Wilhelm Müller: a German James Bond

I should be reading about Sir Home Popham right now, and I am. Honestly I am. Well, mostly I am. Because this week I fell down a massive research rabbit-hole and have been mucking happily about at the bottom of it ever since.

It’s the same thing that happened when I felt compelled to spend a fortnight researching the elusive Major Charles James, and in fact the circumstances are similar. James was a shady character whose public persona concealed a whole world of secret activity. My new chap also seems to have led several parallel lives, some of them highly dangerous.

I first encountered this chap while working through The National Archives (TNA) ADM 1/4354, which (rather excitingly) purports to be Secret Correspondence relating to the naval station in the Downs, 1809–10. I was hoping to find some evidence of Sir Home Popham’s activities during the Walcheren campaign: as it happens he was not mentioned once, but I did find a whole ream of correspondence from Lieutenant William Muller, King’s German Legion.

After reading a few pages I realised I had to find out more. And when I started to look, I found stuff. Lots of stuff, in fact, because Lt Muller KGL was a pretty cool guy. So without further ado may I introduce you to Wilhelm Müller, a chap my son has (aptly enough) described as ‘the German James Bond’.

Early life

Wilhelm Müller was born on 13 May 1783 in Stade, Hanover, reasonably close to Hamburg on the River Elbe.[1] His mother was Portuguese; his father, Christian Gottlieb Müller (1753–1814), owned a fleet of merchant vessels and was a Hanoverian customs officer.[2]

Young Wilhelm probably spent some years training to be an engineer before going to study at the University of Gӧttingen in 1803, where he received a PhD and was for some time employed as a Public Lecturer of Military Sciences. (There was a family history of dual military/academic life: Müller’s grandfather had been professor of mathematics at the University of Gießen alongside being chief engineer of the Duchies of Grubenhagen and Cadenberge.[3])

Müller claimed he had taught ‘several Russian, German, and Polish Princes, three of whom hold … the rank of generals in the French and Russian service’. He taught a broad course, liberally founded on mathematics (he was friends with Carl Friedrich Gauß) but also including ‘orthography, geography, general history, the languages … dancing, fencing, riding, and even jumping and swimming’ as well as sciences (‘natural philosophy’) and moral development. He also travelled ‘through France, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Austria, Westphalia, Holland, &c. in order to inspect all remarkable contrivances of machines and inventions, and particularly all military inventions … [and] fields of battle … where the present sovereign of France, and other celebrated warriors, evinced the superiority of their talents over other eminent generals’.[4]

Müller’s map of the terrain of the Wagram campaign from Relation of the Operations and Battles of the Austrian and French Armies in the Year 1809 (1810)

He authored several books: on analytical trigonometry (1807); on the elements of mathematics more generally, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, stereometry, and spherics (1807); a military encyclopaedia (1808); a handbook of artillery (1810); A Relation of the Operations and Battles of the Austrian and French Armies in the Year 1809 (1810), including details of the Battle of Wagram; Elements of the Science of War (3 vols, 1811); and several books from the 1820s and 1830s on cosmography and terrestrial globes (he later engaged in an extended dispute with Johann Caspar Garthe over a particular kind of globe, which both separately claimed to have invented).[5]

‘The German James Bond’

On 24 April 1809, Dr Müller’s life took a different turn when he was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the Engineer’s Corps of the King’s German Legion. What persuaded him to return to military life is unclear, but he was probably already working undercover for the British government. Perhaps the military rank was intended as some sort of protection.

Müller was known to and employed by various government departments. In his letters he namechecked William Huskisson (War Department), Joseph Planta (Foreign Office), William Wellesley Pole, John Barrow, and John Wilson Croker (Secretaries of the Admiralty), and Lord Mulgrave (First Lord of the Admiralty). Clearly a man like Müller, intelligent and fluent in German, French, and likely Dutch (living as close as he did to the Dutch border), was a valuable commodity. By the summer of 1809 he was being employed to scout out French fortifications between Boulogne and Bergen-op-Zoom and to report on affairs in northern Germany. As a trained engineer (and an expert in military fortifications at that), he was the perfect man for the job.

Müller’s sketch of a French mortar and British carronade (TNA ADM 1/4354)

Müller’s exploits – his ‘excursions’, as he called them, rather light-heartedly – are covered at some length (and detail) in TNA ADM 1/4354. These are his reports of two trips, one at the end of June/early July 1809 and one in August and September 1809.

‘Excursion’ 1: 29 June–15 July 1809

Müller was clearly not afraid to strain his faculties and bodily strength to the limit, and his report of his July 1809 trip is particularly dizzying. It began on 29 June, ‘about 3 hours after I had the honor of receiving the necessary papers from your [William Wellesley Pole’s] hands’. By noon on the 30th of June he was on board a cutter, the Princess of Wales, making for Heligoland, where he arrived on 3 July.

At this point the journey went a little crazy. Müller wrote a letter to the senior naval officer at Heligoland asking him for a cutter to be sent to meet him on the 9th or 10th July at Ems. Having given himself a rendezvous, Müller then landed at Norden at 10 pm on 4 July – presumably to be under cover of darkness – and travelled overnight to Emden, a journey of 19 miles. An hour after arriving at Emden, and around dawn, he was in a boat taking soundings of the harbour and of the Ems river. He then sailed a little upriver to Delfzijl then continued his breakneck journey, pausing only to change horses. He arrived at 4 am on 6 July at Zwolle, having done (roughly) 110 miles in 24 hours (on early 19th century roads!).

Müller’s map of the area around Cuxhaven (TNA ADM 1/4354)

The next few days passed in similar fashion, with Müller travelling across parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and northern Germany, hardly pausing to do anything but examine the fortifications on his path. His observations, which he recorded in his letter to William Wellesley Pole, were similar for every stop: observations on the fortifications he passed; the size and quality of the garrisons; the number of guns; and whether there were any bodies of troops nearby. He must have done all this on the wing, because he really travelled VERY fast.

Most pertinently for me, on 9 July he travelled to the island of Walcheren, which the British were then preparing to invade. Not that Müller stopped to savour the local sights: he spent a single hour in Middelburg (‘surrounded by a Wall and Ditch’), where he learned there were 14 sail of the line at Flushing and Antwerp and 5 ships of the line on the stocks, along with 8,000 seamen and plenty of shipbuilding materials. By 5 pm he was back on the mainland and by 4 am next day he was in France at Bois-le-Duc.

By this point Müller must have realised he was very close to missing his 10 July appointment with that cutter on the Ems, so he cast a swift eye over the fortresses on the French border then nipped back up to Norden (stopping only to take some more soundings on the Ems ‘as far as a ward for my personal safety would permit’). He reached the rendezvous at 2 am on 11 July. Technically he was late, but the cutter was there anyway. Müller landed at Yarmouth three days later and made his way immediately to London, where he arrived on 15 July at 3 pm, hopefully having had a moment to shave and change his clothes.

Müller’s itinerary (TNA ADM 1/4354)

As Müller put it, ‘I had no time at all for sleep or refreshment except when in the coach or on bord [sic] Ship.’ No kidding. I hope he didn’t faceplant on the table and start snoring halfway through his report to Pole.

‘Excursion’ 2: 3 August–11 September 1809

‘In respect to my remuneration for my troubles,’ Müller wrote, ‘I left it at their Lordships liberallity [sic] either to remunerate me or to give me any further employ[ment], whereby I might receive a proportionate recompense. Accordingly, the following Month … I was again employed on a secret service,’ this time by Lord Mulgrave himself.

Müller’s remit was to check out the French coast closest to Britain and to work out what might be going on in the hearts and minds of the Dutch and German people. This time, however, he had several close shaves. This was, after all, the beginning of August 1809: the Walcheren expedition was in full swing and the French were decidedly twitchy, and definitely on the lookout for British spies.

Müller took precautions. He had to look, as well as act, the part and bought ‘clothes to dress me according to the fashion of the country’: as he explained later, so as ‘not to raise suspicion respecting my dress.’ He also changed a great deal of money through trusted third parties – money he used to buy a carriage and horse, purchase maps and charts, and occasionally outright bribe people for information.

He left London on the evening of 3 August 1809 and landed at Cuxhaven on the 5th. He travelled immediately to Stade, his hometown, because he needed a passport to go to Hamburg.

(The passport is a gift to any historian trying to add flesh to a historical personage. The physical description noted that Müller was tall – 180cm, to be precise, or about 5 foot 11 inches – with brown hair and eyes, an oval face with a round chin, and a fresh complexion.)

(TNA ADM 1/4354)

On 8 August Müller was in Hamburg, where he wrote a letter to William Wellesley Pole recording his initial thoughts about the place and the inclination of the locals (against Bonaparte, he thought). He spent a few days there, buying maps and charts, ‘part of which I thrust [sic, trust] will be usefull, and the rest I was forced to purchase to prevent Suspicion.’

His next major stop was to be Paris, so he needed some people to back him up as a trustworthy man of good character. Accordingly he went to Gӧttingen, where he got the university professors to write him letters of recommendation. On 13 August he was in Cassel, where he found he had company: ‘Jerome Bonaparte was there with almost 2,500 Westphalian troops.’ Apparently Jerome had ordered the execution of 13 ‘estimated Gentlemens [sic]’, which had stirred up anti-French sentiment in the locality.

At Mainz (Mayence) Müller was told he would have to wait two weeks before going into France: ‘however some money procured me directly a French passeport for Paris.’ This wasn’t the last time he used wit and wiles to get his way. At Metz he dined with three imperial messengers, whom he plied with food (and drink). At one in the morning he persuaded one of the couriers, a secretary to Marshal Berthier, to travel with him in his coach (the man was probably too shaky to get back on his horse). His new friend continued to be amazingly talkative. Among other things, Müller learned that Napoleon was keen to finish the war with Austria as soon as possible; that he wanted to invade Russia (this was three years before he actually did, of course); and that the frontiers of France were being strongly reinforced by 18,000 men.

Travelling with the courier may have provided Müller with more than just information: it may also have provided him with immunity. At any rate, they reached Verdun without incident and split up. Müller then went on to Paris, where he arrived at 5 pm on 20 August.

Things now started to get tricky. Müller went to the office of the police and stated his intention to visit Boulogne. He was told, however, that ‘it was forbidden to any stranger to travel to a seaport.’ Müller compromised: he asked for a passport to Montreuil-sur-Mer, still 9 miles or so from the sea. This he secured.

At 4 pm on 23 August Müller left Paris. He arrived at Montreuil the next day at 8 pm. He couldn’t officially go to Boulogne, but that wasn’t going to stop him doing it anyway. At 2 am, therefore, under cover of night, he walked the rest of the way to Boulogne (about 20 miles!). He stayed there long enough to compile some very detailed notes on the defences and garrison and likelihood of a British assault on the place, but then, to his dismay, he bumped into two gendarmes.

Müller must have thought this was the end, but luckily he was able to bluff his way out of this potentially sticky situation by claiming he had lost his way. The gendarmes did not blink at the statement that this man was 20 miles from where his passport said he ought to be and promptly escorted him back to Montreuil.

On 28 August, back in Paris, Müller tried to get a passport for Antwerp. This was wishful thinking – the British expedition to Walcheren was then about 10 miles from Antwerp (it had, however, reached its furthest point and was about to start retreating) – and he failed. Determined to get something out of his visit to Paris, Müller visited an old friend who was a captain in the imperial engineers. ‘By several Means,’ Müller reported with frustrating vagueness, ‘I bought from him for 1800 livres all the maps of French seaports’, along with a map of Westphalia that had been drawn up for Marshal Berthier. While his friend wasn’t looking, he also tore various other charts out of a large book and secreted them in his carriage (I wish he had explained how, but he didn’t, so let your imagination run wild).

With his cabriolet bursting with sensitive documents obtained by the most questionable means, Müller now made his way towards Brussels. On his way he passed several large bodies of troops marching hastily towards the Scheldt and Antwerp, where the British were still expected on an hourly basis. Not unnaturally, Müller ‘hope[d] to meet anywhere … corps of the English Expedition’, but instead ‘I was so unhappy to meet two Gendarmes’ (his phrasing, not mine). Surely he couldn’t be lucky twice? Well actually … he could. They examined his passport and searched his cabriolet: ‘however they saw not my maps etc.’ Müller, presumably sweating profusely, put on the same ‘I am a lost tourist, help help help’ act that had worked so well at Boulogne, and pulled it off a second time. The gendarmes escorted him to Brussels; they left him, and ‘I proceeded discreetly.’ I bet he did.

Flanders, he said, was all in a flap, roused by the proximity of British troops: ‘The general sentiment … was against their Government … they thought likewise that all Holland would soon revolt against their King because a second English Expedition would land in the neighbourhood of Amsterdam.’ (Alas!) At this point, however, Müller just wanted to go home. He therefore made for the Ems as quickly as he could. The moment he got aboard a British ship in the river he showed his ‘official Letter’ from the Admiralty to the commanding officer, who promptly arranged for him to be whisked home by the fastest available route. Müller arrived back in London on 11 September at 9 am.

He was justifiably proud of all he had done: as he wrote to John Wilson Croker, he had travelled 3,592 English miles altogether across his two trips. For this he received a remuneration of £400 (a further £352 was eventually extracted), although Müller did not consider this to cover the risk and discomfort he had undergone.

Müller’s signature (TNA ADM 1/4354)

Later career

Müller may have been engaged in more secret service work in 1813 in the run-up to Leipzig: his record in Beamish’s History of the KGL records that he was employed in North Germany in 1813 and 1814.[7] According to his ODNB entry (and yes, he has one) he did more survey work in Germany and also ‘was employed in the home district’ (i.e. London), so he probably did not serve actively with his regiment abroad.[7] He continued in the KGL, however, and was promoted second captain in December 1812. Here he stuck until the regiment was disbanded in February 1816 and he went on half-pay, although he subsequently served in the Hanoverian army’s engineer corps and was eventually promoted to major. He also became Librarian to the Duke of Cambridge, Governor of Hanover, a position he kept until 1834, and was appointed a Knight of the Guelphic Order in 1821 – perhaps a reward for some of his services?

Private life

After all this, what about Müller’s private life? I wasn’t able to glean much about him as a person from his letters, other than that he seems to have been resourceful, proactive, and quick-thinking, not to mention capable of superhuman abilities to stave off sleep. One thing is for sure: he was not married in 1809, which was possibly one reason why he was willing to undertake such dangerous missions. Müller did, however, latermarry a girl from Newtown in Ireland named Clarinda Catherine Ready, about eight years his junior. Their first child, Wilhelm Adolf, was born in September 1812. Over the next 12 years they had at least five sons (there is no sign of daughters). All the children were born in Stade, which suggests Müller settled back there to bring up his family.

Unfortunately, Müller’s story does not have a tremendously happy ending. He and his wife died within a couple of months of each other in 1846, aged 63 and 55. Their children were not especially long-lived: of the three whose lives I’ve managed to track, Hermann Wilhelm died aged 50, Wilhelm Adolf (the eldest) died aged 46, and David Miles Wilhelm died aged 24.[8]

But what a story their father must have had to tell.

References

All quotations from Wilhelm Müller’s correspondence come from TNA ADM 1/4354.

Many thanks to Lynn Bryant (ever my partner in crime), Rob Griffith, and Gareth Glover for help and pointers.

[1] Date of birth from Werner Kummer, ‘J.A. Brandegger, F. Schneider, J.C. Dibold, J.C. Garthe and W. Müller: minor German globe makers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries’, Globe Studies 51/52 (2005[for 2003/04]), pp. 59–71, p. 68 n 18

[2] His father was an interesting character in his own right. Also educated at Gӧttingen, he was briefly in the British Royal Navy but was invalided out after his leg was permanently damaged during a skirmish with Chinese pirates. He subsequently became captain of a customs frigate on the Elbe and published several works on maritime engineering. See https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Gottlieb_Daniel_M%C3%BCller (accessed 16 October 2020)

[3] http://m.genealogias.info/mobi/1/upload/moller.pdf (accessed 16 October 2020)

[4] William Müller, Elements of the Science of War, vol. 1, pp. ix-xvi

[5] Kummer, ‘Minor German globe makers’, p. 68

[6] North Ludlow Beamish, History of the King’s German Legion (T&W Bone, 1837), p. 531

[7] H.M. Chichester, revised by James Falkner, ‘Müller, William (d. 1846)’, ODNB online, published 22 September 2005, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19515, accessed 15 October 2020

[8] These last two paragraphs have been pieced together through searches on ancestry.co.uk.

HMS Victor v La Flèche: two official versions of one naval action

I’ve been rather enjoying getting to grips with the naval history of the Napoleonic (and pre-Napoleonic) era while researching Sir Home Popham. One of the things I discovered today was the comparatively minor action off the island of Mahé, one of the Seychelles, between HMS Victor (an 18-gun sloop) and the French corvette La Flèche (20 guns) on 5 September 1801.

At the time Popham was in command of the British squadron in the Red Sea (he wasn’t actually in the Red Sea at the time, of course — being Popham — but that’s another story altogether). The Victor, under Commander George Ralph Collier, had been detached for the purposes of gathering information on enemy ships cruising in the area of the Seychelles. Popham had given Collier strict instructions ‘on no account to risk’ his vessel, ‘the object on which you are sent being solely to obtain Information’ (20 July 1801, TNA ADM 1/2323), but Collier clearly stretched his instructions to the limit.

Sir George Ralph Collier, from here (Wikipedia)

The account below is drawn from Collier’s official dispatch to Sir Home Popham, his direct superior, dated 10 September 1801 (TNA ADM 1/2323).

‘The extreme sickly state of the Crew’, Collier wrote, forced him to put into the island of Diego Garcia for supplies and water. On 27 August he left Diego Garcia and sailed off to continue his fact-finding mission. As befits an information-gathering vessel, he was disguised (Collier did not say how, but presumably he was sailing under different colours).

On 2 September he approached the Seychelles, where, in Collier’s words, he ‘fell in with a French National Corvette, and after a few ineffectual manoeuvres on her part, from the superior sailing of the Victor when going large, I had the pleasure of bringing her to a close action at 3/4 past 5 pm.’

Unfortunately for Collier, this first encounter didn’t go brilliantly. Although the Victor managed to fire a couple of broadsides, the enemy ‘solely directed her Fire at our Masts and Sails’, as a result of which ‘I had the Mortification to find, both lower and Topsail Braces shot away on the Starboard side’ along with some other damage. As a result, the Victor, although the superior sailor, was swiftly outstripped by the French vessel, which tacked under Collier’s lee and legged it with all speed to windward.

‘Night fast approaching added to the Chagrin I felt,’ Collier wrote, but he gave chase. Despite his best efforts, he lost sight of his prey on 4 September; but he guessed she was probably making for one of the Seychelles, and was delighted to discover her sitting in the inner harbour at Mahé ‘with a Red Flag at the Fore (which as I since learn was in defiance)’.

With the wind against him and unaware of the navigation of the harbour, Collier spent the next day or so sounding his way and then warping in after the French ship, which must have been fun, as the corvette didn’t wait for her enemy to approach and delivered ‘a raking fire’. At a quarter to twelve on the morning of 5 September, however, Collier managed to begin firing broadsides. The Victor kept this up until 2:20 pm, when Collier ‘plainly perceived the Enemy was going down; in a few minutes her Cable was Cut, she cast round, and her Bow grounded on a Coral Reef.’

Collier now sent his First Lieutenant, Mr McLean, on board the sinking enemy with a party of officers and men, but they quickly discovered the ship was on fire. More men were thus sent over to extinguish it, but it was too late: ‘she fell on her Larboard Bilge into Deeper Water, and Sunk.’ (Everyone managed to get off first.)

The French had lost four killed, although Collier thought that number had been underrepresented. He was very proud of having only two wounded and none killed, although, as he pointed out, 30 of his crew, including the Master, had been struck down with ‘a lingering fever’.

This brings me to one of the curiosities of Collier’s account, at least as it was published in the Gazette — because there are a couple of interesting discrepancies between the version submitted to Popham (which was forwarded on to the Admiralty), and the version that was officially published.

TNA ADM 1/2323, with the words that do not appear in the Gazette struck out

The first is the fever afflicting the crew of the Victor. I presume the reason this was downgraded was because the Admiralty didn’t think it necessary for the public to know about it, perhaps because prevalent sickness aboard the fleet might bring up awkward questions, or perhaps because the Admiralty didn’t want the enemy to know this particular British ship was in a weakened state: I’m not sure, but two small elisions were made. Captain Collier’s phrase ‘the extreme sickly state of the Crew’ became simply ‘the state of the crew’: and the ‘men labouring under the severity of a lingering Fever’ simply became ‘a lingering fever’ (although at least the existence of the fever was not written out … presumably because it enhanced the bravery of Collier’s crew).

More interestingly, two whole paragraphs were removed from Collier’s text. The final paragraph detailed the repairs Collier hoped to make to his vessel before continuing his journey. The second, however, is curious. Collier wrote of his discovery that he had destroyed La Flèche, with a crew of 140 men, and ‘thirty-seven passengers sent into Banishment by the first Consul of France for an attempt on his Life’.

ADM 1/2323, showing the lines that do not appear in the Gazette struck out

This line is left out of the Gazette. Why? Again I’m not sure, but perhaps the chronology is critical here. The action between Victor and La Flèche took place on 5 September 1801, before the Peace of Amiens: but the Gazette was not published until 20 July the following year, four months after peace had been concluded. A detail that might have been useful in wartime, therefore, may have been left out to avoid irritating the head of state of a nation that was no longer an enemy … at least for the time being.

This is speculation on my part, but I find it an interesting example of what was considered worthy of publication.

References

The National Archives ADM 1/2323

The Naval Chronicle, vol. 8 (London, 1802) pp. 72-73

“Comedy Walcheren” 1809, part 2

Apologies for being a day late, but I couldn’t access the blog yesterday. So here is Part 2 of Comedy Walcheren 1809. (For disclaimer and further context, see Part 1.)

***

[After the fall of Flushing, August 1809]

flushing_after_bombardment

Flushing after the bombardment, from here

COOTE: Right. That went swimmingly. Shall we send in some commissioners to negotiate the surrender of the city? I thought, since the siege was my responsibility, we might send in two members of my staff.

 

CHATHAM: The Admiral’s going to have to send someone in too, isn’t he?

COOTE: I’m afraid it can’t be helped. He’s chosen Captain Cockburn.

CHATHAM: Well, we can’t let him get one over on us. We need a full colonel.

COOTE: …. but I haven’t got any full colonels on my staff.

CHATHAM: Then we’ll have to send in one of mine. Colonel Long will do.

Robert_Ballard_Long_(1771-1825)

Robert Ballard Long (wikipedia)

COOTE [staring at him]: But … but I was in charge.

CHATHAM: So we’re agreed, I’ll send in Colonel Long.

[Sound of running from a distance; gets closer and closer and closer, until…]

STRACHAN [breathless]: I’M HERE! Did I miss anything?

CHATHAM: Ah, Sir Richard. I trust your boat isn’t too damaged.

STRACHAN: Ship. And I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

CHATHAM: Of course you don’t. [BROWNRIGG looks meaningfully at CHATHAM] [Long pause] [CHATHAM looks like he’s struggling with himself, then says, through gritted teeth] You and your men did a splendid job.

STRACHAN [beaming]: Thanks, Johnboy.

CHATHAM: Now we’ve sent our commissioners, and we wait to find out what terms the French will accept to surrender.

COCKBURN: Admiral. My lord. The city has surrendered. Here are the terms.

CHATHAM: Excellent. The entire garrison is becoming prisoners of war; we can take possession of the city as soon as they have evacuated.

STRACHAN: And then do we press on to Antwerp?

CHATHAM: Have you got my men and ordnance supplies through the Sloe Passage yet?

STRACHAN: …………… Oh goodness, is that the time? I really must be off; appointment in Batz, don’t you know. [Runs off at full speed]

CHATHAM [calling after him]: I suppose not, then.

COOTE: Here are the orders of the day for tomorrow, when the French will march out of Flushing and pile their arms. [pause] After that, my lord … you are going to South Beveland, yes? And on to Antwerp?

south beveland

South Beveland

CHATHAM: Well, those are my orders.

COOTE [visibly excited now]: Oh, I can’t wait to lay siege to another city!

CHATHAM: You’re not going. You need to stay here and garrison Walcheren.

COOTE: But you said—

CHATHAM: You said you wanted to be in charge here, yes? Well, now’s your chance.

COOTE: If you say so, sir. [whispers as he retreats] Bastard.

STRACHAN [coming back in]: What’s his problem?

CHATHAM: Indigestion. Got your ship off that rock yet?

STRACHAN: You’re never letting me live that down, are you?

CHATHAM: No. So. Are my men through the Sloe?

STRACHAN: Wow. I really keep forgetting these meetings with Sir Home Popham. Really must get a better grip of my schedule. [zips off]

[Next day, outside Flushing]

COOTE: Men! Salute! [Men salute] [COOTE consults watch] Where is he? It’s eight o’clock already.

BROWNRIGG: Did you really expect him to be on time?

COOTE: I mean, the French are over there waiting. It’s getting hot.

BROWNRIGG: You did say seven in the morning, General.

[Men still salute; starting to look a little constipated now]

COOTE: Oh for goodness’ sake, at ease. I don’t think he’s coming any time soon. Are you sure he’s coming at all?

BROWNRIGG: Here he is now.

[CHATHAM and his suite turn up, crisp and fresh. Everyone else glares at them, dripping with sweat.]

CHATHAM: Well, where are the French? What are you waiting for?

COOTE: I can’t imagine.

CHATHAM: Let’s get them marching, then. We haven’t got all day.

[French march out. Rather ragged. They lay their arms at CHATHAM’s feet.]

COOTE: Well, that’s them gone. [hopefully, to CHATHAM] Are you going now, too?

CHATHAM: Yes, as soon as I—

COOTE: I’ve already packed your bags.

CHATHAM:—that’s kind.

COOTE: And loaded them up. In fact, I sent your baggage train out of Middelburg yesterday. It’s waiting for you at Arnemuiden.

CHATHAM: You really shouldn’t have bothered.

COOTE: No, no, I really, really wanted to help. Shall I have your horse saddled?

BROWNRIGG: Lord Chatham! I’m afraid you’ll have to postpone going to South Beveland for a day or so. A letter’s just come from the Treasury. They’re refusing to send us any more money to pay the troops.

[COOTE slopes off, cursing]

CHATHAM: What? Let me see that. [Snatches letter off BROWNRIGG] ‘Dear General Brownrigg, No, you can’t have any more money. We haven’t got any. Take it off the local population—you’ve conquered them, after all, and they should be expecting it. Now get on with it, I feel I’ll have grown a beard before Flushing finally falls. Yours sincerely, Huskisson.’ Argh, the fool! Fetch me my writing desk.

Im1894OurRail1-Huskisson

BROWNRIGG: Certainly, sir.

CHATHAM [writes]: ‘Dear Mr Huskisson, the island of Walcheren has surrendered to us, and we really shouldn’t set a bad example by taking all their gold, especially when they have to feed us and keep a roof over our heads. The men haven’t been paid for a week and are starting to get restless. Please send us some money before they mutiny, and furthermore you’re an idiot. Sincerely yours, Chatham.’

BROWNRIGG: Looks fine, sir. Well done.

CHATHAM: Right then, I’m off to South Beveland. Not that we can go far; the ordnance supplies are still stuck in the Sloe. What in the name of all that’s holy is the Admiral doing?

BROWNRIGG: …. I did hear a rumour—

CHATHAM: What?

BROWNRIGG: Nothing of significance. Only … only I heard someone say Strachan had asked Lord Rosslyn if he’d consider sending the troops on South Beveland under his command on to Antwerp…

CHATHAM: WHAT?!

BROWNRIGG: I know, he should have asked you first.

CHATHAM: THIS IS A BLATANT USURPATION OF MY PREROGATIVE AS COMMANDER OF THE FORCES!

BROWNRIGG: Yes, I know, but—

CHATHAM: I SHALL NEVER SPEAK TO THE MAN AGAIN!

BROWNRIGG: You might have to.

CHATHAM: WHY?

BROWNRIGG: Well, you’re engaged in a joint concern with him. He’s also standing right behind you.

STRACHAN: Hey, Johnboy, Sir Home Popham says we probably ought to move it before the 30,000 French reinforcements headed for the Scheldt basin make it here. Could you—

CHATHAM: HANDS OFF MY TROOPS!

STRACHAN: … I haven’t touched them?

CHATHAM: NOBODY IS GOING TO ANTWERP WITHOUT MY SAY-SO. NOT EVEN LORD ROSSLYN’S MEN.

STRACHAN: …. Ah. About that—[CHATHAM brushes past him, almost knocking him over] Bastard.

BROWNRIGG: Well, you did try to go over his head and press on to Antwerp without him. What did you expect?

STRACHAN: We could be here all year if I waited for him.

BROWNRIGG: He’s on his way. How are the transports in the Sloe?

STRACHAN: Dear God, I have another appointment. How do I manage to forget about so many of them? [Disappears]

COLONEL LONG: General Brownrigg, we have a problem.

BROWNRIGG: What, another one?

COLONEL LONG: Er, this one’s a biggie. Take a look at these sick returns. [Hands BROWNRIGG a paper]

BROWNRIGG: So what? We always have some sickness on campaigns. This weekly report suggests sickness is a little higher than usual, but nothing we can’t handle.

COLONEL LONG: That’s not a weekly sick return. That’s the sick since yesterday evening.

sick list

Johnny on the Sick List, Thomas Rowlandson (from here)

BROWNRIGG: Seriously?! [Looks at document] [Stares at it some more] [Long pause] Shit.

COLONEL LONG: That’s the same thing I said.

BROWNRIGG: Keep an eye on it. It may be nothing.

[Next day, on South Beveland]

CHATHAM: Well, this is nice.

BROWNRIGG: Here are Lord Rosslyn and Sir John Hope.

ROSSLYN: Welcome to South Beveland, Lord Chatham. Happy to report absolutely zero chance of our getting to Antwerp now. Thirty thousand Frenchmen between here and the city. To press on would be madness. Plus, we’re starting to get a lot of sick.

expedition birds eye view antwerp

CHATHAM: That many? Nobody’s sick on Walcheren.

BROWNRIGG: Um.

CHATHAM: You mean you knew about this? How long has this been going on for?

BROWNRIGG: A few days, I think.

CHATHAM: May I see your sick returns? [ROSSLYN hands them over] These aren’t so bad. I mean, 300 since the beginning of the campaign is—

ROSSLYN: Three hundred today, my lord.

CHATHAM: Today?!

ROSSLYN: Yes. We’ve had pretty much that many sick every day for the last week.

CHATHAM:

BROWNRIGG: Erm. And on Walcheren.

CHATHAM:

STRACHAN [dashing up, breathlessly]: Here I am! I heard you wanted to see me, Rosslyn, old boy? Are we going to Antwerp then? I—hello, what’s he doing here?

CHATHAM: My word, is somebody talking?

STRACHAN: He seems to have gone deaf. JOHNBOY CAN YOU HEAR ME

CHATHAM: I think it may be the wind.

STRACHAN: Must have been the bombardment. Has that effect on some people, loud noises. Bursts their eardrums. I THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE YOUR EARS CLEANED OUT

BROWNRIGG: Strachan, just leave it, he’ll be fine.

ROSSLYN: What is it, Admiral?

STRACHAN: Now he’s here [points at CHATHAM, who flinches], I guess we’re all going up to Antwerp now? Eh? Eh?

BROWNRIGG: And the ordnance supplies in the Sloe?

STRACHAN [proudly]: They’re all here. Look! They arrived this morning. I guess this means we’re ready, yes? [silence] [longer silence] [STRACHAN looks worried] Yes?

BROWNRIGG: Now here’s the thing. You know when we last spoke of taking Antwerp, before Flushing fell?

STRACHAN: Of course.

BROWNRIGG: When there weren’t nearly so many French in the Scheldt basin?

STRACHAN: Yes, but—

BROWNRIGG: Nor was sickness tearing through the army at an alarming rate?

walcheren_sick

Evacuation of Suid-Beveland, 30 August 1809 (from here)

STRACHAN: I heard rumours about that, but aren’t we—

CHATHAM: NO. No, we bloody well are not.

STRACHAN:

CHATHAM: Our men got stuck in the Sloe and we missed our chance. You bastard.

STRACHAN: Well, if you’d hurried up with the siege of Flushing—

CHATHAM: I bloody well would have done had you got your BLEEDING ships through the BLEEDING Deurloo and into the West Scheldt!

STRACHAN: Well, if Lord BLEEDING Chatham had taken adverse wind into account—

CHATHAM: I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY MORE ABOUT WIND!

BROWNRIGG [to ROSSLYN]: I rather preferred it when they weren’t talking.

STRACHAN:—what did you expect us to do, pull the boats down the river on a piece of string?

CHATHAM: I EXPECTED YOU TO GET ME TO SANDVLIET YOU FOOL

STRACHAN: WELL I CAN’T CONTROL THE WEATHER—CAN YOU?

CHATHAM: I’LL SHOW YOU WEATHER IF YOU COME ANY CLOSER

BROWNRIGG [hastily]: My lord, I think you should go and have a rest. Admiral, perhaps … a walk? In the fresh air? [The naval and army commander leave the room; BROWNRIGG looks at ROSSLYN] Jesus Christ.

ROSSLYN: I know. As though sickness wasn’t enough, eh?

[Later]

LONG: General Brownrigg, the latest Gazette has just come in.

gazette

BROWNRIGG: Oh splendid. I wonder what—BUGGER

LONG: What is it?

BROWNRIGG: Did you read Strachan’s letter?

LONG [reads]: ‘I wanted to keep going on to Antwerp, but the generals were all against. I had the fleet ready to take us there and the army said no.’ Oh my god.

BROWNRIGG: He’s trying to play the army off against the navy.

LONG: And pin the blame on Lord Chatham.

BROWNRIGG: Has His Lordship seen this?

LONG: Are you going to tell him?

BROWNRIGG: Maybe you should.

LONG: You’re QMG.

BROWNRIGG: You’re Adjutant General. You deal with the correspondence.

LONG: You usually do the letters home, though.

BROWNRIGG: I’m senior to you. I order you to tell him.

LONG: You bastard. [enters CHATHAM’s room] Your Lordship?

CHATHAM [writing; doesn’t look up]: Yes?

LONG: The Gazette has arrived.

CHATHAM: Mmhmm.

LONG: There’s a really nice bit in it reprinting your last dispatch. [pause; really fast] And Sir Richard Strachan’s written a letter blaming the failure of the campaign on the army and exonerating the navy from all responsibility. [more slowly] And some stuff about the fall of Flushing.

CHATHAM: Very good, I—hang on, what?

LONG: It’s not as bad as it sounds—

CHATHAM [reading]): No, it bloody is as bad as it sounds.

LONG: I’m sure he didn’t mean it. The Admiral—

CHATHAM: —is a dead man. BROWNRIGG! [BROWNRIGG hurries in] Have you seen this?

BROWNRIGG: It’s not as bad as it looks, my lord—I’m sure he didn’t mean it—

CHATHAM: Get the Admiral in at once! And get rid of the awful echo here!

BROWNRIGG: I had already thought to summon him, my lord, but nobody can find him. I got a letter from him saying he wasn’t feeling well and had gone off to get some fresh air. I hope he hasn’t got the prevailing fever.

CHATHAM: I really hope he has.

BROWNRIGG: And, er, sir, I—

CHATHAM: What now?

BROWNRIGG: These newspapers came from home too.

[CHATHAM reads in silence] [his face changes]

BROWNRIGG: They’re not very complimentary, are they?

CHATHAM: This one actually calls for my court martial.

BROWNRIGG: I’m sure you’ve had worse.

CHATHAM: This one calls me an indolent, effete idiot unfit for public business.

BROWNRIGG: My goodness, those journalists are scamps.

AN00079358_001_l

Just one example of a print showing a sailor (far left) complaining Chatham’s army directly caused the failure of the expedition (From here)

CHATHAM: If there’s any more bad news, tell me now, because I think I’m going to burst a blood vessel, so we might as well make my death a clean one.

BROWNRIGG: Well, there is … one thing. Apparently the Duke of Portland’s had a stroke.

CHATHAM: He’s resigned over ill health?

BROWNRIGG: No, he recovered. But then Canning found out the expedition was over and said Portland had promised to fire Castlereagh from the War Department if the campaign failed. Castlereagh found out. They both resigned. There was a duel.

CHATHAM: Please tell me one of them died. No. Better. Please tell me they both died.

BROWNRIGG: Castlereagh shot Canning in the—erm. The thigh?

CHATHAM: Not quite as good as if he’d killed him, but my day is looking up.

BROWNRIGG: Unfortunately they took the government down with them. Portland left office.

CHATHAM: Who replaced him?

BROWNRIGG: Spencer Perceval.

CHATHAM: Bugger. He hates me. [Pause] Please find me the Admiral. I need to shout at someone.

BROWNRIGG: I’m sorry, my lord, I really can’t—

CHATHAM: STRACHAN!

POPHAM [comes in]: I’m afraid he’s not here, my lord. He’s ill.

CHATHAM: How sad. Is it the wrong wind again?

POPHAM: No, he’s just ill.

CHATHAM: Conveniently so. Tell him if he wants a proper illness, I’ll gladly break both his legs for him.

POPHAM: I’ll be sure to pass on the message.

[CHATHAM exits]

STRACHAN [poking head out of a vase]: Is it safe to come out yet?

POPHAM: Soon. He sails tomorrow.

STRACHAN: Good, because it’s a bit cramped in here.

464487583

Yet another print showing Strachan (far left) blaming Chatham for the expedition’s failure

[Next day]

CHATHAM: Come Brownrigg, time to say farewell to this place. We have had good times here, have we not? Glory, victory, and memories to last a lifetime. Oh—who’m I kidding? The place is a disease-ridden dunghole. Sir Eyre Coote, have fun without me. [Runs up gangplank and disappears]

COOTE: Thanks for nothing. [Turns back] Now, all we have to do is survive until we get called home, and all will be well.

[Stares at troops. As he watches, several fall down on the spot]

COOTE [brightly]: Here’s the intrepid warrior, facing certain death from disease on a godforsaken island with 16,000 men, half of whom are already ill. What could possibly go wrong?

STRACHAN [distantly, from vase]: Is it safe to come out yet?

 

“Comedy Walcheren” 1809, part 1

Now before you yell at me at once, some context. Bear with me.

I wrote this after finishing The Late Lord. I felt like an emotional punch-bag; it turns out writing a biography and getting into someone’s head is an all-consuming thing, particularly when the story you’re telling is quite depressing in parts. ‘Comedy Walcheren’ was intended as a kind of exorcism to get rid of the demons I had invited into my head, effectively by laughing at them.

It’s not meant to be serious, and I hope I have been respectful of a topic that isn’t, frankly, very amusing. But it also seemed to me that the whole Walcheren debacle had elements of farce to it — and I really, really, really needed to laugh.

I’m told this has good bits, so I have decided to release it into the public domain (inspired by my good friend Lynn Bryant’s recent blog on the battle of Tenerife, which was very much written in the same spirit).

So here it is … enjoy. And please don’t kill me. (Further warning: mostly written in English, but also contains some … mild Anglo-Saxon)

***

COMEDY WALCHEREN: PART 1

[Scene: London, 1809]

external-content.duckduckgo.com

Lord Castlereagh

CASTLEREAGH: So lads at Horse Guards … if I were to suggest joining Austria in the Fifth Coalition by organising an expedition to the Scheldt—nothing fancy, let’s call it a coup de main—with the aim of taking Antwerp and destroying the French and Dutch fleet at Flushing, what would you say?

COLONEL GORDON: Frankly, I’d say you were nuts.

CASTLEREAGH: But do you think it’s impossible?

ALEXANDER HOPE: I wouldn’t say impossible, exactly, but—

CASTLEREAGH: Wonderful. I knew you’d love the plan. Commander-in-Chief, when can we have—oh, 20,000 men ready?

GENERAL DUNDAS: I thought you said it was ‘nothing fancy’?

CASTLEREAGH: That’s precisely what I said, yes. Better make it 30,000 to be sure.

GENERAL DUNDAS: You’ll need to move quickly, or the French will just pull all their ships upriver.

CASTLEREAGH: We’ll be a blur. I’ll expect my 40,000 men by June. [To LORD MULGRAVE] I say, I don’t suppose you can provide me with 600 ships, can you?

fortifications_antwerp

MULGRAVE: What in the name of all that’s holy are you going to do with 600 ships?

CASTLEREAGH: Take Antwerp. Do you have them?

MULGRAVE: You know Antwerp is up a very narrow river and heavily guarded by the French, don’t you?

CASTLEREAGH: Possibly heavily guarded by the French. We’re not too clear on that bit. So. Six hundred ships?

MULGRAVE: I’ll see what I can do. Who’s commanding the military bit?

CASTLEREAGH: Good question. [To LORD CHATHAM] You up, Chatham?

CHATHAM: Of course I’m up. What’s the matter? Need another 40,000 muskets we haven’t got to send to Portugal at short notice?

chathamturner

Lord Chatham, engraved by Charles Turner (1809)

CASTLEREAGH: Not this time. I was thinking … you know that expedition we’re planning? We need a commander for it. Nobody else wants to do it  I can’t find anyone else to do it Will you do it?

CHATHAM: Will I what?

CASTLEREAGH: Oh go on. It’ll be easy, maybe even fun.

CHATHAM:

CASTLEREAGH: Do I really have to remind you that you haven’t done a bally thing since the Helder Expedition in 1799? Tick tock tick tock, and all that.

CHATHAM: Oh all right. Dammit.

CASTLEREAGH: Good man. It’ll be fine. The defences of Antwerp are very weak. At least they were in 1794.

CHATHAM: Fifteen years ago?

CASTLEREAGH: Look, the French have been a bit busy elsewhere. I’ve heard they’ve done nothing to Antwerp since then.

CHATHAM: Who told you that?

CASTLEREAGH: Sir Home Popham. Here, let me introduce you. Popham, this is Lord Chatham. Tell him how easy it will be to get to Antwerp.

POPHAM: Hi! Oh, it’ll be easy. But you need to move quickly.

CASTLEREAGH: Oh, Chatham’ll move quickly. Won’t you, Chatham?

CHATHAM: Whatever.

Sir_Home_Riggs_Popham

Sir Home Popham

POPHAM: Excellent. I have a cunning plan. We take our 40,000 men and divide them into three forces. One goes to Cadzand and disables the batteries there. The other lands on Walcheren and masks Flushing from the land, while the navy completes the blockade by sea. The last lot go ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP up the West Scheldt to Sandvliet. The navy follows them, covering them to Antwerp. It’ll take a week at most: the French’ll never know what hit them.

CHATHAM:

POPHAM: I know, it’s brilliant, isn’t it? I amaze myself sometimes.

CHATHAM: So who’s commanding the naval bit? Surely not Captain Fancy-Pants here?

POPHAM: Hey!

CASTLEREAGH: Good question. Hold on… [to MULGRAVE] Who’ve you picked?

MULGRAVE: Sir Richard Strachan.

CASTLEREAGH: OK…… although he’s never done anything like this, has he?

MULGRAVE: Doesn’t matter. He’s been off Holland for ages. Knows the waters really well. Er. The bits we’ve been able to get to, anyway. Plus he’s impulsive, and speed is of the essence. Who’ve you picked?

Henry Lord Mulgrave

Lord Mulgrave

CASTLEREAGH: Lord Chatham.

MULGRAVE: Lord Chatham?

CASTLEREAGH: Yes.

MULGRAVE: LORD CHATHAM?

CASTLEREAGH: Yes.

MULGRAVE: The guy’s never been on time to a cabinet once in 20 years and you want to send him on a pre-emptive raid to Antwerp?

CASTLEREAGH: It’s a foolproof plan.

MULGRAVE: It had better be.

[Later]

CASTLEREAGH: Chatham, this is Sir Richard Strachan. Strachan, Lord Chatham.

CHATHAM: Hello.

STRACHAN: Hi!

CASTLEREAGH: So the 40,000 men and 600 boats are ready. Are you ready?

464487583_detail

Sir Richard Strachan (detail from “The Grand Duke of Middleburg”, caricature, 1809)

STRACHAN: Yeah!!!!! All ready to go!

CHATHAM: Whatever.

STRACHAN: Oh come on Johnboy, this is going to be SO MUCH FUN. Let’s go get ’em!

CHATHAM: Don’t call me Johnboy ever again. [To General BROWNRIGG] General Brownrigg?

BROWNRIGG: Yes?

CHATHAM: You’re my Chief of Staff, right?

BROWNRIGG: Sure am.

CHATHAM: Why have I got all this paperwork?

BROWNRIGG: Well, you’re—

CHATHAM: Deal with it please. I need a nap. No wait, hang on a moment. Here comes Sir Huge Plopham.

BROWNRIGG: Sir Home Popham.

CHATHAM: Whatever.

POPHAM: Hey guys! Are you ready to go? The wind has finally changed and Sir Eyre Coote has arrived from Portsmouth.

Illustrated Battles of the Nineteenth Century. [By Archibald Forbes, Major Arthur Griffiths, and others.]

Sir Eyre Coote, from Wikipedia

COOTE [out of breath]: I’m here!

STRACHAN: About bloody time. Are we going yet?

CHATHAM: Yes, we can go now.

CASTLEREAGH: Er guys….

CHATHAM: What?

CASTLEREAGH: I hate to say this, but… er… there’s been some bad news…

CHATHAM: What’s up?

CASTLEREAGH: The Austrians have been heavily defeated at Wagram. They’re out of the war.

CHATHAM: Bugger. Now what?

CASTLEREAGH: Keep going. Your victory will help keep Austria in the war, most probably.

[At sea]

STRACHAN: So we’re FINALLY underway. I can’t wait to engage the French on the open seas.

CHATHAM: What makes you think they’ll come out to find us?

STRACHAN: Of course they will. Why would they stay holed up behind Antwerp, where they’re safe?

CHATHAM: Why indeed?

STRACHAN: Exactly.

CHATHAM: This boat moves a lot.

STRACHAN: Ship. They do that.

stormatsea

Storm at sea, from here

POPHAM: Admiral, I’m afraid there’s a bit of a storm starting up… pesky south-westerly wind.

CHATHAM: Any way to stop this boat moving so much?

STRACHAN: Ship. And no. Didn’t you learn anything when you were First Lord of the Admiralty?

POPHAM: We can’t land at Domburg. I could try and get the fleet into the Roompot…

STRACHAN: Sounds like a fine plan. What’s the Roompot?

POPHAM: Oh, it’s a sheltered area to the north-east of the island.

STRACHAN: Fabulous. Let’s do it.

POPHAM: We’d have to get through the Veere Gat, though. It’s a pretty narrow channel but I think I can do it.

Annotation 2020-02-24 143205

Map of the 1809 Walcheren expedition drawn by Martin Brown

CHATHAM: Won’t we end up on the wrong side of the island? This is the East Scheldt. We’re supposed to go down the West Scheldt, remember?

STRACHAN: I’m sure we can get from the East Scheldt to the West Scheldt. Isn’t there a passage between them, Popham? Between Walcheren and South Beveland?

POPHAM: Yes, the Sloe. But—

STRACHAN: There you go then.

POPHAM: But the Sloe is very—

STRACHAN: Popham? Just do it.

[Some time later, on Walcheren]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

View towards Middelburg from the dyke above Zouteland Bay

COOTE: Here is the intrepid warrior, landing on the enemy shore, about to deal the French bastards a stinging blow round the—

CHATHAM: Hello.

COOTE: Aaargh! What the hell are you doing here?! You’re supposed to be sailing down the West Scheldt to Sandvliet!

CHATHAM: Change of plan. Where are the Frogs then?

COOTE: The enemy are falling back on Veere. We’ve taken Fort Den Haak.

CHATHAM: Jolly good. Reorganise the rest of the men into four columns.

COOTE: ………….. I’m meant to be in charge here.

CHATHAM: Fine. I’m just waiting till Strachan can get his ships into the West Scheldt. Don’t worry, I won’t get in the way. Carry on—I’m off to bed.

COOTE: Yes sir. [To BROWNRIGG] What the actual frick is he doing here?

BROWNRIGG: He told you. He’s waiting for Strachan to get his ships into the West Scheldt.

COOTE: How long will that bloody well take?! While he stays here on the island I’m outranked!

[Outside the town of Veere]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Veere, by the canal

GENERAL MACKENZIE FRASER: Popham! Bring your boats round, won’t you? We could do with some extra ammunition…

POPHAM: Righto!

[Huge explosions]

STRACHAN: Popham, what’re you doing?!

POPHAM: General Mackenzie Fraser asked me to—

STRACHAN: I don’t care what he asked you to do! Stop it at once!

POPHAM: But I—

STRACHAN: AT! ONCE!

POPHAM: Okay, okay, don’t burst a blood vessel.

STRACHAN: CHATHAM!

CHATHAM: Yes?

STRACHAN: MY GUNBOATS!

CHATHAM: What about them?

STRACHAN: YOU ORDERED THEM TO BOMBARD VEERE!

CHATHAM: Did I?

STRACHAN: STICK TO SOLDIERING AND LEAVE MY BOATS ALONE!

CHATHAM: Ships.

STRACHAN: THESE ONES ARE BOATS!

CHATHAM: Look, I’m sorry.

STRACHAN: DON’T DO IT AGAIN!

CHATHAM: Bastard.

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Middelburg Abbey

BROWNRIGG: Lord Chatham, the capital, Middelburg, has surrendered. Sir John Hope has taken South Beveland, and Fort Rammekens has fallen, opening the Sloe Passage. All Walcheren is ours except Flushing.

CHATHAM: Excellent. General Coote, start building six batteries around Flushing. [To BROWNRIGG] I think I’ll leave Coote to get on with it and stop here in Middelburg. It’s rather nice here.

BROWNRIGG: It’s still four miles from Flushing.

CHATHAM: Oh, don’t fret. Once Lord Huntly has landed on Cadzand and disabled the French batteries there, we don’t need to care about Flushing. Strachan will get his ships down the West Scheldt in no time.

[Off Cadzand]

HUNTLY: Bugger me, this wind is blowing rather strong!

OWEN: No way we can land in this wind, my lord!

HUNTLY: Fine. We can land my 2,000 men tomorrow.

OWEN: ……….. Two thousand men? You mean 600, no?!

huntly

Lord Huntly (wikipedia)

HUNTLY: What?

OWEN: I only have boats for 600.

HUNTLY: ………… Will Lord Gardner lend you some?

OWEN: Gardner!

GARDNER [distantly]: What?

OWEN: We need some boats!

GARDNER [distantly]: Bugger off! They’re mine!

OWEN [to HUNTLY]: How many men can you see on Cadzand?

[HUNTLY gazes through telescope.]

HUNTLY: I’d say about 1,800, and those are the ones I can see. [Short pause] Screw this. Let’s land on South Beveland instead.

[Back on Walcheren]

BROWNRIGG: Lord Chatham! Lord Huntly has failed to land on Cadzand.

CHATHAM: Damn. We won’t be able to get the ships down the West Scheldt now.

STRACHAN: Don’t fret. We’ll get them through the Sloe.

CHATHAM: Yes, about that—

STRACHAN: Never mind that now, here comes Sir Eyre Coote.

COOTE: The French are getting reinforcements into Flushing from Cadzand and the navy can’t stop them!

STRACHAN: Look, look, don’t worry. We’ll block the French reinforcements.

flushing_map

Map of the siege of Flushing, drawn by Martin Brown

COOTE: Now would be good!

STRACHAN: Can’t do now. Sorry. I’ll get round to it when the wind changes, okay?

COOTE: Look! More just came in!

STRACHAN: Calm down. It’s just a couple of thousand.

CHATHAM: Coote, you’re just going to have to get on with those batteries. It’s been nearly a week.

COOTE: YOU get the sodding engineers to get a move on!

CHATHAM: All right then. I will.

COOTE: ………… I’m going to go and sulk. [slinks off]

CHATHAM: Right then. Colonel Fyers is in charge of the engineers. Colonel Fyers. Report, please.

FYERS: We’re pretty much done, sir. So long as it doesn’t rain, we can open today in a couple of hou— [ENORMOUSLY LOUD THUNDERCLAP] [rain drums off the ground] —bugger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vlissingen Harbour

COOTE: Lord Chatham, the rain’s washed away several of our batteries. I don’t think we can start till tomorrow now.

BROWNRIGG: Erm. My feet seem to be getting wet.

CHATHAM: Probably just the rain.

COOTE: Oh yes, I forgot to mention. The enemy’s cut the dykes. It’s OK, we can open the sluices at Middelburg. But you might want to wear tall boots for a while.

BROWNRIGG: A chair, your Lordship.

CHATHAM: Thank you. [climbs up]

STRACHAN [distantly]: Watch out—I’m coming through!

CHATHAM: What? [Loud cannonade] [cannonballs whistle through the air] [much shouting and chaos] What the hell was that?

BROWNRIGG: I think the Admiral just cut off the Flushing communications and has entered the West Scheldt, sir.

CHATHAM: About bloody time.

STRACHAN [rushes up]: Did you see that? The Frogs never saw that one coming!

CHATHAM: Neither did we.

STRACHAN: Never mind that. What’s happening? Flushing surrendered yet?

CHATHAM: The batteries open tomorrow.

STRACHAN: Tomorrow?! What have you landlubbers being doing all this time? Playing chess? Eating turtle? Having long naps?

COOTE: Actually, y—

Robert_Brownrigg

Sir Robert Brownrigg (wikipedia)

BROWNRIGG [swiftly cutting in]: Admiral, we really need Flushing to surrender quickly, so if you wouldn’t mind using your ships to aid the land batteries from the sea-side when we open fire…

CHATHAM: Strachan, get your boats ready. And tell Sir Home Poophead we will probably need his gunboats, too.

BROWNRIGG: Sir Home Popham.

CHATHAM: That’s what I said.

[Next day, off Flushing]

FYERS: Ready the batteries. Fire!

[Loud explosions]

CHATHAM [squinting through telescope]: I say, what a fine spectacle!

BROWNRIGG: I’m sorry, your lordship, what was that?

CHATHAM: I said it was a noble spectacle. Don’t you think?

[screams and explosions]

BROWNRIGG: Erm.

CHATHAM: Where are the ships? They don’t seem to be doing anything.

BROWNRIGG: I think it’s the wrong sort of wind again, sir.

CHATHAM: Ah. The wrong sort of wind. [Sighs; raises voice] Strachan!

STRACHAN [distantly]: Yes?

CHATHAM: Would you please do something?

STRACHAN [distantly]: Trying! Wind!

CHATHAM: Would you like a tablet for that?

COOTE: Here come the ships now.

CHATHAM: Ah, that’s better.

[Explosions get louder]

CHATHAM: Good heavens. I think they’re shouting ‘uncle’ now.

BROWNRIGG: There goes the church.

CHATHAM: Can’t be long now. What’s our friend the Admiral doing? [Trains telescope on sea]

bombardment_vlissingen_2

BROWNRIGG: The naval vessels are giving it full pelt.

CHATHAM: He is doing rather well, I admit. He’ll be insufferable tomorrow.

BROWNRIGG: He’d better be careful; his flagship is rather close to the shore. If he doesn’t steer clear, he’s going to run agr—

[Extremely loud crunching noise]

STRACHAN [distantly]: Bugger! Would someone mind giving me a push? Just a little one?

[CHATHAM says nothing but smiles, ever so slightly]

COOTE: Lord Chatham. The city has surrendered.

CHATHAM: Excellent! Call off the guns. And would someone mind throwing Sir Richard a rope?

[Part 2 can be read here]