An Untrustworthy Army

An Untrustworthy Army is the fifth book in the Peninsular War Saga and tells the story of the second half of Wellington’s campaign of 1812 during which his army experienced heady victory at Salamanca and then the misery of the retreat from Burgos.

It is June, 1812.  Back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the third brigade of the light division.

Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the light division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos but some of Paul’s brigade have troubles of their own.

Lieutenant Simon Carlyon is determined not to allow his dead brother’s shameful reputation to blight his career in the army but finds it harder than expected to serve under the man who killed him. Colonel Johnny Wheeler is finding the lie he told to protect others difficult to live with, faced with the unrelenting hostility of a young officer. And Captain Michael O’Reilly’s life is complicated through a casual act of kindness.

The end of the campaigning season does not go as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat.  At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, Van Daan’s brigade need to set personal matters aside and concentrate on staying alive long enough to reach safety.

What the reviews say about An Untrustworthy Army

“Just great, more please ASAP, best read of this war, could not put it down, read in 2 days.”

“Every time I finish reading an instalment in Lynn Bryant’s Peninsular War Series, I have the same thought: “This book is even better than the last one.” This is one of the most tightly-plotted and thematically sound books in the series…this is what the Peninsular War must have been like for its participants — grim, muddy, and filled with hardship, for the camp followers, wives, and civilians as much as for the soldiers themselves. Real historical figures slip in and out of the narrative comfortably, as though they belong there…it is simply brilliant stuff, and I defy anyone to read the dénouement with dry eyes.”

“Lynn Bryant has done it again with this enthralling fifth story in her Peninsular War Series…as ever, I love the way real characters join the fictional ones, telling the story of Wellington’s 1812 campaign, and bringing it to life with all the drama, heartache, and courage that must have been involved. The author’s research is meticulous but one never feels that one is reading dry history. Highly recommended.”

“Every bit as good as the previous books in the series. There are many familiar characters and new ones are introduced throughout the book. Ms Bryant’s research is excellent, many of the characters were involved in the Peninsular Wars – Harry Smith springs to mind. If you’ve read A Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer you will recognise him and his young bride Juana…at times my stomach was churning with excitement as the British Army retreated under dreadful conditions…an accurate telling of the ongoing war in Spain…all of them are wonderful.”

“I loved this novel. During Christmas I have read all five novels and really hope the author will continue writing about these fascinating people.”

Settings from An Untrustworthy Army

Salamanca

In book five, Wellington’s army is advancing into Spain for the first time since Talavera three years earlier. Still somewhat battered and bloody after the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, they are nevertheless ready for battle. The book begins in Salamanca, with Wellington making a triumphal entry into the city. Salamanca is beautiful, very much a university city, and despite the crowds and the tourist traps is is very easy to imagine the city as Paul and Anne would have seen it in 1812, arriving at the cathedral for a celebratory mass.

Museum in Los Arapiles

Several weeks are spent with manoeuvres and counter manoeuvres before Wellington makes a snap decision to attack the French in the vicinity of the small village of Los Arapiles. The village has a small interpretation centre which is only open two or three times a week, but which gives a brilliant overview of the battle, including a spectacular diorama. I would recommend going to the museum first because it gives you an excellent background and also provides a guide to the various interpretation boards which are scattered around the battlefield itself.

To do the battlefield in one day you’ll need to drive or cycle it, and if you’re driving, I do recommend a four-wheel drive car! It’s a fantastic experience though. Not only is every part of the battle explained on a series of boards, all of which are translated into English, but there is additional information available through scanning codes with your smartphone.

There is a monument at the top of the Greater Arapile to the battle and a spectacular view over the whole field, which is remarkably unspoiled. It’s a steep but short climb to the top and well worth it. The Lesser Arapile is not accessible as it is private land.

Path up to the Greater Arapile
Location of Pakenham’s Division

Wellington attacked the French upon seeing that their line of advance had become too stretched, leaving a gap. He ordered Ned Pakenham to launch a surprise attack from this location. In the book, Lieutenant Simon Carlyon has just taken up a temporary secondment to Pakenham’s division and takes part in this first part of the battle.

 

 

 

 

Paul’s men, as part of the light division, were not much engaged in the battle, but the third brigade become involved in a skirmish in the little town of Alba de Tormes during the French retreat. The Spanish forces should have been guarding the bridge over the Tormes but had marched out several days earlier.

The bridge at Alba de Tormes today, looking towards Salamanca
Alba de Tormes

 

Castle at Alba de Tormes (photograph byAlicia Rodriguez Vicente)

Wellington left the light division in Madrid so Paul’s men were not directly involved in the disastrous siege of Burgos. When, after several months, the French threatened to combine and attack Wellington’s army, the British retreated back to Ciudad Rodrigo on the Spanish border. Hill’s men, including the light division, had to retreat over the Guadarrama Mountains, and camped in the park of the Escurial on their way.

Guadarrama Mountains
Escurial
University Quarter, Salamanca

Back in Salamanca briefly, the light division were billeted in some of the old university buildings. The French had already converted many of these into barracks. After a brief respite, the army marched on through freezing rain, with no rations and men, women and children dying by the roadside.

At the end of 1812 Wellington’s army found themselves exactly where they had started. It would not be true to say that no progress had been made, however. Wellington’s superb victory at Salamanca had given warning to the French. He was to spend winter quarters looking at supplies, training and reinforcements, and when his army was ready to fight again the following year, Wellington was to leave Portugal behind for good.

I really enjoyed writing An Untrustworthy Army, revisiting my favourite characters and introducing new ones. The following excerpt takes place during the run up to the battle of Salamanca and is an excellent introduction for anybody who is new to Colonel van Daan’s approach to discipline. Enjoy.

Rueda, Spain, 1812

“Welcome to Spain,” the officer said. “Lieutenant Crispin, 110th fifth company. This is Lieutenant Steele who serves with me. As to the excitement, I’m not sure, but I’ve been told that the entire fourth company has just been found drunk in a wine cellar and dumped into the Duero by our esteemed commander, who has lost his sense of humour. I can’t believe…”

“David, look,” Steele interrupted. Witham followed his pointing finger. A mule cart was approaching, driven by a dark haired sergeant and it appeared to be piled high with a collection of clothing and kit, including muskets, coats, shoes and a miscellany of other garments. The sergeant was grinning and as he drove it past, somebody raised a cheer. Others followed and the sergeant laughed and waved.

“What on earth is happening?” Carlyon said.

“I’m not sure,” Steele said. “But I suspect the fourth company have just been ordered into the river to sober up. It must be freezing at this time of day.”

“But what is all this?” Witham said, bewildered.

His answer came immediately with a bellow which must have reached the French on the far bank of the river.

“Fourth company, MARCH. Quick time, stand up straight and if any one of you falls out, you are spending the night on watch, wearing exactly what you are now.”

They were approaching up the path in marching order, although Witham thought that some of their movements resembled a stagger rather than a march. He blinked, finding it hard to believe what he was seeing, and there was a whoop from behind him, followed by a loud huzzah and then there was cheering on all sides as the officers and men of the third brigade of the light division applauded the spectacle of the fourth company of the 110th returning to camp stark naked and frozen from their unexpected dousing in the river.

The evening air was cold and darkness was fast approaching. Some of the men were shivering already; all of them had goosebumps and many looked as though they had either just vomited or were about to do so. As Witham had the thought, a lanky private of around forty stepped out of formation and cast up accounts at the side of the road to the ironic cheers of the rest of the brigade. He had barely straightened when the impressive yell came again.

“Dransfield, get your skinny Lancashire arse back into line, before I throw you back in the river. Sergeant-Major Carter, march them into camp and get them lined up. I want a word with them before I have my supper.”

They lined up in neat formation on the edge of the camp and the rest of the brigade formed a wide circle around them. Witham looked around. Officers and men mixed freely in the crowd and he could see Portuguese and King’s German Legion uniforms as well as British regiments. They were all laughing, some of them with tears running down their face. Colonel van Daan stepped out in front of the hapless fourth company and his sergeant-major rapped out orders at a volume which rivalled his commanding officer. The men stood to attention, dripping and shivering in the gathering dusk. The colonel surveyed them.

“Jenson, do you know where my wife is?” he asked.

“Back at the tent, sir, waiting for you. Major Swanson suggested she might want to stay there for a while.”

“Thank you, Jenson. I wouldn’t want to put her off her supper.”

There was another ripple of laughter, quickly stilled, and Van Daan surveyed the men. Then he pointed:

“Over there, on the far bank. They’re called the French. Sometimes referred to as the enemy. You were sent out there this evening to guard our army, our guns and Lord Wellington and his staff. You were also guarding your own women and children and my wife.

“Do you have any idea what might have happened if they’d launched a surprise attack? We’d have been caught unprepared. Some of us would have got to arms because we’re the best bloody brigade in this army, and we’d have made a fight of it, probably held them off long enough to get warning to the rest of the light division and then on to the rest of the army, but most of us would have died to buy them that time. They’d have gone through our camp and our supplies and they’d have got to our women.”

The laughter had died away and there was suddenly total silence around the camp. Witham looked around at the faces of the men around him in the last vestiges of daylight and saw their expressions and he felt, suddenly, as though he had stepped into a different world. He realised that there were images in the heads of every man here and they were images that neither he or Carlyon yet understood. 

“Enough of you have been with me long enough to know what that means,” the colonel went on, relentlessly. “You risked all that, for a drink and a laugh with the arseholes from the rifles. They might not know what they’ve done tonight or they might not care – Colonel Barnard will deal with them. But you – you know. You understand. And the fact that you thought so little of your brigade, your regiment, your comrades, your families and your honour has shocked me to the core. I thought I knew every one of you better than that. I’ve never been more disappointed in my life.”

There was a choking sound from one of the men, what sounded like a sob, turned quickly into a cough. Paul van Daan let the silence lengthen before he spoke again.

“You have disgraced your company, your officers and the 110th light infantry. But mostly, you’ve disgraced yourselves as men. I could let you stand there until you freeze to death, but I won’t. You are a pack of useless, drunken, disreputable gobshites, but you’re my drunken gobshites and in the 110th we look after our own. Sergeant-Major Carter, stand them down and get them to sort out their kit and get dressed, then get them fed. Take their names, every one of them, and make a separate list of the riflemen to give to Colonel Barnard when he sends an officer up to collect them. No grog for any one of them for two weeks and they’re to be separated from the rest of the battalion and kept under guard until we march again. Now get them out of my sight, they sicken me.”

 

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