Toby

Toby was the result of a snap decision after spending some time with friends who had a young black labrador. It was a decision that changed our lives.

 

 

We had lost our beloved cats, Reggie and Ronnie, over a year earlier. Both lived to be more than twenty and we couldn’t imagine finding cats with their enormous personalities to replace them. We were living on the Isle of Man by then with two young children, both of whom had fallen in love with Tavey, our friends’ dog during our visit. On the way home, Richard said suddenly:

“Shall we get a dog?”

“A labrador?” I asked hopefully. I’d spent a huge amount of time many years earlier staying with the family of a university friend. They always had dogs, black labradors and a springer spaniel. I adored Worthington and Henry and had always thought that if I could have a dog, that’s what I’d like.

“Well they’re good with children,” Richard said.

The conversation might have rested there, but when we arrived home, I picked up the free paper from among the mail and flicked through it. With our conversation in mind, I glanced at the classifieds and to my surprise, there it was, a small advert.

“There’s somebody advertising labrador puppies here, in Ballaugh,” I said.

Richard looked at me. “Ring them,” he said. “We can go and have a look. We don’t need to get one. Don’t let the children know, in case we decide not to do it.”

Looking back on that piece of naivety makes me howl with laughter.

There was one puppy left when I rang, a black boy. It was a small litter, only four puppies, the mother a family pet. We arranged a time to go up when the children were at school, having told them nothing.

The house was chaos, puppies confined to a large pen but still taking over the room. Richard sat down next to the pen and someone deposited a black puppy onto his lap. “This is him. We call him Homer, he’s the biggest of the litter. Look at his paws.”

We looked. It was hard to miss those paws, they were enormous. I stroked the puppy’s ears. It had climbed up Richard’s chest and was licking his face. “What do you think?” I asked.

Richard didn’t answer. He’d obviously lost the ability to think, he was too busy falling in love.

Toby came into our lives like a small black tornado. He was lively, he was bouncy and he ate everything in sight. He ate our shoes and our clothes and our kitchen. He resisted all forms of training or discipline and made puppy training classes a nightmare. He clearly knew his name but had no idea why it mattered since he had no intention of responding to it. He was a new full time job and we adored him from day one.

My memories of Toby are a series of snapshots through the years. Toby as a puppy, failing to look guilty as some new piece of destruction came to light. Toby taking forever to learn ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘heel’ and ‘come’, but then unexpectedly learning ‘turn’ and ‘paw’ without effort.

Stars of Blogging with Labradors
Blogging with Labradors, starring Toby and Joey

Toby first learning to swim down at Groudle Beach and then refusing to come out of the water because he loved it so much.

Toby as a young dog, taking pride of place beside Richard in our little red Mazda with the top down, ears blowing in the breeze as they headed off for the beach or the plantation.

Toby at two and a half, when we introduced Joey, the new puppy, patiently letting him jump all over him and then batting him halfway across the room when he got bored.

Toby at a barbecue, stealing a sharp kitchen knife off the worktop and racing out to greet an arriving guest to cries of “Hilary, watch out, he’s got a knife”

Toby refusing to come back to the car when it was time to go home, not once but many many times, making me late to collect the kids while I was coaxing him.

Toby at Silverdale, meeting an elderly man unexpectedly on the path and eliciting the remark: “Bloody hell, it’s the Moddey Dhoo!”

Toby taking the descent down Peel Hill too fast, rolling to the bottom and ending up with an operation and weeks of hydrotherapy to get him walking again.

Toby curled up on the beanbag with Anya when she was practicing her reading, listening to stories about dolphins and mermaids, loving the cuddles.

Toby on our “dog training for awkward dogs” intensive course, earning the nickname “Mr I will if I feel like it” after his determination not to walk to heel on the lead defeated experts in the field.

Toby getting older, his beard and eyebrows going grey, still handsome, very distinguished.

Toby sitting beside Jon and then Anya through their GCSEs and A levels, headbutting their books and laptops to get attention when they were trying to study.

Toby with arthritis, too stiff to move fast or go for long walks anymore, but loving the garden or a mooch around the beach.

Toby meeting Oscar, the new puppy. Standoffish at first, then interested, but very much in charge, very much the senior dog. All the little steps of acceptance; the first time sharing a bed, letting Oscar lick him, licking him back. Toby watching Joey and Oscar play fighting and then finally joining in, a bit stiff and awkward, but having fun, his tail wagging.

The boys enjoying the sun this afternoon

Toby sunbathing in this warm weather on the tiled front porch with his brothers, his fur warm to touch, snoring gently.

I’ve started to cry again as I write this. There is so much to say about Toby that I can’t write it all. He was my friend, my beloved dog for fourteen years, and I struggle to believe that I won’t see him again.

There was a day, a few weeks back, when we took the dogs to Groudle Beach. I’d not seen Toby go into the water properly for a long time but he clearly wanted to show Oscar how it was done. It brought tears to my eyes to see how happy he was, splashing about. He looked like a dog who was discovering some of his lost youth and seemed to be enjoying it.

A week ago we took the three of them to Derbyhaven Beach in the evening. He was less keen to swim that day but he paddled, and sniffed the rocks and walked around on the sand looking so happy, his tail wagging, a big grin on his face.

On Monday 23rd he joined in a huge playfight in my study, trashing the place and making work impossible until I kicked them out. They all fell asleep in mid-game, slept for about four hours and woke up to eat dinner, then sat outside with us watching the lights come on.

The next morning I found him apparently sleeping peacefully in the kitchen. There was no sign of illness or distress or any kind of trauma. Joey was sleeping next to him; Oscar nearby in his cage. He’d died in his sleep, almost as if he’d decided that this was as good as it was going to get. He refused the inevitable declining health and mobility; the misery of a family trying to decide when was the right time to let him go.

He went kindly and with dignity and that kind of death was a gift that many pet owners don’t get. I was in shock and then distraught and I cried when we buried him and didn’t know how I would ever stop. Our family has lost a beloved member and I hate that he’s not curled up next to me. There’s an empty bed; an empty space on the porch in the mornings and an empty space in my heart that will always be there for Toby.

There’s been an outpouring of sadness and sympathy online, not only from friends and family who knew Toby but from people who have got to know him online through following Writing with Labradors. I’ve been so touched at all the messages. It doesn’t make losing him any easier but it does help.

It’s only been a few days, and grief still catches all of us unawares. We all deal with it differently; the girls talk and cry a lot, the boys are quieter, sadder. Joey spent the first day wandering from room to room, knowing he was missing, which made me cry more. But we were so lucky to get Oscar, the perfect puppy, when we did. His company has settled Joey very quickly. It would have been much harder without him.

I’m never going to stop missing my big boy and I’m horribly aware that Joey isn’t that much younger than him. But the pain and the grief of loss when a pet dies is worth every moment for all the years of love and fun we’ve had with him. He was a fabulous dog, loving, funny and daft, and I don’t regret any of it.

Rest in peace, Toby Dawson. You were so loved.

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Orthez, 27 February 1814

Memorial to Foy’s men at the battle of Orthez

The Bridge at OrthezThe Battle of Orthez took place on 27 February 1814. After the fierce fighting through the Pyrenees, storms and torrential rain prevented any action for two months.

Researching the second half of the war for my Peninsular War Saga is interesting. When I did the first trip through Portugal and Spain last year, I had already written four and a half books in the series in draft form. I knew where my fictional regiment was going to be during every battle and it was a matter of checking my research against actual locations to be sure that my story would work.

From book six onwards, I am in the dark. I know the history and I know what the Light Division would have been up to for most of the time, but now I am in a position to plan as I go along. I can look at the sites and visualise my characters there; where they were fighting and what they were doing. It is both exhilarating and slightly strange and I have to keep reminding myself that this is a holiday as well or I’d be back at the hotel and writing half the night…

Eventually Wellington cut off Bayonne when he crossed the Adour to the west of the city. Soult believed that the Allied attack, which required them to cross rivers, would be held up due to a lack of boats or pontoons but on 23 February, Hope sent eight companies from the 1st Division across the Adour  to form a bridgehead. During the evening, two French battalions were sent to investigate and were dispersed with the use of Congreve rockets. The following day,  34 vessels of 30 to 50 tons were sailed into the mouth of the Adour, moored together and a roadway built across their decks. By the evening of 26th, Hope had marched 15,000 men over the bridge onto the north bank. The Allies successfully captured the Sainte-Étienne suburb with a loss of 400 dead and wounded to the French 200 and encircled Bayonne on 27 February. From then on a very relaxed siege was maintained until 14 April when a French sortie led to the the bloody and pointless Battle of Bayonne at the end of the war.

Wellington pursued Marshal Soult’s army eastwards, away from Bayonne. Soult’s army was already weakened and Wellington hoped to divide them further while Soult hoped to trap the Allied army within French occupied territory.  Bayonne blocked the north side, three French divisions held a line along the Adour to Port de Lanne and the east was held by four French divisions along the Joyeuse River to Helette. From there into the Pyrenees, Soult’s cavalry patrols closed the cordon.

Wellington started his offensive towards the east on 14 February. Hill’s corps took the right flank, including the second and third divisions, some Spanish and Portuguese troops and Fane’s cavalry while Picton took his men down the left flank and Morillo moved through the foothills on the right. On February 15 Hill defeated Harispe’s division at Garris and forced the French back.

Beresford’s left flank corps advanced the following day towards Bidache. It consisted of the 4th, 6th, 7th and Light Divisions as well as some cavalry. Over the next two days both sides manoeuvred their troops. The French had greater numbers but Soult sent  Abbé’s division to help defend Bayonne, a move which left his army with fewer troops to fight Wellington. By 18 February, Soult had his troops in position on the Gave d’Oloron at which point the weather broke again, causing another delay in operations.

On 24 February, Wellington launched a new offensive. For this operation, Hill was reinforced by the 6th and Light Divisions. Beresford with two divisions mounted a feint attack against the northern end of the French line. Picton was supposed to do the same opposite Sauveterre but he exceeded his orders, having found an apparently unguarded ford about 1,000 yards from the bridge. Picton decided to send  four light companies from Keane’s brigade across.  After a steep climb, they reached high ground only to be overpowered by a battalion of the 119th Line Infantry from Villatte’s division. In their flight down the slope and across the river, they lost about 80 of the 250 men who were either killed, captured or drowned. Somewhere in my head I could hear the ghost of Robert Craufurd laughing, remembering Picton’s refusal to support him during his own unauthorised crossing at the Coa in 1810.

Meanwhile Hill built a boat bridge and sent 20,000 troops across the Gave d’Oloron at Viellenave de Navarrenz, a move which led Soult to pull back to Orthez. Wellington was not particularly keen to fight a battle at this point and tried to outflank the French, sending Beresford to cross the Gave de Pau downstream at Lahontan to circle around Soult’s right flank. At the same time, Hill’s corps moved directly toward Orthez. By 25 February, Soult had gathered his army at Orthez and was ready to fight the Allies.

The French marshal commanded 33,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, 1,500 gunners and sappers with 48 field guns. Wellington had 38,000 infantry, 3,300 cavalry, 1,500 gunners and sappers, supported by 54 guns. With Soult ready to fight, Wellington intended to send Beresford to break Soult’s right flank while Picton and three divisions attacked the French centre. Meanwhile, Hill’s corps was to attack Orthez, get across the Gave de Pau and attack the French left flank effectively crushing Soult between Beresford and Hill.

Orthez is a pretty little town with the Gave de Pau running from southeast to northwest. Since Beresford was already on the same side of the Gave de Pau, the river only protected Soult’s position to the east of Orthez. However, there is an east-west ridge on the north side of Orthez that ends at the village of St Boes to the west. It rises to about 500 feet with the road running along the crest, with threeknolls rising even higher, as far as 595 feet above the village. These knolls held French artillery.

Soult posted four and a half divisions along this ridge, one division in Orthez and one division in reserve. Going from right to left, the ridge was held by the divisions of Taupin, Claude Pierre Rouget, Darmagnac and Foy. Rouget was in temporary command of Maransin’s division. Harispe’s remaining two brigades held Orthez while Villatte’s division was in reserve north of Orthez. Reille commanded Taupin, Rouget and Paris on the right flank, Drouet commanded Darmagnac and Foy in the center and Clausel had Harispe and Villatte on the left flank. The cavalry was scattered.

Wellington planned to send Cole’s 4th Division supported by Walker’s 7th Division to attack the western end of the ridge under the direction of Beresford. Picton would lead his own 3rd Division and Clinton’s 6th Division in attacking the French centre and Hill’s corps was to feint against Orthez with a Portuguese brigade and hold his two divisions ready to cross the Gave de Pau to the east of Orthez. Charles von Alten’s Light Division was placed under cover behind the old Roman camp where Wellington set up his headquarters located between Beresford’s and Picton’s columns.

It was frosty but not frozen on the morning of 27 February, difficult for me to imagine yesterday, exploring the battlefield in soaring temperatures. At 8.30 the 4th division attacked Taupin at St Boes and quickly seized the church. Ross’s brigade swept into the village but were driven back by the battery on the Plassotte knoll. Cole brought up a KGL battery to duel with Taupin’s guns. This immediately became the target of the French batteries on the Plassotte and Luc knolls; two guns were hit and Captain Sympher was killed. Cole deployed a Portuguese brigade on Ross’ right and sent his line forward again. The result was a second repulse in which Ross was wounded and the counterattack by Taupin’s troops recovered part of St Boes. For a time there was a lull as the two sides fired away at each other from the houses, but the Portuguese had no cover and began to fall back. Wellington sent over the 1st Caçadores Battalion from the Light Division. Cole’s line collapsed just as the reinforcements arrived and Taupin recovered the entire village and drove the Allies back to their starting point. Ross’ brigade suffered 279 casualties and the Portuguese brigade lost 295.

Picton’s attacks against the French centre also met stiff resistance. He had split the 3rd Division, sending Brisbane’s brigade up the right spur towards Foy and Keane’s brigade up the left spur toward Darmagnac’s division. Keane was supported by Power’s Portuguese brigade while Brisbane was followed up the right spur by Clinton’s 6th Division. Since the valleys between the spurs were deep and muddy, both advances were restricted to narrow fronts.

Picton’s skirmishers quickly drove back the French outposts. When the leading brigades came under accurate artillery fire from the Escorial and Lafaurie knolls, Picton held back his formed troops and reinforced his skirmish line to seven British light companies which moved forward until they came into contact with Soult’s main line where they were unable to advance any further. For two hours, Picton waited for Beresford’s attack as the two sides skirmished.

Wellington adjusted his plans after seeing his flank attack fail converting his holding attack with the 3rd and 6th Divisions into a full  assault beginning at 11.30am. He threw every available unit against the French right flank and centre, holding back only the second and third battalions of the 95th, the Portuguese 3rd Caçadores and the 17th foot. He also withdrew the battered brigades of Ross and Vasconcellos and sent in the 7th Division.

The struggle for St Boes began again when Walker’s division and Anson’s brigade attacked supported by two batteries firing from the church knoll. Taupin’s tired men, who had been fighting for about four hours, were driven back behind the Plassotte knoll.

Brisbane’s brigade came under damaging artillery fire. The brigade finally reached dead ground where the guns could not hit them, but then came under intense fire from French skirmishers who began picking off the soldiers. Nevertheless the 45th fought its way close to the top of the ridge where Fririon’s brigade of Foy’s division held the ridgeline. On the left of Brisbane’s brigade, two companies of the 88th were guarding the divisional artillery battery as it began pounding the French line. Soult spotted the threat and ordered a cavalry squadron to charge. The cavalry overran the two companies, inflicting heavy losses, and then went after the gunners. The remaining companies of the 88th immediately opened fire on the French horsemen, mowing most of them down to a loss of 165 men. The 88th suffered the highest casualty rate of any British unit at 269 killed and wounded.

At this point, Foy was wounded by shrapnel in his shoulder which affected the French morale. Brisbane’s brigade was replaced in the front line by two brigades of Clinton’s 6th Division. These fresh troops fired a volley from close range and advanced with bayonet, driving the French down the ridge’s rear slope.  Berlier’s brigade of Foy’s division fell back after Fririon’s retreat exposed its flank. With Berlier gone, Harispe’s two battalions in Orthez were compelled to retreat in order to avoid capture. On the left spur, Picton’s two brigades under Keane and Power pressed against Darmagnac’s division. After Foy’s division gave way, Darmagnac retreated to the next ridge in the rear, where his troops took position on the right of Villatte’s division. The divisional batteries of Picton and Clinton immediately attacked the new French position.

Rouget’s division and Paris’ brigade began to pull back after Darmagnac’s retreat which opened a gap between Rouget and Taupin. Wellington ordered the 52nd under Colborne to advance from the Roman Camp and drive a wedge into the French defensive line. Colborne led his men across marshy ground and then up the slope toward the Luc Knoll, winning a foothold at the top of the ridge on Taupin’s left flank. Wellington led the 3rd and the 6th in behind them and musket volleys created havoc in the French ranks.

In the thick of the fighting, Wellington’s Spanish liaison officer, Alava was hit in the buttocks by a spent bullet. As Wellington was teasing Alava, he was knocked off his horse when a spent ball struck his sword hilt, bruising his hip. Wellington remounted and continued to direct the battle. Against the advice of his doctors he ignored the injury with the result that he was later unable to ride for a week.

With both flanks turned, Taupin’s division retreated in haste to the northeast, the last French unit to be driven back. To the rear, Rouget’s division and Paris’ brigade joined together and fought a hard battle against the pursuing Allies.

Buchan’s brigade skirmished with the French defenders of Orthez all morning. Having received orders to cross the Gave de Pau, Hill marched for the Souars Ford at 11:00 am and brushed aside the French troops defending the ford. Hill’s troops were soon across the river in strength and pressing back Harispe’s outnumbered division. They were joined by Buchan’s Portuguese who crossed at the Orthez bridge the moment the town’s defenders pulled out. Joined by some newly arrived conscript battalions, Harispe attempted to make a stand at the Motte de Tury heights but the raw recruits were too inexperienced and Hill’s men broke Harispe’s line and captured three guns.

By now Soult had realized that Hill’s column might cut him off and ordered a retreat which began well but quickly disintegrated into chaos down narrow paths and across country. Soult had lost six field guns and 3,985 men including 542 killed, 2,077 wounded and 1,366 prisoners while the Allies sustained losses of 367 killed, 1,727 wounded and 80 captured for a total of 2,174.  In addition, many of the recently conscripted French soldiers promptly deserted. Soult did not attempt to defend the Luy de Béarn with his demoralized army but retreated north to Saint-Sever on the Adour.

Soult realised he could not defend both Bordeaux and Toulouse. He decided to head for Toulouse. Wellington sent Beresford with two divisions to take Bordeaux which Beresford did on 12 March. There was a brief lull in the fighting while Wellington sent for more troops and Soult ’s men recovered. When the Allied army finally marched towards Toulouse, they were marching towards the end of the war.

Orthez is just over thirty miles to the east of Bayonne, a pretty little town on the river Gave de Pau. The original bridge, with its distinctive sentry tower in the centre, is still there and can be seen from the modern bridge. We drove through the town to view Wellington’s deployment area up past the church and then drove up towards Baights de Bearn to see the spurs where Picton’s men would have been deployed to the right of the road.

Further on it is possible to view the ridge to the right which the Light Division used to climb up to the village. The location of St Boes has apparently changed  since the battle but the church marks the area where much of the fighting took place and it is possible to walk down the road towards the Roman Camp to see where the Light Division was engaged.

Memorial to Foy’s men at the battle of OrthezTurning right after St Boes we drove along the ridge held by Soult’s men. The 52nd would have climbed up the gulley to the right to appear between Taupin and Rouget’s division. It doesn’t look like a particularly easy climb and given the time of year it may well have been very boggy. There is a memorial to General Foy’s men on the left-hand side further along the road.

Having flown into Toulouse to begin this trip, for convenience sake, we are doing the battlefields backwards. By this time Soult was very much on the run, his troops battered and exhausted with many desertions among the new recruits. But at the beginning of Wellington’s attacks on the Pyrenees the matter was by no means certain. Tomorrow the plan is, to visit some of the sites of the Battle of the Nive.

Cambo-les-Bains, 21 April, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

An Unwilling Alliance – to be published in April 2018

Naval Action off Cape Santa Maria, Portugal, 1804

An Unwilling Alliance is the new book, due out in April 2018 and tells the story of Captain Hugh Kelly RN who returns to the Isle of Man after fifteen years away with a few months leave and a small fortune in prize money to find himself a sensible Manx wife.

Roseen Crellin is twenty-one and determined to resist her father’s efforts to find her a husband.  Still dreaming of the young English soldier who sailed away and broke her heart, she has no intention of encouraging Captain Kelly’s courtship and certainly no intention of developing a liking for the man.

Major Paul van Daan is newly promoted and just back from Ireland, sailing with his battalion to Copenhagen under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Paul’s courage and talent are unquestionable but his ability to manage the minefield of army politics has some way to go, and in a joint operation with the navy there are many ways for a man of Paul’s temperament to get things wrong.

Hugh joins Admiral Gambier’s fleet, trying to forget the girl he left behind him while Roseen’s unhappiness leads to a rash escapade that risks both her reputation and her life.  As Britain hovers on the brink of war with neutral Denmark and the diplomats and politicians negotiate to keep the Danish fleet out of Bonaparte’s hands, a more personal drama plays out on the decks of the Royal Navy and in the lines of Lord Cathcart’s army as an impulsive action puts Paul’s future in the army at risk.  Hugh Kelly finds himself torn between his duty to the service and a reluctant admiration for the young army officer willing to gamble his career on an act of charity.

An Unwilling Alliance is set on the Isle of Man and in Denmark in 1806-7.  For readers of the Peninsular War Saga, the action takes place during the first book, An Unconventional Officer and introduces Captain Hugh Kelly RN of HMS Iris who is from the Isle of Man.  In the following excerpt, Hugh’s courtship of Roseen is finally looking hopeful…

 

St Michael’s ChapelSt Michael’s Isle was the northern most point of the Langness Peninsula. Roseen remembered her father telling her that it used to be detached at high tide, a true island, but the causeway had been built in the middle of the previous century to link it permanently. It was formed of rocky slate, it’s acidic soil limiting the plants that could grow there, and it was inhabited now mainly by sea birds of all kinds, wheeling overhead with their hoarse cries and occasionally swooping down into the choppy sea which crashed onto the rocky shores of the island. It was a place of peace and great beauty but it was not quiet.
Roseen had grown up loving the sound of the sea and had always longed to live close enough to it to hear it through her open bedroom window at night. They dismounted and Hugh led both horses to the old chapel and tethered them to a rusty iron gate which had been put up to prevent people going into the chapel which was disused, roofless and probably dangerous. He turned back to Roseen and held out his hand and she smiled and took it. She was becoming accustomed to Captain Kelly’s assumption that she could not make her own way across rough ground, or indeed, up a flight of stairs, without his assistance. Privately, Roseen suspected his chivalry was an excuse to hold her hand, but she had no intention of asking him. He was likely to tell her the truth. He was also likely to stop doing it if he thought it annoyed her, and Roseen realised with some surprise that she did not want him to.
There were two buildings on the island. The tiny ruined chapel dated back to Celtic and Norse times and had long been abandoned, home now only to nesting birds and rabbits. The second was a circular fort, built originally under Henry VIII as part of a major coastal defensive system. It had a wall walk at the top and supported eight cannons. It had fallen into disuse for many years but was re-fortified in 1640 by James, 7th Earl of Derby, a strong royalist, against the ships of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War.
The fort was renamed Derby Fort and the Earl’s initials along with a date of 1645 could still be seen engraved above the fort door. Hugh paused to look at them and Roseen came to stand beside him.
“It’s small but it looks very solid,” she said.
“Aye, it is. Not that it was likely to be stormed by land, but with the other battery on the far side at Ronaldsway I wouldn’t enjoy sailing into Derbyhaven Bay under fire from two sides.”
“That one is more recent, isn’t it?”
Hugh nodded, pointing across the bay to the small battery. “At the end of the seventeenth century, I believe. I don’t know what condition that one’s in, not really looked closely, but I’ll bet they’ve done some work on it recently. They use this one as a lighthouse as well, don’t they?”
Roseen nodded. “Yes, for the herring fleet. When you’re out on the boats you can see it for miles, it’s an excellent location…”
She broke off realising what she had just said. Hugh did not respond immediately. He was looking out to sea at a small fleet of boats outlined against the bright sky in the distance and Roseen wondered if he had heard her and sought frantically for a change of subject. After a moment he looked round and smiled.
“Don’t look so horrified, Miss Crellin, you already told me, don’t you remember? When we were touring the house.”
“I’d forgotten,” Roseen admitted. “I don’t do it now. My father was worried it might cause people to think ill of me.”
“I think it was fine when you were a lass and your brother was with you. But your father is probably right that you had to stop. People will make something of nothing with a girl’s good name.”
“Does it bother you?” Roseen asked, and then could have bitten her tongue. The question implied a far closer relationship than she was willing to admit at this stage. At the same time, she really wanted to know the answer.”
“No, I can’t see any harm in it,” Hugh said simply. “Although if you were my daughter and looking to find a good husband I’d probably feel it was my duty to ensure that the busybodies didn’t find an excuse to gossip. Luckily they’re not here, so it’s none of their business.”
A voice startled both of them, a hail from the ramparts of the fort. A figure in a red coat was visible, musket in hands, looking down at them.
“Who goes there, sir?” he called.
“Captain Hugh Kelly of the Iris. Jesus, fella, you frightened the wits out of me, I’d no idea the place was occupied.”
The sergeant of fencibles grinned in a manner that suggested he was well aware of the effect of his unexpected shout. “Sorry, sir. Just half a dozen of us on guard duty. They’re keeping it manned now as a lookout. I wondered if you wanted to bring the lady in for a look around, since you’re here?”
Hugh looked at Roseen. “Would you like to, Miss Crellin?”
“Yes, thank you. I’ve been here so often, but never inside.”
There was little to see inside. Most of the stone flags had long gone or were broken and grass had taken their place. There were the remains of a free standing building, too damaged to guess it’s original purpose, although the sergeant and six soldiers of the fencibles had turned it into a makeshift camp site with a small fire lit. Roseen imagined this was not a popular duty but the men seemed to have made the best of it. Two of them manned the battlements while the others rose and saluted Hugh with commendable speed as he approached. It was odd to see him accepting and returning the salute as his due. It was not how Roseen saw him and she wondered suddenly how different he was aboard his ship with hundreds of men under his command.
In recesses in the wall to the north and north-west, six cannons covered the entrance to the bay and Roseen listened with some amusement to Hugh’s questions about the guns, their origin, their age and their maintenance. The sergeant answered as best he could but it was very clear that Hugh knew a good deal more than he did about the guns. They inspected the lighthouse placement which was probably the most useful aspect of the fort, and when their visit was ended she saw Hugh speaking quietly to the sergeant, before slipping him what was clearly a vail. The smartness of the sergeant’s salute suggested that it was a generous one.
Riding back towards Castletown and then on to Malew and the Top House for dinner, Hugh was quiet and Roseen thought about that and realised that she was very comfortable with his silence. She studied him as they rode and wondered what he was thinking about.
“Miss Crellin?”
She realised, in some confusion, that she had been staring at him and blushed. “Oh – I’m sorry, that was rude of me.”
“No, it wasn’t. You were probably wondering if I was still alive, I’ve been sitting here like a stuffed owl for a quarter of an hour and there’s no excuse for it. My manners are terrible, it’s my job to entertain you.”
“No, it isn’t. That makes you sound rather like a performing monkey.”
Hugh choked with laughter. “Is that better or worse than a stuffed owl?”
“I am not sure. Probably I would choose the owl. Half the officers in Castletown are definitely more like the monkey and it is tiresome. I was just wondering what you were thinking about but it is none of my business.”
“It is if I choose to make it so, lass. And it is so boring I’m embarrassed. I was thinking about guns, wondering about placement on the Iris and whether I could get my hands on a couple of 68 pounder carronades. They’d be unusual on a ship of her size, but I’ve seen how useful they can be. But this is not the time…”
“What are the usual guns on a ship like the Iris?” Roseen asked, cutting off his apology. She had never really thought much about naval gunnery but she liked hearing Hugh talk about his profession. He did so rarely but it was different to the posturing of the young army officers she had met. There was genuine enthusiasm in his voice when he talked about the Iris which lent interest to the subject.
“She’s a 74 gun third rater, which means two gun decks. Beautifully built and very fast; she was taken from the French and although I hate to say it, they build faster ships than we do, although we’ve got very good at copying their designs. She carries twenty-eight 32 pounders on her gundeck, twenty-eight 18 pounders on her upperdeck, four 12 pounders and ten 32 pounder carronades on her quarterdeck, two 12-pounders and two 32 pounder carronades on her forecastle, and six 18 pounder carronades on her poop deck. The carronades are short-range guns, they smash the enemy ship to bits. Up on the forecastle they can make a big difference in a close fight, Victory had two at Trafalgar. I am trying to work out who owes me a favour or two. And I am astonished that your eyes are not glazing over with boredom. I am actually boring myself.”

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors

Fireworks in London
Fireworks in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn and Richard
Love and Marriage

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

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

Castletown 2017
Castletown 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

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

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

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

Writing with Labradors
Toby and Joey – Writing with Labradors

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

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

 

 

The Border Reivers

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

LiddesdaleFor 300 years the people of the Anglo-Scottish Border region lived in a war zone. Invading armies caused terror, destruction and death and the ongoing conflict forged men who were expert raiders and cattle thieves, owing loyalty to none but their own clan, their own surname.  We have come to know them as the Border Reivers.

Since the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were often at war, and the people who suffered most were the ordinary folk of the Anglo-Scottish borders.  Their livelihood was torn apart by the wars and even in times of peace, ongoing tension was high and royal authority on either side could not be relied upon to keep their people safe.

The Borderers found their own solution.  Families, kindred and surnames sought security through their own means, using strength, cunning and a degree of ruthlessness which was nothing less than piracy on land to improve their lot at the expense of whoever appeared to be their enemy at the time.  Over the years feuds and enmities grew to enormous proportions and loyalty to kin and surnames overrode any sense of national loyalty.  With any man and his family a potential target for depredations, it became important to know where it was safe to bestow trust.

It was a predatory way to live, not helped by the local inheritance system of gavelkind, by which estates were divided equally between all sons on a man’s death, so that many people owned insufficient land to maintain themselves.  Much of the border region is mountainous or open moorland, unsuitable for arable farming but good for grazing. Livestock was easily stolen and driven back to raiders’ territory by mounted reivers who knew the country. The raiders also often stole portable household goods or valuables, and took prisoners for ransom.

The attitudes of the English and Scottish governments towards the border families moved between indulgence and encouragement, as these martial families acted as the first line of defence against invasion across the border, to furious and brutal punishment when their lawlessness became impossible for the authorities to tolerate.

“Reive” is an early English word for “to rob” and is related to the  old English verb reave, meaning to plunder or to rob and to the modern English word “ruffian”.  The reivers were both English and Scottish and raided both sides of the border impartially, so long as the people they raided had no protection and no connection to their own kin. Their activities, although usually within a day’s ride of the border, might extend both north and south of their main riding areas. English raiders had been known to raid the outskirts of Edinburgh, and Scottish raids had been seen as far south as Yorkshire. The largest of these was The Great Raid of 1322, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, which reached as far south as Chorley. The main riding season ran through the early winter months, when the nights were longest and the cattle and horses fat from summer grazing. The numbers involved in a raid might range from a few dozen to three thousand riders.

When riding, the reivers rode light on hardy nags known as hobbies, renowned for their ability to pick their way over the boggy country.  They wore light armour such as jacks of plated steel, a type of sleeveless doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched and metal helmets such as burgonets or morions; hence their nickname of the “steel bonnets”. They were armed with lances and small shields, and sometimes also with longbows, or light crossbows and later on in their history with one or more pistols. They also carried swords and dirks.

During the sixteenth century, areas of the borders were a virtual “no man’s land”.  The Wardens of the Marches, both Scottish and English, made periodic attempts to bring some of the major riding families under control although corruption was rife and some of the Wardens were reivers themselves while many of them turned a blind eye to raiding, theft and the system of Black Rent – the origin of the work Blackmail.

The ordinary people of the borders adjusted to the system, suffered, paid, were burned out and sometimes died.  It was a time of great brutality and intermittent wars between England and Scotland only added to the confusion and the problem.  Feuds between families could last for decades and the original reason for the blood feud was often forgotten in the blood and death which followed.  Scott killed Kerr and Maxwells hunted Johnstones, and surnames across the border united against a common enemy with kinship held far higher than national loyalty.

In 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow took it upon himself to excommunicate the Border thieves.  It is doubtful if the riding surnames were very impressed having long since given up on both church and state but the curse was ordered to be read from every pulpit in the diocese and be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Borders.

I DENOUNCE, PROCLAIMS, AND DECLARES all and sundry the committers of the said of innocents murders, slaughters, burning, inheritances, robbery, thefts, and spoilings, openly upon day light and under silence of night, as well as within temporal lands as church lands; together with their part takers, assisters, suppliers, knowingly and of their persons, the goods snatched and stolen by them, art or part thereof, and their counsellors and defenders, of their evil deeds generally cursed, waking, aggravated, and re-aggravated, with the great cursing.

“I CURSE their head and all the hairs of their head; I CURSE their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their skull, their shoulder’s, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the sole of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I CURSE them going, and I CURSE them riding; I CURSE them standing, and I CURSE them sitting; I CURSE them eating, I CURSE them drinking; I CURSE them walking, I CURSE them sleeping; I CURSE them rising, I CURSE them lying; I CURSE them at home, I CURSE them from home; I CURSE them within the house, I CURSE them without the house; I CURSE their wives, their children and their servants (who) participate with them in their deeds.

I Worry their corn, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their live goods (animals).
I Worry their houses, their rooms, their kitchens, their stables, their barns, their byres, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the possessions and houses that are necessary for their sustentation and welfare. All the bad wishes and curses that ever got worldly creature since the beginning of the world to this hour might light upon them. The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that struck them from the high heaven to the deep hell, might light upon them. The re and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise might stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forbear and make amends. The bad wishes that lighted on cursed Cain, when he slew his brother just Abel guiltless, might light on them for the innocent slaughter that they commit daily. The malediction that lighted upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, might light upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them for their wicked sins. The thunder and lightning that set down as rain upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the lands about, and burnt them for their vile sins, might rain upon them, and burn them for open sins. The bad wishes and confusion that lighted on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride, building the tour of Babylon, might confound them and all their works, for their open disregard and oppression. All the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, corn and cattle, might fall upon them, their leases (of land), rooms and buildings, corn and animals. The river of Tweed and other rivers where they ride might drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, pursuing Gods people of Israel. The earth might open, split and cleave and swallow them alive to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, that disobeyed Moses and command of God. The wild re that burnt Thore and his fellows to the number of two hundredth and fty, and others 14,000 and 700 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, might suddenly burn and consume them daily disobeyed and commands of God and holy church.

The malediction that lights suddenly upon fair Absolom, riding contrary to his father, King David, servant of God, through the wood, when the branches of a tree knocked him off his horse and hanged him by the hair, might light upon them, untrue Scots men, and hang them suchlike that all the world may see.

The malediction that lighted upon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nebuchadnezzar’s, making war and hardships upon true Christian men; the malediction that lighted upon Judas, Pilot, Herod and the Jews that cruci ed Our Lord, and all the plagues and troubles that lighted on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, cursed Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus, Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants that slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, might light upon them for their cruel tyranny and martyrdom of Christian people. And all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, might fall on them for their open evil, slaughter of guiltless and shedding of innocent blood. I SEVER and PARTS them from the kirk of God, and deliver them alive to the devil of hell, as the Apostil Saint Paul delivered Corinth. I exclude the places they come in for divine service, ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of baptising only; and forbid all churchmen to take confession or absolve them of their sins, which they be rst absolved of this cursing.

I FORBID all Christian man or woman to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, standing, or in any other deed doing, under the pain of deadly sin.

I DISCHARGE all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths and obligations made to them by any persons, other of law, kindness or duty, so long as they sustain this cursing; so that no man be bound to them, and that they be bound to all men. I Take from them and cry down all the good deeds that ever they did or shall do, which they rise from this cursing. I DECLARE them excluded of all matins, masses, evensongs, mourning or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and poorhouse deeds done or to be done in holy church or by Christian people, enduring this cursing.

“And, nally, I CONDEMN them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of the Burrow Muir, rst to be hanged, then torn apart with dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their life gone from your sight, as might their souls go from the sight of God, and their good fame from the world, which they forbear their open sins aforesaid and rise from this terrible cursing, and make satisfaction and penance”.

The Archbishop seems to have lost patience with the Reivers and one imagines he was not the only one to do so.

In modern times the story of the Border Reivers has been brilliantly told in histories by George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets and by Alistair Moffat in The Reivers.  In fiction, Dorothy Dunnett covered the difficulties of establishing law and order on the borders in the literary brilliance of the Lymond Chronicles and more recently P F Chisholm, alias Patricia Finney has told the fictional story of the real life Warden Sir Robert Carey in an excellent series of novels which have recently been reissued in omnibus editions, the first of which is Guns in the North.

My own contribution to the story of the Border Reivers is A Marcher Lord, set during the Wars of the Rough Wooing when Edward VI’s government under the Lord Protector Somerset tried to capture the baby Mary Queen of Scots in order to marry her to their young King.  The novel tells the story of a Scottish border lord, loyal to the Crown and a young Englishwoman new to the borders with no fixed loyalties but a wealth of experience of the mercenary bands of Europe.

The Anglo-Scottish borders are one of my favourite parts of the world.  I love the countryside, the history and the people.  Many of my books are set in the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century but I enjoyed my research into sixteenth century Scotland and I intend to return soon to find out what Will and Jenny did next…

 

Black Tot Day – a little piece of naval history.

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 eight 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 committed, 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 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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Photographs of our Peninsular War Saga Tour, April 2017

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

I wanted to share some of the photographs of Spain and Portugal which were taken when we visited some of the settings for An Unconventional Officer and the rest of the Peninsular War Saga.

Many thanks to Richard for the brilliant photographs.  It was the most amazing feeling to stand looking at some of the buildings and places associated with my story – I’d read endless descriptions and battlefield guides but actually going there gave the whole thing a completely different feeling.

They also gave me some fantastic new book covers.  I’ve been unsure about the original covers for these books from the start.  Partly this was because despite all Sheri’s amazing efforts, I just couldn’t find the right couple to portray Paul and Anne as I saw them.  I don’t have the money to pay a commercial artist to draw them and the couple on the book just don’t work for me.  They were a brilliant compromise to get me started and I love all Sheri’s other covers for me, but I was unsettled about these.

Secondly, I am aware that the covers gave a very strong impression of a romantic novel, with the couple being the main feature.  I’m all in favour of romantic novels, but these books are something more and I wanted to convey that.  Richard, who is as good with technology as he is with photography, offered to try to create something different, and the results are actually rather stunning, with a scene from each book layered with an old map of the Peninsula.  I love them to bits and I genuinely think they’re helping to sell the books to people who would probably not have thought to try them before.  They’re only available on the kindle version at present, but we are working on the paperback covers.  None of this detracts from the great work done by Sheri McGathy on all my covers and I will continue to use her and heartily recommend her, especially for romance and fantasy novels.  Her prices are reasonable, she’s quick and reliable and very patient with fiddling around to get the result you want.

An Irregular Regiment
Book 2 of the Peninsular War Saga

Working on the new covers with the man I married was definitely a challenge at times.  I can’t speak highly enough of his patience and tolerance of my uncertainty about “home made covers”.  In the end he came up with something which I think is better than some commercially produced covers that I’ve seen.  There is a theme, and I’m looking forward to going back to the Peninsula next year, and possibly to Waterloo as well to take more photographs for future covers.  I’m also going to get him to design one for my Manx themed novel since we’d be spoiled for choice for beautiful photographs here.

The areas of Spain and Portugal we visited were not major tourist areas, and having a car is essential, although there are a number of very good tour companies which do Peninsular War trips for those who don’t want to drive.  I loved both countries, but on this trip I think Portugal won for me.  In A Redoubtable Citadel,  Paul is described as having fallen in love with Portugal: the language, the culture and the people.  I think the same thing happened to me.

There are several blog posts from the trip but I’m currently putting together a section of the website specifically for travel and reviews of historic sites which I’ll share when it’s complete.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos and if you want to see more, there are galleries associated with all my books here

This is the link to Richard’s flickr page which has a variety of photographs on it and is well worth a visit.

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Badajoz – the last stop in our Peninsular War saga tour

Storming of Badajoz

The final day of our trip was spent in the fortress town of Badajoz, which finally fell to Wellington on 6th April 1812 after previous attempts had failed.

Walls of Badajoz

With the sounds of battle filling the air Paul looked over at Wheeler and nodded.  “All right, we’re going in.  Carter, pass the orders back quietly.  No sign of life over here, I’m hoping they’re looking the other way but they’re up there, trust me.  Let’s get those ladders to the front.”

Following their officers, the third brigade moved quickly and quietly over the ground.  At their head were the ladder parties.  Each group had been given very specific instructions about the placement of the ladders and Paul watched approvingly as they ran down towards the ditch.

He had given orders for them to pause at the edge and the men of the 110th and 112th light companies moved ahead throwing lighted bales of hay into the darkness.  The flames lit up the ditch garishly and Paul’s sharpshooters dropped into position, rifles pointed at the battlements.  There were shouts in French from the ramparts as the French realised that their section of the wall was under attack and Paul surveyed the ditches in the flare of the bales.

“Chevaux de frise,” he said in matter of fact tones.  “All right, Carl, keep up that fire.  Get the lads to take down as many as you can while we’re hanging around.  Skirmish formation – one fires and when the French fire back the other shoots at the flash.  Ten minutes of that should keep them busy.  Hammond, get me some volunteers to go down and haul those bloody things out of the way the minute the flares go out.  Preferably men who can see in the dark and have a brain.”

Above in the darkness the fire from the defenders was increasing and Paul kept a wary eye on the range as a dozen men scrambled quietly down into the blackness of the ditch armed with ropes to drag the chevaux de frise out of the way.  In the distance the noise of battle had grown louder and Paul wondered how the rest of the division was doing in the breaches.

There was a sudden explosion of light and sound and screams of pain from a section of his men and he swore softly.

“They’re onto us,” he said, and raised his voice.  “Hammond, how’s it going?”

“Nearly there, sir, three men down but they’re too late.”

“Good news!”  Paul turned to yell orders and his brigade, silent and still in the night, exploded into sudden action.  More hay bales were lit and in the flare of their light he looked down and saw the path through the ditch was clear.

“Advance!” he yelled, and the ladder parties scooped up their burdens again and continued their run under covering fire from the rifles of his sharpshooters.

He had known that the chances were high that the ladders would be too short to reach the top of the wall for most of it’s length but there was one stretch of the curtain wall which was much lower, having been previously damaged and not built up to it’s full height.  It was to the right of his position and the risk of mining was higher, but if he could get a small force up onto the ramparts there, they could hit the defenders in the flank and distract them for long enough to allow the ladder parties to scramble up.

On his orders, his men advanced in immaculate order.  The main ladders were swung up to the walls with men below steadying them to give maximum height and support, and his men swarmed up at speed.  Above him, Paul heard cries in both English and French as the first men reached the top and he realised with a spurt of triumph that the ladders had reached and that his men were fighting at the top.  Already bodies were falling and he knew some of them would be English.  With the defenders busy he turned and called out to Carl, who began his run towards the lowered section of the wall with his chosen companies.

It was going well.  Paul had the sense that his men were following orders and although many of them were coming down off the ladders, they were replaced immediately by more scrambling up.  The sounds from the breaches had faded from his consciousness now that his brigade were engaged and he waited for another ten minutes and then moved forward.

“All right lads, I’m going up.”

“Not yet, sir…”

“Out of the way, Mr Heron before I kick you.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to stand at the top waving a flag.”

There was laughter amidst the blood and fire and slaughter and he set his foot on the ladder and began to climb.  Shot rained around him but he kept his body close in and was making good progress when his foot encountered a rung which felt unexpectedly shaky and he heard, from above, a yell of warning and then cries of fear.

“It’s breaking up!”

Paul swore.  He could feel the wood giving way under the weight of men.  It often happened and he knew the danger of falling onto the bayonets of the men below him.  Pushing himself back he jumped into thin air and braced himself.  The leap took him over the heads of the men below him and back to the edge of the ditch.  He felt the impact jar through his body and he rolled over and slid back down into the ditch, feeling the bodies of injured and dead men crashing around him.  As he came to a halt something ripped into his hip and he dug his heels into the ground hard to stop his slide and found himself crushed by a press of fallen men into the edge of one of the chevaux de frise which had been dragged out of the way earlier. 

(From A Redoubtable Citadel by Lynn Bryant, Book 4 of the Peninsular War Saga)

At Badajoz, I finally felt it.  After over a week of travelling around Portugal and Spain visiting locations and potential locations for scenes in my books, I’ve seen some beautiful and amazing places and I’ve felt at times as though I could imagine my characters being there, living their lives in the shadow of death.

Badajoz is not beautiful.  It is certainly in a beautiful setting and there are quiet spots in the town where you can get the sense of the old walled fortress town which existed in 1812 when Wellington’s army, on it’s third attempt, managed to batter down the walls and fight their way in.  Badajoz is a modern town.  There isn’t the sense of history, the sense of the past preserved that you get in Ciudad Rodrigo or Elvas.  There is the sense of people going to work and having lunch and living their lives.  Badajoz is just an ordinary town in Spain with an interesting history.

Walls of Badajoz

Maybe that’s why it worked for me.  Standing beside the walls, reading the guide which explained in matter of fact words that the road I was looking at went through the breach and that during the storming it would have been piled high with rubble and with thousands of dead and wounded Allied soldiers, I felt a genuine sense of horror.  It doesn’t seem possible now that those men on both sides of the wall, fought and bled and died on ground which is now just a road going into town.

Badajoz

The horror didn’t end there.  When the Allies finally broke in leaving over a thousand dead and another three thousand wounded, heaped on top of each other in the breaches or below the walls, the English army went mad.  It was an accepted custom of war that if a citadel under siege fails to surrender and has to be taken by storming, the troops were allowed to sack the town.  This is horrific enough under any circumstances, but in 1812 the Spanish population of the town, although some were pro-French, were for the most part innocent civilians of a country allied to Britain in the fight against Napoleon.

It didn’t save them.  For almost three days the men of the British army ran riot in the town.  Murder, theft and rape were committed openly and anybody who stood in their way, including some of their own officers, was at risk of being shot down.  Eventually Wellington, appalled at the destruction and violence, set up a gallows in the square as a threat to the drunken men and the chaos died down.  But during those days it must have been hard for the Spanish to feel a sense of gratitude that their city had been liberated from the French.

I felt it more strongly in this noisy, modern town than anywhere else.  I felt sad for those men coming down off the formidable ramparts to add to the piles of dead below.  I felt a sense of the waste and the agony and the bloodshed.  Perhaps it’s because so little actually remains, it’s as if they’ve been forgotten.  Perhaps it’s because it was our last day and then I was going home and back to reality.

It took a while to pull myself out of nineteenth century Spain and Portugal on the journey home.  I couldn’t wait to get back to work and write the next book.  And of all the places I’ve visited I’m not sure I’d go back to Badajoz.  Not because it was a noisy modern town where history has vanished in places.  But because in the places where it remains, I felt indescribably sad.

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Elvas

Elvas is beautiful.

We arrived at lunchtime, staying at the stunning Quinta de Santa Antonio just outside the town. As we were having lunch sitting on a bench in the beautiful gardens, I will admit I was looking around me making notes in my head. This place would have been here when Wellington’s army was besieging Badajoz, and already I can see how it could be used as a setting.

Gardens of the Quinta de Santa Antonio, near Elvas

In the Peninsular War saga, Anne and Paul arrive for a brief stay in Elvas during the run up to the storming of Badajoz.  Anne has just been returned after a two week ordeal in French captivity and for once Wellington has granted Paul some leave (with the proviso that as it’s only 11 miles away he can get him back very quickly).  Inevitably the short holiday doesn’t go entirely to plan but even today, Elvas is a haven of peace in places.

The town of Elvas was at the top of a hill, five miles northwest of the Guadiana River, a fortress town surrounded by seven bastions and the two forts of Santa Luzia and Nossa Senhora da Graça. It was a town of winding streets and graceful buildings, many of them dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Anne was particularly fascinated by the aqueduct, almost four miles long which had been built in the fifteenth century to supply the town with pure water.

Paul and Anne were given a room in a pretty inn, white painted and clean with high ceilings and long white draped windows.  For a town so close to the war zone which had been variously held by both the French and the English, it seemed remarkably untouched by war. For three days they wandered hand in hand through the narrow cobbled streets, and explored the local churches, forts and shops.  They ate in cosy taverns, surrounded by locals who welcomed them with smiles, and slept late, revelling in waking together with no need to rise for early drill.

(From ‘A Redoubtable Citadel’ by Lynn Bryant, Book 4 in the Peninsular War series)

Driving into Elvas after lunch I felt, almost more than anywhere else we have been, as though I had stepped back in time and was walking in the footsteps of Paul and Anne as they arrived in Elvas for their brief holiday before the horrors of the storming of Badajoz.  The aqueduct is the most amazing piece of architecture, ushering us into the town.

The aqueduct, Elvas

Elvas is a place of tiny cobbled streets and white and ochre painted houses with churches dotted about and a series of forts giving the impression of a formidable military presence.  During the war, Elvas escaped the destruction and havoc wreaked on the other three great border fortresses, and the preservation work done on the old town has protected it’s history.

The Cathedral in Elvas

There is so much to see here that I could turn into a guide book very easily.  The highlight for me was the old cathedral, with the square outside where Paul and Anne van Daan shared a brief spell of normality eating outside a tavern, listening to the locals around them talking about crops and the weather instead of war and bloodshed.  We had coffee outside a small cafe on the square, and looked around at the ancient buildings very much as they must have done.

The cathedral, Elvas

The other highlight of the town, especially on a glorious day like this one, are the stunning views from the various ramparts and high points around the town.  With the hills rising into the distance it is one of the loveliest places I’ve been to.

Countryside around Elvas, Portugal

Before leaving we visited the tiny English cemetery with it’s memorials to the dead of the Peninsular War, in particular the storming of Badajoz and the battle of Albuera, both of which had huge numbers of dead and injured from the Allied army.  

English Cemetary in Elvas

On one wall of the cemetery was a memorial stone to Lt Colonel Charles Bevan, who sadly shot himself after he felt he had been unfairly blamed for the escape of the French garrison from Almeira, an incident mentioned in the third book ‘An Uncommon Campaign’.

Memorial to Colonel Charles Bevan in the English Cemetary in Elvas

Our trip is almost over and I’ll be glad to get home to see my offspring and my dogs, although I’ve had the best time here.  I’ve been to Spain before but this is my first time in Portugal and I’ve rather fallen in love, with the country, the culture and the people.  I’ve learned so much this week, and have so much work to do to incorporate some of it into the books I’m writing.

Just at the moment I’m sitting in the hotel with the sound of birdsong and a fountain through the open window.  It’s still sunny although slightly cooler and  I can hear the cattle in the background.  It is so beautiful and so peaceful, it’s hard to imagine that only a few miles away in Badajoz the sound of gunfire and falling masonry would have been exploding into the silence as Wellington’s artillery tried to break down the formidable defences of the second great Spanish fortress.

He succeeded but the cost was horrendous.  Tomorrow, our last full day, we are going to the bustling modern town of Badajoz to look for the remains of the town where the British soldiers ran wild in an orgy of destruction and violence when the citadel fell.

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