As with the Christmas Truce advert, this little gem – John Lewis 2016 – is a complete story in itself. It says more in two minutes than some films do in two hours and, like the WWI advert, bears re-watching to catch the things you missed. I’ve just watched it again now and, reader, I cried.
Bearing in mind that I wrote a lot of the technical stuff a few years ago, and have moved house twice in the last twenty months and still have no idea which boxes the relevant books and notes are in!
Christopher Duffy’s book, “Military Experience in the Age of Reason” was my go-to for information on prisoners of war. Personal honour was an important part of the officer’s code, and his next duty was to his king. So a parole would be seen as more binding than his military duty to escape. This became much more apparent in the Napoleonic Wars, when parole towns existed around England, and officers were free to wander within certain limits and times; but there are examples of officers being paroled during the 1745 Jacobite Rising. One chap was bandaged up after an early engagement by Lochiel’s wife and sent on his way after giving his parole; he showed a letter detailing this at various checkpoints on his way through the Highlands and eventually reached his own lines. A famous example in the early 19th century was that of Villeneuve, the French admiral at Trafalgar, who stayed at an inn in Hampshire and took part in Hampshire society after the battle, before being exchanged back to France and dying in suspicious circumstances shortly afterwards. Field marshals could be exchanged for thousands of men [can’t remember whether I put this in one or other of my previous write-ups.] Generally, if one was of a certain class, one was seen as trustworthy, whether rightly or wrongly…
The most difficult part of writing the naval battles was getting the wind, tide and currents right, and moving the ships through these. I had help from various sailing friends, and went on a couple of tall-ship trips myself, which helped with the hands-on description. But planning battles was really difficult. Sam Willis’ book, “Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century” was absolutely invaluable for this and I can’t recommend it highly enough. And while being taken out sailing by friends, I was shown a piece of hidden coastline which I shamelessly purloined for the first encounter with the pirates.
Edward Boscawen was the third son of Viscount Falmouth. He joined the Navy at the age of twelve, and rose to become an Admiral. He was born at Tregothnan on Cornwall’s sheltered southern coast, now home to extensive gardens, one of many in that county. He was active during the War of Jenkins’ Ear and the War of the Austrian Succession in the 1740s, and captured Toussaint de Hocquart in 1744, 1747 and 1755. I regret to say that on the third occasion, de Hocquart was told by the British captain Richard Howe that the two nations were at peace before being fired on at point-blank range. On that occasion the war was less than gentlemanly.
The presence of women at sea was something I had to dig deep for; they’ve mostly been airbrushed. The famous pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read are not in the least unusual, though; and any Jane Austen fan is aware that Sophie Croft spent most of her married life at sea. That was not seen as unusual by any of the characters in “Persuasion”, nor by critics or commentators. Women often sailed as the wives and mistresses of warrant officers, who mostly stayed with one ship rather than moving up through the hierarchy. They worked as powder carriers during battles – or dressed as men and worked the ship as crew. Those who were discovered were often lauded, and went on to make their name on stage or as memoir-writers – and these are just the ones we know about. Women make excellent and enthusiastic sailors today, and there’s no particular reason why the women of a few centuries ago shouldn’t do the same. Whether I would be able to work as crew on a tall ship is another matter; I am not good at heights! But the sense of purpose and being part of a team is certainly appealing.
That these two reprobates met. Much water has flowed under the bridges along the Cam since then and I’m proud to be their official biographer.
Our screens are being hit by a plethora of Christmas ads, so I wanted to share what I think are the best from the last few years. This one is from Sainsbury’s, 2014. It’s beautifully made (take note Mr War Horse Spielberg, what trenches really looked like) and it depicts a real occurrence, attested by a number of eye witnesses. It also inspired my 2017 Rainbow Calendar story, Got Mittens.
Postscript: it was only today I noticed the flock of birds at the end. I’d love them to be wild geese, the wild goose being a Celtic traditional name for the Holy Spirit.
Excuse scrappy scan of info – can’t find it online. Note deadline is January 31st 2020.
The Cochrane busy-ness has continued which is why this newsletter is late. We’ve been to see Sir Ian McKellen’s one man show – and, blimey it was great – and then visited the hotel that inspired the Stewart family country home in the Cambridge Fellows books. It was as stunning as when I first saw it in 2006.
Last time I mentioned the RGR chat on November 29th, 2pm GMT where I’ll be chatting and offering a prize. I have some more dates for your diary – 1st December I’m at Wendy Rathbone’s release party, 11th December I’m at the UK Crime Book Club Facebook group and 20th December I’m at one of RJ Scott’s cracking online parties. Last and by no means least, I’ve got my date for the Rainbow Advent Calendar where I’ll be revealing my seasonal story. Which day? We’re not allowed to say, or where would the surprise be? Here’s the link to last year’s event. So many free goodies to read! I
I also posted an excerpt from The Shade on a Fine Day, which is half of the Wild Bells pairing of novellas. This week I’ve got a snippet from the other story, The Angel in the Window, which is set aboard the high seas in the days of the Napoleonic War.
Tom sipped from his glass of claret. “I often wonder whether you keep your own private log, Mr. Porterfield and what the Admiralty would make of it were the thing ever to be submitted. You can imagine the entries. Engaged enemy frigate at noon; took her as prize. None killed, four wounded. Engaged Mr. Anderson in his cabin at eight o’clock; he took me as prize; none killed, only wounds to my…”
“I cannot believe that ever a captain was so plagued with a first lieutenant as I am with you.” Both officers grinned and Alexander refilled their glasses.
Spithead was two days behind and the Mediterranean—business to be done at Gibraltar and reporting for duty at Malta—an unpredictable number of days ahead. The great cabin was dark despite the early hour and they sat in their usual places, companionably sharing some of the finest vintage the Anderson estate could provide.
“Did you know that our Mr. Fowler sailed with Cochrane, when he took the Gamo with his little sloop?”
“I do. For once I knew something before you.”
“And how did you manage that? I thought you’ve spent all your time since we weighed anchor dealing with this bloody storm?” It had been a fierce blow, taking down one of the yards, and they’d feared for the foremast.
“Do you think I’d take on just any man as sailing master? Even in a crisis?” Alexander smiled. Crisis it had been, their previous master being struck down with gout, two days before they’d sailed. Fowler had come as a Godsend. “I found an old friend who sung his praises.”
“You kept that quiet.” Tom narrowed his eyes. “Unless…unless this old friend was the cause of that awful headache you had the day before you sailed. The one you said came from being struck by a loose end of rope.”
“Ah. I may have been less than candid.” Alexander confessed, leaning back and holding up his glass to catch the light. “This is truly excellent.”
“Don’t change the subject. Mr. Fowler. He strikes me as an excellent officer.”
“Why do I think there’s a ‘however’ hull up on the horizon?”
“Because there is.” Tom leaned forwards, elbows on the table and voice lowered. “I was busy in Pompey, too. You can get a long way if you keep your ears open and your mouth shut. And the other man’s glass full.”
Alexander swept his glass up, as though Tom was about to try to ply him with drink. “And you heard…?”
“That our Mr. Fowler might just be too fond of his own kind. Nothing proven, but it might explain why we were able to pick up such an able officer so easily.”
“Ah, indeed. Still, I won’t condemn him.”
And finally – today being remembrance Sunday, let me introduce you to one of the four Commonwealth War Graves I tend in the local churchyard. Captain Billy Clegg-Hill is my favourite, and you can read why here. Have your hankie ready.
And all us Brits will know the rest. Gunpowder, treason and plot! We don’t do fireworks except at displays, so…