Copenhagen 1807 – the Navy meets the Army, an Excerpt from An Unwilling Alliance

Old Haymarket, Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, 1807 the British army under Lord Cathcart and the Royal Navy under Admiral Gambier cooperated to seize the Danish fleet to stop it falling into the hands of the French.  Denmark was a neutral country and the bombardment of Copenhagen, although it achieved its aim, was not universally popular.

The army reserve was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, keen to return to the field from his position as Chief Secretary in Ireland, and in An Unwilling Alliance a meeting of the various commanders brings together Captain Hugh Kelly, the Manx commander of the Iris and a young army major on the rise, serving under Sir Arthur Wellesley, Major Paul van Daan…

Hugh turned at a sudden noise from the stable yard.  The commanders had left their horses in charge of a groom and the man had roped them to a long wooden bar outside the stables.  There was no sign of him now but one of the horses, a solid piebald with knots in his mane and a thick neck, had broken loose from the rail and was backing up across the yard.  His freedom was making the other horses restive and they were pulling on their tethers.  Hugh swore softly under his breath and made his way outside.

Another man was ahead of him, one of the escort who had arrived with the army commanders.  He was tall and fair, an officer in a red coat, his back to Hugh as he approached the piebald, placing himself between the horse and the way out of the yard.  Hugh went to the bar where the other horses were tied and inspected the ropes.  As he had suspected, every one of them was poorly tied, ready to be loosened with a determined tug.  Hugh sighed and released the first of them, retying it.

The officer spoke, his voice a clear baritone which was hard to place.  The accent spoke of privilege and wealth and the purchase of a commission but the phrasing and words were slightly unusual, as if this man had lived a varied life in many places.

“Stand still, you cross-eyed Danish bastard, I’m not chasing you halfway across the city because a groom can’t tie a knot.  Come here.”

He caught the loose rein and then moved in confidently as the horse reared up in fright, putting a soothing hand on the ungroomed neck and running it down the horse’s shoulder.  “All right lad, I know you’re scared.  No need to be.  Come on, let’s get you back where you should be and fed and watered.  And by the look of you a brush wouldn’t go amiss.  Come on.”

He was holding his body against the horse, steadying him, and the animal quietened immediately, soothed by the confidence in both voice and body.  Hugh watched in reluctant admiration as the man turned, leading the horse back into the yard.  He was wearing the insignia of a major and looked several years younger than Hugh with fair hair cut shorter than was fashionable, especially in the army or navy, and a pair of surprising blue eyes.  The eyes rested on Hugh for a moment, then the major led the horse back to its place at the rail and began to tie him up.  Hugh watched him in surprise for a moment, recognising the knot and then looked up into the major’s face.

“I doubt he’ll break away from that,” he said in matter-of-fact tones, moving on to re-tie the next horse.

The major did the same.  “How to tie a knot that stays tied was one of the only two useful things the bloody navy taught me,” he responded, pleasantly.

“What was the other?” Hugh asked.

“How to kill people.  I got very good at that.”  The major tied the last knot and surveyed Hugh’s handiwork to ensure that it was properly done with an arrogance which both irritated and amused Hugh.  Then the man looked up and saluted.  “Major Paul van Daan, Captain, 110th first battalion.  I’m here with Sir Arthur Wellesley.”

“Sir Arthur Wellesley might have been walking back to his lodgings if you’d not been as quick,” Hugh said, returning the salute.  “You’d think a groom would be better at tying up horses, wouldn’t you?”

“A Danish groom, this week?  What do you think, Captain?”

Hugh grinned.  “I think a pack of British commanders having to walk through town because their hired horses have buggered off might be a small victory but very satisfying,” he said.  “Captain Hugh Kelly of the Iris, Major.  How did you end up in the army, then?  Navy didn’t suit?”

“I was fifteen and I didn’t volunteer, Captain.  Put me off a bit.”

Hugh shot him a startled glance.  “Christ, you don’t sound like a man who ought to have been pressed.”

“They don’t always play by the rules.  But it was definitely educational.”

“How long were you in?”

“Two years.  Made petty officer, fought in a few skirmishes and at the Nile.”

Hugh felt his respect grow.  “I was there myself,” he said.  “Let me buy you a drink.  They’ll be a while, I suspect.  You on Wellesley’s staff?”

The major grinned.  “Not officially, although he bloody thinks I am.  Let me have a word with that groom and I’ll be with you.”

Hugh watched as he went to the stable door and yelled.  The man emerged at a run and stood before Van Daan, his eyes shifting to the neatly tied horses in some surprise.  He looked back at the major, his expression a combination of guilt and defiance.

Van Daan reached out, took him by one ear, and led him to the horses as if he had been a misbehaving schoolboy.  He indicated the newly tied knots, spoke briefly and then clipped the groom around the head, not very hard.  Hugh saw him point to the feed troughs and water pump, using gestures to make up for the language difficulties.  He then pointed to the piebald’s tangled mane and muddy coat and gestured again.  The groom was nodding, his sulky expression lightening a little.

Having given his orders, something with which Hugh observed sardonically that Paul van Daan seemed very comfortable, the young major reached into his coat pocket and took out two coins which he held up.  The groom’s eyes fixed on them and Paul van Daan pointed to the horses and spoke again.  The man nodded.  The major handed him one coin and put the other back into his pocket.  Then he smiled, the first real smile Hugh had seen him give, and it transformed his face.  The groom smiled back as though he could not help it, and the major put his hand on the man’s shoulder, laughed, and then ruffled the dirty hair with surprising informality as if he were a younger brother or cousin.  He released the groom and went to the ugly piebald horse, stroking his neck.  The animal nuzzled his shoulder and Van Daan smiled, reached into his pocket and took out a treat.  He stroked the horse as he fed it and Hugh watched him and wondered if the small drama he had just watched played out was regularly enacted with Van Daan’s men.  If it was, he suspected the man was an asset to the army.

“Major van Daan!”

The voice was cold, clipped, it’s tone biting, coming from an upstairs window of the inn, the room where the commanders were dining.  Van Daan turned and looked up.

“Is there a reason why you are in the stable yard socialising with the grooms when the man I have sent to search for you is combing this establishment looking for you?  Or are you under the impression that I asked you to accompany me in order to give you a day off?”

Major Paul van Daan saluted with a grin to the upstairs windows where the dark head of Sir Arthur Wellesley protruded.  “Sorry, sir, didn’t think you’d need me for a bit.”

“It appears that the secretary provided speaks very little English and I would prefer to have this meeting fully documented in a language that the cabinet in London understands.  Sir Home Popham appears to be of the opinion that no minutes are needed at all which makes me all the more determined to provide them.  Try to write legibly for once.”

“On my way, sir,” Van Daan said.  Wellesley withdrew his head and the major gave one more nut to the piebald, called a word to the groom who was filling water buckets with considerable speed and joined Hugh at the door.  “I’m sorry, Captain, we’ll need to postpone that drink, it appears I am now a secretary as well as a battalion commander.  Thanks for your help with the horses.”

“You’re welcome,” Hugh said.  “You in trouble, Major?”

“Wellesley?  Jesus, no, that’s him on a good day,” Van Daan said, laughing.  “I’d better go before he causes serious offence.  Good afternoon.”

An Unwilling Alliance is due for publication in April 2018.  An Unconventional Officer, telling the story of Paul van Daan and the 110th infantry is available on Amazon.

 

The National Maritime Museum and Greenwich

By Txllxt TxllxT Wikimedia Commons

Working on a book based around a navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, a visit to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich seemed like an ideal way to start this visit to London.  I can remember going to all the Greenwich museums growing up, but it has been a very long time.

The National Maritime Museum is the leading museum of its kind in the UK and probably one of the best in the world.  It is part of a complex known as the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and includes the Royal Observatory and 17th-century Queen’s House In 2012 the complex was given the overall name of Royal Museums Greenwich along with the famous Cutty Sark which stands nearby.

Greenwich has always had associations with the sea and the navy has roots on the waterfront while Charles II founded the Royal Observatory in 1675 for “finding the longitude of places”. The home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian since 1884, Greenwich has long been a centre for astronomical study, while navigators across the world have set their clocks according to its time of day.  Something about this knowledge has always given me a slight sense of awe when visiting this part of Greenwich.

The National Maritime Museum has a huge collection on Britain’s seafaring history including art, maps and charts, manuscripts, models and plans, navigational instruments and personal items belonging to important historical figures such as Nelson and Captain James Cook.

Flamsteed House, the original part of the Royal Observatory, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and was the first purpose-built scientific institution in Britain.  In 1953, the Old Royal Observatory became part of the Museum.

The 17th-century Queen’s House, an early classical building designed by Inigo Jones, is the keystone of the historic “park and palace” landscape of maritime Greenwich.  The Queen’s House was refurbished in 2001 to become the heart of displays of art from the Museum’s collection.

In May 2007 a major capital project, “Time and Space”, opened up the entire Royal Observatory site for the benefit of visitors. The £16 million transformation features three new modern astronomy galleries, four new time galleries, facilities for collections conservation and research, a learning centre and the 120-seat Peter Harrison Planetarium designed to introduce the world beyond the night sky.

The National Maritime Museum has galleries exploring various aspects of Britain’s maritime history.  A gallery dedicated to Nelson and the Navy tells the story of Admiral Nelson, his battles, his life and his death at Trafalgar, and sets the battle in the context of the wars against the French in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  It describes the ships, the sailors and how they lived and the way the navy was perceived at home.

Figureheads, National Maritime MuseumThe gallery concerned with traders explores the relationship between Britain and the wider world, particularly the powerful East India Company which spread its influence until it controlled huge areas of territory in India.  I found this fascinating, partly because I studied this at University and partly because I spent time researching the Company in India when I was writing about Assaye in An Unconventional Officer.

Another gallery covered the difficult subject of the transatlantic slave trade, both up to abolition and beyond.  I thought this topic was well-handled, looking at both slavers and abolitionists as well as the slaves who fought back against their masters in places like Haiti.

Naval Heroes, National Maritime MuseumOther galleries explored the maritime history of London, the first world war and in Voyagers, the personal significance of Britain’s maritime story.  I particularly liked the exploration of Turner’s famous painting of Trafalgar which analysed the painting and it’s meaning in the context of national pride and naval power following the battle.

The museum is huge and there is so much to see and do that it is easy to miss things.  Work is in progress on a new gallery and there are various temporary exhibitions, a children’s play area and the fabulous Great Map.

If the museum has a fault, it is that the various galleries are sometimes hard to follow in the correct order.  Especially as it is sometimes possible to enter a gallery from either end it is easy to find yourself going around in the wrong order and there is no numbering of exhibits to help with this.  With a fairly good background in history it didn’t really bother me that much, but I can imagine it would irritate some people.

I loved the museum along with the Royal Observatory, which completed the story of some of the scientific aspects of navigation and the Cutty Sark, standing 400m outside.  I didn’t manage the Queen’s House this time around, although I’d like to go back to it.

The Cutty Sark is one of my clearest childhood memories.  It was a Sunday afternoon treat, even just going to see it.  Going aboard was even better.  The ship was one of the fastest tea clippers in the world and there was something romantic for me as a small girl, standing on the deck gazing up at the tall masts and trying to imagine billowing sails and a fresh breeze at sea.  I was devastated in 2007 when the ship was badly damaged by fire and have followed the progress of the restoration.

Greenwich Foot TunnelWe used to take the bus to the Isle of Dogs back in the sixties and seventies and then walk through the foot tunnel to Greenwich.  The foot tunnel is a piece of history in itself, a masterpiece of late Victorian engineering which opened in 1902 and was built to replace an expensive and unreliable ferry service which took workers living south of the river to work in the docks and shipyards.  The entrances at each end are beneath glazed domes and I can remember the joy of running through the tunnel calling out and hearing my voice echo, bouncing off the walls eerily.  We used to count the steps at each end.  There were lifts but for some reason we seldom used them.

The Cutty SarkA visit to Greenwich is both a research aide for the new book and a trip down memory lane.  The strong sense of standing with both feet in maritime history is just what I need as I embark on the second half of my book which places me aboard a Royal navy ship bound for Copenhagen in 1807 under Admiral Gambier.  But there is also a sense of standing with at least one foot in my own past, a child growing up in the East End with parents who took us to some historic site almost every weekend.  There is a strong link between that excited little girl standing on the deck of an old ship and trying to imagine how it felt to sail in her and the woman writing a novel of those who did.  I owe that as a debt to the parents who gave me that sense of history and why it matters to all of us.

The new book, An Unwilling Alliance, is due for publication in April 2018.

South Barrule, Isle of Man – an excerpt from An Unwilling Alliance

South Barrule, Isle of Man, is the setting for one of the early scenes in An Unwilling Alliance which is due out in April 2018. It is one of the most prominent of the southern hills and its name derives from Wardfell, the hill of the ward or watch where men were stationed to watch for invading ships.  In Manx folklore it is said to be the stronghold of the sea-god, Manannan Beg Mac y Lir.  It is the site of an ancient hill-fort which was excavated in the 1960s.

View from South Barrule

In the following excerpt, Captain Hugh Kelly has persuaded Miss Roseen Crellin to climb to the top of the hill with him.  The couple have only recently met, and Roseen’s father is keen to make a match between them.  Hugh is looking for a wife and is definitely interested but Roseen is resisting the idea of being pushed into any marriage with a man she hardly knows, especially since she is pining for a young Englishman who has recently left the island.  At the same time, she actually quite likes Hugh, or would do if he would stop trying to flirt with her…

There was a well marked path and although the going was steep, it was not a particularly difficult climb. Hugh kept a cautious eye on his companion but after ten minutes he relaxed. Miss Roseen Crellin, for all her dainty appearance, was as strong as a young pony and strode up the slope without struggling at all, hampered a little by her skirts. The hem was quickly muddied in some of the boggier areas but it did not seem to bother her. Hugh offered a hand on some of the rockier sections of the path and she accepted it although he suspected she did not really need it. 

The breeze picked up as they climbed higher. Around them the slopes were covered with heather, the plants massing together to form a thick, bushy carpet, almost a foot tall in places, tough and strong and made to withstand the dry winds across the hills. Already it was beginning to bloom in swathes of mauve and purple and bright pink. It was springy under their feet and there was a familiarity to the feeling which made Hugh smile, remembering hours of scrambling over these hills with Isaac and other friends of his childhood.
A scrabbling made him turn and his companion stopped and put her hand on his arm to still him. They watched as half a dozen rabbits, disturbed by the unexpected human presence, scrambled inelegantly for their burrows, their short tails vanishing below ground in a flurry of panic. Above, silhouetted against blue sky and scudding white clouds, birds soared and dipped. The air was fresh and clean and Hugh felt an unexpected rush of sheer happiness at being here on these hills, breathing this air and hearing the sounds of home around him.
“Do you miss it – when you’re at sea?”
Hugh turned with the startled sense that she had read his mind. “Yes. Oh God, yes. All the time. I love being at sea – been there most of my adult life. A ship is home to me in ways you can’t imagine. But still I miss this. The smell of earth instead of salt and the solid ground beneath my feet. The sense of something real that I can touch and own. A ship can’t give you that. Even the wind smells different here. This is home. This is Mann. Have you travelled off island much?”
“Twice only. My father’s youngest sister married a Manchester cotton spinner and lives just outside the town. I didn’t like it much.”
Hugh smiled at her expression. “Not even the shops and the theatres?”
“I enjoyed the opera,” Roseen said, after a moment’s consideration. “Shops are shops. Once you have what you need, I’d rather go home.”
Hugh laughed aloud. “You’re an unusual girl, Miss Crellin. Here, give me your hand. Almost there.”
At the top they stood for a moment, catching their breath, drinking in the beauty of the landscape which stretched out before them. The wind buffeted them, cooler up here than the gentle breeze at the foot of the hill, and Hugh studied his companion. The exercise had brought colour to her face and the wind had tugged her hair loose from it’s confining pins so that part of it blew free. She did not seem conscious of it at all. Her eyes were on the silver surface of the sea, over beyond Derbyhaven. The odd T shape of the Langness Peninsula jutted out into the sea and a ship bobbed at anchor in the bay. Further out they could see, once again, a flotilla of small boats; the fishing fleet busy about its work.
“It’s so beautiful,” Roseen breathed. “Thank you for bringing me up here, Captain. I’d no idea you could see so far.”
“We’ve picked the right day, it’s very clear. I’ve been up here and barely been able to see to the bottom of the hill for the mist,” Hugh said.
“Have you? Why make the climb?”
“Playing truant from school. Nobody was going to come searching for me up here, and if you duck down behind the old rampart over there it’s very sheltered, you can hardly feel the wind.”
“I’m glad you said that, I wasn’t looking forward to picnicking in a gale.”
Hugh grinned. She was shading her eyes against the bright sunlight, looking around her. Over to the north-west a huddle of white houses and red roofs marked the location of Peel, although it was not possible to make out the distinctive shape of the castle from here. On the opposite side of the island was the larger town of Douglas, growing fast with it’s new shops and some elegant houses built by men making themselves wealthy in trade. To the south-east lay Castletown, just beyond the peninsula, and here he could see the soft grey stone of the castle very clearly.

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors

Fireworks in London
Fireworks in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn and Richard
Love and Marriage

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

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

Castletown 2017
Castletown 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

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

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

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

Writing with Labradors
Toby and Joey – Writing with Labradors

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

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

 

 

An Unwilling Alliance – coming in 2018

Castle Rushen
Castle Rushen, on the Isle of Man

When Hugh Kelly left Mann aged 16 he expected never to return. His parents were both dead, the family farm repossessed and the navy seemed like a good option for a penniless lad with big ambitions and no prospects. Fourteen years later he returns as a Trafalgar veteran with a healthy amount of prize money and his own command in refit at Yarmouth. He is in search of land and a home and a wife to look after them when he goes back to sea.
Roseen Crellin is determined not to give in to her father’s efforts to find her a good husband. The man she wanted has sailed away and she has no interest in a marriage to a man who sees her a convenience rather than a woman.
It seems a courtship with little future but fate intervenes unexpectedly and as Hugh sets sail to join the Royal Navy on it’s way to Copenhagen he is forced to reassess his feelings towards the girl he had not bothered to get to know, while Roseen discovers a world beyond the hills and glens of her island home and a side to herself she had never known existed.
An Unwilling Alliance is the first of my books to be set partly on the Isle of Man where I live.  It is also the first set in the very different world of the Royal Navy.  I’ve been wanted to do a Manx setting for a long time, but since I write historical novels I needed to find the right time period.  I have considered, and am still considering, a novel set in the English Civil War but I haven’t studied that period since University and it will be a lot of work.

In the end I decided to stick with my current period, helped by reading the story of Captain John Quilliam, the Manxman who served with Nelson aboard the Victory.  This is not his story but there are parallels between his progress and that of Captain Hugh Kelly, and like Quilliam, Kelly comes home to his island with his pockets well-lined with prize money and in search of a home and a wife.

I hope that An Unwilling Alliance will be published early in 2018 and will be followed by An Untrustworthy Army, book five in the Peninsular War Saga.

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…

 

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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The Isle of Man TT 2018

The e vents of this week reminded me of this blog post I wrote about the TT this time last year. I wanted to share it, as it gives a bit of a flavour of what it’s like to be living in the middle of this madness.

Yesterday, in practice, we lost Dan Kneen, a local rider from Onchan who looked very much on the verge of a breakthrough this year in terms of podium places. Steve Mercer, another favourite, has been taken to Liverpool in critical condition. I feel unbelievably sad about it, but it doesn’t stop me going out to watch the racing, which is difficult for many people to understand. I wondered about sharing this again, but I decided I would, because I still feel the same way about this event. It is part of the island, part of my home and over the past sixteen years has become part of who I am.

Dan Kneen’s father issued a statement after his son’s death, and this quote says it all for a lot of the riders and their families.

“Dan would want us to be strong and for the Tyco team to crack on, they have my full backing. Let’s think of the happy times with Dan and smile when you think of him. Thanks to the marshals and medics and everyone involved. Thinking of Steve Mercer as well. Best wishes for all the other TT competitors. The TT show will go on.”

I’m really hoping the rest of TT 2018 is a safe one. In the meantime, this is my post from last year.

With the excitement of launching my books onto an unsuspecting world, having pneumonia and surviving GCSEs and AS levels with two teenagers, the arrival of the Isle of Man TT 2017 has rather crept up on me this year.  It wasn’t until I spoke to somebody in a government office yesterday and heard the familiar cautious words “well it might be ready, but you know it’s TT” that I remembered that for the next two weeks normal life is going to stop.  Welcome to the Isle of Man TT 2017 – a spectacle like no other but a bit of a distraction when you’re trying to live a normal life.

Isle of Man TT
Isle of Man TT

The Isle of Man TT 2017 has nothing to do with writing historical novels but living where we do it will certainly impact on my ability to concentrate.  Sitting at my desk looking out of the window I can actually see the TT course through the trees and when practice and racing are on it gets noisy.  When we first moved into this house Toby the Labrador took exception to the bikes and kicked off every time they came past but fortunately he’s got very deaf now.  This is difficult when calling him for any reason, but it does make race days easier.

In addition to the actual racing, we’re very close to the historic grandstand which means that every single biker who comes over for TT will, at some point, be clogging up the traffic at the end of our road.  During road closures we can’t get out at all so we park one of the cars around a back road since there is a pathway which we can walk through.

Traffic during the TT festival is hideous, and gives us locals something new to moan about although to a woman who grew up in London, I was baffled when I first arrived here.  I’ve absorbed a bit of Manxness in the past fifteen years and now find the heavier traffic just as horrendous as everybody else since we’re not used to it.

Despite all this, I actually like the TT.  We used to entertain every year with a houseful of enthusiastic bike fans and every night was party night.  These days we’re very sedate.  House guests don’t work with two exam stressed teenagers, and because the exam timetable is set in the UK where this half term is different to ours, the kids are actually doing exams during TT week which would be tough with visitors.  It’s tough anyway, their school is on the course so they are sometimes sitting there trying to do simultaneous equations with the deafening sounds of bikes screaming past.

I still like to go out to watch the racing.  There’s a social feel to watching the TT.  Given that Richard is a brilliant photographer and particularly good at motor sport shots, we like to go to a variety of places, some easier to get to than others.  Personally I love the popular spots like Braddan Bridge and Union Mills church where you get get a cup of tea and there are proper toilets.  Must be a sign of age.  Richard is far more intrepid and I’ve climbed fences, scrambled up hills and sat on a mountain in freezing fog waiting for it to lift so that the racing can start.  Last year I ended up half crippled after pulling a muscle climbing over a fence, a reminder that I’m fifty four not twenty four and I really need to think about what I’m doing a bit more.

We’ve met some great people watching the racing, both local and from the rest of the world.  Everybody chats, everybody is friendly and it’s the best atmosphere ever.

And sometimes people die.

Every now and then, I come up against that fact and it shocks me.  It doesn’t shock me because it happens.  It shocks me that after fifteen years of doing this, I’m not shocked by it.  I’m saddened.  On one or two occasions it’s been someone I’ve met personally.  It’s often people I know a lot about.  People come to the TT year after year.  It’s like an addiction for the riders, passed down through the generations, and a death in the family doesn’t stop them.  The Dunlops have lost two family members to road racing, but Michael and William Dunlop will be out there again next week.  They risk their lives for a passion and we watch them do it.

Every year, magazines and news articles talk about the death toll and speculate on whether something so dangerous should be allowed to continue. I can understand why they say it.  For people with no love of the sport, and there are many even on the island, it must seem completely incomprehensible, in these days of enforced safety in so many areas, that every year a group of people go out and race around country roads, within centimetres of stone walls and lamp posts at speeds well in excess of a hundred miles per hour.  Even being a spectator in these conditions is potentially dangerous.

For all that, I love the TT.  The men, and a few women, who come here to race aren’t usually the superstars of sport.  They’re ordinary people, mostly amateurs, who work all year for the chance to compete on these roads.  They know the risks and they know the possible consequences, but like a mountaineer always looking for a higher peak and a bigger challenge, they keep pushing themselves to ride faster, to break lap records and reach that next elusive goal.  It’s an amazing spectacle and I wouldn’t change it.

Despite exams and recovering from pneumonia, I’ll be out there watching again this year.  We’re missing John McGuinness who recently came off at the North-West 200 and is injured.  We should have Guy Martin back this year, definitely one of the characters of the sport.  And there will be the newcomers, learning the course with their eyes on future glory.

I hope it’s a good year, which means that the weather is good, the races on time and everybody stays safe.  There’s nothing like the TT and no place like the Isle of Man and for anybody who likes motorbikes you should come here and see it at least once.

Although it might slow my writing down for a week or two…

For those of you interested in TT photography, have a look at Richard’s flickr site, there are some amazing shots.

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Not Just the Army…Marines and the Navy in the Peninsular War under Wellington – and a possible Manx connection?

I had one of those very odd little coincidences today which caused me to look at the role of not just the army but also the Marines and the Navy in the Peninsular War under Wellington.

I’ve been thinking about a story, either a short story or a novella, associated with the Peninsular War books but possibly with a Manx connection. I already have a Manxman ready to pop up into the action when the time is right. It was always likely to happen. I don’t know much about Manxmen in the Napoleonic armies, but I do know the navy just loved them. It’s hard not to be good at the sea when you live on an island this small. The most famous of them, a certain Captain John Quilliam RN was a Royal Navy officer and the First Lieutenant on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

When I was researching the young Paul van Daan’s early career in the Royal Navy, I was not sure of my ground. I knew a fair bit about Wellington’s army but the navy was a bit of a mystery. I knew that at fourteen Paul was far too young to be pressed, but I also knew that it happened all the time especially with well grown lads who clearly had seafaring experience. But I wanted Paul’s time in the navy to have some purpose. Those early years are vital, because in the hell below decks in Nelson’s navy fighting skirmishes and then at the battle of the Nile, Paul van Daan grew up. He arrives in the army at 21 not a naive young officer with no experience but as a tough, battle seasoned commander, a petty officer who rose from being a pressed man. He’s been through hell and back, not in the company of officers and gentlemen but alongside the lowest of the low in Nelson’s navy. No wonder he’s often happier down with the men than up in the mess…

But was it possible? Google came to my rescue, and with regard to naval promotion from being a pressed man, the first significant name to pop up was none other than my neighbour from up the road in Marown who was the son of a farmer, an apprentice stonemason until he was picked up by a press gang. From those humble beginnings he rose to be first lieutenant on HMS Victory with a place in history. I could have hugged him. Suddenly, Petty Officer Paul van Daan was not only possible but highly likely.

So when I came to thinking about a Manx connected story I naturally went back to Paul’s navy days. There were a lot of Manxmen in Nelson’s navy and it’s entirely likely that when Wellington asked for the navy and the marines to help with the defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras, one or two of them came along. I’d got my connection, and I’ve already come up with a name. Some research about their role comes next, and as I was working on that from my sickbed, I came across the following story, linked to a JustGiving page for a Royal Marines charity.

The Royal Marines 1664 Global Challenge 2017 – linked to Royal Marine history in Portugal

During the Peninsular War (1810-1812) the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Marine Artillery were deployed in support of Wellington’s defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras.

At Wellington’s request Vice Admiral Berkeley deployed ashore a naval brigade consisting of 500 seamen and 500 marines to guard the left bank of the Tagus, to provide the signalmen along the Lines of Torres Vedras and to provide Marine artillery. The main force worked in co-operation with the flotilla of naval ships in the North part of the River Tagus to ensure that the French troops could not out-flank the British lines and move on Lisbon, while Naval signalmen ensured that messages could pass along the 29 miles of the Lines in 7 minutes.

Marines along with Artillery were landed on the 3 islands to the North in the Tagus where they worked with the British Army on the left bank and the Naval ships to stop French attempts to use the islands to cross. Later a large number of Marines were moved to Fort San Julien to provide protection for the deployment of maritime logistics to Wellington’s force ashore. This area was also the 3rd Line of Torres Vedras and is close to the current site of HQ Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO, STRIKFORNATO.

When the Marines were finally returned to the UK in February 1812 the British General in charge of the Army in Lisbon wrote that he “cannot part with the Royal Marine Battalion without expressing the lively concern he feels in being deprived of their service, and requesting their acceptance of his best thanks for their uniform good conduct whilst in his garrison”.

In recognition of this part of Naval and Royal Marine history, the four Royal Marines based in Portugal are aiming to complete a physical challenge that will start with a canoe to the Islands in the Tagus, to run around the Islands before returning to the left bank. They will then cycle along the first line of defence taking in the signal tower overlooking Wellington’s HQ where Naval signalmen worked before turning south and arriving at St Julian Fort a distance of 64 miles.

This is part of the Royal Marines 1664 Global Challenge that will see Royal Marines around the world complete 100 challenges in 100 days, raising funds for wounded and injured Naval Service Marines and Sailors.

It made me smile. The lines of Torres Vedras are unheard of to most people in the UK, even if they know a bit about the Peninsular Wars, although having visited them very recently in Portugal I’m aware of how crucial a part of modern Portuguese history they are. Somehow I love the idea that these guys are raising money for charity in the name of that little piece of obscure history. They aren’t going to get the recognition of the lads running around the UK and it doesn’t really matter since it all goes to the same cause, but I still somehow felt a connection. I made a donation because I wanted my name on that page. It has meaning for me.

I’m going to start the story tomorrow, even though I ought to be working on my final revision of ‘An Unconventional Officer’. I love these little obscure bits of history which turn up in the oddest places. I hope you’re as interested as I am. And if you feel like making a donation, this is the link.