Chapter 1: The Crucible of Adolescence
I begin this journal of my adventures with my early years, not with any conviction that they are of interest to my readers, but with the intent of providing a background against which my story is told. This is to dispel any idea that my life was anything but ordinary, for it was not.
I was born in the Spring of 1787, the sixth child and fourth son of Charles Watson, the 7th Earl of Saughton, and his lady wife, the Honourable Margaret Carnegie of Northesk. My forebears had been prominent in the area around Edinburgh for hundreds of years, having first been awarded the Baronies of Saughton and Cammo for service to the Scottish crown by James IV. Subsequent monarchs had bestowed upon my ancestors the title of Viscount Cammo and then Earl of Saughton, and in return my family had fought under their banners in wars both domestic and foreign. My father had held a Captaincy in the 25th Foot in his youth, and my eldest brother had answered the Earl of Gordon's call when he'd formed his regiment. My mother's family had long commanded the seas under both Scottish and English kings and counted a fair number of admirals in their ranks. Which is to say that the call to arms is bred into the bones of my family, and we have long been seduced by the drums of war.
There was nothing particularly auspicious about my birth or myself. I was smaller than my elder brothers - a trait that I retained into maturity - but I was not of a sickly constitution like my sister Anne. My parents assumed that I was another Beta child and readily passed me into the care of the Nursery maid. Great was their surprise at the baptismal font when I was proved to be an Alpha instead but, as I was the third male Alpha in the family and my elder siblings in good health, I was once again returned to the Nursery and largely forgotten until I had attained a more interesting age.
When I was five, my mother contracted a lingering illness which confined her to her bed and ended her life less than a year later. Before she laid down the reins of the household, however, she contrived to arrange the futures of her children. My eldest brother James, the Viscount Cammo, was already off with the 92nd Foot in Ireland, under the watchful eye of our Hope-Vere cousins. The spare heir, George, was a midshipman aboard the Andromeda, captained by our uncle, William Carnegie, with my next brother Charles due to follow him to sea as soon as he had attained thirteen years. My two elder sisters were still confined to the schoolroom, but even though they were Betas like Charlie, my mother anticipated that their Launch into Edinburgh society would secure them acceptable husbands from among the landed Scottish gentry. As for my youngest sister, Harriet, she had now been promised to the infant heiress, Clara Dalrymple, and would become Earl of Dalmahoy in due time.
Which left me to be provided for.
My mother felt that she had already given enough of her sons to the military, so it was decided that I should pursue some learned profession. She would have preferred the Church if I'd been a Beta although she might have settled for law or politics if I had shown an inclination for either. Fortunately for me, my uncle John was a doctor in nearby Corstophine; he declared me "the best of a sport-mad and blood-thirsty lot" and offered to sponsor me as a student of medicine. My mother was pleased and no doubt went to her Rest picturing me as a smartly-attired physician attending to the elite of Edinburgh. Alas for her, I was no less blood-thirsty than my elder siblings! I yearned for a scarlet coat even as I dutifully applied myself to my studies, first at the Royal High School and then at the University in Edinburgh. As I had no private funds to allow me to purchase a place in a regiment, I have no doubt that I would have dutifully resigned myself to the tedium of life as a country doctor if it wasn't for two things: the untimely death of my uncle and the marriage of my elder sister, Helen.
Uncle John's death left his partner in sole possession of their practice and, as he had a son of his own, this partner had no desire to take on the burden of another young doctor, nor to share in the practice's profits. Rather than seek another senior doctor in the area to continue my training, I decided to look for additional instruction elsewhere. At the same time, Helen's new husband had just been given a political post in London and, since my father didn't trust the "vile Sassenach" not to mistreat his favourite daughter, I was encouraged to accompany her to London and continue my medical training there. I was in no way adverse to such a plan, and to have my slim pocketbook considerably fattened by my father's financial support was of additional benefit. As Helen had never set foot outside of Edinburgh before her marriage, she was eager for my company and obtained her husband's consent for me to make my home with them, which further eased my purse.
And so in the Fall of 1807 I made my way to the great City of London where I had been accepted to St Thomas' Hospital Medical School. Being far from home for the first time was an enlightening experience and, far from being homesick, I thrived. Under the direction of the senior surgeons, I tended patients at St. Thomas' and Guy's Hospitals and attended lectures on improved surgical practices given by John Abernethy at St. Bart's, and I developed several abiding friendships, primary among them Michael Stamford. I drank in the squalor and splendour of London, and I found new freedom out from under the eyes of my numerous relations, learning to drink and whore in the company of my fellows. Between courses and carouses, after two years I was well qualified to sit the surgeon's examination Lincoln's Inn Fields and I was was duly made a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons. Mike and I celebrated my success with a night of splendid excess, both of spirits and the flesh, the hazy memory of which still has the power to make me smile.
Two days later, when I had fully recovered my senses and could think without wincing, I began applying myself to the question of my future. Mike had already accepted a position as Junior Lecturer with St. Bart's, but I was heartily sick of the schoolroom by this point and I itched for adventure. For this I had no need to look far; it was the Summer of 1809, and Sir Arthur Wellesley and the Peninsular Army had the French on the run following the Battle of Duoro in Portugal. So I went to the Horse Guards and applied to the Army Medical Board, qualifying as a Hospital Mate for General Service. After a few months at Stoke Military Hospital in Plymouth, I was gratified to learn that I had been appointed as Second Assistant Surgeon to the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Northumberland Rifles.
And so, at the end of September, I said farewell to England and sailed with 100 reinforcements from the 1st Battalion to join the 2nd Battalion in Lisbon, where we were to settle into winter quarters near the border of Portugal.
My adventure had begun.
Chapter 2: Fall 1809-Spring 1810 - A Doctor Goes to War
John Watson documents his first six months in Portugal, as he settles in to his work.
It has been said by some wits in London that the war has created such a great demand for doctors that there is little difficulty for any medical youth to obtain a commission in the army. One has to merely prove to the medical board that one is less likely to kill the patient than a French bullet or bayonet, and they sign the papers. Many others have expressed scorn for the quality of service given in the field, and have insisted on the need for harsher standards while at the same time refusing to reward the good, honest service now given with adequate pay and promotion. However, I am not a politician and will say no more on that head. Yes, I have seen less than professional standards in some places, have seen surgeons with more interest in their dinner plate than their patients, but that is true in private practice as well. On the whole, however, I have rarely met another of my regimental brethren who has not applied all his medical skill, energy, and devotion to his patients, oft-times in the most appalling of conditions, and there are few whose hands I would not be proud to shake were we to meet on a public street in London.
It has also been said by some of those in our military hospitals that the common soldier has naught but disdain for the "sawbones" in the field who tend their ills, and have little respect for our place in the regiment, given that our rank is bestowed by courtesy and not for any military prowess. For my part, I have never received anything but wholehearted thanks for the services I provided, from the lowest ensign to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry King, himself. Many is the time when I've had a leg off a man without a word from him - and if one complaint or curse had escaped his lips, my pardon was asked for.
Of course, I had to endure some rough jibs and mild harassment at the start of our voyage, but it was of a piece with what I'd received (and given!) at school. The worst of it was in reference to my stature and the slight trace of the Scot in my speaking. However, when we passed through our first gale and I was the only man not a sailor still on my feet, the teasing stopped and there was no more talk of "Bonnie Wee Watson".
We had sailed out of Portsmouth with 100 reserves from the 1st Battalion in the company of their own medical officer, by the name of William Lynn. He was an Assistant Surgeon like myself, although he had already seen action at Wacheren, about which I was eager to quiz him and he no less eager to tell. We were to travel together for only a short while, as his orders were to escort the wounded of the 5th back to England and then to accompany the 1st Battalion on recruitment in England and Ireland. As we were both confident that Boney would soon be driven out of Portugal and Spain by the Old and Bold 5th (among others), we were certain that Dr. Lynn would miss the campaign on the continent and both felt heartily sorry for him.
Our ships made good time and we sailed into Lisbon ten days later, where Dr. Lynn and I disembarked and reported to the principle medical officer in Lisbon. There we were informed that our regiment had passed through a few weeks before, the 2nd Battalion heading north for winter quarters behind the Mondego River while the 1st Battalion prepared to return to England. Here Dr. Lynn and I parted company, him to seek out his injured men in hospital and me to take the next leg of my journey with the reinforcements to the 2nd Battalion. We had brought supplies with us so it was only a matter of days before we sailed up to the mouth of the Mondego, transferred to flat-bottomed boats, and continued on to Coimbra.
Coimbra was a beautiful city, unlike anything I had seen till then. It rose up from the river on a fine hill, with a magnificent bridge connecting it to the next hill, upon which sat a magnificent church. In fact, all the hills around the city hosted a church or convent, while Coimbra itself was the setting of a fine University. I would have liked more time to stroll its picturesque streets, but winter was closing in on us so we had to continue on our way. We continued onward, by water and land, to Pinhel where General Picton's Third Division had settled into winter quarters. Sir Arthur, Viscount Wellington by then, was establishing a line of defense along the Spanish border to protect Lisbon from the French and this was our allotment, close enough to support the Light Division who camped just south of the Coa. We had the use of an old Abbey for our hospital and here we treated three types of patients: those who needed immediate treatment before being transported to Coimbra and Lisbon, those less seriously ill or injured who could recover locally, and those who would draw their last breath in this place. Fortunately, the second group was larger than either of the others; when I arrived there were close on one hundred sick and wounded occupying ward beds and by the spring campaigns, only a dozen remained.
I set to my work with an eager heart and willing hands, and found that I was fortunate in my fellow doctors. Our surgeon, Samuel Scott, had been with the 5th for a little under a year but already had the respect of its men, as he had steady hands and a kind heart that belied his sharp tongue. The Senior Assistant Surgeon was a rollicking Irishman by the name of Daniel O'Flagherty, a devil with the ladies and the bottle, but as cool a head in a crisis as I've seen. We had one enlisted man for a general dogsbody, Sgt. Collins, who had the charge of our horses and rations, and assisted with moving or restraining patients. He was a quiet man, disinclined to make idle talk, although polite enough and an adequate cook.
And so we readied ourselves for the spring campaigns, eager for action and for a chance to prove ourselves.
We would have both.
Chapter 3: 1810: Preparing for the Long Campaign
John Watson recalls the event of 1810, as the Army settles into Portugal
Early Spring of 1810
Shortly after we settled into our billets at Pinhel, the rainy season began, and such a rain as I have never before seen. We are almost constantly drenched as we move about the town, and our boots are mired up to our calves. At least the flood has washed away the filth of the streets, although not quite the stench. Damp pervades every corner, and our patients suffer mightily from it. Many of those soldiers who were unfortunate enough to be part of the Walcheren campaign have never fully recovered from the malarial fevers contracted there, and they occupy most of the beds in our hospital this spring. Injuries of a more martial nature are few so far; last week a party of our Dragoons observed a number of French Cavalry skirmishing near the Frontier, but they did not come close enough to exchange blows. The weather is sufficiently vile enough to keep even the d----d French by their fires!
The news is sparse and contradictory on every front. It is said that there is an insurrection in the South of France, and that the French army is withdrawing from Spain in consequence of that. Another rumor is that the French meaning to force the passes of the Sierra Morena have been completely defeated by General Blake and are in chaos. It is certain that there has been no movement by the French, during the entirety of our encampment here. I have heard that at the end of February there was some advancement of Ciudad Rodrigo, but after throwing a few shells into the place, the French returned to their former positions.
The only activity, at present, is among our own Division, where the men drill during any lull in the incessant rain. It has considerably lightened the spirits of the men to have something to do, other than cursing the weather, and we have seen our Sick recover at rapid rates so as to have their part in it. There are rumors that Lord Wellington is to be ordered out to India, and that we shall take ship before long. It is impossible to conjecture upon which shore we might be cast up, as the rumors are equally strong for the Mediterranean, India, or North America. For my part, I care little where we go, so long as it is not wet!
Early July of 1810
Since the spring, there has been considerable activity along the front. Reinforcements have been arriving regularly from England, so it appears that we will not be pulled out yet. The Enemy has made several movements indicating that they might be disposed to attack us. The weather is drier, although the heat is nearly as bad for the troops quartered in the lower valleys without benefit of breezes. We were ordered to pack all our sick who are not expected to make a hasty recovery off to Coimbra in order to free our hospitals or to allow the Army to move swiftly. All the Divisions have moved toward Lord Wellington's headquarters in Celerico, and we expect to receive our marching orders at any time. Whether we will march for Lisbon or for Spain remains to be seen, and tempers are high in consequence. The French actively besieged Ciudad Rodrigo for six weeks before that city surrendered, and now they are laying siege to Almeida.
The Light Division had a very serious action yesterday, while defending a bridge over the river Coa on the road from Aleida to Pinhel and Celerico. They had been ordered to hold the right bank as long as possible, resulting is a sobering loss. Thirty officers and 650 men were lost, and many more wounded. They were brought to our hospital in bullock-carts as we were the nearest to the action. We treated all those we could, and then transported the wounded to Coimbra by boat although some had to be sent on to Lisbon in bullock-carts. One of the wounded officers was a wild little fellow, by the name of Harry Smith, who had raised quite a furor to get his men transported down to us. He'd taken a bullet to the ankle and was in considerable pain himself, but seemed more concerned about his brother and his men. We treated them both as best we could here and then sent them on to Lisbon by boat as the order has been given. Almeida is destroyed and a thousand lives lost with it, as one of the French shells fell into a building containing powder and exploded. The garrison there has surrendered, the French have crossed into Portugal, we are to pull back to Coimbra - but Lord Wellington appears confident still.
Fall of 1810
We march daily, as many leagues as our soldiers can manage, and the difference from our route to Pinhel last January is stark. The villages are deserted, the fields have been shorn of every stalk of ripe grain, every vegetable, every form of livestock. Our Sergeant was fortunate to find one scrawny chicken that he added to our rations last night, but there will be nothing left for the French who advance after us. The roads are too narrow for their heavy artillery and too dark for them to make much speed. Our advance parties skirmish daily, stinging little encounters that rattle the enemy without allowing the French to lay hands on our troops. Lord Wellington is constantly reconnoitering between the Divisions, having set up his headquarters as Busaco near us, and his spirits are excellent.
At length Lord Wellington has made a stand on the rocks of Busaco, with his Divisions out of sight behind the ridges as the French advance. Third Division has its post on the heights near the village of St. Antonio de Cantara, and here the second battalion of the Fifth was first under fire. Our light company, under Lieutenant Shadwell Clerke, was thrown out to repulse the advancing skirmishers of the enemy, a service which it most promptly and gallantly performed. Our losses were low - one killed and seven wounded - and skirmishing on both sides ceased at Dark. We were in anticipation of an attack in the morning, and Lord Wellington gave orders to allow the enemy to come within a short distance of the top before commencing fire. These orders were summarily obeyed, throwing the French into great confusion. They fled in disarray, and our men were keen to pursue but were ordered to stand down. Another attack was anticipated the next day, but reports came in that the French had quit the field, whether to retreat back into Spain or attempt to flank us was unknown.
General orders were given to pull back to Coimbra as quickly as we could. We were able to treat most of our wounded locally, although a few had to be sent on before us to Coimbra. We followed with the rest of our wounded but only remained in that fair city for a few days before Lord Wellington ordered the Army to retreat to Torres Vedras. We reached our encampment there on October 10th, where we settled in for the winter.
And so passed my first year in the Peninsula.
Chapter 4: 1811 - Leaving the Torres Vedras
The Army of the Peninsula emerges from behind the Lines of Torres Vedras. John Watson visits Lisbon and receives mixed news from home.
We settled in for the winter at Alamquer with the other Divisions stretched along the Lines. It is reported that the French have settled in at Santarem where, as they are building defensive works, it is believed they will remain for some while. Our men are also at work on our defenses, and there is very little skirmishing at present since we are inundated by heavy rains, so strong that they have swelled the rivers and carried away several bridges. Daily we have reports of French deserters; their army appears to be hungry and disheartened, and they are taking their revenge upon any poor Portuguese peasant who comes their way.
Our proximity to Lisbon has allowed news from England to catch up with us again. The news of the King's Malady has caused great concern among the officers, as many speculate that in the event of a Regency, there will be a change in policy towards the Peninsula. Lord Wellington does not appear to be concerned, as he amuses himself with hunting and several of the officers do so as well, both for sport and to add to the regimental provisions.
I took the opportunity of the lull in hostilities to request a brief leave to visit Lisbon, both to ascertain the status of our men in hospital there and to get away from the front lines for a few days. The people in Lisbon seem satisfied with the knowledge that Lord Wellington and the army are between them and the French, and I was treated with utmost hospitality by the host at my billet in the city. The ladies of Lisbon were no less lax in their attentions, and I returned to the Torres Vedras in considerably better spirits.
I rode back to our encampment with a courier who had dispatches for Lt. Colonel King, and I was pleased to find a letter from my sister, Harriet, in the mail bag, and I tucked it away to read later. I had brought back with me a few bottles of wine which I shared with my fellows, so it was quite a merry evening and nearly dawn when I made it to my bed in my humble billet. It was then that I remembered the letter and broke the seal, and I am glad for the delay as my subsequent mood would have spoiled our impromptu party. Harriet wrote that our father had passed away at midsummer, and that the manner of his passing was as tranquil as could be hoped. "Johnny," she wrote, "you know that the heart has gone out of him with his dear Helen's death last year, and he has been slowly wasting. He died at peace."
She said that James was still in Ireland when Father died, although he had since sold out and returned home to take up the burden as the 8th Earl of Saughton, and I am heartily glad that it is him and not me. He is already betrothed as well - indeed, by now he is no doubt married for they had settled on January, so as to be in half-mourning as I understand the bride prefers lavender for her wedding clothes. You will think me harsh but Janet Ramsey is a well-known irritant; her family at Broomfield is one of our nearest neighbors and the family was in our house as often as we were in theirs. A more selfish and self-centered creature I have never known, but this shall offer an excellent excuse to stay away from Saughton for as long as possible.
Harriet also relayed a scandalous bit of gossip: it appeared that Our Brother had mounted a mistress during those years in Ireland, and he had brought her back with him! I would have enjoyed the look on my sister-in-law's face upon hearing that news! James has always had little sense but it appeared that he has at least done his duty by this Sarah Morphie and her two sons. Harriet reported that the woman has been married off to the head gardener and seems quite content with her husband and the Lodge that was her dower, and the boys are to be educated and apprenticed when the are older. One can only imagine how happy that will make Janet to be thankful to be a continent away.
Still, I shall think fondly of Father when I say my prayers tonight.
At the beginning of March we had word that the French had broken their encampment and were retreating back into Spain. Deserters have reported that the privations are great, and Massina has fallen back to resupply. The Light Division and Dragoons have gone in pursuit, while we have proceeded to Santarem along with the 1st and 4th Divisions. Our original orders were to continue on to Coimbra but since then we have been ordered toward Pombral as the enemy has shown themselves there in great force. The Light Division and Dragoons carried the day but were required to evacuate the city as it was under French artillery fire. The enemy had taken up position on the right side of the road and Lord Wellington took up position across from it. It was anticipated that we would have to cross the river toward them under heavy artillery and we were prepared for great losses, but the French slipped away in the night. Our troops pursued, in anticipation of a skirmish, and find that the French are burning everything they pass through, so that what were villages are now piles of smoking ash. We have frequently engaged with the Rear Guard, and in the middle of March had a sharp engagement with the enemy at Redinha. Our men cleared the grounds and forded the river under fire. Lieutenant Clerke was severely wounded in the leg and Scott had to remove it in consequence of that. The Division continued onward, on the heels of the French, and there was some action nearly every day. We had 33 men wounded, including Clerke, from March through April. Our largest single losses were at Sabugal. As we were later told, the brigade was forming up after fording the Coa when the 5th found itself in the presence of a strong French column. The enemy advanced, opening fire; we repulsed them and pushed them down the hill, causing them severe losses. Seven of our men were wounded in this engagement and Lieutenant Sinclair killed.
During this whole time, we suffered severely from a lack of our usual hospital facilities, and from the rapid advancement of the army. Our carts were insufficient to keep pace with the troops, and we were forced to leave pockets of injured men at Santarem, at Pombal, and other large towns, under the inadequate nursing of one of the subalterns until carts could be allocated to transport them to a general hospital. Once Coimbra was secured again and we had lines of transport established there and at Celorico, we began moving our sick and wounded back to hospital. It was my unfortunate duty as second assistant surgeon to once more accompany these carts on their trips, enduring the onerous creaking of the wagons and the pained cries of my unfortunate charges, for whom little could be done. I was interested to see that the hospital staffing has been increased; it appears that the Army Board is at last responding to Lord Wellington's requests. The new medical staff seem so young and untried - was I that young when I first came here eighteen months ago?
We proceeded to Fuentes d'Onor, once again under the command of Lieutenant Colonel King, where we frustrated the French attempt to relieve Almeida. Our Division's casualties numbered over a thousand, with fifty nine officers and over nine hundred men wounded, although our Regiment was not engaged so we lost only a few of our men, and instead gave aid to the other surgeons in our Division. We had set up a general hospital at Villa Formosa, and it was there that we treated and dressed the wounds of our men under the direction of the Division's staff surgeon, Dr. Bell. So great were the numbers to be treated and so small our numbers that it took fully two days before all had been treated, to the grave detriment of many of our fine soldiers.
After that, the 3rd Division was detached south to join the forces of Marshal Beresford in the second siege of Badajoz, and our men were the first to break ground before the siege was lifted in July. We were surprised for we had expected to be invested in Badajoz, but word had come that General Soult was marching to relieve the French in Badajoz, and that he expected to trap our troops between the city and his forces. Four of our men were killed and another four wounded in that engagement.
Fall of 1811
We moved north again, under the command of Major Ridge, and spent the entirety of August and September at Headquarters in Fuente Guinaldo, where we were the only British troops. The people were very hospitable to us, very pleased to have the English there, and quite adoring of Lord Wellington. Our men became such great favorites and so vocal in support and admiration of our General that the locals soon began to call us "Lord Wellington's Bodyguards", a nickname that we were all pleased to bear. It was during this time that we said good-bye to our comrade, Dr. O'Flaherty, who was exchanged to the 1st Garrison Battalion in place of John Hartley. I was also pleased at that time to receive a promotion to 1st Assistant Surgeon of the 5th, and an increase in rank as well.
At the end of September, we were ordered to join in the blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo, and assigned to take the heights near El Bodon. The enemy had assembled a large force to relieve Ciudad Rodrigo, and the 5th sustained an attack from a vastly superior in number French force. The 5th performed in so distinguished a manner as to have been held up in General Orders afterwards as an example to the rest of the army. In his dispatches, Lord Wellington said, "The conduct of the second battalion of the Fifth regiment, commanded by Major Ridge, in particular, affords a memorable example of what the steadiness and discipline of the troops, and their confidence in their officers, can effect, in the most difficult and trying situations." Of our men, five were killed and fourteen wounded. A proud day for the 5th!
Chapter 5: 1812: Into Spain
John's journal describes the chaotic events of 1812 as the war in the Peninsula heat up.
We spent the last of 1811 and the beginning of 1812 in winter quarters in the village of Payo, near the pass of Perales, a short distance from the Spanish border. It was a miserable location and with winter setting in, I expected that we would be entrenched till spring. However, to our surprise, early in January Lord Wellington ordered our Division and the other three in the area (the Light, the 1st, and the 4th) to begin the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo. Each day, one of the Divisions would be on duty digging the trenches and preparing to breach the walls, at the cost of injury to three of our officers and a number of the soldiers. Finally, on the 19th, the order was given to force the two breaches that had been made, with the Light and the 3rd chosen to lead the assault. It was the first battle where I performed as Senior Assistant Surgeon, and it was a both terrifying and exhilarating to be so close to the battle. Dr. Scott stood at our appointed position close to the breach made by our Division, with our packs of supplies set out by me, ready to lend immediate aid to any of our wounded troops. We were close enough to feel the heat from the fires, smell the gunpowder, and feel it sting our eyes. Those men with slight injuries are patched and returned to combat, while those more seriously wounded are carried back to the regimental and divisional hospitals for surgery before being transported to Coimbra or Celorico. Rumor has it that Dr. Guthrie of the 4th Division refused to send his men onward, preferring to treat them in his own hospital, and was censored by the Adjutant General. There is much to admire in his decision, for it is a great hardship to the men to be transported over rough roads while suffering from their wounds, but there is also risk in keeping them here where we are limited in medicines and might have to move with very little notice.
Of the battle itself, the 2nd battalion was led by Major Ridge found themselves to the flank of the main breach assault. On the lip of the breach they were caught in a deadly crossfire and ran into an exploding mine. General Mackinnon and Captain McDougal were killed, Captain Dubourdieu had an arm shot off, Lieutenants Johnson, Mackenzie, and Wylde were severely wounded whilst Ensign Canch, Lieutenants Fairtlough & Fitzgerald were lucky to be only slightly injured, and many others were scorched. In all the battalion has lost 94 men. Major Ridge, however, was raised to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, in command of the 2nd Battalion.
We remained in Ciudad Rodrigo for nearly a month while the breaches were repaired, and then marched south to encampments before being directed to the Spanish side of Badajoz, along with the Light and 4th Division, while the 5th Divisions took up the Portuguese side. On the night of April 6th, the 3rd Division was to storm the citadel while the other Divisions were assigned the breach and the gates. What followed that night was a story of unparalled valor mixed with unimaginable loss, making all who wear the insignia of the 5th Regiment of Foot proud to do so. The Fifth led the brigade, over a narrow bridge under heavy fire and raised their ladders against the castle walls. With undaunted courage, Lieutenant-Colonel Ridge sprang forward and, calling his men to follow, raised a ladder against the castle, Ensign Canch raised a second ladder, and then these two were on the rampart. The remainder of the men followed, and, when enough men had succeeded in gaining the summit of the wall, Ridge called out "Come on, my lads, let us be the first to seize the governor," and drove the garrison before them into the town. Thus they won the castle and the Fifth had the honor of having led. However, in the battle, Ridge was killed as well as eighteen others, and thirty-four wounded. Among the entire army, our losses are no less than three thousand and probably more. In addition, a large number of our soldiers were sick, mostly with malarial fevers and dysentery.
Fortunately, we have a new Surgeon General, and Dr. McGrigor was present in Badajoz. With the foresight and attention to detail that he is justly praised for, he had set up multiple hospitals at Elvas, Estremos, Alter de Chao, and Santarem as well as a field hospital at Badajoz. In addition, he set up lines of transport from the field hospital back to the main hospitals with the new spring carriages. And, most amazing of all, McGrigor had prevailed upon Lord Wellington to include the surgeons in his public dispatches! For the first time, we were put on an equal footing with the other members of the Army, and it was a proud moment for us all.
After the siege, we heard tales about the horrendous actions of our soldiers against the innocent citizens of that city, as well as the attempts our officers made to contain and control the riotous behavior - often requiring our medical attention as our soldiers rebelled against their strictures. Our Surgeon General was obliged to take the French Governor and his daughters under his own protection! Another officer, that mad Harry Smith who I had met after the Battle of the Coa, gallantly rescued two of the Ladies of the town by placing them under his care and marrying one of them. As for those wounded during the battle, it took nearly a day for them to be separated from the bodies of the dead and brought to our hospitals, and many of us had to go searching among the dead to render aid to the injured, at risk to our own persons from the looters. Is is a blight upon the reputations of all our regiments, and I was greatly relieved when we were able to put that city behind us.
Summer of 1812
After the siege of Badajoz, the army marched north towards Salamanca and we went with them, taking position on the heights of St. Christoval at first, and afterwards taking position on the Douro. We were posted with the rest of the third division to observe the ford of Polios as the opposite bank of the river was occupied by the French army. During this period, the 1st Battalion of the 5th arrived with fresh recruits and veterans from the 1808 campaign, and I was pleased to renew my friendship with my erstwhile ship-mate, William Lyon, who had accompanied the 1st Battalion to Ireland and then finally to the Peninsula.
The regiment brought with them news from home and letters and packages from our families. It was then that I heard the latest news from home, that Janet had been delivered of an Omega daughter the previous December, that Janet was breeding again and certain that it would be an heir to James. Harry had joyous news of her own, for her Clara had finally carried a second child to term, and had given birth to an Omega son named for both his grandfathers. Since Harry already had an Alpha daughter to inherit the title, she was determined that Clara would breed no more, but knowing Clara's stubborn nature, I would not venture a wager on who would win that engagement. It was gratifying to me to learn that everyone at home was doing well.
Our two battalions were united in time for the entire regiment to share in the victory at Salamanca. The French were manoeuvring and the third division was suddenly ordered to cross them, so they sprang into action with a force that broke the French lines into fragments and threw the enemy into confusion. The French fled in disorder, and the division advanced with a brilliant charge of the heavy cavalry. Three of our officers received medals for their actions, and the entire regiment was awarded with distinction and mentioned in dispatches. On our side of the encounter, eleven were killed although none of them officers, and one hundred and thirty wounded.
At this point, the 2nd Battalion had been in the Peninsula for three years and had endured heavy losses, so when the Army marched to Madrid, they were ordered home for rest and recruiting. The newest privates were transferred to the 1st Battalion and, as the 1st Battalion had a full compliment of medical officers, I prepared to say a reluctant farewell to the Peninsula. However, I was approached by Colonel Nicol, at this point in charge of the much-reduced 66th Regiment which had been badly decimated at Albuera. He was a thoughtful and kindly man, greatly esteemed by the men he commanded, and he had come to me with something of a dilemma. His battalion had been operating with only one Surgeon since Albuera and had finally been assigned an Assistant Surgeon who had joined them just before the siege of Badajoz. This man had recently conveyed their injured back to the general hospital at Badajoz, but he had taken ill with the fevers and was still convalescing. Having heard good report of me from Dr. Scott and from various other officers of the 5th, he asked my permission to request my transfer to his battalion instead of returning to England. Since I had no urgent reason to return to England and was highly desirous to be of real service to my fellow man, and having heard excellent reports of the 66th, I agreed.
And so it was, with some reluctance, I bid farewell to my comrades in the 5th Regiment and embraced a new regiment, the 66th Berkshire Regiment of Foot.
Chapter 6: 1812-1813: Among the 66th Regiment
John Watson spends his first few months with the 66th, gaining a dresser & orderly, and making new friends. He also receives some disturbing news from home, and follows the Peninsular army to its greatest victory so far at Vittoria.
Fall of 1812
After I joined the 66th in August, the Division returned to Fuentes del Maestro where they had been quartered before the march to Madrid. The 2nd Division, under the command of Sir Rowland Hill, numbered about sixteen thousand men, and we were set towards the Sierra Morena, to join the forward movement of Lord Wellington's main force. The march was long and fatiguing and, although many of our men were still recovering from their wounds and from the summer fevers, it was conducted admirably and earned praise from our General. It was said that he was quite fond of the "Berkshires" and had specially selected our regiment as part of his command when ordered to the Peninsula.
When asked why Hill had chosen a battalion that was noted for men who were somewhat low-sized, he replied, "Perhaps you may find my short fellows foremost in the advance some day." Later, at Talavera, where the quick, dashing movements of the battalion caught Lord Wellingtons eye, he asked General Hill what regiment that was.
"The 66th, Sir," replied General Hill. "You see my short-legged fellows know how to advance."
Certainly, I was greeted with great cordiality by the soldiers of the 66th, who declared themselves pleased "not to be towered over by one of those great Storks of doctors". I was especially delighted when one of the men, Sgt. William Murray, attached himself to my service as a dresser and orderly within the first month of my taking my new post. Murray was a genial fellow, well-liked by the rest of the regiment, and as the son of an apothecary he was able to assist me when I needed an extra hand. He also saved my life for which I am forever grateful, but that tale will have to wait for its proper time.
We were also re-joined by our Second Assistant Surgeon, Dr. Walter Henry, who I was pleased to recognize from my previous visits to Coimbra where he had been a Hospital Mate for a number of months before being commissioned to the 66th. He was a fine fellow, a native of Ireland who had that country's love of wine and women, and I shared many pleasant evenings in the Mess with him. He was still recovering from a virulent case of the malarial fevers, and well attended by a Portuguese man-servant that he had engaged on his first arrival in Coimbra. Antonio was a dab hand with the roasting fork, and between him and Murray, our Mess was one of the liveliest and best-fed in the Division. I was pleased to be asked to hunt with the officers as we marched across the plain, and demonstrated my skill with partridge and hare on more than one occasion.
We arrived at Don Benito near the battlefield of Medellin, and there our Dr. Henry nearly came to grief as his horse started at the rise of a brace of partridges and tossed him. He landed on the bleached bones of one of the skeletons and nearly stove in several ribs; if not for the presence of our Colonel Nicol, he might have lay insensible until someone missed him. Fortunately, the shock was brief and he was able to return to us, although not without some "ribbing" for his misadventure from the rest of us.
The locals were very pleased to have us among them, and there was a party nearly every night with much eating and dancing and flirting with the lovely Spanish Betas. It was a welcome respite from our exertions so far, and we enjoyed many of the delights to be had. In the middle of September, we were ordered to Truxillo and, as the skies chose the day of our departure to open in a mighty downpour, it could be said that even nature wept at our departure.
At Truxillo, a large depot of stores had been set up, and a general hospital had been established. We lost Dr. Henry for a time, as the Medical Officer in charge of the hospital fell sick and, Walter having previous experience administering a hospital in Coimbra, he was directed by the Division Surgeon to take charge. As he later told me that he fell into a desperate love affair with a pretty Senorita there, I don't think that he regretted missing our march to Madrid as much as he claims.
We arrived in Aranjuez, somewhat north of Madrid, in early October and were set to remain for a time, when word came that the French were gathering in great force near the capital. General Hill decided it was advisable to retreat to Ciudad Rodrigo for the winter months. Accordingly, we marched to Alba de Tormos, then to Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo, before finally establishing our headquarters at Coria. During this time, the French cavalry dogged our heels and caused a few skirmishes, during which two of our men were captured.
We settled in Coria and, in due time, were joined by our absent surgeon, Dr. Henry, who had many tales to tell us about his time in Truxillo - and the disastrous marriage he nearly made. Due to the advance of the French, Walter had been ordered to move his sick men to Alvas, and he had persuaded his lovely Senorita to elope with him, only to have the lady's burro go lame at the most inopportune time. Although he missed the fair maiden, he admitted that he was lucky to have escaped the matrimonial coils!
Winter of 1812
We spent a quiet winter in Coria, where our troops recovered their strength; the number of Sick is immense due to the weather and the long march. We have also been able to catch up on the news, in particular the success of the Russians. Our officers view this as good news, as the French are withdrawing troops from Spain to send to that front, and it is reported that a great number of French troops were lost ion the Steppes.
In February, I had news of a troubling nature from home. By some misfortune, little Jane had escaped from her nursery and tumbled down the stairs, from which she did not recover. My sister-in-law, who was nearing her confinement with her second child fell into a faint and the baby came early, although due to a generous Providence, both she and her son survived. The boy is an Alpha, and is to be named George after our mother's father. Janet is recovering from both her fall and her loss, although she has decided against London for this Season. Harry and Clara are to take the Grosvenor Square house instead, and Harry seems delighted by that, although it is difficult to make out some of her words due to liberal splotches of what smells to be whiskey. The text of the letter is not improved by her apparent inebriation while writing the last of it, and I could make no sense of her rambling about the gardener's boy and the nanny, nor understand what Ireland has to do with the matter, although it appears that someone is being sent there. It cannot be James, as he has sold out, but I suppose it is of no consequence. Harry's drinking concerns me more; the Watsons have always had a hard head for liquor, but the Carnegies have a weakness for it that she and James appear to have inherited. At times like this, I almost wish I was closer to home, to know the truth of the situation - not that Harry would listen to anything I say!
Spring of 1813
In May, we broke from our cantonments at Coria and advanced through the Pass of Banos to Salamanca. With our 2nd Division are three regiments of the Portuguese infantry and five Calvary, about seventeen thousand men in all with twenty-four large guns. The weather was beautiful for a change, and the roads unusually good, which put all of our troops in the highest spirits and full of confidence for the upcoming campaign. On nearing Salamanca, General Hill sighted a body of French troops on the hills east of the city; cavalry and artillery were dispatched and between them captured two hundred or more prisoners. We then encamped at La Urbada, to await the rest of the Army.
At the start of June, we forded the Douro river and marched on Duenos and Torquemada, and caught sight of the French at Burgos. Their light troops engaged our advance guard but the French made no stand, falling back across the Ebro after blowing up the Castle of Burgos. Biscay was subsequently evacuated, and the seaports instantly seized by our warships, allowing Lord Wellington to change his headquarters to the northern coast of Spain. We have heard that King Joseph, fearing to be cut off from his friends and allies, has fled from Madrid and crossed the Ebro.
We crossed the Ebro and, after a long and fatiguing march, arrived at Vittoria where Joseph Bonaparte has concentrated his forces. However, he neglected to secure the heights above Vittoria, nor to destroy the bridges. General Hill was instructed to force the Puebla Pass and take the heights while the other divisions were arrayed to the center and right of the town. The fighting was hard, the troops attempting to take the heights hard-pressed, and I have been told that the result was doubtful for some time. But then the Colonel of the 71st fell, mortally wounded, and the Highlanders charged with maddened vigor, gaining the summit. Hill's troops were in undisputed possession of the heights and Puebla, while the rest of Lord Wellington's forces were equally successful. By evening, Joseph Bonaparte had ordered his troops to retire, and our troops followed hard on their heels. The French fled in disorganized chaos, abandoning all their artillery and their stores. With one blow, the French were driven from the Peninsula and the former King Joseph lost his crown in Spain.
The day was not without cost, however, as over five thousand men of the Allied army were killed or wounded. Of our regiment, the 66th, had 8 officers and 51 men among the wounded and killed. Dr. McGrigor had established our hospital near Puebla, and we set up our dressing station as close to the village as possible. We had once more lost Dr. Henry, as he had been conscripted as Assistant to the 2nd Division's Staff Surgeon, John Wasdell, who had been Surgeon to the 66th before his promotion and knew Walter from their previous working together. He was put to work near the village of Subijana d'Aliva, where Colonel O'Callaghan's brigade was strongly engaged, while I went to assist the medical officers of the 71st, who had heavy casualties in taking the heights. We were hard at our work until sunset, when we packed the last of our wounded off to hospital, and then Murray and I attempted to locate the rest of our Regiment. There was such confusion, however, that we ended up sharing quarters with a handful of men from other regiments, dividing our modest rations amongst us and sharing out a bottle of Cognac found among the discarded French stores. In such a way, we celebrated the greatest victory of the Lord Wellington's army to date.
Summer and Fall of 1813
The day after our victory at Vittoria, General Hill ordered the Division to Barrioplano, where they encamped about two leagues away from Pampaloma. I say "they" because I remained behind with our sick and wounded at our hospital outside Vittoria until they could be transported to Biscay and then to Lisbon. Some of the men were only slightly wounded and, thanks to the new spring waggons, could be transported back to their regiments, once they had had a few days to recover. We accompanied this waggon, me on horseback and Sgt. Murray riding our pack mule, and caught up with the regiment as we made our way into the Pyrenees.
On the morning of July 6, we entered the beautiful Vale of Bastan, still occupied by two French Divisions. We entered the town of Elizondo late in the evening, with the General's staff and Division Medical Officers leading the way, and our regiments following at the rear. We remained at Elizondo while headquarters advanced to Maya, on the other side of the pass, for three weeks with little of note occuring. However, the French had been sent to take the pass, under the leadership of General Drouet, and quite surprised our battalions camped in the pass to hold it. By happenstance, Martin had ridden up to see how we were faring; he rode break-neck back down the valley to alert the command and to prepare for wounded at Elizondo. For nine days, our men held off a force six times their size, retreating a little in the face of the French while waiting for reinforcements from the rear, seeing action every day, with the loss of 2 officers and 35 men. Dr. Murray, our surgeon, and I treated all those we could, assisted by our stalwart Sergeant, then sent them down to the hospital at Barrioplano where we knew Dr. Henry would see to our gallant men. It was during this time that the gallant Major Goldie was struck by a ball in such a way that at first I thought it had gone through, a fatal wound. However, it transpired that the ball lodged in his chest, and we were able to staunch his bleeding long enough to transport him down to one of the villages. I rode over to Barrioplano to consult with Dr. Henry, and we made arrangements to transport the Major by spring waggon; I am happy to say that he survived and rose to command the 11th Foot. The French, however, lost fifteen thousand men and were forced to retire up the valley where they were so dispirited that they broke and ran at Echellar. General Byng was mentioned in dispatches and received the thanks of Lord Wellington for holding the passes.
We remained in the Pyrenees until the start of November, covering the siege of San Sebastian and the blockade of Pampeluna, then moved into France. We moved to the heights above the Nivelle, and assailed the fortifications there until the French broke and ran. A redoubt with two guns was left, and the 66th and 31st were ordered to storm it. Led by Lieutenant-Colonels Nicol and Leith, they charged across the intervening ground, jumped the ditch, and scrambled up the parapet followed by the men. Two of officers of the 66th were mortally wounded in the whole of the action, and 46 men killed or wounded. We attended to our patients till late into the night, at which time we looked for sustenance. A woman approached us, in great distress, that some of the Spanish troops with us had begun plundering their village and were threatening her home, and she looked to the English for help, which was readily given. It also transpired that her daughter had been gravely injured by stray shot during the battle, and Dr. Henry was able to tend to her injury, although he was required to remove her arm as the elbow had been shattered by the shot. She recovered well, and her grateful mother was most hospitable, feeding Martin and myself in thanks for our aid.
By this time, we had lost our surgeon, Dr. Murray, as he was transferred to a staff position with the 4th Division. His replacement, Mr. Francis Leigh, finally caught up with us at Nivelle, in time to assist with the casualties from this engagement. He was a pleasant man, with a wicked sense of humor, and it was a pleasure working with him. He had come from the 92nd Foot, on the other side of the Pyrenees, and had many a humorous story to tell.
There were less pleasant stories, however. As is quite well known, Division hospitals are under the command of a commissioned military officer, not a medical one, as we do not have rank to order supplies or movements. At this time, the officer in charge of the Division hospital was Captain James Sholto of the 66th, a good and fair man who nonetheless was strict in his duty. While we were placed at Espelette, the Second in Command of the Buffs left his corps while they were under fire, ostensibly to inquire after one of his men who had been hit. Unfortunately, Lieutenant-Colonel Moran met Captain Sholto who inquired after his purpose, suspecting that his courage might be in question, but said nothing more. Moran made his inquiries, stayed as long as was decent, then returned to his men. But an hour later, he came back and crossed Captain Sholto's path again, at which time he was peremptorily ordered back to his regiment. Captain Sholto reported him to Colonel Nicol and Moran was eventually removed from his command. As further proof of his unfitness to lead, Moran blamed Captain Sholto for his woes and vowed revenge. However, it was through although another act of cowardice that compromised the safety of the entire medical department and the Corps that Moran found himself disgracefully turned out of the army and, finding the Continent too hot to hold him, reportedly returned to Ireland.
After this, we advanced on Bayonne, with some desultory fighting along the way. On the 13th of December, the French finally sallied out to attack us and, had the troops followed their instructions, we might have been pushed back beyond the Pyrenees. General Hill was prepared, however, and had posted his men in judicious fashion. He had to contend with the Buffs - still under Moran's command - failing to fight, but the rest of the Division acted with valor and vigor. Captain Bulstrode, in charge of the Light Division of the 66th, was struck in the chin and was attended by Dr. Henry. Thirteen hundred were wounded in all, including Lieutenant-Colonel Leith who was shot in the arm, requiring our Lieutenant-Colonel Nicol to take command of both the 31st and 66th combined regiments. Fortunately, Leith's coat was made of thick stuff and the Colonel was recovered in a few days.
Spring of 1814
We took to winter quarters for the remainder of December and into January, and were joined at last by our Dr. Henry who was returned to us from the Division, and we quite enjoyed the few weeks of rest and theatricals, as well as the bird hunting to stock our Mess. The weather was very wet which made the roads impassable, for our troops, although we were pleased to receive papers and mail from England. I was disappointed to receive little in the way of news from my family, Harry having failed to reply to any of my letters and only a short note from James announcing the birth of his third child, a Beta daughter to be named for our mother, at Christmas. He also imparted the news that Charlie had been made captain of his own ship, posted to Gibraltar at last word.
At the end of February, the rain stopped and the ground froze enough to make the roads passable again. We marched to Orthez on the 26th and had intended to begin the attack that day, but the 3rd Division had been unable to arrive in time, so Lord Wellington (now the Duke of Wellington) postponed action till the next day. On the morning, the Army engaged but so fierce was the fighting by the French that we made little advancement until the Duke ordered the 52nd to form line and advance. This they did, supported by sharpshooters, and it was a magnificent advance that broke the French and the battle was won.
As to our losses, two of our officers were seriously wounded, seven soldiers were killed, and thirteen taken prisoner before the engagement, and at Orthez we lost one officer and eleven soldiers, with thirty-three wounded. Among the wounded in the Army was Lord Wellington, who was shot in the thigh.
The Army pursued the now-fleeing French, and attacked a column near the town of Aire. Our commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Dodgin, was seriously wounded by a musket ball to the hip, and Dr. Henry once more departed from our company to remain behind to care for him, as they were good friends. Dr. McGrigor was establishing a hospital at Aire, so we knew that Martin would be kept occupied - no doubt much to the delight of the French Betas of the area.
We progressed towards Toulouse where Soult had retreated. On April 10th, Lord Wellington ordered the attack in which our Division was employed in a feint on the left bank near St. Cyprien that drew the attention of the defenders. The initial attacks by the 3rd Division and the Spaniards were repulsed, but then the 4th and 6th Divisions leapt into the battle in excellent style, carrying redoubt after redoubt, followed by the rest of the Army as every foot of land was hard-won. As dark fell, Soult retreated into the heights while Lord Wellington regrouped the Army and prepared to continue the assault the next day. However, in the morning, word came that Soult had decamped, leaving sixteen hundred wounded French troops on the ground. Lord Wellington entered the city the next day, to the cheers of the people and the news that Napoleon Bonaparte had abdicated, that peace had come.
I only heard of this later, for while I was tending to the wounded at St. Cyprien, I was struck in the left shoulder by a French bullet and knocked into Garonne river, and I knew no more.
There may be some confusion among readers as to why some of the surgeons with the Army are referred to as "Doctor" while others are entitled "Mister". This has to do with medical education and certification, which is in the Worldbuilding section. The Army at this time didn't have standardized training, and its medical personnel had varying skill levels. Those entitled "Doctor" had obtained at some point a Medical degree from a University, and they may or may not be certified by the Royal College of Surgeons as well. Those entitled "Mister" had not obtained a medical degree but had been certified by the Royal College. John and Martin, for example, have their medical degree as well as being certified surgeons, while Mr. Leigh is a certified surgeon without the M.D.. The Army called both surgeons and put them out in the field with the regiments or in the various military hospitals.
Chapter 8: 1814-1815: Home to England
Injured in the last battle of the Peninsular War, John Watson returns home to convalesce and reconnect with his family. He also meets an intriguing stranger while visiting his friend Mike Stamford at St. Barts.
Remainder of 1814
When I first came to my senses, I was aware of three things: I was soaking wet, my shoulder hurt like blazes, and the ground beneath me was moving in a very uncomfortable manner. The latter was enough to cause me to faint again. When I came to a second time, I was considerably less wet but more naked, and above me was the very serious face of my friend, Walter Henry. Beside him stood Sgt. Murray, looking like a drenched cat, his face sober as he handed my surgeon the instruments he needed. I had a brief recollection of the pain of being shot, then an overwhelming sense of panic.
"Don't take my arm!" I said, barely recognizing the croak of my own voice.
"I'll do my best, laddie," Walter said in his reassuring way, then turned to Murray. "Brandy, if you please."
Murray was very familiar with this procedure and I was nothing loathe to receive the tot of liquor he poured down my throat, for my shoulder hurt even more now. A moment later, a feeling like a hot poker passed through my wound and I fainted again.
When I came back to myself for a third time, it was clear that I had been moved to the ward and that it was night. Not sure at first what had happened, I tried to sit up and nearly went off again at the pain that shot through my arm. I must have made a sound even though I tried to be silent, for Sgt. Murray stirred from where he had fallen asleep beside my bed. He was at my side in an instant, relief writ large on his face.
"There you are, sir," he said. "Was wonderin' if you intended to sleep the night through."
"What - " I couldn't continue, my throat being as parched as a desert. Murray produced a cup of water mixed with wine and eased me up enough to take a few swallows. It was all I could manage for my shoulder ached like fire, although a glance at my left arm reassured me that it still was there. "What happened?"
"Damned French sharp-shooters got a couple o' shots off at us," Murray growled. "Hit Mr. Leigh's man in the thigh, and knocked you clean into the river. Thought you was gonna drown. Good that you'd stripped down to your shirt-sleeves or your coat might o' taken you under."
A vague memory of Murray looking drenched stirred. "You jumped in after me, didn't you?"
Murray flushed. "Couldn't let you drown, sir, could I? 'Course, I forgot I don't know how to swim. Some of the men had to pull us both out."
I couldn't help laughing at that and called him a great idiot, which he admitted, but I felt a great swell of gratitude for I knew that, unconscious and wounded as I was, I would have drowned without his aid.
The next few days were a blur of pain and sleep, and during my brief moments of consciousness, I learned that the French had surrendered and the war was over. I heard that there was great celebration, and that Lord Wellington was feted as a hero everywhere he went, and the English soldier was widely celebrated. I also learned that the 66th had been ordered back to Gosport, and that for the first time in five years, I would be standing on English soil.
I was nearly buried in English soil instead.
We sailed down the Garonne to Bordeaux where transport was waiting to take us to England. The fever began after the first few days, accompanied by headache and nose-bleeds. I was so exhausted from my recent ordeal that I quickly slipped into delirium shortly after we reached Bordeaux and was insensible when we were loaded on our ship. By then it was clear that I had contracted enteric fever, as had several others among the wounded. I drifted between delirium and sense during the whole length of our voyage, but I didn't succumb and for that, again, I thank Bill Murray who was as devoted a nurse as any could wish.
When we came ashore at Gosport, I was carried off the ship as weak as a kitten. I spent the entirety of the summer in hospital, exhausted and emaciated, struggling to recover my strength for the ordeal that still lay before me. For the ball that had entered my shoulder was still lodged there, and if I was ever to take up my scalpel again, it would have to be removed.
Dr. George Guthrie, who had been on the Peninsula with the Army and now taught in London, agreed to do the surgery and I was admitted to St. Bartholomew's in August. The round was successfully removed, but I had a relapse of my fever, and it was several weeks before I was released to my family's care.
I was too weak to make the trip to Scotland, so James opened up the Grosvenor Park house and it was there that I spent the next six months recovering. My strength was fragile and my spirits were low, and I contemplated the future with a bleakness usually foreign to me. The 5th Foot had gone to Canada, the 66th was at home on recruitment and had no need of a surgeon. I was not healthy enough to practice medicine and had little inclination to do anything else. I attempted to read but could not manage more than a few pages without a headache. I tried to walk out to gain my strength but could not sustain my breath for more than ten minutes' stroll without needing rest.
My family attempted to rally my spirits in turns without success, but I cannot blame myself for that failure. My brother, James, arrived first with his growing family, now aged one and two, their new nanny, and my sister-in-law. Janet was attentive in a way that called attention to her efforts, and James was heartily solicitous in the manner of one who has never known a day of sickness in his life. By the time they returned to Saughton after Christmas for her lying-in, I was heartily glad to see them go.
Winter and Spring of 1815
Harry was next to arrive, in January, with Clara and their two children, and they remained till Easter. Since Harry and Clara were quarreling, it was a strained three months and I avoided them as much as possible - which was relatively easy as Harry went out to her club shortly after noon each day and didn't return until late, drunk and having to be helped to bed.
To my surprise, I found myself spending a great deal of time with my eldest niece, Georgia. At eleven, Georgie was well aware of the discord between her parents and avoided them, seeking my company instead. I found that she was just the right kind of companion for my many moods, for she was possessed of an even temper and the Watson stubbornness in equal measure. When the weather was foul, she was content to read aloud or play chess as I preferred, and when the day was fair, she bullied me outside for rides in the carriage that gradually restored my strength. She was avidly interested in my stories about the war and encouraged me to write them down while they were still fresh. As spring came to London, she coaxed me out on walks through the park, alternating between matching her pace to mine and dashing ahead to discover what fresh blooms had emerged that day. So it was that, by the time they departed, I was in a fair way to recovering my customary good health and humor.
I began to take note of the world around me again, and to think about my future. To this end, I made my way to the Horse Guards to inquire about the possibility of coming off half-pay and taking a regimental or hospital post. To my surprise, I ran into my old commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicol on the steps and he greeted me as if I was a long-lost brother.
"Watson!" he cried. "Just the man I was needing. Have you a few moments to have a drink with me and listen to a new proposal?"
Thinking about how well his last request had turned out, I readily agreed and we turned our steps to The Senior where Nicol was a member. Once we were seated with our drinks, Nicol inquired about my health and recovery and I asked about our old comrades. He told me that Dr. Henry and Sholto, recently promoted to Major, had gone out to Ceylon in February with reinforcements for the 1st Battalion of the 66th, and that there was likely to be action in Nepal towards the end of the year. He was charged with putting together a force of 100 men to join them in the fall.
"We are without a surgeon out there," he said frankly. "Our last transferred to the 1st Ceylon two years ago and his assistant died last fall, and Mr. Leigh has been assigned to regimental headquarters. Dr. Henry is a decent fellow but he cannot do it alone, and the two fellows who replaced you and Walter with the 2nd Battalion are too green. I could request a transfer, but to be frank, Watson, there's no one I'd rather have as Regimental Surgeon than you."
To say that I was stunned is putting too mild a word on it. Before being wounded, I had anticipated another year or two before securing a promotion to Surgeon, and lately I had thought that dream even farther out of reach. I thanked the Colonel, expressing my doubts as to my fitness, which he waved aside.
"Go see Guthrie and see what he has to say - you know that he won't mince words. If he passes you, then you're the man for me."
Having said that, the Colonel finished his drink and we parted ways. Before I could begin to doubt myself, I took a hansom cab to St. Bart's to secure a time to consult with Dr. Guthrie on the next day. Deep in thought, I walked through the familiar hallways of the hospital and nearly ran into Mike Stamford. He brushed off my apologies with his customary good cheer and, hearing my mission, asked me out to dine to celebrate what he was sure would be good news. I accepted readily, as I was sick of my own company.
Stamford had to stop by the laboratory to retrieve some notes from a lecture he'd given earlier that day, and I accompanied him, indulging in a bit of nostalgia from my student days. The laboratory was not empty; a lone student was bent over one of the work tables, so intent on his work that he barely spared us a glance as Stamford collected his notes.
Suddenly he looked up, directly at me, with such an piercing look in his eyes that I felt as if I had been pinned to a specimen table. "Portugal or India?" he asked.
I realized that he was talking to me and frowned slightly. "Sorry?"
"Which was it?" he repeated. "Portugal or India?"
"Portugal," I replied. "How did you know?" I looked over at Mike and he shrugged, an amused look on his face. "You talked about me?"
"Not a word," Mike replied.
I turned back to the student, and now I could see that he was barely older than twenty, although he didn't have the look of a medical student. His coat was hung over the back of a chair and I could see that it was of the best superfine and of a fashionable cut. His shirt, waistcoat, and smalls were all of the finest as well, and his boots had been crafted by a master. His hair was styled a la Brutus although his cravat had been undone and tossed aside on the table.
"How did you know that about me?" I asked.
The young man picked up his coat and donned it, stuffing the ruined cravat in his pocket as he said, "I know that you're an Army surgeon and you've been invalided home from France, probably a shoulder injury although you are favoring your leg in a way that says you believe it weak although it wasn't injured. You are staying alone at the moment although you have family that has visited recently, one older child and more than one substantially younger. You are from Scotland but you have remained in London, partially due to your health but mostly because you find the country dull and your family duller. Your brother has a drinking problem that is causing problems with his wife; you are worried about him but prefer not to take sides - possibly because you dislike your sister-in-law. You have recently been offered another position with a regiment that is being posted at a considerable distance - possibly the Americas but more likely India. You should take it, by the way; you'll end up walking with a cane otherwise."
He nodded to Stamford briefly, then strode out of the room without a look back. I turned and stared at Mike.
He grinned at me. "Yes, he's always like that."
"Is he a mesmerist?" I asked. "How did he know those things?"
Mike shrugged. "I haven't any idea but he's usually right. And no, he's not a mesmer - not a student, either. I don't know what he is, exactly, only that he has the run of the laboratories, pursuing his own studies independently." He paused. "His name is Sherlock Holmes, and he's an Omega."
"Really?" I turned to look in the direction the young man had taken. I had heard of some Omegas being allowed to study at University, although not resident students, of course, but this was the first time that I'd seen one.
"Well, then, if he is never wrong, I suppose that I should accept Colonel Nicol's offer," I said lightly, then allowed Mike to lead me off for our celebration.
I had no idea how important that meeting would turn out to be. It was intriguing, and for that reason it lodged in my memory although it would be several years before I saw that young man again.
Chapter 9: 1815: Nepal and India
John Watson travels to Nepal and India with the 66th, gets involved in a mystery, and meets Mary Morstan.
Fall and Winter of 1815
Now that my course was set, I found that my old vigor had returned. I had received my back-pay for nearly a year and, having little cause to spend it, I had enough to replace my uniforms and my worn boots, as well as my surgical kit which had been lost when I was shot. I packed my kit, made a brief visit to my brother, Charlie, who was in port on furlough, and reported to Gosport. I was kept very busy during the summer preparing for our embarkation to India.
In the fall of 1815, we set sail. We were delayed over the summer by the escape of Napoleon, and for some time there was a question about whether we would be deployed to France again. In the end, Napoleon was defeated and exiled, and the 2nd Battalion of the 66th was detailed to be his jailors on St. Helena while Nicol and the rest of us sailed out to join the 1st Battalion.
It was December when we arrived at Calcutta and marched to join the rest of the army at Bulwee, about twenty-five miles from Amowah and near the great forest of Nepal. General David Ochterlony was in charge of the army, and Lieutenant-Colonel Nicol took command of our newly reinforced Battalion. With us was the 24th Foot, the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers and some Native Infantry, close upon 17,000 men, including a strong force of artillery. I was pleased to renew my friendship with Dr. Henry, who had once more been placed in charge of a Division hospital at Bulwee, while I followed the regiment along with my new assistant surgeon, Hugh Cunningham.
Our camp enjoyed a splendid view of the mountains, and to one accustomed to the harsh land of Portugal, the novelty of an Indian camp was very pleasing. While we had had camp followers and servants in Portugal, the sheer size of the host following the army was staggering. Not only were there servants, but there were Bazaar people, Jugglers, tent-people, whores, and every sort of hanger-on imaginable. We remained in camp for about six weeks while negotiations with the Gherkas dragged on. Our men were kept busy, for there was every kind of sport to be had and a rich variety of animals and plants, and hunting parties filled the Mess with exotic food.
In January, the Army was divided into four divisions; the 66th and four Sepoy battalions were placed under the command of Colonel Nicol. Our orders were to penetrate the Nepal valley by the Bhicknee Pass while the other divisions were directed to take other passes. On February 4 we broke camp and marched west, skirting the mountain, to arrive in Rhamnahghur two days later. We remained there for several days while waiting for the baggage train to catch up to us, then proceeded to the Bhicknee Pass. There we set up post in an old temple, spending two days to fortify the post and establish communications, with two guns and several hundred Sepoys to secure our supply line. Then we entered the Bhicknee Pass.
The Pass was barely worthy of the term, simply a dry river bed, varying from fifty to one hundred yards in width, with steep banks covered with trees. Colonel Nicol took every precaution to guard against surprise, with part of the brigade making their way along the banks while the rest followed the pass. Every man was on alert against attack, and for three days we marched through this difficult terrain with no opposition except from Nature herself. When it was reported that the Gherkas were in force ahead, the Colonel sent an advance party to reconnoiter, but they only discovered that the enemy had retreated further into the country. As we continued to advance the Gherkas continued to retreat, so we saw not a whisker of the enemy.
We crossed the first range of hills skirting the Himalayas and descended into a lush valley watered by the Rapte. The Fort of Eckore was in sight and the Colonel established another post with two Native battalions and a few guns there, then we continued along the Rapte. By this time, we had been deserted by much of our followers except for personal servants. The scenery was truly magnificent, the trees laden with fruit and birds of startling plumage, but there was no sight of the Gherkas.
We encamped near Hettorah where we received orders to march to Muckwanpore to join the rest of the army. There had been a brief skirmish the previous day where one officer was killed and two wounded. When we reached the army camp, we learned that there had been another skirmish the previous day on the ridge where the 87th Fusiliers had defeated a Gherka attack. Our men were disappointed at being too late to participate but hoped for an opportunity to engage with them soon. A road was forced to the summit where the 66th took position, along with guns and a native battalion, and in the morning the report came that the enemy was approaching in force. An envoy was sent to the enemy camp and, upon his return, we were forbidden to fire except in retaliation until after the next morning. Accordingly, the men settled into trenches and prepared for action in the morning. The men of the 66th were so eager for a brush with the enemy that several of my sick patients stole away from the medical tent to join their comrades. I was angry and complained of it to Colonel Nicol, but he only laughed at the eagerness of his men.
However, in the morning it was announced that the Nepalese government had accepted peace terms and the 66th retired from its position on the hills to join the main camp. A few days later, the return march to Dinapore was begun.
A strange thing happened at this time. Men who had been so keen for the fight had marched for weeks without feeling any fatigue or privation, immune to sickness. But now that the battle had been averted, disease broke out amongst the men. We remained in Dinapore for three months, enduring weather that was intolerably hot, treating illnesses borne of the heat. We learned to do our professional duties very early in the morning, before our breakfast, for the rest was miserable. There was nothing to be done: reading caused a headache, moving led to uncomfortable perspiration, and one could not think enough to play backgammon or chess. We became very indolent by necessity. And, of course, Martin took the opportunity to tumble into love with one of the beautiful local girls, which we teased him about unmercifully.
Nevertheless, we were all glad to quit the city.
Summer and Fall of 1816
In July, we embarked on boats down the Ganges to Cawnpore. At that season, the Ganges was very low with all manner of decaying matter along the bank causing an unbearable stench. No barracks were ready when we arrived so the men had to remain on board the boats for nearly a fortnight. Bearing in mind Surgeon-General McGrigor's strictures on avoiding pestilence, I protested the foolishness of this and recommended encampment of the Regiment on the dry plain nearby, but I was ignored by the commander of the cantonment. Consequently, a deadly fever broke out among them. During the six months that we remained at Cawnpore, five officers and over one hundred men died, and there were upwards of 300 men in hospital at one time.
During this time, three hospitals were set up for the men and one for women, with each of my assistant surgeons in charge of one. I moved between hospitals, helping with difficult cases and evaluating patients for release. It was hard work and I was often exhausted, fearing a relapse of my own illness. However, there were compensations - of the feminine variety.
Among the officers of the 1st Battalion of the 66th was a Captain Arthur Morstan, a man slightly known to me as he had married one of our local Scottish beauties, Mary Ramsay, the younger daughter of the Earl of Dalhousie and a distant relative of mine. She had chosen to follow the drum, accompanying her husband to Canada where their daughter, also named Mary, was born. When in due course the battalion was posted to Ceylon, they had accompanied him as well. Mrs. Morstan gave the most excellent parties and Mary was quite the favourite among the officers. She was not beautiful in the classic sense; there was no alignment of her features that would make poets sigh or painters long for their brushes. But there was such an expression of sweetness on her face that caught the eye, and she was possessed of a quick mind and a ready wit. Before long, I had tumbled quite desperately in love with her. I said nothing as I didn't expect that she would return my affection, for I had no prospects to speak of and my future was vague.
At this time, Captain Morstan's father, General George Morstan, was Commander of the 1st Bengal European Regiment stationed at the fortress of Agra nearby. General Morstan was highly respected by the rajahs and princes in the neighboring provinces and there was a constant stream of noble visitors to the fortress, accompanied by their entourages. One of the duties of the 66th was to provide a company to assist the Native regiments guarding the gates, and they were dispatched for a month at a time for this. Captain Morstan was in charge of a company and in October he marched off with his men to take their turn in the roster. It was the last time that his wife and daughter saw him alive.
What happened next was surrounded in confusion for several days. A few weeks after the departure of Captain Morstan's company, I was working in hospital when there was a sudden rush signalling the arrival of horses and a wagon, and a few minutes later several of our men burst in carrying the limp body of Captain Morstan. He was pale and delirious and in obvious pain, and a quick examination confirmed my worst fears that he had been gut-shot. There was little I could do to aid him or even ease his pain, but I sent for his family and stayed by his side. He came around for a moment and seemed to recognize me, gesturing for me to bend close enough to hear him whisper a few words.
"The sign of three," he said, then sighed quietly and was no more.
Mary and Mrs Morstan arrived shortly, and I left them to grieve in private. Major Sholto was there as well and he was questioning the men when Mary suddenly appeared in the doorway. She held up a pearl, the largest and most lustrous I had ever seen, and turned troubled eyes to Major Sholto.
"What does it mean?"
The answer to that was known all too soon. One of the rajahs visiting General Morstan at Agra had been robbed and his servant killed, but not before the man managed to shoot his assailant. The pearl was one of a circlet of twelve perfect pearls, part of the missing treasure. No one said anything out loud, but it was widely believed that Captain Morstan had robbed the rajah's servant and been shot for his trouble. While the rumours circulated, Mrs Morstan kept to their bungalow, weighed down by her grief and shame, but Mary refused to hide and went about with flashing eyes and a sharp word for anyone who dared to look at her askance. I was one of the few welcomed in their home for I refused to believe that Arthur Morstan would shame his father, his wife, his daughter, or his uniform in such a manner.
Major Sholto also refused to believe the worst but took a more active role, for there was also the missing treasure to find. His investigation turned out the true culprits: one of the soldiers in the 1st Bengals by the name of Jonathon Small had fallen in with two of the Sikh guards and they had made a pact to rob and murder the rajah's servant. Morstan had come upon them unaware when they were dividing up the spoils and they had shot him; he had grabbed the circlet as he fell, tearing off one of the pearls. The treasure was recovered and the three men involved sentenced to the prison on the Andamon Islands. In gratitude, the rajah bestowed the circlet on Major Sholto and he, in turn, had insisted that Mary and her mother take it.
"You are a wronged woman," he said gravely to Mary, "and you shall have justice."
Captain Morstan was buried with full honours the day after this disclosure. General Morstan, shaken by the treacherous murder of his only son, had resigned his post and was preparing to return to Scotland with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. My own emotions on the thought of Mary's departure were my undoing; I confessed my love to Mary and, to my delight, she was quick to reassure me that she returned my affection. She made light of my fears for the future, saying that she was perfectly content to follow me as her mother had followed her father.
General Morstan was less sanguine about the matter and would not give his permission for an immediate betrothal, wishing us both to have time to know our hearts. "When you are back in England, come and see me," he instructed. "If you are both of similar minds, then we shall see."
And so I saw my dear Mary off on the ship to England, with half-formed imaginings of a future together once a year or two had passed.
Ah, the dreams of the young and foolish!
Chapter 10: 1817-1820: St. Helena
The 66th is sent to St. Helena to join the 2nd Battalion in guarding Napoleon. While there, John Watson writes to Mary and Harry, and waits for things to change.
1817 - 1819
In the beginning of January, shortly after Mary left, we received the unexpected news that we had been ordered to join the 2nd Battalion at St. Helena, where Napoleon Bonaparte was being kept as a prisoner. As the Marquis of Hastings was preparing a grand campaign, the men were unhappy to trade the prospect of fighting and prize money for the dull life of a prison guard. I cannot help but admit that my heart was lifted by the news - St. Helena was half a world closer to Mary than India. So it was with a light heart that I packed up our hospital and my possessions and prepared to set sail once again. We made our way to Calcutta and at the beginning of April we set sail for St. Helena. We rounded the Cape on June 17th, having had to stop for provisions along the way, and two weeks later anchored off of James Town on St. Helena.
It was with no little disappointment that I first set eyes on St. Helena, the ugliest and most desolate rock of land I have ever beheld. We found the 2nd Battalion and the 53rd Regiment quartered here, and sat down to dinner with them the next night. The 2nd Battalion was in mixed spirits for the battalion was being disbanded and most of them were bound for home on the next transport ship. Dr. Henry and half of the Battalion marched to Longwood, the residence of Napoleon, where Walter was to take charge of the hospital while I remained at James Town.
In September, an event of great note took place. Marshal Bertrand hosted a dinner party to which the senior officers of the 66th were invited to dine with Napoleon himself. Colonel Nicol, Governor Bingham, Count Montholon, General Gourgard, Dr. Henry, and myself, as well as the wives of those married men present, arrived at the drawing room at Longwood, and a few minutes later, Napoleon himself arrived. He was dressed in a dark green uniform coat, white breeches and stockings, and gold-buckled shoes. He was short in stature, shorter than me, and stocky as well, and his expression was scowling. He walked around the room, was introduced to the senior officers present by Marshal Bertrand as interpreter. His questions were pointed and not entirely polite, mostly concerning our time in India. He wasn't much interested in me, although Martin sparked his attention as he had recently treated Betrand's young son after a fall.
In September, I was awakened by a strange motion of the bed. I jumped out of bed as I recognized the vibration of an earthquake and dragged on my breeches and shirt, so as to be ready for any medical emergencies. The shaking only lasted for ten or fifteen seconds, but it was quite violent through the town. I was concerned that it might bring down the rocks on the steep sides of the mountains, but other than set the church bell ringing, little mischief was done.
Our men were quickly bored with the pursuits available on the island, these chiefly being fishing or shooting at the birds on the higher ground. They set up a little racecourse and, with the small but fast horses from the Cape, amused themselves with races. There were monthly balls, for the benefit of the regimental ladies, and a little theatre in town where a respectable troupe of amateurs put on plays for our benefit. We also had occasional visitors to the island of those desirous of laying eyes on the former Emperor, and there were occasional mail boats which livened our days.
Harry wrote me early in 1818 to tell me that Clara had moved to London with the children due to Harry's drinking; the shock had apparently done Harry good and she was attempting to change her habits. I wasn't confident in her ability to do so but I wrote back encouragingly and we picked up the correspondence that had languished over the past two years.
Mary wrote me as well, with news that her grandfather had rented Barnton House in Edinburgh and they were settled there. She had been introduced to Edinburgh society and was enjoying the balls and parties, and her mother had plans to bring her out at the next Season in London. Her words were lightly affectionate and I responded in kind, mindful that the letters were undoubtedly shared with her mother. However, I couldn't help worrying that she might be meeting someone more interesting and successful than me, that her affections might be changing. Separated as we were, there was nothing I could do but wait and worry.
There was little else for me to do, for the climate was temperate enough and our food supply healthy, and few of our men developed any kind of sickness, other than occasional bowel problems. We did not lose any of our soldiers to disease during the time I was there, although Bonaparte's manservant died early in 1818, and there was the occasional accident and drowning. Bonaparte's doctor at the time, Mr. O'Meara, fell foul of the governor of the island and British regulations, and was dismissed from service, but other than that, there was little to vary the monotony of our lives. We had difficulty in replacing Bonaparte's doctor, for he refused to have me attend him as I was cordial with the governor, and several others lost their heads around him and accepted his bribes, resulting in their dismissal.
In the beginning of 1819 the 20th Regiment came out from England, and the companies of the 66th posted at Deadwood were moved back to town with the rest of the regiment. This caused a great deal of ill-feelings among these men, as they had preferred the highlands to the valley. This caused a number of disturbances and loss of temper, although truth to tell, I believe it was the loss of access to the billiard table up at Deadwood that caused the most ire. There was a murder in James Town this year, the culprit being a Chinese man in the employ of the East India Company who was later hanged.
In 1820, the second in command of the island was replaced by a man who was very different from Sir George, being of narrow mind and sordid disposition. He quarrelled with Colonel Nicol and harassed Major Sholto constantly about the running of the hospital. He made the lives of the medical officers more difficult with his parsimonious ways, and I began to heartily wish for a change in my circumstances.
I am not a believer that thoughts can cause bad things to come about, but in light of what was to occur, I cannot help but wish that I had been more content with my lot.
Chapter 11: Epilogue: A Letter From Home
John receives a letter from home that changes his life.
1820 - Addendum to the Journals of John H. Watson
The letters reached me at the end of September, a somber note from my brother Charlie letting me know that our sole remaining elder brother had died in a tragic hunting accident. This was accompanied by a nearly-incoherent letter from my brother's widow, Janet, written in her grief and begging me to return home as she cast herself on my kindness. I was saddened by the news but not shattered; James was eleven years my senior and gone from the house by the time that I had emerged from the nursery, so I had little more than a vague recollection of a lofty figure occasionally gracing the schoolroom in his scarlet uniform, scattering sweetmeats. While I was in school, there was the occasional note with a shilling tucked under the flap, and once when I was in University in London, the Viscount Cammo had borne me off for a memorable night of drinking and gaming along with James's fellow soldiers. He had been an indulgent and fond brother, but we had not been close. So I was not inclined to pay much heed to Lady Saughton's pleas, until I turned to the last letter, from Uncle Alex. Alexander Carnegie was a banker of great repute in Edinburgh and had housed me while at school; I knew the man to be sober and steady, and the words in his letter had driven the colour from my cheeks and sent me staggering for a chair.
The late Earl of Saughton's death from his own accidentally discharged hunting rifle had been laid down to careless grief following the death two days earlier of his son and only Alpha heir, as the young Viscount Cammo had succumbed to a putrid fever. His only other Alpha offspring had not survived infancy, and the three remaining children of the late Earl were Betas and therefore unable to inherit the estate. Thus I learned that I, Captain John Watson, Surgeon to the 66th Berkshire Rifles stationed at St. Helena, was now the 9th Earl of Saughton.
Still, I would have pled duty and waited to take up the family burden till the regiment was ordered home had it not been for the additional information from Uncle Alexander, in words so sparse and clear that there could be no mistaking his meaning. This was what made me approach Major Sholto and lay the letters before him.
No one could have been more understanding than the Major, as I had known he would be; indeed, I couldn't have borne to reveal this information to another soul except for Major Sholto. The Major read it without expressing either shock or sympathy and looked at me squarely. "You must go," he said. "I will grant you leave immediately, and as long as you need before you resign your place." He caught the automatic denial on my face and placed a kindly hand on my shoulder. "John, a few years ago there might have been a hard decision as to where your duty lay, but you can clear your conscience. There is a long peace ahead of us, and many more will retire or be placed on half-pay. I won't say that you won't be missed - you will be, damnably so - but we will do. There is no question about it; you must go home to England."
I had known it, of course, and did not argue but instead packed my gear, made my brief farewells and sailed with the mail ship back to Cape Town. Life as I had known it was about to drastically change.
Chapter 12: Bibliography
This didn't come out of my own head completely and these are the sources I used.
Military and Medical Links
Army Medical Services and the Malta Garrison - an excellent set of articles.
Historical Record of the Fifth Regiment of Foot, or Northumberland Fusiliers - An accounting of the postings and campaigns of the various battalions of the regiment from 1674 till 1837
The 66th Berkshire Regiment - An accounting of the postings and campaigns of the various battalions of the 66th regiment from 1758 till 1881
Roll of Commissioned officers in the Medical Service of the British Army- a listing of all the medical personnel who were commissioned from 1727 to 1898. The listing shows the first year that a medical officer was commissioned (usually as Assistant Surgeon) and their duty post (regiment, in most cases), and then their subsequent postings until death or retirement. There are also notifications for Peninsular service and half-pay/full-pay status. Once you get the trick of the short-hand, it is easy to find out who was in each regiment. The only confusion is that there are no records of battalion, and as there could be up to three medical officers (one surgeon and two assistants) per battalion at any time, figuring out who was where and when can be tricky. I have made a chart for the 5th and 66th.
British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them: 5th Regiment of Foot - The Napoleon Series in general is excellent for information on the various aspects of the wars, no matter which side you are interested in. This page in particular lists the stations for each battalion in the regiment and combats by year, as well as short biographical information on the officers of the regiment. Unfortunately, there isn't a similar page for the 66th Regiment
Ackroyd, Marcus. Advancing with the Army: Medicine, the Professions, and Social Mobility in the British Isles, 1790-1850. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. Print.
Blanco, Richard L. Wellington's Surgeon General, Sir James McGrigor. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1974. Print.
Cantlie, Neil. A History of the Army Medical Department. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 1974. Print.
Howard, Martin R. Wellington's Doctors: The British Army Medical Services in the Napoleonic Wars. Staplehurst: Spellmount, 2002. Print.
Kaufman, Matthew H. Surgeons at War: Medical Arrangements for the Treatment of the Sick and Wounded in the British Army during the Late 18th and 19th Centuries. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001. Print.
First Person Accounts
Events of a Military Life by Walter Henry - regimental surgeon to the 66th and a very amusing writer
The Journal of an Army Surgeon during the Peninsular War by Charles Boutflower - Regimental surgeon to the 40th. Interesting in particular because he is there at the same time that I have placed John Watson. Boutflower comments more on the people and societal aspects of his service, and is much snootier than Walter Henry, but it is fascinating reading.
The Autobiography of Harry Smith - If you are a Georgette Heyer fan, you probably already know Harry Smith - he is the soldier-husband in "The Spanish Bride". Harry's writing is amusing and gives the flavour of life as a soldier during this war.