge in her voice. Paul heard it and felt himself smile.
“No. But lass, we can’t be sure there’s no sickness here, it’s rife in the refugee camps and I’m fairly sure that’s where these have come from.”
“I’m not afraid of fever, Paul, I’m never ill.”
“I know you’re not, but Caroline might be.”
“Then I’ll walk back with them.”
“You bloody won’t. God knows who could be lurking in some of these alleyways.” Paul looked around, and saw Caroline Longford looking out of the window. “Ma’am, don’t get out. Look, I’ll stay with them. Longford, get the ladies back to barracks, will you, and send the carriage back for me, it’s only ten minutes away.”
“I’ll wait with you,” Anne said.
Paul wanted to protest, but even a short time living with Anne had taught him the meaning of that particular tone of voice. He sighed.
“Get Caroline home, Longford,” he said. “Jose, come back as quickly as you can.”
It was silent in the dark street once the carriage had rattled away. Paul looked round at his wife. The woman had sat down on the cobbles. She was shivering violently, whether from cold or fear or some other cause that Paul could not see, he had no idea. Anne crouched beside the boy.
“What is your name?” she asked.
The child’s teeth were chattering. Paul saw Anne reach for the clasp of her cape and stopped her with a gentle hand.
“That gown wasn’t designed for a night under the stars, bonny lass. Here.”
He took off his red coat and draped it around the boy who looked up at him from startled dark eyes. Paul smiled slightly and crouched beside Anne.
“How old are you, Alfredo?” he asked in careful Portuguese.
“I have a son a little younger than you. And your sister?”
“Maria is two. Francisca is fifteen.”
He was startled, realising that the older girl was no more than a child herself. His wife was bending over the smallest child, talking gently to her sister, and after a moment the girl relinquished the child into Anne’s arms. Paul watched as she shifted the burden onto her shoulder, wrapping the velvet cape around her. He suspected that all three of them were filthy and probably crawling with lice but he had observed before how little such matters seemed to bother his wife. Something about the sight of her, murmuring softly to the child, touched his heart and he wondered if he might one day watch her with their own child in her arms. She had been married to her first husband for two years and had never conceived, while Paul had three older children, but there was no reason to suppose that she could not.
The sound of carriage wheels interrupted his thoughts and he rose and turned to the boy. “That sounds like our transport. Up you come, lad.”
He scooped the boy up and lifted him into the carriage then helped Anne and the older girl to climb in. They were silent on the short drive back to barracks.
Both his wife’s maids awaited their arrival having clearly been warned by Caroline Longford. Paul stepped back and watched as she gave instructions for the care and accommodation of the refugees. He knew that she would not relax until she had made sure that they were settled, so he took himself up to their rooms and poured a brandy, stoking up the fire. She joined him around half an hour later, looking tired, and he observed that the white of her gown was muddy from kneeling in the street. She saw his gaze and looked down, then up again, smiling ruefully.
“It might come out.”
“I don’t care if it doesn’t, love. Come to bed, you look completely shattered.”
“I am. No early bugle, thank God.”
Anne slept later than usual the following day and joined him as he was finishing breakfast. She was dressed in one of the plain dark gowns she wore when working in the hospital and had the abstracted air of a woman with plans for the day. Paul, his mind on the approaching meeting, kissed her and left, riding the short distance into Lisbon at an easy pace. The air was warmer than it had been and it was a pleasant ride along roads lined with trees.
The meeting was less pleasant. Paul was quietly seething by mid-afternoon when he set off to ride back to the barracks. He knew that he needed to step back and let it go. It had not been part of his brief from Wellington to get involved with the problem of Lisbon’s refugees and back with his regiment he would have no time or opportunity for further involvement but seeing the misery every time he rode into town made it impossible for him to ignore.
Riding through the archway which led into the Sir John Moore barracks, Paul reined in, aware of unexpected activity. He sat his horse, looking around him, and the sight drove the refugees from his mind.
On the far side of the yard, two men were seated on upturned crates, while a barber worked on each of them with scissors and razor, bowls of soapy water beside them. One, he recognised as Garner from the light company who had been a barber before joining up; the other was young and dark and probably Portuguese from one of the shops in town. A queue of men stood patiently waiting, and Paul was astonished to realise that each one of them had damp hair and the air of men who had recently bathed.
Further around he saw Charlton, one of several cobblers in his ranks, working industriously at his last. Outside one of the barracks blocks, somebody had set up two long tables and there were piles of new kit laid out. Behind it sat Corporal Hammond of his light company with Captain Corrigan, his temporary quartermaster beside him, checking off a list as Sergeant Carter and Sergeant Williams inspected the kit of each man queueing up. These were the men who had already been washed and shorn and Paul, staring at them in complete astonishment, realised that he had probably never seen his men this clean all at the same time.
“You’re back nice and early, sir,” a voice said beside him, and Paul turned to see Private Jenson, his orderly, limping towards him. “Shall I take him for you?”
Paul dismounted, unable to take his eyes from the neat lines. “Jenson, what in God’s name is going on?” he demanded.
“Annual bath and kit replenishment, apparently, sir.”
“Is that…I mean does that happen? I don’t seem to remember it happening before.”
“No, sir, nor do I. But then you weren’t married to Mrs van Daan before. She lined them up the minute you were out of here and had the officers and NCOs march them down to the river to bathe. They bloody hated it, it was freezing, but who’s going to argue with her? Nearly done now, sir, these are the last few.”
Paul could feel himself beginning to smile. “What a bloody brilliant idea,” he said softly.
“Yes, sir. Women and children too. She’s bought half a dozen bolts of material from the warehouse in town for new clothing for them. A couple of them were crying like babies.”
“I suspect they’ll be busy sewing for the next week or two. Christ, they’ll wonder what’s happened when we get back to Pere Negro. I wonder if she’ll try and do this to my entire regiment next year.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her, sir,” Jenson said placidly. “Corporal Hammond is keeping a record of what gets taken from the stores…”
“Good. Do me a favour and make sure the lads know it doesn’t come out of their pay. I’ll make up the difference as a Christmas gift. Although if they’ve lost half of it by Easter I will bleed the bastards dry for it!”
Jenson laughed. “Yes, sir. I’ll get him rubbed down and bring up hot water for you in a bit.”
“Thanks, Jenson.” Paul looked around. “Freddie?”
“I was going to save this until tomorrow, but actually I’d rather do it now when it’s just us.”
He put his hand into his coat pocket and drew out a small item which he handed to Jenson. “There’s a bottle of rum from my wife as well. This is from me. Happy Christmas, Corporal.”
Jenson looked down at the cloth in his hand and then up. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “Go and find your wife before she gets any more bright ideas. Mind you, barracks will smell better than normal this Christmas.”
The weather had turned again the following morning. Paul awoke early as usual, and slid quietly from the bed so as not to disturb Anne. He went through to their sitting room to dress and then went to the window and was surprised in the early light to find the rosy glow of sunrise falling over a world turned white with a rare frost. Lisbon could get cold at times but he had never seen it this bad and it made him smile, thinking of Christmas at home. He missed his children at moments like this, and thinking of his last Christmas with them, when snow had fallen in Dublin, he missed suddenly, with an ache of loss, his pretty gentle first wife, Rowena, who had died giving birth to her namesake. She had worn a fur trimmed cape that cold December and he had walked to church holding her hand and thought how lucky he was. Going to the door of the bedroom he looked at Anne, asleep in a tangle of long limbs and black hair and wondered how one man could be that fortunate twice.
He went down to the mess and stood still in the doorway, looking about him in some surprise.
“You’re up early, sir. Merry Christmas.”
Paul turned with a smile at his mess sergeant who was approaching with a mug of tea. “Merry Christmas, George. Who did all this?”
George Kelly looked around at the greenery which decked the long dining room and grinned. “Mr Manson and Mr Grey with a few of the lads did it yesterday after dinner, sir.”
“I’d a feeling they were up to something. How are our guests, any idea?”
“Doing well, sir. Not much wrong with them apart from half starved. Mrs van Daan went shopping for clothes for the children and she’s found a dress for the lassie. She’s settled them in the infirmary for now, sir, she said it would be warmer.”
Paul nodded and set off across the frosty parade ground and between several of the barracks blocks to the infirmary. He found Teresa, his wife’s Spanish maid already there and she was accompanied, to his surprise, by Sergeant Carter of his light company.
“Morning, sir. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Danny. What the devil are you doing up at this hour? Even I’m not calling early drill on Christmas morning.”
“I wouldn’t put it past you, sir. Came down to see if Teresa needed any help. We thought our refugees might like to come and have breakfast with the lads, sir.”
Paul surveyed the refugees in some amusement. All three of them had clearly been bathed. The boy was dressed in dark trousers and a rough woollen jacket which was a little too big for him and black slippers which looked a fairly good fit. His younger sister was dressed in an embroidered linen dress like those sold in the markets in Lisbon with a warm woollen shawl about her shoulders. She was seated on the lap of the older girl who wore a plain dark gown which Paul suspected was one of Anne’s winter dresses.
Paul looked at the older girl and summoned his Portuguese, wishing that he had studied harder or had Anne’s easy ability to pick up languages.
“It is Francisca, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you. Your lady was so kind. The children were starving.”
He could see, in the cold light of morning, that she had been starving herself. Her wrists were stick thin and the bones on her face were too prominent, her face gaunt. For all that, it was a face of some distinction, her hair newly washed, falling in red gold waves over the blue wool of the shawl Anne had found for her. Her eyes were an unusual shade of green and she was small and delicately made. He rather thought, that with a few weeks of good food and enough rest, she might prove to be a very pretty girl.
“You’re safe,” he said quietly. “We’ll take care of you now, and when you’re all well enough we’ll make sure you’ve somewhere to stay and some work to keep you. Where are you from?”
“Coimbra, sir, a farm about six miles from the town.”
“And your parents?”
“My mother died when Maria was born. My father and another sister died this winter. We had no food, sir, and they got sick.”
“I am sorry,” Paul said gently. “Rest and keep warm. We will take care of you.”
His wife joined him in the mess for breakfast, dressed warmly in green velvet, and he kissed her. “Merry Christmas, bonny lass.”
“Our first,” she said. “I’ve been thinking of Rowena, today, we had Christmas dinner with you last year. Are you all right, Paul?”
He thought how like her it was. “I’ve been thinking of her too,” he admitted. “I can’t believe it was only a year ago. And I can’t believe how good it feels to be here with you and how bad I feel that she’s not with me. Very confusing.”
Anne took his hand. “I miss her too,” she said gently. “But she’d have wanted this, Paul.”
“I know she would. Come and eat, love.”
They ate and then she went to speak to his officers to wish them happy Christmas. Paul sat for a while, watching her move along the table and thought how easily she had fitted into his life and that of his regiment.
She stopped beside Lieutenant Manson, talking to him, and Paul saw him smile. Manson did not smile enough. After a difficult start in the regiment, he had begun to settle down and had seemed much happier but the arrival of Captain Longford had caused him to withdraw back into his shell. Longford was unpopular with all the officers of the 110th but he had taken a particular dislike to Manson and Paul was very aware that he took every opportunity to make the boy’s life difficult. Glancing over at Longford, Paul smiled at the expression on his face. Anne’s obvious liking for his youngest officer did not help matters; Longford was patently jealous.
With no English church nearby, Paul had managed to find a German minister who had agreed to give a Christmas service in English. He had not made attendance compulsory for his men but he was faintly touched when they crowded into the empty barrack block where he had planned to hold the service. Eventually Anne went to speak to Mr Gruber and his wife and some time was spent moving the proceedings out onto the parade ground where all the men could attend. There was little organised religion in Wellington’s army, but Paul supposed that on this one day the familiar ritual reminded some of them of home.
Christmas dinner was served in the mess with a good deal of wine and a lot of hilarity. Over in the barracks the men would be eating their own meal, followed by dancing and probably a good deal more drinking through the evening. It was good to be able to let them celebrate for once, without having to worry too much about sentries and the possibility of attack.
Aware that he was neglecting his social duties, Paul turned with a smile to Caroline Longford who was seated beside him, but realised she was looking beyond him down the room and he followed her gaze and saw, to his considerable surprise, Sergeant Carter in the doorway. He got up.
Paul moved forward. “All right, Sergeant.” He looked over at Anne. “Carry on,” he said, and she nodded. Paul went out into the hallway.
“What’s going on, Carter. Don’t tell me the French have been sighted?”
“Not that I know of, sir. If they’ve made it past our lads and the light division, I’ll be very surprised.”
“Sir – it’s the lassie. The girl you brought in from town.”
Paul shook his head to clear it of the wine he had drunk. “Francisca? What is it, Carter, is she ill?”
“No, sir. We brought them through to the barracks, sir – for dinner. The women are in there with us eating. Didn’t want to leave them alone. Didn’t realise straight away – we’ve all had a few drinks, sir.”
“You and me both, Carter. It’s bloody Christmas. What’s happened?”
“She’d gone, sir. Maggie Bennett offered to settle the little one with her boy, they were both exhausted. The lad has taken a liking to Private Terry, following him around. So none of us noticed for a while. When we realised, Hammond took off after her. He was worried, like. Didn’t think she’d abandon the children. Easy enough to follow her tracks, it’s been raining again.”
“Did he find her?”
“Yes, sir. Not just her, though.” Carter took a deep breath. “She’d made off with some food. Not that much – Christ, nothing we can’t spare. There’s a camp, sir, just across the river. No idea they were there. We always use the widest part for water and bathing. We were all down there yesterday, they must have heard us freezing our arses off in that water…a refugee camp, sir. She was taking them food, it’s where she came from.”
Paul stood looking at him. “How many?”
“About thirty or so. Men women, about eight or nine children. Looking at the state of them, I’d say they’ve lost a few.”
“Starvation, sir. And cold. They’ve tried to make shelters out of blankets. Sitting huddled together under the trees, shivering, soaked. Waiting to die, I reckon.”
Paul took a deep breath. His mind was suddenly clear, as if he were about to go into battle. “Do you think they can walk, Sergeant?”
“Not the old ones, sir.”
“All right. You have enough sober men to hitch up a couple of wagons and get them up here.”
“We’ll sober them up, sir.”
“Do it. We’ll find blankets for them from the stores. This Christmas is going to cost me a bloody fortune. I’ll get my wife to organise opening up one of the empty barracks blocks and we’ll put a couple of braziers in there to warm it up.”
He turned back into the room and saw Anne coming towards him, her eyebrows raised. “What is it?”
“Bit of a refugee crisis, love.”
He explained quickly and then left her to it, hearing her issuing crisp instructions to his junior officers. Going outside he found his men pulling out two of the supply wagons, clumsy in places from too much wine and food. Turning, he found Jenson leading out Rufus and his own horse.
“Thought you might want to ride down and see for yourself, sir.”
“I do. Thank you, Jenson.”
It was less than ten minutes ride down to the camp, splashing through the ford and up a slope, slippery with soaked vegetation, to the pitiful enclave under the trees. Paul dismounted and moved forward, finding the girl crouching beside an elderly woman with iron grey straggling hair, her black skirts soaked and her body shivering violently.
Paul looked at her. “Did you go into town to try to find food for her?”
“To earn it if I could.”
He understood with sharp distress. “The children.”
“I can’t leave them here; they might wander off. She isn’t well enough. Alfredo will look after Maria while I…it doesn’t take long.”
“I wish you’d told us, lass,” he said. “Come on, let’s get her up. The wagons can make it to the top of the bank but we’ll have to get them up there.”
He carried the old woman up the slippery bank, appalled at how light she was in his arms and then returned to help some of the others up. They were silent and bewildered, blank eyed and gaunt, no longer trusting in the goodwill of others and Paul was silently furious, fighting back tears as he lifted emaciated bodies up to his men on the wagons and then rode ahead of them back to the barracks where his wife waited in the doorway of an empty block with towels and blankets and the calm practicality which always seemed to him to be at war with the delicate beauty which would have made her the toast of London had she cared to return there.
They carried the remains of the Christmas feast from both barracks and officers mess and the refugees received roast pork and duck and George Kelly’s pudding as if they had never seen such riches. Paul watched his wife supervising to ensure that they only ate a little at a time.
She sat, finally, on the bunk beside one of the men, a white haired man who could have been forty or eighty; it was hard to tell from his gaunt face.
“Senora, we are so grateful.”
“Hush. You’re safe and we’ll make sure you’re warm and fed. Rest tonight, you’ve nothing more to care about. Tomorrow I’ll tend to any sickness.”
“God has sent you to us, Senora.”
Anne smiled and to Paul’s amusement, lifted the gaunt hand and kissed it. “It’s Christmas,” she said. “Perhaps he sent you to us.”
She joined him finally as the officers and men congregated around the fires which had been lit on the parade ground. Private Flanagan was tuning his fiddle, and Paul took his wife’s hand. “All right, bonny lass?”
“Yes. I hope they’ll be all right. I’m a bit worried about one or two of the older ones, but we’ll see in a few days if they improve with food and warmth. Oh Paul, they were ten minutes away from us and we didn’t know it.”
“I know. Christ, what a bloody mess. I hope Wellington has got this right.”
“Paul, he’s doing the best he can. We all are.”
The music began, an Irish jig, and Paul watched, holding her hand as his men and their women began to dance. It warmed them in the cold night air, and shortly he saw Michael O’Reilly approaching.
“Ma’am, are you too tired…?”
“No, but she’s dancing with me first. Piss off and find yourself a pretty Portuguese lass, I notice a few of them from the village have turned up. Dance with me, girl of my heart.”
“You put it so nicely, Colonel.”
He took her hand and drew her into the circle by the firelight. “Best make the most of this, lass. God only knows where we’ll be this time next year.”
He left the thought unfinished, but she picked it up as he had known she would. “And who will have survived the year? Make sure you do, will you, Paul? I’ve got very attached.”
“So have I, bonny lass. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Colonel,” Anne said, and in a swirl of black hair, she spun away from him and was caught up in the dance and the firelight and the temporary joy of the cold Christmas night.
The Battle of Bussaco takes place at the beginning of book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Irregular Regiment. Lord Wellington had organised a retreat back to the Lines of Torres Vedras, the series of defences he had built to protect Lisbon from the invading French. He was not in a position to push the French back at this point, so the battle was more of a delaying tactic, but it was very successful and made an important point to Massena. It was also an opportunity for Wellington to try out the newly reorganised Portuguese army in battle and he was very happy with their performance. In the book, Major Paul van Daan is newly married to his second wife and back on the battlefield without time for a honeymoon…
Paul could hear them now, the steady drum beat of the approaching columns. He turned to O’Reilly. “They’re coming,” he said, and raised his voice softly. “110th at the ready!” “Ready, sir,” Wheeler called back, and the order was passed along the lines. There was no bugle call on this occasion. Craufurd wanted the presence of such a large force to come as a shock to the French. Michael checked his rifle and looked over his shoulder. “Nice and steady boys,” he said. “No need to be heroic here, the bastards have no idea they’re about to walk into us. Wait for my word, now.” “Light company ready, Sergeant?” “Ready as they’ll ever be, sir.” Paul moved along the ranks his eyes checking for potential problems. They could hear the marching of the French coming closer through the mist and he saw the green jackets of the 95th further up beginning to move forward in skirmish formation. He nodded to Michael. “Corporal Carter,” Michael called. “Yes, Sergeant.” “Will your lads pay particular attention to not letting the Major get himself killed today? You know how clumsy he is, and if I have to take him down to the hospital with a hole in him, his wife is likely to be after us with a scalpel.” Paul looked back, startled, and then began to laugh. “Corporal Carter!” “Sir.” “Let the lads know there’ll be extra grog for the man who shoots Sergeant O’Reilly for me today. Make it look like an accident.” There was a muted rumble of laughter. “Do it now for you if you like, sir!” one of the sharpshooters called. “No need for extra grog, be my pleasure!” “You’d better hope the French get you today, Scofield, you cheeky bastard!” the sergeant said, laughing. “Ready now boys.” “Get going,” Paul said, and Captain Swanson called the order and led his men forward. They watched as the skirmishers moved over the ridge, taking down individual Frenchmen with accurate rifle fire. It took some time. Paul grinned as he realised that his light company were getting carried away with their feinted attack and were actually pushing the French column back. He imagined that Craufurd was cursing them for delaying the French advance. He could not sound a retreat without alerting the French to his position so he settled down to wait for Carl and O’Reilly to pull them back. Eventually he saw them moving back up the ridge, saw Carter and young Hammond laughing, having just received an earful from their exasperated sergeant. The rifles of the light division were already back up the ridge and the French came on, causing the English gunners to limber up and pull back. Still they waited. The French came closer, pressing on, thinking that on this part of the ridge at least they had the English on the run. They could only see the thin line of the 43rd. Craufurd held his nerve. The leading column was within twenty-five yards of the crest, and Paul could see the individual faces of each Frenchman when he heard Black Bob yell. “52nd and 110th – avenge Moore!” It was an emotive cry. There were men of both regiments who had seen Sir John Moore fall at Corunna and he had been beloved of the men he commanded. Paul had done his early training under Moore and had always believed him to be one of the best commanders of light infantry in the army. “Fire!” Paul roared, and along the line the 52nd and the 110th rose and fired a staggering volley of rifle and musket fire at point blank range into the enemy. No man at the front of the columns was left standing. Along the line his men were reloading, as the shocked Frenchmen reeled, and then steadied and clambered over the bodies of their comrades and ran into a second devastating volley. Some of his riflemen fell back to reload and manage a third, but the rest fixed bayonets and Paul drew his sword. In the roar of the musket fire and the screams of wounded and dying men, Paul moved his lines steadily forward. He had deliberately allowed the experienced men of the 110th to bear the brunt of the first attack and seeing that they were holding their own without difficulty he ran back to his two Portuguese battalions leaving Johnny to lead the 110th on. These were raw inexperienced troops but he was hopeful that with him at their head they would stand. He was not disappointed. As the musket fire tapered off, the men were fighting with bayonets and swords, and he led his Portuguese into the fray. With the example of the 110th already cutting their way through the French lines, they did not hesitate, and before long the French advance had halted and the whole line was wavering. Paul’s men found time to reload again, and as another barrage of fire crashed into them the French began to run. Some of the Portuguese chased after them, and Paul bellowed to stop them. Without being able to see what was happening all along the ridge he would not risk them charging through French lines and being cut off and hacked to pieces. A small party of horsemen approached from the north. “Nice work, Major van Daan,” Lord Wellington said. “Our allies are looking good today.” “Our allies are looking bloody brilliant, sir,” Paul said. He was delighted with the performance of his Portuguese, and he could sense the high spirits of the troops. They had worked hard and trained well, but nothing improved morale as well as a successful action. “Think you can make them even better, Major?” Wellington asked quietly, and Paul looked up sharply. “Given some time, definitely, sir.” “I’ll bear that in mind. They’ll remain under your command for the time being until we have a chance to talk.” “Yes, sir.” Wellington looked along the line to where Craufurd was approaching. “General Craufurd. Superb work, sir. Couldn’t have gone better. I think that will more or less do it for the day. They might rattle away at us a bit, but they’ve got the point. Well done, sir.” Craufurd’s face lightened slightly. “Thank you, sir. Good tactics.” He glanced at Paul, and his mouth twitched into what was almost a smile. “Well done, Major van Daan.” “Thank you, sir.” Wellington smiled as he watched Craufurd move back down the lines. “Nicely handled, Major. Your diplomatic skills have improved since India.” “I hope so, sir. I was an arrogant young bastard then.” “You still are, Major. You just hide it better. Hold the line and be ready in case I need you elsewhere, you’re the fastest battalion I have. But I think we’re mostly done.” “Yes, sir. We’ll keep picking them off as we see them. Good shooting practice for the lads.” Paul raised his voice. “Carter! O’Reilly still alive, is he? Why? Get on with it, lad, haven’t got all day!” “You’re a murdering bastard, so you are, sir!” an Irish voice called, and Michael emerged through the smoke which hung like a pall over the battlefield and realised that Wellington was listening with great interest. “Oh sorry, sir, didn’t know you were here. Major van Daan is just trying to talk the lads into shooting me, sir.” Wellington gave one of his alarming cracks of laughter. “Is he? Well I’d better get out of here then in case he decides to set them on me! Hope you survive the day, Sergeant.” “Thank you, sir, appreciate your support,” Michael said. He watched as the general rode off up the line. “Peterson is down, sir, shot through the shoulder. I’ve sent him up to the back to get treated. Can’t have him lying around to trip over if they come again. No other casualties.” “Good. Carl, do you know how the other brigades are doing?” “All good I think. They’d no idea we had so many men. Brilliant tactics.” “Aye, Hookey knows his work. They don’t know they’re beaten yet, but they are. Let’s keep it up, nice and steady. If it’s French, shoot it.” He looked at Michael and grinned. “Or Irish and wearing sergeant’s stripes.” “Very funny. If I get caught in the crossfire you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face, so you will.” “Stay alive, Michael. If I get you killed, she’ll murder me. She likes you, you’re always on her side if we fight.” “We’re all on her side, sir, in case you’d not realised. She’s prettier than you. And possibly a better soldier too, now that I’ve seen her in a fight.” Paul laughed. “She fights dirtier than you do, Sergeant.” “Good. I hope she shoots you on sight.”
(From An Irregular Regiment: Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga by Lynn Bryant)
In describing the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwellas my elephant in the room, I’m very definitely not being serious. These novels are a lot bigger than an elephant.
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?
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 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.
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.
Lieutenant Colonel Battalion
Major General Division
Lieutenant General Corps
Field Marshal Theatre of war
Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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 fourbooks 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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