When an author succeeds in creating a page turner from a segment of history beaten thoroughly to death by a thousand other historians and writers of historical fiction there should be some background music and applause.
Richard Holmes has succeeded.
Redcoat follows the British soldier through the Seven Year War, the Peninsula War, the wars in the Americas, the wars in India through the Sepoy Mutiny and Afghanistan to the Crimea. And every page contains some new surprise, some fragment of detail the reader won’t have encountered previously.
Ever wondered where the idea for Hornblower’s fascination with the Lady Barbara Wellesley most likely originated? Illustrations: “Below: The Marquess of Anglesey was a talented cavalry commander who, when Lord Paget, beat the French at Benavente and Sahagun. Unfortunately he ran off with Wellington’s sister-in-law and could not be re-employed in the Peninsula. As Lord Uxbridge he lost a leg at Waterloo.”
Or, page 154, Lt. Arthur Moffat Lang, “Many are given to drink and drunkenness like the Germans. Foreign wines on account of their being accustomed to beer, does not agree with them, and in hot countries over-seas brings on burning fevers . . .”
Holmes has sifted through the chaff of history to cover the subject thoroughly on the outside in a 427 page epidermis, along with constant peeks at the liver, the bladder, the spleen and the dirt under the fingernails of the British soldier: A man as limited and flawed as the Brown Bess musket he carried into battle, but one who experienced a surprisingly long series of successes where failure would have been far more appropriate.
‘Christopher Duffy suggests of the eighteenth century that: “The most pronounced moral traits of the English were violence and patriotism.”‘
If that sounds familiar today it might be worth pondering whether it’s part of the package the 20th Century delivered to your own doorstep.
Excellent work and a worthy read, Redcoat.