An Unmerciful Incursion (Book 6 of the Peninsular War Saga: December 1812 – May 1813)
Wellington’s army is in winter quarters, licking its wounds after the retreat from Burgos. While Anne van Daan recovers from the birth of her second child, Paul receives news of an unwelcome assignment and a surprise promotion from Lord Wellington.
With Paul grappling with problems of training and discipline in Wellington’s exhausted army, and Johnny Wheeler in England on furlough, Major Carl Swanson finds himself in temporary command, and is faced with the difficult problem of the new commanding officer of the 115th, a harsh disciplinarian who sends rumblings of discontent through the third brigade and causes problems of a more personal nature for Carl.
Meanwhile Captain Giles Fenwick and Captain Michael O’Reilly are sent into enemy territory to search for Sir Horace Grainger, an English diplomat who has gone missing somewhere on the turbulent northern coast of Spain. In a race against time, Giles and Michael must find Grainger before the advancing French, and in the little coastal town of Castro Urdiales, it seems that time may have run out.
What reviewers said about An Unmerciful Incursion
“As usual, by the time I reached the denouement, I found it very difficult to put the book down. Once again it deals with difficult but important wartime themes: decisions about life and death have to be made, and the role of women in war is again at the fore. Overall, absolutely fantastic: I can’t wait for the next one.”
“I am a prolific reader but seldom become so emotionally involved in a story and its actors as I have with this series. The entire six books have taken up every spare minute of my time over the last ten days but my god it was worth it. I cannot recommend these books highly enough and genuinely cannot wait until the remaining books are released.”
“An Unmerciful Incursion is excellent. My husband got a head start on me and said when he finished the story, “You’re going to love this one.” How right he was. The story is gripping, the characters, old and new, are endearing or great villains. I had a hard time putting my Kindle down. I loved that other characters from the Manx naval captain series appear in this story. Meeting old friends at new posts happens a lot in the military, even today. Well done, Lynn! I waited a long time for this book and you didn’t disappoint. Thanks for a wonderful read from a big fan.”
An Unmerciful Incursion: the settings and the history
Under normal circumstances, this section of the page would be devoted to some of my husband’s amazing photographs taken on our latest research trip. Given that this book was published in 2020, it won’t be any surprise to any of you that the circumstances were not normal and our planned trip to northern Spain did not happen. Lockdown and border closures prevented us getting to Castro Urdiales and for the first time we had to use a stock photograph for one of my book covers. We have every intention of making the trip when the world opens up again, but until then we’ll have to make do with some borrowed images. Fortunately, some of the images I’ve been able to borrow are utterly fabulous, so it’s no hardship.
For the first time, I’ve used a dual storyline in one of my books. The action is split between Wellington’s army which was in cantonments for the winter, and a mission to the French occupied lands of northern Spain which was undertaken by Giles Fenwick and Michael O’Reilly.
During the winter of 1812-13, Lord Wellington used the same headquarters as the previous year, a house in the little village of Freineda. Fortunately, we were able to visit the house during our 2017 research trip.
Paul van Daan’s brigade headquarters also occupy the same house and farmland as the previous year. For this I have invented an imaginary rundown estate close to Freineda, owned by a Portuguese widow and her daughter. When we visited the town of Elvas in 2017 I fell desperately in love with one of the hotels we stayed in. The Quinta de Santo António is situated between Elvas and Badajoz, an oasis of rural tranquillity. The original house and chapel were built in 1715, making it perfect for my books, which are set almost a hundred years later. I really wanted to use the house and gardens but it was in the wrong place, so I’m afraid in my fictional world I uprooted it and moved it. It is truly beautiful, and I highly recommend a stay there. Even though it’s in the wrong place, you can easily imagine the officers of the 110th enjoying a bit of luxury during winter quarters.
The gardens are particularly pretty and an ideal spot for the occasional romantic moment in the books.
While it was easy to find photographs to illustrate this half of the story, when it came to Giles and Michael’s journey to Castro Urdiales, things became more technical. Fortunately, Wikimedia came to the rescue.
When Giles and Michael set off on their journey, they rode to Oporto and sailed on a Royal Navy ship to Corunna. This lovely painting by Lt-Colonel Robert Batty in 1823 gives an excellent sense of how Oporto might have looked.
The port of Corunna was the scene of a previous battle and the death of Sir John Moore in 1808. This painting is much later, as is evidenced by the presence of a steam ship, but it gives an idea of the port as it might have looked to Michael and Giles in the winter of 1813.
During their time in northern Spain, Giles and Michael travelled for a while with the Spanish partisan leader Juan Diaz Porlier. I was surprised at how young Porlier was, only twenty-five in 1813.
On their arrival in Castro Urdiales, Michael and Giles find themselves caught up in the desperate last stand of the Spanish garrison. I’m longing to go to Castro Urdiales, it looks beautiful, and I’m really hoping we can manage something in 2022 if the world calms down a bit. This old print is actually from 1906 but once again gives a wonderful sense of the harbour where Alvarez and his garrison scrambled to escape in the Royal Navy boats on that night.
The events of the storming of the town on the night of 11 May 1813 are well documented in both Spanish and French sources, and reading some of the accounts was genuinely upsetting. I found the following two paintings on a Spanish blog post about an exhibition held in 2012 but so far haven’t managed to identify the artist. I’ll amend this when I find out their name, they’re very evocative of the horrors of that night.
Writing An Unmerciful Incursion was a challenge, as for the first time I was trying to research a battle which isn’t that well documented in English sources. Thanks to Google translate, French and Spanish dictionaries and a lot of digging for English versions online, I did surprisingly well, and as a result I felt that I’d done justice to the Spanish perspective in a way that I hadn’t managed in any of the previous books.
Excerpt from An Unmerciful Incursion
The following excerpt from An Unmerciful Incursion takes place at the beginning of the book, with Paul van Daan conducting a drill inspection on a very reluctant battalion of the Scots Guards. What could possibly go wrong?
Captain Leo Manson was hungry. He had been aware for some time of his stomach growling, but the sound was becoming audible now, or it would have been, if there had not been so much noise on the parade ground. The noise was rising steadily, a combination of marching feet, shouted orders and the quiet grumbling of officers and NCOs who were aware that it was past the dinner hour. The bugle had called some time ago, and the major who was theoretically supervising the drill hesitated and shot an uncertain glance towards Manson and his companion, who shook his head without speaking. Major Beaumont signalled for the drill to continue, but the interruption seemed to have affected the troops, and the manoeuvres, which had been looking considerably better, were deteriorating again.
“To the right, wheel! March!”
The men on the right of the rank stepped off, turning their eyes to the left. Manson watched, hopefully. For the first few steps, things seemed to be going well, but as the movement continued, he realised that some of the troops had forgotten to lengthen their steps. To maintain the wheel in perfect order, each man needed to pay attention to the exact length of his stride, or the wheel would fall apart very quickly. It did so, before Manson’s gloomy gaze, with several men treading on those in front of them, and others scrambling in a series of quick, untidy steps to catch up. The celebrated first battalion of the Scots Guards looked like a draught of militia recruits during their first drill session and Manson gritted his teeth to stop himself intervening, silently pleading with the officers to stop the manoeuvre before it got any worse.
The bellow was so loud that Manson physically jumped, even though he knew it was coming. The battalion stopped in its tracks, apart from several men caught in mid-step who cannoned into their comrades, causing a series of collisions which shoved one man out of the front rank on his own. The private froze, recognising his isolation, and looked desperately at his sergeant, who glanced at the nearest officer before jerking his head to indicate that the private retreat. The man made his way back into the line in a sideways shuffle which made Manson want to laugh aloud. Manson’s companion said a word under his breath which was inappropriate for a senior officer on the parade ground and strode to the front of the battalion, with the air of a man driven beyond his endurance. Manson, who had served under Colonel Paul van Daan of the 110th light infantry for more than two years, forgot about his rumbling stomach and just prayed that his commanding officer did not hit anybody.
“You, what’s your name?”
The hapless soldier who had just made it back into the line, stared at the colonel, his mouth open, but no sound came out.
The man did so. Paul van Daan moved closer and inspected him from head to toe with ruthless thoroughness, then held out his hand.
The man hesitated, and his sergeant, who seemed to have regained his wits, stepped forward. “Andrews, the officer of the 110th wishes…”
“Enough!” Paul roared, and the sergeant jumped to attention. “Andrews, give me the bloody musket before I take it from you and shove it where it will never see the sun. Sergeant Bolton, step back, I’ve not given you an order.”
Andrews handed over the musket. He was sweating in fear, and Manson felt a twinge of sympathy for the man. Paul turned the weapon over in his hands, inspecting the touch hole, the lock and then the entire weapon very thoroughly. When he had done, he handed the musket back to Andrews who took it and returned to attention, staring woodenly ahead.
“Well, Private Andrews, it’s clear you were paying attention when they taught you how to keep your musket in good order, even if you missed basic drill training. When did you join?”
“When did you arrive in Portugal?”
“Well, you were bloody lucky you didn’t arrive earlier, you missed the worst retreat since Corunna. How much drill training have you had, so far?”
“Sir?” Andrews shot an agonised look towards his captain, who was watching the little drama with a thunderous expression. Paul followed his gaze and Manson saw a faint smile.
“Never mind, you can’t really tell me you’ve had virtually none, can you?”
Paul turned away and walked to the front, surveying the battalion. His voice had a carrying power which any drill sergeant would have envied.
“Major Beaumont. Your officers will be missing their dinner. Why don’t you go on ahead, I want a word with the battalion and then I’ll join you.”
There was a rustle of disquiet among the men, as the officers left. Colonel van Daan waited until they had gone, then turned back to the men.
“Sergeant-Major Clegg. Separate out the new recruits, get them lined up over there. And get a move on, I’m so hungry my belly is sticking to my spine. Private Andrews, lead them out.”
Manson watched their faces as Paul began to shout out orders, and he wanted to smile. He had seen it happen many times before. Within minutes, the drill was running, and with only experienced troops, it ran very well. The NCOs, visibly relieved at being able to demonstrate how well their men could perform, kept the movements tight, and the companies worked well together. Paul watched, calling out an occasional order, but mostly left the NCOs to their work. Once it was evident that the Scots Guards were moving smoothly, Paul crossed to where the new troops stood watching in miserable silence, and Manson saw Paul put his hand on Andrews’ shoulder. He was speaking to him, pointing out what was happening in the manoeuvre, and Manson could see the man relaxing. Paul said something and several of the men around him laughed.
When the drill was done, Paul called the new recruits back into line. “Well done,” he said. “I’d a feeling you were better than that. Don’t get arsey with the new lads, we were all there once and they’ll learn quicker if you work together. I’m pleased that I’ll be able to report back to Lord Wellington that the Scots Guards are still the men who proved their worth at Salamanca. Is anybody hungry?”
There was a murmur of laughter and then somebody cheered. Paul grinned, and taking it as permission, the battalion yelled to a man, driven, Manson thought, not only by the thought of dinner but by an unexpected sense of camaraderie. Paul gave the order to stand the men down and walked over to Manson.
“Do you think we’re going to get any dinner?” he asked.
“I’m not sure, sir. That went very well, though.”
“Yes, they’re good lads.”
“They’re good officers as well, sir.”
“They might be, Captain, but if they’ve done more than a couple of hours’ worth of work with their new recruits this winter, I’ll be very surprised. Don’t look at me like that. I’m going to go in there, explain his Lordship’s instructions and be really, really tactful, I give you my word.”
Manson watched as the tall, fair figure walked towards the solid farm building which currently housed the battalion officers’ mess and felt his heart sink. Colonel Paul van Daan could manage the enlisted men and NCOs better than any officer Manson had ever seen, but his attitude towards a commissioned officer whom he suspected of shirking his duty frequently left chaos in his wake.