Captain John Quilliam RN – a Manx hero

Captain John Quilliam by Henry Barber (Manx Museum)

 Captain John Quilliam RN was a Royal Navy officer who served as First Lieutenant on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.  The Isle of Man has a strong tradition of service in the Royal Navy and Quilliam is one of the best known local heroes.  In trying to come up with a Manx hero for my next book, the story of Quilliam seems like a good place to begin my reading.

Captain John Quilliam RN was born in Marown on the island on 29 September 1771 and died in Michael at the age of 58 after a long and distinguished career.  His parents, John Quilliam and Christian Clucas were farmers at Ballakelly and the young John was apprenticed to a stonemason and then worked as a labourer when he was picked up by a press gang in 1794 at the age of 23.

During the Napoleonic wars the press gang operated a number of times on the Isle of Man.  The Duke of Atholl was known to have offered financial incentives for men to volunteer for the navy in the island but there were still not enough recruits and Manx sailors were considered particularly valuable by the navy to such an extent that the press gang received an extra bonus for any Manxman taken.

The island was dependant upon its fishing industry and at times it was disrupted as the fleet did not dare to put to see for fear of being apprehended by warships looking for men.  In 1798 forty men were impressed in Port Erin bay despite protests from the Governor and the House of Keys to the Admiralty.  Another raid in 1811 by the warship Maria took twenty fishermen and a number of men of the Manx Volunteers in a violent attack.

In theory the press gang were only allowed to take those with seafaring experience between the ages of 18 and 55.  In times of severe shortage however these rules were relaxed and any man was at risk.  In 1810 the press gang invaded Onchan Parish School on the island, terrifying the children who fled from the school.  A boy of around 14 was seized by the gang but they were obliged to release him when a group of local women pelted them with stones.  On other occasion the gang would seized labourers, farm workers and shop boys on their way home and once aboard ship they listened to no excuse having heard a wide variety of them over the years.  Local young men would run for cover when the press gang was scouring the area and there were specially constructed shelters in the hills.  Apparently, a field next to Jurby Parish School called Ballaconney which was thickly covered in gorse was a popular refuge for local youths dodging impressment.  It is hard to blame them given that those taken would often not return for many years.

Once taken into service, a pressed man would usually be given the option of becoming a volunteer for which he would be paid a bonus.  If he chose not to do so his freedom would be very limited.  Desertion rates in the navy were so high that even volunteers were seldom allowed shore leave when in port.  Food, drink and women were ferried out to the ships to try to avoid losing half the crew every time the ship was in port.

In theory, landsmen and ‘gentlemen’ were exempt from impressment.  In practice this was sometimes ignored.  If a warship was particularly short handed, with the prospect of battle looming, it was not uncommon for a captain to turn a deaf ear to a pressed man claiming exemption from impressment.  Unlike in the army where there was a term of service, even when that was for life, sailors signed on to a ship for a particular campaign and once that was over they were discharged although they could sign on again.  Obviously during wartime, a campaign or commission could last for years, so for a pressed man without any way of returning to shore and his previous life, it might well have seemed best to make the most of his time at sea.

The hero of An Unconventional Officer, Paul van Daan, was the son of a gentleman, a wealthy ship owner, who was almost fifteen when he was pressed into the Royal Navy.  The circumstances were unusual.  The ship on which he had been serving an apprenticeship had gone down in a storm and Paul and a few of the crew had made it to shore on Antigua when a press gang picked them up.  In the middle of a group of sailors, the young Paul would have looked no different and an unscrupulous press gang with a quota to fill did not care.  Back in England with the formal process of magistrates and paperwork it is unlikely that Paul’s naval service would have lasted much beyond a few days but the exigencies of war in far flung places and the desperation of some captains to crew their ships meant that it was convenient occasionally to turn a deaf ear to protests.

Captain John Quilliam RN was another man who should not have been eligible for impressment as a farmer and labourer, although we do not know very much about his early life or the circumstances of his impressment.  Many Manxmen with land based jobs were also part time fishermen and there is no reason to suppose that Quilliam had no experience at sea when he was seized; he might well have been an experienced sailor.  With only vague details about the circumstances of his joining the navy, it is not certain if he was pressed or volunteered although local legend is in favour of the impressment story.

Certainly both Quilliam and my fictional character, unlike most impressed sailors, decided to make the most of their chances in the navy.  Paul van Daan only served for two years before his wealthy father realised he was alive and brought him home but in that time he had risen to be a petty officer, the naval equivalent of an NCO in the army.  John Quilliam served for longer and rose rapidly.  He is first recorded in 1797 when he would have been twenty six and three years at sea and he was made a Lieutenant at the Battle of Camperdown by Admiral Duncan.

In 1799 Quilliam took part in the capture of the Spanish treasure ship Thetis and received prize money of over £5000.  He fought at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 as First Lieutenant on HMS Amazon.  The design of the Amazon meant she was able to get close under the shore batteries, an important but very hazardous undertaking which led to every one of the higher-ranking officers beingkilled leaving Quilliam in command of the badly damaged ship.  His gallantry and calmness under fire and the way he took command was rewarded with being made First Lieutenant on HMS Victory by Horatio Nelson.

HMSVictory (photo by Ballista)

Captain John Quilliam RN was a talented and accomplished officer during his time on the Victory and helped to steer her into action at Trafalgar. A contemporary report stated:

“Just as she (the Victory) had got about 500 yards of the larboard beam of the Bucentaure the Victory’s mizzen-topmast was shot away, about two-thirds up. A shot also struck and knocked to pieces the wheel; and the ship was obliged to be steered from the gun room, the First Lieutenant John Quilliam and master Thomas Atkinson, relieving each other at the duty.” (James’s Naval History of Great Britain)

The Battle of Trafalgar by Turner

After Trafalgar,  Quilliam was promoted to Captain and placed in command of HMS Ildefonso, a Spanish ship which needed refitting at Gibraltar.  He did not arrive back in England until 1806.  In 1808 he captained Admiral Stopford’s flagship, HMS Spencer and then in 1812 he was captain of HMS Crescent on the Newfoundland Station and remained there until Napoleon’s defeat in 1815.  His exploits included the capture of the 14 gun American privateer schooner the Elbridge Gerry together with her crew of 66 men.

Quilliam was elected to a seat in the Manx Parliament, the House of Keys in 1807 even though he was then still an active serving officer.  At the end of the war he returned to the Isle of Man, investing his considerable wealth in  properties, including the Balcony House in Castletown which was built for him as a town house and continuing his career in politics.  He was re-elected a Member of the House of Keys in 1817, and on December 21 of that year he married Margaret Stevenson at Castletown.  The couple had no children.

Balcony House Castletown (photo by Richard Hoare)

In 1826 Captain Quilliam was instrumental along with Sir William Hillary in the formation on the Isle of Man of a District Association of the Royal National Institution of the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck.  He also served as Chairman of the Committee for Shipwrecked Seamen.

Captain John Qulliam RN died on October 10, 1829. He was buried in the Stevenson family vault in the graveyard at Kirk Arbory with the following inscription on his tombstone.

Tomb of Captain John Quilliam (Photo by Kevin Rothwell)

“Sacred to the memory of John Quilliam, Esq., Captain in the Royal Navy. In his early service he was appointed by Adml. Lord Duncan to act as lieutenant at the Battle of Camperdown; after the victory was achieved, this appointment was confirmed. His gallantry and professional skill at the Battle of Copenhagen attracted the notice of Lord Nelson, who subsequently sought for his services on board his own ship, and as his lordship’s first lieut. he steered the Victory into action at the Battle of Trafalgar. By the example of Duncan and Nelson he learned to conquer. By his own merit he rose to command: above all this he was an honest man, the noblest work of God. After many years of honourable and distinguished professional service, he retired to this land of his affectionate solicitude and birth, where in his public station as a member of the House of Keys, and in private life, he was in arduous times the uncompromising defender of the rights and privileges of his countrymen, and the zealous and able supporter of every measure tending to promote the welfare and the best interests of his country. He departed this life on 10 October 1829 in the 59th year of his age. This monument is erected by Margaret C. Quilliam to the memory of her beloved husband.”

In looking at a Manx hero as the subject of a new book, John Quilliam’s story is an inspiration.  He is an example of a man who might have lived a fairly undistinguished life as a stonemason, a farmer or a fisherman.  Taken by force from his family and his home he was thrown into an unfamiliar life, and he seized it with both hands and more than made the best of it.

Captain John Quilliam RN and Petty Officer Paul van Daan were contemporaries and served in the navy at the same time although Quilliam was ten years older than my fictional hero and remained with the navy while Paul moved on to the army.  By the time Paul was pressed in Antigua in 1796, Quilliam was about to receive his first commission.  I’m looking forward to a new area of research and finding out more about the navy and the Manx role within it.

Watch this space…

 

Black Tot Day

Aboard the Victory

HMS VictoryBlack Tot Day is something I’d never heard of until I did some research on army rations during the Peninsular War.  It was one of those sessions where I went to have a quick look on Google to make sure my memory was correct on something and forty five minutes later I found myself still immersed in Royal Navy history.

Forty nine years ago today, Black Tot Day was the last day on which the Royal Navy issued sailors with a daily rum ration, which was known as the daily tot.  The move was not popular with the ratings despite an extra can of beer being added to the daily rations.  On July 31 in 1970 the final tot was poured as usual at 11am after the pipe of “Up Spirits”.  Some sailors wore black armbands, others went through a ceremony of ‘burying at sea’ their tot of rum while at HMS Collingwood, the navy training camp in Hampshire, they held a mock funeral procession complete with black coffin and accompanied by drummers and piper.

The daily tot was a long-standing naval tradition.  In the seventeenth century English sailors were allocated a gallon of beer a day but there was a problem with storing so much liquid aboard ships.  In 1655, therefore, sailors were offered a half pint of rum instead and rum quickly became the drink of choice.  Due to increasing problems with drunkenness on ships the ration was set in naval regulations in 1740 so that the rum was mixed with water on a 4:1 ratio and split into two servings per day.

There were ongoing disciplinary problems in the navy which led to the tot being halved to a quarter pint in 1824.  In 1850 an Admiralty committee, delightfully known as the “Grog Committee” recommended that the daily tot be abandoned but the navy resisted, simply halving it again to an eighth of a pint a day to be served only in the morning.  The ration was withdrawn from officers in 1881 and warrant officers in 1918.

In the 1960s questions were asked in Parliament about the continuing practice.  The navy had changed and the Admiralty finally issued the following written statement:

“The Admiralty Board concludes that the rum issue is no longer compatible with the high standards of efficiency required now that the individual’s tasks in ships are concerned with complex, and often delicate, machinery and systems on the correct functioning of which people’s lives may depend”.

A debate in the Commons followed and it was decided that the rum ration should be withdrawn.  This historic event was marked by a stamp issue available from Portsmouth General Post Office, with the slogan “Last Issue of Rum to the Royal Navy 31 July 1970”.  Black Tot Day arrived and the navy mourned the death of one of it’s traditions.

Alcohol was also issued to serving soldiers in the army.  Part of the daily ration during the Peninsular War was listed 5 pints Small Beer, or 1 pint Wine, or ½ pint Spirits.  Women who were officially on strength were issued with half rations but no alcohol.  As with the navy, drunkenness was very common in the army and was responsible for a breakdown in discipline on many occasions.

One of the most shocking of these was the sacking of Badajoz in 1812 when the British army ran wild in the town for three days, ignoring all orders and looting, murdering and raping at will.  A big part of this horrific incident was probably due to drunkenness as the wine shops and cellars of the town were the first to be looted.  When some officers tipped over the wine pipes in an attempt to limit their soldiers drinking, the men lay down in the street and drank the wine from the gutters.

The ending of alcohol being issued to the army seems less well documented than Black Tot Day and less formalised.  There was still a regular issue during world war one but as far as I can discover the custom seems to have petered out rather than being subject to a formal parliamentary debate, although if anybody knows differently, do let me know because I’m curious.

These days there is something faintly shocking about the fact that the British army and navy encouraged alcohol use to such a degree but in past times it would not have been seen as a bad thing providing it did not affect their ability to do their duty.  Writing about these times, I am aware that beer and wine were often safer to drink than polluted water and heavy drinking was common in civilian life as well.  Doctors and surgeons used alcohol as a painkiller and sleep aid as well as an anaesthetic and had no notion that it was a bad idea.

Personally I think that a tot of rum at 11am every day would send me to sleep for the rest of the day but there is no doubt that back in 1970 a lot of ratings would have echoed Captain Jack Sparrow’s horrified question…

“Why’s the rum gone?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Talavera, 1809

Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington

The Battle of Talavera was fought on this day in 1809 near the town of Talavera de la Reina in Spain.  Sir Arthur Wellesley, fresh from his highly efficient victory at Oporto took 20,000 British troops into Spain to join General Cuesta’s 33,000 Spanish troops.  They marched up the Tagus valley to meet a French army some 46,000 strong, officially commanded by Joseph Bonaparte but actually under the command of Marshal Victor and General Sebastiani.

Wellesley did not do well in his attempts to cooperate with Cuesta.  Not for the first time, the British army found that their Spanish allies were unable to come up with the supplies and transport they had promised.  It is not clear whether this was negligence, inefficiency or simply that the supplies were not available, but it left Wellesley’s army in a difficult position with food running out.  In his negotiations with Cuesta, there was a language difficulty as Wellesley did not speak Spanish and Cuesta spoke little English and refused to speak French.  It is possible there was also a simple clash of culture as Wellesley fumed at what he perceived as inactivity and poor planning on the part of the Spanish.

Nevertheless, some agreement was reached and after days of delay and misunderstanding there was a clash between the French and British armies on 27th July which led to 400 casualties in Donkin’s brigade.  To add to Wellesley’s mistrust of his Spanish allies there was a farcical episode during the evening of the 27th when Cuesta’s men fired a volley without orders at some French dragoons.  Little damage was done to the French but four Spanish battalions dropped their weapons and fled in panic.  Afterwards Wellesley wrote:

“Nearly 2,000 ran off on the evening of the 27th…(not 100 yards from where I was standing) who were neither attacked, nor threatened with an attack, and who were frightened by the noise of their own fire; they left their arms and accoutrements on the ground, their officers went with them, and they… plundered the baggage of the British army which had been sent to the rear.”

Cuesta, deeply embarrassed, sent cavalry to bring the troops back but it did nothing to improve relations between the British and the Spanish.

During the night, Marshal Victor sent three regiments up the hill known as the Cerro de Medellin.  Two of them got lost in the dark but the third managed to surprise a brigade of the King’s German Legion which had gone to sleep, apparently believing that they were the second line instead of the first.  In a chaotic action in the darkness on the hilltop, General Rowland Hill sent in Stewart’s brigade from the second division to recapture the ground and the French retreated.

At dawn the French artillery began firing, and Wellesley was obliged to pull his men back into cover to avoid major casualties.  Ruffin’s division attacked the Cerro de Medellin again in column but the British emerged from cover in line and the French were broken by musket volleys and ran.

After an informal truce when dead and wounded were removed and the French leaders consulted Joseph Bonaparte, a frontal attack was launched against the British 1st and 4th divisions, once again in column.  They were routed by the Guards brigade but the Guards pursued too far and ran into the French second line, losing 500 men to artillery fire.  Wellesley realised that his centre was broken and brought up the 48th foot to fill the gap in his lines.  Mackenzie’s brigade joined them and the French attack was pushed back again, with Lapisse mortally wounded.

In the fictional version of the battle, described in An Unconventional Officer, Major Paul van Daan’s battalion of the 110th fought as part of Hill’s division and were involved in the night battle on the Cerro de Medellin and then in the centre battle.  Several field hospitals were set up in and around the town of Talavera, some of them using convents and monasteries and it is in one of these that Anne Carlyon worked as a volunteer alongside Dr Adam Norris as the wounded were brought in.

With his main attack defeated, Victor sent Ruffin’s men into the valley between the Medellin and the Segurilla.  Anson’s cavalry brigade was sent to push them back but an undisciplined charge by the 23rd light dragoons ended in disaster in a hidden ravine.  The French had formed squares and fought off those cavalry which had managed to negotiate the hazard with considerable losses among the British and Germans.

It was the last French attack of the day.  Joseph and Jourdan chose not to send in their reserve and during the night the French melted away leaving behind 7389 dead, wounded and captured soldiers.  Allied losses were worse over the two days with the British losing 6268 dead and wounded and the Spanish 1200.  Wellesley lost approximately 25% of his forces and in a final horror, wounded men from both sides burned to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire.

Meanwhile, Marshal Soult was moving south, in an attempt to cut Wellesley off from Portugal. Wellesley initially believed that Soult’s had only 15,000 men and moved east to block it but Spanish guerrillas intercepted a message from Soult to Joseph confirming that Soult had 30,000 men.  Fearing that his line of retreat was about to be cut by a larger French force, Wellesley sent the newly arrived Light Brigade on a mad dash for the bridge at Almaraz.  Craufurd’s men arrived just ahead of Soult and Wellesley withdrew his army across the mountains and organised his defence of Portugal.  His hard fought victory brought him the title of Viscount Wellington of Talavera.

Historians disagree about Wellesley’s problems with the Spanish.  Some consider the campaign a failure despite the victory and cite the failure of the Spanish to supply Wellesley’s army as the reason.  Wellesley certainly believed that the Spanish made promises which they failed to keep.  However, the condition of Spain at that time may well have made it impossible to provide the necessary food and transport and the personal difficulties between Cuesta and Wellesley certainly did not help.  There were also political rumblings, with suggestions that Wellesley might be given control of the Spanish army and Cuesta was undoubtedly upset by the idea although it does not seem that it originated from Wellesley himself.  Wellesley was cautious from the start about his Spanish adventure, citing the fate of Sir John Moore’s army during the campaign of 1808 and his determination not to allow his route back to Portugal to be cut off made him wary.

On the whole, it was probably not the time for an all out invasion of French-controlled Spain.  Wellesley’s original brief had been to defend Portugal but his army was not yet the formidable fighting force which he later led to victory at Salamanca and Vitoria.  The severity of his losses made his retreat a sensible choice and the time he spent consolidating in Portugal put him in a far better position to resume the campaign.

Jewish Museum in Berlin

Jewish Museum Berlin

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Jewish Museum in Berlin, August 2017 – a review by Lynn Bryant

The Jewish Museum in Berlin was one of a list of places we wanted to visit while we’re here, and it just happened to be the first we picked.  We had several other places on that day’s itinerary and we made it to none of those because the Jewish Museum kept us going all day long.

The buildings themselves are fascinating.  The entrance is in the Collegienhaus, the last baroque palace in the Friedrichstadt area of Berlin, a protected building in it’s own right.  Once inside, the permanent exhibitions are housed in the Libeskind  building, which zigzags with a titanium zinc facade and is open to interpretation as to what Daniel Libeskind, the American architect intended to represent.

I found the building itself slightly disturbing.  For some reason I felt at times as though I had become caught in an Escher maze with a bewildering variety of levels, sloping floors and unexpected corners.  The building itself seems to be part of the exhibitions, demonstrating the sense of displacement and confusion of the history of Jewish people in Berlin.  But it isn’t the building that I will remember in years to come.  It is the variety, the depth and the sheer volume of the information contained in the exhibitions.

The various galleries take the visitor through the history of the Jews in Germany from earliest mentions through to thriving communities in towns and cities.  All to often these were disrupted by violent pogroms where people were killed, tortured and driven into exile.  The impressive thing about the German Jewish community, looking at some of the episodes in it’s history, is that it survived as well as it did coming into the twentieth century.

How many people know about Gluckel of Hameln who was a Jewish businesswoman and diarist in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century?  Anyone?  I certainly didn’t, but the section devoted to her is completely amazing, with maps showing not only her business interests but the way she married off her many children to advantage.  Her story is definitely on my list to read, she is a woman I could write about.

The story of the rise of Hitler, the holocaust and the subsequent fate of the Jews in Europe is very well known.  Married to a Jewish man, I always find exhibitions like this very moving and at times quite distressing.  This one covered not only the events of the war but some of the war crimes trials which followed it.  Most of this was already known to me which did not make it any less interesting or emotional.

What I didn’t know was very much about the history of German anti-Semitism through the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  Reading the long list of events and acts against Jewish inclusion into German society I was slightly shocked.  At the same time, I felt as though it put the rise of the Nazis into perspective for me as nothing else had.  Suddenly it became very clear how Hitler was able to tap in to this traditional suspicion of the Jews to create the scapegoat he needed.

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This museum hid nothing and excused nothing and held nothing back and I have an enormous respect for it’s honesty.  There is so much there, we quickly gave up any idea of moving on to other museums, went for a break in the cafe and then returned to do the rest of the exhibition properly and it was well worthwhile.  Everything is translated into English, films and visual exhibits have English subtitles and there is a very good audio guide which can be borrowed.  I came away with a strong sense of having learned a lot about a subject that I thought I knew fairly well and that is always the sign of a good museum for me.

A bonus was the temporary exhibition entitled Cherchez la Femme which presented a wide range of ideas and views regarding women’s head and body coverings in both a religious and secular context.  The exhibition looked at historic and modern day attitudes in various religions and gave a balanced and often provocative view of how much choice a woman has over how she dresses depending on where and how she lives.  It was completely fascinating and one of the highlights of the museum, genuinely causing me to rethink some of my own positions on this.

This was one of the best museum visits I’ve had in a very long time.  I’ve now got a long list of new subjects to research and read about and a lot of new ideas burbling around in my brain.  And it was only day one of our trip.  I was worried I’d be exhausted by day three…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Fuentes d’Onoro, May 1811

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

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

An Uncommon Campaign

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

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

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

The Fortress at Almeida, Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, French reconnaissance had discovered Wellington’s weakness.  

Fuentes de Onoro looking up from the French position.

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

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

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

Church in Fuentes de Onoro.

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

Memorial to the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro 1811

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unconventional Officer

An Irregular Regiment

A Redoubtable Citadel

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Peninsular War Saga Special Offer – two for the price of one

 

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Two books for 99p sounds like a bargain to me.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment, book two in the Peninsular War saga is available free on Amazon kindle for the next two days, while book one An Unconventional Officer is just 99p.  Why not get both of them for your holiday reading.

The Peninsular War saga follows the story of Lieutenant Paul van Daan from his early days with the 110th infantry in India and on to Portugal and Spain under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord Wellington.

Book one covers the period from 1802 when Paul joins the regiment as a young officer and follows his career and his personal life up to the eve of the battle of Bussaco in 1810.  Book two takes up

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The books are thoroughly researched historical novels which tell the story of the men and women at all levels of army life during Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns.  They cover skirmishes and marches, campaigns and winter quarters, the bloody scenes of the battlefields and the even bloodier sights in the surgeons tents.  They also tell a love story of an unusual couple in difficult times.

Two for the price of one.  Why not give them a try?

 

Time Management for Authors

Time Management for Labradors
Time management demonstrated by labradors
Labradors exercising time management skills

Time management for authors is a subject close to my heart.  When I decided to embark on a writing career I had the naive view that it was all about writing the books I love and then launching them on an unsuspecting and hopefully appreciative world.

Being an indie author is a somewhat different proposition.  I find myself hopping from one activity to another like a somewhat manic flea at times, trying to fit in writing, revising, researching, marketing and cooking the occasional meal and doing the laundry.

I’ve come to the conclusion that organisation is the key and that starting to plan my days better would be a big help in getting things done and also ring fencing my writing time while keeping up to date with all the other things I’m trying to do.  Naturally halfway through writing this paragraph I thought of three other jobs, completely essential, which I needed to go and complete before I finished this blog post.  Like I said, it’s a work in progress.

However, I’ve been doing this for a few months now and I do think I’ve developed some idea of how to manage time better.  This is obviously within the context of the other things we need to do.  My other job is part time, running a dance school, so I need to fit in around that.  I also have a home and family and one or two voluntary activities that I’d like to find time for.  Some of you will be fitting in everything around a full time job.  I’ve done that and it led to far too many three am writing sessions leaving me bleary eyed the next day, so I’m lost in admiration of people managing that one.

My guide, based purely on my own experiences, would run something like this.

  • Make a list of the roles you play.  You’re going to want to allocate some time to each of them.  They are not all equal and they will change.  For example, my roles would include dance school owner, writer, mother, home manager, publicity and marketing person etc etc.  Ten years ago the role of mother would have needed a bigger chunk of time than it does now.
  • Use lists.  Even if you don’t do everything on the list, it helps to have a guide.
  • Don’t take on too much.  Listen to me on this one.  I am an expert at ignoring my own advice.
  • Let people help you.  I’m so bad at this, it’s untrue.
  • Ring fence writing time.  If you’re working at home you need to make sure people know that it is still working.  And that can be hard.
  • Have time off.  Writing might be the most fun you have all week but there is still a world out there and no job should be 24/7 or 365 days a year.  Even if you’d like it to be.
  • Keep a diary or calendar.  You will forget important things.  I just lost my diary, I left it at one of our dance halls and it has vanished.  I now need to put all my vital information into a new diary and I’m totally bewildered until I do that.  Most normal people use an online diary but I’m strange and I like paper, whatever the disadvantages…
  • Set deadlines but make them realistic or you’ll die of stress.  If you’re having deadlines set by other people, argue if you think they’re unrealistic.  It’s worth it.
  • Don’t panic if you’re feeling overwhelmed.  Take a deep breath and just do one thing.  The rest will follow.
  • Keep computer use under control.  The temptation to keep checking social media or e-mails is overwhelming.  It wastes hours of the day.  Give yourself a set amount of time and try to stick to it.
  • Use a timer.  I got this idea a few years ago from an online home organisation site called Flylady.  I have to say this site makes me laugh in places.  There’s so much stuff on it that it’s mad and it’s all very cosy and very sweet and not always my sort of thing.  BUT if you’re feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to get moving, I think it can be great.  I still use some of the techniques I learned from it and the best one, if I’ve got too much to do and am about to explode, is using a timer and setting myself short bursts of activity.
  • Enjoy what you’re doing.  If you’re a writer, you’ve got the most fun job in the world.  Try to appreciate that…

Tynwald Day- the Manx national day

Tynwald Day: the Manx National Day
Tynwald Day

Tynwald Day, the Manx national day, is held each year on July 5th and is a celebration of Manx independence and Manx culture. I wrote this post last year and am re-sharing it along with a free promotion of my most recent book, An Unwilling Alliance, which is set on the Isle of Man and in Denmark in 1806-7 and features a Manx hero and heroine.

Tynwald is the Parliament of the Isle of Man and no other parliament in the world has such a long unbroken record.  It has been going since Viking times, more than 1000 years and governs a tiny island in the Irish sea.  I had never heard the word Tynwald until I moved to the island fifteen years ago and I’m not sure I had really grasped the fact that the Isle of Man is an independent country with it’s own laws and its own Parliament.  The island is not part of the United Kingdom, but a Crown Dependency with the Queen acknowledged as Lord of Mann.

The ceremony held at St John’s on Tynwald Day has changed in the details but has basically been going on for more than 1000 years.  Back then the island was a collection of Viking settlements and an annual sitting of their Parliament was held around midsummer where people gathered to hear their laws proclaimed aloud, to seek justice and to air their grievances.

The Vikings or Norsemen first came to Mann around the year 800AD, and ruled the Island for four-and-a-half centuries before finally ceding it to the King of Scotland in 1266. By then they had firmly imposed their own administrative system, which continued even while the Island’s ownership passed between Scotland and England, to the Stanley family of Lancashire (Lords of Mann from 1405-1736), and to their kin the Dukes of Atholl, who held it until it was re-vested in the British Crown in 1765.  The custom of Tynwald Day has continued throughout all these changes.

On Tynwald Day, Tynwald meets at St John’s instead of the usual parliament building in Douglas, partly in the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist and partly in the open air on Tynwald Hill, a small artificial hill nearby.  The meeting is known as Midsummer Court and is attended by both branches of Tynwald, the House of Keys and the Legislative Council.  The Lieutenant Governor presides as the representative of the Lord of Mann, unless the Queen or another member of the Royal Family is present.

All bills which have received the Royal Assent are promulgated on Tynwald day and if this does not happen within 18 months of passing the bill it ceases to have effect.  Other proceedings can include the presentation of petitions and the swearing in of public officials.  There is a formal procession which includes the Lieutenant Governor, Members of the House of Keys and of the Legislative Council, the Deemsters who are the highest judicial officers, any guests of honour from other nations, clergymen, leaders of local governments and any other state officials of the Isle of Man.  Members of the general public attend the ceremony as do local constabulary and military.  It is a highly formal affair.

Before Tynwald sits, the individual presiding inspects the guard of honour and lays a wreath at the National War Memorial.  There is a religious service in the chapel at 11am and then Tynwald proceeds to the adjacent Tynwald Hill. The path is strewn with rushes following the celtic custom of pleasing the sea god Mannanan with bundles of rushes on Midsummer’s Eve. The path is lined with flagpoles, which fly the national flag and the parliamentary flag.  The laws are proclaimed from Tynwald Hill which has existed from at least the end of the 14th century.  Once this is done, Tynwald reconvenes in the Chapel and quill pens are used to sign certificates documenting the promulgation of the laws.

Once the captioning of the acts has concluded, the Lieutenant Governor and the Legislative Council withdraw, leaving members of the House of Keys for a session of their house.  Once Tynwald Day is over there are three more sittings of Tynwald before the government adjourns for the summer until October.

Traditionally, Tynwald Day was marked by a fair and market; these customs still continue with stalls, demonstrations, music and dance throughout the day and on into the evening.  The village of St John’s is packed with people and the following week, known as Manx National Week, usually hosts a series of concerts, displays and other events related to Manx culture.

For the first few years we were on the island it was an annual event to go to Tynwald Day.  I admit I was fascinated by the history, the idea that this ceremony, in some form or another, has been going for so long.  It is very different to the British opening of Parliament and Queen’s speech which is very much a Parliamentary event.  This is an event for the people, and the tradition of people bringing their grievances before Tynwald on this day really happens, I know people who have done it.  This year, as an example, several Manx women staged a silent protest dressed in Handmaid’s Tale type red cloaks and bonnets to show their support for reform of the island’s highly outdated abortion laws.  Democracy moves slowly at times, but it does move and Tynwald Day is a traditional forum for protests like this.

The actual reading of the laws is long and boring and I’m not sure how many people really listen.  But it’s an important part of the day.  The officials are in full robes and wigs and there’s a real sense of ceremony and national pride.

I’ve not been to Tynwald Day for years now.  It’s the day after my daughter’s birthday so it’s often difficult.  But I think I’d like to do it again at some point.  In the past, when the children were younger it was all about the fair and the activities and the market stalls.  But I think I’d like to attend from the point of view of a historian, to read about the ceremonies of the past and feel the sense of continuity which shines through the day.  The island is a small nation but has a deep sense of pride and community which I’ve a suspicion we could all learn something from.

Many thanks to Heather Paisley for use of her photographs.

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Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner - Tower Bridge, London
Tower Bridge, London

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner was played at my mother’s funeral a few years back.  It was very appropriate for her, because although for the last few years of her life she moved to the Isle of Man to be near us, she saw herself as very much a Londoner.  She was fiercely proud of it, would defend London as the best city in the world – in fact the best place in the world – against anybody.

A cat called Monty
Monty the Cat

I was in London myself recently for a few days, cat sitting for a friend of my sisters and getting some quiet time after the complete madness of the past few months.  It was as hot as Hades and I spent a few days with my sister catching up, being a tourist and getting sore feet after which she went home and I was alone and peaceful with Monty the cat.  My intention wasto catch up on a lot of admin jobs that I’ve left for too long and then to get a really good way into my new Regency novel.  It was a lovely flat with a balcony and the temptation to doze in the sun with Monty was huge, although I did try to resist.

It’s always odd being back in London.  I’m not so familiar with this part, but we took a bus out through the East End where I grew up, to Stratford and then went on to Canary Wharf and had lunch by the river.  In my childhood, Stratford was our local shopping centre and Canary Wharf was a place we simply didn’t go – it consisted of rotting and boarded up warehouses with a few dingy businesses still struggling on.  I’ve watched the evolution of docklands through my life and it’s been a fascinating process.

Despite being born and raised in the East End, I’m not really a city person.  I don’t mind small towns; Douglas is about right for me.  But I love the countryside and the coast, the feeling of fewer people and wider spaces and not feeling trapped.  I don’t think I’d ever choose to live full time in a city again, especially a city as overcrowded as London now is.

Nevertheless – and maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner – I actually do still love London.  It’s the place of my birth and my childhood.  I love the history and the parks and the odd little corners that many people never visit.  I was so lucky as a child to have parents who adored both history and walking.  Every Sunday, unless the rain was torrential, we were dragged out to the number 8 bus stop at the end of the road, to “go for a walk”.  This did not mean a twenty minute stroll through a park.  It meant a four or five hour marathon through parts of London I would never have known existed.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner: Wellington Statue
Wellington statue in London

We walked through the City and listened to my mother’s stories of the blitz and of her first jobs in old fashioned offices, learning the switchboard and typing on an old fashioned typewriter.  We wandered through the Inns of Court and the world of legal London, with my Dad stopping to read every plaque on every wall.  We discovered hidden gems like the Museum of the Order of St John and Postman’s Park.  On wet days we did every museum in London including ones I’ve forgotten even existed.  We went into obscure but beautiful churches which were always open to visitors back then, and if it was late enough in the day we would stay for evensong before getting the bus home.  When people ask me why I write historical novels rather than any other kind, I find it hard to answer apart from to say I always loved history.  But I know that this is why.  At times, wandering through the ancient streets, I would whinge about the fact that my friends from school were all off ice skating or swimming or just hanging out in the street.  But Mum was adamant that unless there was a genuine reason not to (like a broken leg – arms didn’t count, I once saw her scale the cliffs at Hastings with her arm in a sling) we would all go out together on Sundays.  Church, Sunday lunch, walk or other outing and then home for tea and whichever series was on TV on Sundays.  Saturdays were ours; on Sundays we belonged to her.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner: Tower of London
Tower of London

As I grew older the rule relaxed, but by then she didn’t have to nag me, I was hooked.  At secondary school by then, I visited exhibitions relevant to whatever I was studying, sometimes with the school but sometimes on my own.  I would think nothing – and still don’t – about taking myself off to the British Museum on a free day.  A boat trip down to Hampton Court or Greenwich was a joy.  I loved the Cutty Sark and the Tower of London – just wandering around outside them was enough.  And I adored – and will always adore – the River Thames, where my parents did a lot of their courting.

All of this came from a family with very little.  We lived, for the first thirteen years of my life, in an old rented house with no bathroom or indoor toilet.  We washed in the kitchen sink and bathed in an old fashioned tin bath by the oil stove in the kitchen because there was no central heating.  We ate healthily but with few luxuries on a daily basis although it made a meal out for a birthday or the extra treats at Christmas incredibly special.

When we moved to a council maisonette when I was thirteen, it was luxury.  I can remember squabbling over who would be the first to use the new bath until we realised my mother was already in it.  Curiously, we missed our old fashioned house; the new place had no garden.  My parents were good managers and saved for their old age but we didn’t have that much stuff.

What we did have was experiences.  We had one week’s holiday every year, always in the UK but always somewhere special.  When we were small we went to holiday camps a lot as they were cheap and there was entertainment but as we got older we rented cottages and we explored Devon and Cornwall, the Lakes and Yorkshire, the Isle of Wight and parts of Scotland.  We did it all by coach and bus and train; they had no car.

We went to the cinema to see every good new film going.  We went to the London Palladium to see the Pantomime every Christmas.  If there was a school trip to anywhere, they would find the money for us to go.  My love of music came from endless school trips to concerts, the opera, and to hear Gilbert and Sullivan.  My love of good plays and literature came from school trips to the Young Vic and Stratford upon Avon.  They had never been abroad, but I went to Russia at sixteen with the school because my Dad did overtime to pay for it.

George and Iris Bryant
My parents, George and Iris Bryant

I’m aware as an adult of everything they did for us and everything they sacrificed so that we could absorb as many different experiences as they could afford to give us.  It’s not that surprising that we both did so well.  But I don’t think they thought it was that much of a sacrifice, I think they loved doing all these things with us, enjoyed introducing us to the city they both loved.

They were poor when we were young, got more comfortable as we grew up and travelled a bit more, spent more on themselves although they still never had a car or bought a house.  They ate out a lot, discovered different cuisines and enjoyed it.  They both still walked until arthritis and old age prevented them.  But they never resented poverty or saw themselves as victims.  They were never angry.  They simply worked out what was important to them and what they could easily do without and if they needed more they worked a bit harder to get it.

They weren’t political although they never failed to vote, but they both voted on issues rather than blind loyalty to a party so at different times they voted for all three main parties.  My mother voted for Margaret Thatcher simply on the grounds that it was time there was a woman in charge.  She was a feminist without ever knowing what the word meant, or caring.  My father voted Labour that year.  Neither of them cared what anybody else voted.  Their friends and family could be Labour or Tory or Liberal or nothing at all.  It was considered rude to get personal about such matters as religion or politics.  They were old enough to appreciate the welfare state, the NHS and any help they were given.  They were gracious about it, didn’t see it as a right, said thank you when help was given.  During the IRA bombings they continued to take us to all the same places, do all the same things.  We missed the Ideal Home Exhibition bomb by a few minutes only, but there was no sense of anxiety.  We were in London and that city belonged to us, not the bombers.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner.  But when I’m back here, no matter how much it has changed, no matter how much I know that I’d never come back to live here now, I still feel a very primitive sense of belonging.  This is my city, my home, my childhood.  I feel an enormous sense of familiarity and of love and gratitude both to the people who raised me and the city that shaped all of us.  I’ve lived in many places now and loved a fair few of them.  But when I come back to London, I know I’ve come home.

An Irregular Regiment – Book Two coming soon

Wellington’s HQ in Pere Negro, the Lines of Torres Vedras
An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

An Irregular Regiment, book two in the Peninsular War saga, is due for publication on 4th July.

The novel continues the story of Major Paul van Daan and the 110th infantry as they 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 Lord Wellington has another posting for his most difficult 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 him to use tact and diplomacy as well as his formidable fighting skills, it’s hardly surprising that the army is holding it’s breath waiting for Wellington’s newest and most explosive colonel to fail spectacularly.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

Read the first chapter of An Irregular Regiment here.  For those who haven’t read it yet, why not order an Unconventional Officer.