An Indomitable Brigade

An Indomitable Brigade is the seventh book in the Peninsular War Saga, and war gets very real for Major-General Paul van Daan and his wife Anne as Wellington marches into Spain with the intention of driving King Joseph Bonaparte’s army all the way back to France.

May 1813

The long months of winter quarters are over and Lord Wellington leads his army into Spain once more, with a strategy designed to push King Joseph Bonaparte’s army back into France. Officers, men and the women who accompany them endure a series of relentless forced marches in bad weather as the columns of Wellington’s army converge on the town of Vitoria.

Major-General Paul van Daan is in his element, back on campaign with Anne by his side and his men in good health and high spirits. The new commander for the 115th, Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Norton is a big improvement on Major Vane and Van Daan’s brigade is ready to fight.

Lieutenant-Colonel Carl Swanson is enjoying married life and Keren is becoming used to her role as the wife of an officer.  Colonel Johnny Wheeler is less settled in his personal life. Torn between loyalty to a former love and his feelings for a woman he met while on furlough in England, he could do without having to deal with a new junior officer who is taking a lax attitude to his duties.

Sergeant Jamie Hammond may have waited too long to act on his attachment to the young daughter of a fellow NCO. Meanwhile, in the French lines, Captain Damien Cavel takes command of a company of the 30th légère and finds himself facing the prospect of fighting against the husband of the woman whose life he once saved.

Personal dramas and conflicting loyalties are swept aside as the armies of Joseph Bonaparte and Lord Wellington clash on the field of Vitoria. In the slaughter that follows, Paul van Daan’s indomitable brigade faces one of its hardest tests so far, while on the bloodstained operating tables of the hospitals and field stations, Anne and the medical staff fight to save the lives of both friend and foe.

An Indomitable Brigade is book seven of the popular Peninsular War Saga and will be published on Kindle and in paperback on 23rd April 2022 – St George’s Day.

The settings and history behind An Indomitable Brigade

Whereas the previous book, an Unmerciful Incursion, takes place over a leisurely six months, the action in An Indomitable Brigade is packed into less than six weeks, and Wellington’s army was on the move for pretty much the whole time, with an occasional rest day here and there. This made it both an easier and a more difficult book to write.

On the one hand, there was no need to construct elaborate fictional storylines for my characters. For once, I knew exactly where they all were and what they’d be doing for most of the time, I just had to find a way to write it and make it interesting.

“Got up at dawn. Marched all day. Ate. Slept. Got up at dawn.”

You can see how readers might get bored with that.

The down side of Wellington’s packed schedule during May and June 1813 is that there really isn’t much time to slot in complicated plotlines for any of my characters. If one of them is suffering emotional angst, he or she needs to do so on the move, because this army waits for nobody.

Once again, in terms of illustrations, we were unable to travel to take photographs. However, we’re not wholly bereft, as we did manage to get to Vitoria during our trip in 2018. I’d still like to go back to do a more detailed tour.

The bridge at Trespuentes

General Charles Alten’s Light Division, which included Van Daan’s brigade, was not engaged in the early stages of the battle, and waited for orders near the bridge at Villodas. Later, part of the division marched to the bridge at Trespuentes which was inexplicably found to be wholly unguarded.

 

The church in Durana

There are some beautiful churches in the villages dotted about the battlefield. This is the church in Durana and was my model for the church in my fictional village of San Benito, where things change dramatically for Van Daan’s brigade.

 

There is a small but very good army museum in Vitoria with a lot of information about the battle, including this detailed model.

Model of the battle in the army museum in Vitoria

Vitoria sadly lacks a well laid out battlefield tour such as Salamanca has, but there are signposts to the most important sites.

This way to the battlefield

The knoll of Arinez was where King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan initially established their command post. It gave them an excellent view over much of the battlefield.

Memorial cross on the hill of Arinez
Author and photographer on location

Dalhousie and Picton led their men over the bridge at Mendoza and the nearby fords and would have passed this impressive tower en route. I’ve not been able to discover if it was occupied by either side but will update this when I find out.

The tower of Mendoza

An excerpt from an Indomitable Brigade

As they rode into the temporary bivouac, the men began to rise uncertainly to their feet. One or two saluted. Philip looked around him and realised that the only officer he could see was the young Portuguese, who was approaching from the horse lines. Philip groaned inwardly, wondering where the others were. To his relief, a familiar voice called an order, and the men scrambled untidily into line.

“Jesus Christ, you look like a choirboys’ picnic,” Sergeant Coates said in disgust. He turned to the two horsemen and saluted smartly. “New recruits, General, and Sergeant Coates reporting for duty.”

General van Daan was smiling broadly. “Sergeant Coates. I’ve missed you, you smart-mouthed Cornish pirate. Captain Elliott will be delighted to see you back. Fully recovered?”

“Better than ever, sir.”

“Good. Don’t bloody do it again, we need you. And Captain Ronaldo, it’s good to see you again. Congratulations on your promotion. Lieutenant-Colonel Frasco told me you would be joining his battalion. Welcome to the Light Division.”

The General dismounted, handing his reins to his orderly, and walked towards the lines. Philip could feel himself squirm, even though they were not really his men, and he was not responsible for their lack of training and slovenly appearance. There was still no sign of the other officers.

General van Daan made his way along the line. He seemed to know all the returning men and stopped to exchange a word or a joke with each of them. Once or twice, he spoke to one of the new recruits, who were almost too nervous to reply. Philip watched his commander’s progress with growing interest. He had been in the army for long enough to be able to make a very quick assessment of a new senior officer and so far, he liked what he saw of Major-General Paul van Daan.

The General had almost reached the end of the second line when there was the sound of approaching voices. Philip looked towards the village and saw them coming, six young men in red coats, laughing and talking. One or two of the men turned their heads to look, then turned eyes back to the front at a rapped order from Sergeant Coates. Philip had spent two weeks getting to know Sergeant Coates and he thought that the Cornishman looked suspiciously cheerful.

Paul van Daan finished his conversation with one of the new recruits as though he had heard nothing, then walked back to the front of the lines and spoke in a clear, carrying voice.

“Welcome to the Light Division. You’ve arrived in the middle of our advance and it’s likely you’ll see action very soon. For some of you it won’t be the first time. My advice to you is watch where you’re going and don’t get wounded again, it fucking hurts.”

There was a ripple of surprised laughter through the ranks. The six new officers appeared to have realised that something was going on, and had stopped on the edge of the ranks, silent now and looking awkward.

“As for the rest of you, you’re new and it will feel strange, and at times completely terrifying. Don’t worry about it, we all felt that way once, and it passes. Look out for your friends, remember your training, and listen to your officers and NCOs. And be proud. You’re soldiers of the Light Division, which is the best in this army. Good luck, fight well and stay alive. I’d like to get to know you all better. Sergeant Coates?”

“Sir?”

“Get them organised. We march in fifteen minutes.”

Coates rolled his eyes expressively. “I’ll do my best, sir, but truthfully…”

“I have faith in you, Sergeant.”

General van Daan walked back to where Philip waited. Philip noticed that Sergeant Jenson, the General’s orderly, was grinning openly.

“Colonel Norton, did you give any one of those officers permission to leave camp and go into the village to find a tavern?” Van Daan asked quietly.

Norton wondered how he had known where they had been, and then realised it was an intelligent guess and he was probably right. “No, sir. I left instructions to remain here until I returned with directions.”

“I don’t think any of them are your officers, are they?”

“No, sir. Ensigns Flack and Cook are for the 110th and Ensigns Moss, Bodley, Fox and Cole are all for the 112th.”

“Congratulations on not having to deal with any of this lot. Are you ready to march?”

“Yes, sir, I told my groom and my servant not to unload any baggage until I knew where we were going.”

“Excellent. Will you excuse me for a moment, this won’t take long.”

The General walked towards the group of officers. All of them stood to attention and saluted and Paul van Daan stood looking over them in silence. The silence went on for a long time. Flack was moistening dry lips by licking them, and Moss, who was very skinny, was swallowing hard, his Adam’s apple visibly bobbing. All were fidgeting apart from Fox, who stood very straight, staring straight ahead. Eventually, when even Philip was beginning to feel uncomfortable, Paul van Daan spoke.

“Welcome to Spain, gentlemen. Did you enjoy your refreshment at the tavern?”

Nobody spoke. Van Daan let the silence stretch out again until the younger men were visibly squirming. Then he said:

“You left camp without the permission of your commanding officer to go drinking. In my regiment and my brigade, that is unacceptable behaviour, and you could find yourself on a charge. More importantly, you will find yourselves on a list of people who have pissed me off that week, and nobody wants to be on that list. You, what’s your name?”

“Fox, sir. Ensign Laurence Fox, 112th light infantry.”

“Well Mr Fox, when I look at your fellow subalterns, they’re all shaking in their shoes which is exactly what they should be doing. You, on the other hand, are standing there telling yourself stories about how much you don’t give a damn about me or anything I’m saying. No, don’t speak, I’ve neither the time nor the interest for it just now. When I do have time, we’ll have a conversation. I will also refer the matter to Colonel Wheeler, your commanding officer, and I assure you that if you take that attitude with him you are going to regret it very quickly. I’d put a shilling on the fact that it was your idea to sneak off and get a drink when you should have been doing your duty but who’d be stupid enough to take the bet?”

Philip was watching the six men. Ensign Fox managed to control his surprise quickly but several of the others looked startled and Philip mentally saluted Van Daan’s percipience. There was another painful silence, then General van Daan looked around at Philip.

“Colonel Norton, thank you for doing such a fine job of getting my recruits up to join us. I’m sorry you’ve had such poor support from my new officers. They’ll either learn or they’ll wish they’d stayed at home. Gentlemen, we are about to march. Join the men, you’ll march at the front. Jenson, will you instruct the grooms to lead the officers’ horses? It’s less than five miles and the walk will do them good. Fall in.”

What the Reviewers Say…

Another brilliant book
Like all of Ms Bryant’s books, this one does not disappoint. The 110th march on Vitoria and, as always, the characters are brilliantly drawn and the ups and downs of their lives keep one turning the pages to find out what happens next. And there are some real roller-coasters to ride in this one. I loved this book and recommend it to anyone who likes a ripping good read.

 

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