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Napoleonic Fiction

All in Scarlet Uniform

All in Scarlet Uniform is the fourth story in the series, and opens a few months after Talavera. The detachment of the 106th Foot has returned to England to rejoin the rest of the battalion, busily recruiting to make up for its losses in the recent campaigns. Yet any thoughts of peace and rest are shattered when Captain Pringle fights a duel to defend the honour of his friend Williams' reckless sister Kitty. Eager to avoid scandal, the new commander of the 106th promptly sends Pringle, Williams and the formidable Dobson back to Spain as part of a training mission led by Major MacAndrews. Stationed on the border with Portugal, the small group is supposed to instruct Spanish soldiers in the techniques of skirmishing, but soon finds that they have little support from either their own army or their allies. The arrival of Hanley, serving as an exploring officer and hunting for a traitor, makes them all wonder if there is something else behind this posting, and they are simply pawns in a bigger and more sinister game.

Throughout the winter and early spring, they all find themselves caught up in the war of outposts, as the French muster their armies for the great offensive that will once and for all overrun Portugal and win them the war. The odds are on their side, for all of Britain's allies in central Europe have made peace with Napoleon, and the Spanish have suffered too many defeats and lost control of most of their country. Nearly everyone is convinced that the British must soon flee from Portugal, but Hanley learns a secret that may just give them a chance to hang on - if only they can delay the French.

Everything depends on how long the crumbling walls of Ciudad Rodrigo hold back the enemy, and as a token gesture Hanley sacrifices his friends, sending them to join the Spanish garrison as a sign of British good faith. Trapped inside the town, Williams and the others will fight desperately with their raw soldiers to keep back the power of the French assault. Old enemies and friends reappear, and when Hanley uncovers a plot to hand the town over to the enemy it is hard for the young officers to know who they can trust.

As the great French offensive begins, everything culminates in a desperate fight at the River Coa, where the friends will be tested to the limit.

The title All in Scarlet Uniform comes from a song sung to the tune which would later become famous as Waltzing Matilda. At least a century old by the time of the Peninsular War, it tells of the desperation which so often forced recruits to enlist in King George's army:-

Take the King's shilling! Take the King's shilling!
Take the King's shilling with Wellington and me.
And he sang as he marched
Through the crowded streets of Rochester,
Take the King's shilling with Wellington and me.

"Not I," said the butcher, "Nor I," said the baker
Most of the rest with them did agree
To be paid with the powder and
The rattle of the cannonball
Wages for soldiers for Wellington and me.

Wages for soldiers! Wages for soldiers!
Wages for soldiers for Wellington and me
To be paid with the powder and
The rattle of the cannonball
Wages for soldiers for Wellington and me.

"Now I," said the young man, "have oft endured the parish queue
There is no wages or employment for me
Salvation or danger
That'll be my destiny
To be a soldier for Wellington and me!"

 

 


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All in Scarlet Uniform is released in hardback by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on the 8th August 2013

 

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© Adrian Goldsworthy 2009