Today on PAULA’S PEOPLE, I welcome Lynn Bryant, who is launching her latest book in the Manxman Series: This Blighted Expedition. She’s here to tell us about the new book and that the first in the series is going to be available for free from today until the 6th November on Amazon! (see below for links)
This Blighted Expedition is set during the disastrous Walcheren Campaign of 1809, where the largest British operation of the war, consisting of 40,000 men and around 600 ships fell apart due to a combination of poor planning, poor leadership, bad weather and an epidemic of ‘Walcheren fever’ which killed more than 4,000 men and left another 12,000 still ill by February 1810. It is the second book in the Manxman series, which began with An Unwilling Alliance and the book is told from the points of view of six people who were involved in the campaign.
Captain Hugh Kelly RN is the Manxman of the title. In his early thirties, he joined the navy as a boy after his father drank himself to death, and has worked his way up the ladder through a combination of talent, hard work and good luck. He now commands the Iris, a 74 gun man o’war that he captured in the aftermath of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hugh considers himself a pragmatist who does his job as well as he can and doesn’t spend a lot of time agonising over it. At the beginning of this book he is reunited with his young wife and son, whom he hasn’t seen for eight months, as he’s been on blockade duty.
Roseen Kelly has settled into life as a navy wife and is beginning to make friend among some of the other officers’ wives. This leads her to visit Jane Codrington at Walmer while Hugh is away, where she sees first hand the misery of the returning soldiers who have been sent home suffering from Walcheren fever.
First Lieutenant Alfred Durrell is Hugh’s brilliant but awkward young first officer. From a political family he is determined to make his own way in the world and is not pleased to be seconded as ADC to Sir Home Popham, a navy captain with a shady reputation and government connections, who is at the heart of the planning and execution of the Walcheren expedition. Durrell’s life is made more difficult by the presence of his brother Henry, who has managed to obtain a post on Lord Chatham’s staff, causing Durrell to suspect his motives.
Captain Ross Mackenzie is a new character who arrives on the south coast to take command of the light company of the second battalion of the 110th. Ross is an experienced soldier returning to duty after losing his wife and daughter and he finds himself embroiled in a difficult situation in the officers’ mess.
Katja de Groot is Dutch, a young widow with three children who was left to manage her wealthy husband’s business interests in Middelburg and Vlissingen. She finds herself cut off from her manager and workforce who are trapped by the British blockade of Vlissingen, and has to deal with her Middelburg home being taken over as billets for a collection of British officers.
Lieutenant Giles Fenwick is an old friend of mine from the Peninsular War Saga and The Reluctant Debutante. We meet him here in his younger days, a penniless aristocrat stuck under the worst captain in the 110th and trying to supplement his army pay by gambling. The following excerpt takes place on the Downs, were the 110th are encamped waiting to board the transports for Walcheren.
It was almost two o’clock in the morning when the message came, an irritated inn servant hammering on the door with an enthusiasm which woke not only his object but every other officer billeted at the Seven Bells. Lieutenant Giles Fenwick, who was duty officer for the night, dragged himself out of bed, conscious of a throbbing head from an evening of bad port and worse brandy, and stomped down the stairs to a chorus of abuse from his fellow officers who had been roused from their sleep.
“What the hell is it, Petto? And it had better be bloody good, or you’re on a charge, I have no desire to see your ugly face at this hour of the morning.”
Corporal Petto, a round faced Lincolnshire man with an expression of permanent cheerfulness saluted. “Very sorry, sir, but Sergeant Perkins sent me, said we needed an officer. It’s getting out of hand.”
“What is?” Giles demanded, sitting down on a wooden bench in the tap room to remove a boot which appeared to have a small rock in the toe. He upended the boot and stared in some surprise at a coin which clinked to the floor, having no idea how it had got there.
“The men, sir. They’re fighting.”
Giles looked up sharply. “How many?”
“At least a dozen, sir.”
“Drunk?” Now that Giles was properly awake, he was aware of a strong smell of what might have been cheap gin wafting from the corporal. He picked up the coin and pocketed it. “Are you drunk, Corporal?”
“Only my legitimate rations, sir,” Petto said, with such an air of offended dignity, that Giles got up with rather more purpose and headed for the door. If Corporal Petto, who was one of the more sober ornaments of the seventh company, was as drunk as this, Giles was concerned that things actually might be getting out of hand in the camp.
The 110th were encamped out to the west of the town, across a series of low hills dotted with farms and small villages, which ran down towards the sea in gentle waves. There were several forested areas with a river running between and the men had pitched their tents close by. Giles set his horse to a trot, leaving his corporal to make his way back at a running jog.
No wives had been given permission to accompany the expedition. Colonel Johnstone had been informed that the campaign would be in the nature of a coup de main, swiftly in and out again, and women would be an encumbrance and should be left behind. Giles was well aware that one or two women had followed their men anyway, but not enough to account for the sound of feminine shrieks floating through the still night air. It sounded as though an invasion was taking place, and Giles touched Boney, his big grey gelding, into a canter.
Most of the battalion had obviously settled to sleep, but the noise had roused them. Heads were poking out from tents and a few men had emerged and were peering out into the darkness. As Giles passed, a voice called out and he reined in.
“Who goes there, sir?”
“Lieutenant Fenwick, seventh company, first battalion. What the bloody hell is going on, Private Allan?”
“Don’t know, sir. Sergeant Perkins came by a while back, he said the first battalion is having itself a bit of a party at Greenacres Farm.”
There was a slightly smug tone to the sentry’s voice which made Giles long to hit him. The companies of the 110th infantry camped on the edge of the Downs were all from the second battalion, with the exception of the seventh company, which was from the first. The rest of the first battalion had recently returned to Portugal to fight the French and Giles was furious at not going with them. He knew why his company had been separated from the rest of its battalion ever since he had joined it, but he was not reconciled, and it did not help that the entire second battalion treated the detached company as something of a regimental joke.
It was beneath his dignity to give Private Allan the mouthful he richly deserved, so Giles ignored him and set off again, following a narrow track which bordered the forest, tracking the sounds of revelry to a cluster of farm buildings. On his approach it was easy to locate the source of the trouble as the farmyard was lit by an enormous bonfire. Around it, Giles could see the men of the seventh company and it was clear that however they had managed it, they were in an advanced state of drunkenness.
One of the men had produced a flute, and was playing a dance tune, and some of the men were still dancing, although their movements, grotesquely illuminated by the fire, resembled something out of a medieval depiction of hell, staggering from side to side, holding each other up. Several women danced with them, their profession obvious from their clothing. At least half a dozen men lay comatose around the yard. Others sat huddled in small groups, passing bottles around. But it was the sounds from the barn which immediately occupied Giles. He was beginning to wish he had brought somebody else with him. Giles was duty officer for the night, but he could have roused his ensigns or Lieutenant Zouch to accompany him; he had not really taken Petto that seriously.
Giles dismounted on the far side of the farmyard and tied Boney firmly to a fence rail. He checked his pistol, drew his sword and strode forward with a confidence he was far from feeling. The men in the yard barely gave him a glance and he did not stop to speak to them but went through the open doorway and into the big barn. It was mostly empty, with some hay bales stored at the far end. Around twenty men occupied the space. Two of them were on the floor, both bloodied and unconscious. Most of the rest stood in a wide half circle cheering on the combatants. There were four of them; three soldiers in shirt sleeves and a man who might well be the farmer, a burly fellow of forty or so armed with a pitchfork. He was wielding it with a sense of desperation as the three moved in and out. Two of them held bayonets and the third a stout stick, and they were circling like a wolf pack, lunging occasionally and then backing off. Drink was making them clumsy but for all that, they were armed soldiers tormenting a civilian on his own property and Giles forgot his caution in a burst of sheer fury.
“What the bloody hell are you doing?”
There was no immediate response although one or two of the spectators turned to look. The farmer lunged again and then gave a strangled yelp of alarm as one of the men parried the pitchfork aside with his bayonet and moved in fast. Giles pointed his pistol at the ceiling and fired.
The noise was shocking in the enclosed space and every man in the room froze and then turned to stare. Giles did not wait to see what they would do next. He pocketed his pistol, walked forward to the man who had been about to attack and placed the sword at his throat.
“Drop the bayonet.”
The man did so and backed up very fast until he was crashing into the half circle of spectators. They were backing away as well, those on the edge melting back into the shadows or scurrying out into the darkness. Giles kept walking until the man had his back to the wall.
“Stay there, soldier,” he said softly, and turned to look at the other two combatants. “You two, drop those weapons and get over here now.”
To his relief, there was no resistance although they moved grudgingly. Giles summoned two NCOs, both of whom were trying desperately to look sober, and set them to guard the prisoners then sent a messenger back to Ramsgate. He could have dealt with a few drunken soldiers himself, but bad behaviour on this scale was going to require the involvement of his captain and probably Colonel Johnstone. Giles had no idea what arrangements had been made with regard to a provost-marshal for the expedition, but as a lowly lieutenant he was happy to leave that problem to somebody who was paid more than him.
This Blighted Expedition is available on Amazon kindle here and will be out in paperback by the end of November. To celebrate publication, the first book, An Unwilling Alliance is available from 1st to 5th November 2019 FREE on Amazon here
In the meantime, I am about to embark on book six of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unrelenting Enmity and to give myself a kick start with the writing process, I am attempting NaNaWriMo for the first time ever. To follow my progress why not join me on my blog over at Writing With Labradors, or on Facebook or Twitter?