From the Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Hussars in Cyprus and Norway. He is currently the British Military Attaché in Rome. He is the author of A Close Run Thing, The Nizam’s Daughters, A Regimental Affair and A Call To Arms , featuring Matthew Hervey of the Light
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The cavalry barracks, Hounslow, October 1818
'The regiment will form hollow square! First and Third Squadrons, at the halt, left and right form!'
A hundred and eighty dragoons in double rank began the manoeuvre that would transform the parade from extended line into a military amphitheatre. The time-beaters of the regimental band, and all the brass and woodwind, could not muffle the crunch of gravel and the ringing of spurs. 'Bonnie Nell', the Sixth marched to this morning. Herr Hamper's choice of music was always enigmatic: a year ago they had paraded for Private Hopwood's flogging to the strains of 'Seventeen Come Sunday'. Indeed, there were many on parade this fine autumn morning who were minded of that day, the last time the regiment had formed hollow square.
'Standfast Number Two Squadron. Remainder, inwa-a-ards, dress!' The regimental serjeant-major's voice echoed about the barracks as if he were shouting from a dozen places at once.
Heads and eyes in the flank squadrons shot right or left, boots shuffled forwards and rear, until the ranks were straight and aligned with the left and right markers of Second Squadron.
The RSM turned right about, advanced ten paces and halted in front of the major, saluting sharply with his right hand. 'Sir, there are two hundred and eighty-five men on parade, sir!'
The major made no reply. The RSM turned to his right, saluted, and marched towards the right marker and thence for the rear of the centre squadron.
'Fall in the officers!' The major's words of command were more than an invitation, but feeble compared with those of the Stentor-RSM. When the officers had taken post, the major turned about in a little circling movement, unlike the RSM's emphatic pivot, and advanced ten paces to where the general officer commanding the London District stood with the Sixth's adjutant at his side. 'My lord, there are twenty-two officers and two hundred and eighty-five other ranks on parade.'
'Thank you, Eustace,' said the general quietly. He walked towards the open side of the hollow square, the major falling in beside him, and halted a few paces before it. 'By command of the Horse Guards, it is my duty to have read before the whole regiment, on parade, the following despatch from the commander-in-chief.'
Not a word was spoken, but there was a distinct buzz in the ranks. The adjutant took a pace forward, opened the red portfolio he was carrying under his scabbard arm and began to read. 'His Royal Highness the Prince Regent has been pleased to confirm
the findings of the court martial convened on September the
fifth, eighteen hundred and eighteen, to try the evidence against Lieutenant-Colonel the Earl of Towcester of the unnecessary
hazarding of his command in the Americas and for conduct
unbecoming an officer, contrary to the Articles of War. The court finds that Lieutenant-Colonel the Earl of Towcester is guilty of the grossest negligence in exercising his command in the face of hostile irregulars, and of conduct on numerous occasions beforehand revolting to every proper and honourable feeling of a gentleman.'
The buzz returned. The RSM threw his head to left and right, and though not a man could have seen him, the noise stopped abruptly.
'His Royal Highness directs that Lieutenant-Colonel the Earl of Towcester be dismissed from the service-'
The buzz returned louder than ever. The RSM maintained
his eyes front, and the general waited patiently.
'Be dismissed from the service . . . with disgrace.'
The buzz continued, until the RSM silenced it again.
'The commander-in-chief directs that these findings be read out at the head of every regiment in the King's service.'
This last brought so great a shock that the buzz did not recur for some moments, but louder still was the noise when it did come.
'As you were!' The RSM brought three hundred heads back to attention in an instant.
The general would now have his say, after waiting for the silence to have its effect. 'This is an unhappy day for a regiment. It is an unhappy day for our country when an officer fails to do his duty. It falls now to every man of the Sixth Light Dragoons to do his duty to the utmost, as indeed you have done it in the past, conscious that the rest of the service looks at you. Let it see not the unhappy example of an officer unfit for his position, but the regiment of Corunna, Salamanca, Albura and Orths. And of Waterloo!' He paused to a silent count of three. 'God save the King!'
'God save the King!' came the reply, but none too full-throated.
Major Joynson suddenly saw his duty. 'Light Dragoons, God save the King!' he roared, startling the RSM as much as anyone.
'God save the King!' bellowed the Sixth.
The general saluted and turned away. 'Carry on, Major Joynson,' he barked.
'Sir! Adjutant, carry on!'
'Sir! Regiment, to your duties, di-i-ismiss!'
At once the parade ground was a cacophony of words of command from the captains and serjeant-majors as each troop took itself off to stables, skill-at-arms or fatigues - whatever was the order of the day. A Troop more than the others could be forgiven if its collective thoughts were on what was past rather than on what lay ahead. Serjeant Collins perhaps spoke for them all as he fell in beside the troop serjeant-major. 'There's two men I should've liked to hear that.'
'Ay. And it's an empty place as well without Armstrong,' replied the serjeant-major.
'Fred, it's going to take more than Mr Lincoln to get things as they were.'
'Ay. An RSM can only do so much. I suppose Joynson'll become colonel.'
Collins hesitated. 'I suppose he will.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.