Lady in Waiting Part 10
Charlotte and Anna are slowly making their way to San Sebastian and hopefully home but the journey is slow and uncomfortable. When the finally arrive the place has been razed to the ground due to a prolonged siege and battle.
By the time we returned to camp Anna and the men had prepared a pot load of herbs edible roots and vegetables as they had heard my shot and assumed I had shot something.
A few hours later we all enjoyed a tasty stew of wild goat and vegetables the story about me shooting the deer had gone around the troopers and by the time Ensign Rothwell heard the story it had become somewhat exaggerated and I swear that the I took shot was 500 paces at a moving target!
So this is how we progressed towards the main body of the army once Mr Rothwell had relaxed he was perfect company and brought me up to date with all the news at home and any scandal that her knew about.
Luckily there were no stories about a lady absconding to Portugal to marry her beau.
Both our families knew about the wedding and like Mama grudgingly accepted us as man and wife. William’s family in fact had prepared a small country house for us to live in.
As things turned out it took us 10 days so it was at the end of August that we finally arrived some 3 miles outside San Sebastian and of course it was time to become Ladies again this meant the end to our freedom from stays.
The dreaded corsets were brought out and Anna laced me into mine and of course I reciprocated.
I selected a dress of fine light mauve linen bedecked with flowers gathered under my bust in the Empire Style with loose chiffon sleeves also there was a parasol to shade me from the sun that matched perfectly.
Anna’s dress was of a light green silk again in the Empire Style with bell sleeves the colour really suited her complexion.
In truth apart from our comfortable clothing was only had 2 gowns 4 pairs of fashionable shoes and a corset each! Luckily we had lots of underwear as silk packs very small.
As I reflected it was clear that we would certainly need to go shopping either when we reached the coast or arrived in England though how we were going to afford some clothes I had no idea.
Once we were dressed I remarked that it was a shame we had no jewellery to set our gowns off it was then I remembered the small but heavy bundle the troopers had ‘found’ by the roadside.
Searching through our meagre possessions didn’t take long and we were soon holding the small sack once used to carry the 3-day bread ration.
I untied the string holding it closed and tipped it onto the bed of the wagon “My Good Lord” I managed to gasp I looked at Anna who was speechless as in a pile between use were some of the most beautiful jewels I had ever seen. These clearly came from the baggage train of King Joseph Bonaparte’s army! We looked at the bounty and there were exactly 55 items of jewellery that meant that each man of the 2 platoons had contributed one item! Tears streamed down my face as I realised how much the men had sacrificed to give Anna and I such a present.
Just one of the diamond ear-rings would have given them an easy life after the war.
There was also a small pouch which when I opened it caused me to gasp again and more tears flowed as this contained 50 gold 20 franc Napoleon coins which were worth a small fortune. I opened the note and read it’s contents aloud.
‘Dear Charlotte this is a small token from Major Sharpe, Captain Miles and Myself as you will need to do some shopping when you reach civilisation. The other things in this sack are from the troopers so it’s best not to ask where they came from.
Your loving Husband
I looked at Anna after I had read the note she was staring at the pile of jewellery and gold coins finally in a small voice she whispered. “Miss Charlotte what are we going to do?”
“Well Anna we are going to share this out as the men would have expected us to do.” I answered matter of factly.
At this she became quite agitated. “No, no Miss please no” she gasped. “Whatever is the matter Anna – half of this was meant for you.”
This didn’t help as she became more agitated going into a near panic. “Please Miss you keep them all they aren’t for the likes of me!”
Nothing I could say would make her change her mind and I only succeeded in getting her more upset in the end I selected a pair of small emerald earrings and a matching necklace with an small emerald as the centre piece which would set off her dress and suggested that she wear them
She looked at them for a moment then finally she allowed me to fix them in her ears and put the necklace around her neck.
When I called the emeralds small it was all a matter of scale as the one’s in the earrings were the size of my little finger nail while the one in the necklace was about the size of a musket ball (about ½”)
For myself I chose a pair of drop diamond earrings with a diamond necklace and matching bracelet.
I gathered up the rest and returned them to the sack, the coins I put in a small velvet pouch and secreted this under my dress out of sight.
We were now ready to return to civilization opening the curtains at the back of the wagon de descended and announced to Ensign Rothwell that we were ready to proceed into San Sebastian town itself and our ship to England.
Now I had another small problem, that of getting Anna to accept this bounty however a germ of a plan started to grow in my mind.
The more I considered this idea the more I liked it, what I would do is use a small part Anna’s share of the jewels to buy her a full wardrobe for her new role and a house when she married her sailor! At least I hoped she would marry him and there should be enough for a pension for the two of them. I was absolutely determined that she would somehow receive her share.
We climbed onto the front seat of the wagon and as it lurched off I heard Anna give a soft moan as I assume her stays were digging into her somewhere as were mine but I had been taught all my life that a Lady never complains whereas Anna had not been brought up to this.
I imagined that San Sebastian would be a fine town with comfortable accommodation and some shops where we could purchase what we needed what a shock I got as we neared the town.
First the plume of smoke was very evident the tents of the army were around the town and it had just fallen after being besieged for over 2 months.
We trundled into the camp and came to a halt outside what I assumed was the headquarters tent.
People were scurrying around it was a hive of activity Ensign Rothwell went to gain entry only to be turned back.
Looking dejected he returned to the wagon and told us that the town had fallen but the soldiers enraged at the losses were on a drunken rampage inside the city and in effect all control had been lost.
Finally after an hour or so the Ensign and myself were bidden to enter the HQ (as it was referred to) once again I met with Wellington and once again he was incandescent with rage though this time I was not the target of this anger.
Wellington glared at me fixing me with his piercing eyes I smiled inwardly as with the great beak of his nose he reminded me of a giant eagle, but I kept my smile in my mind as I didn’t think he would appreciate my observation.
“So Lady Charlotte we meet again.” He addressed me then turned and issued more orders that sent officers scattering to the 4 winds. Turning back to me his features softened slightly as what I took for a smile plied his lips. “Reports from the 95th speak highly of you.” I nodded my appreciation as he carried on. “As you will no doubt have heard we have just taken San Sebastian and the rabble are busy raping and looting DAMN THEIR HIDES. Shortly we will have regained control but I would like you to assist with the wounded.” Again I nodded showing my understanding.
“ENSIGN.” He bellowed Mr Rothwell swallowed and stepped forward. ”Sir” Wellington grunted and continued. “Speak to the adjutant, he will allot accommodation for the ladies YOU young man are charged with their safety they will report to the surgeon general to assist with the wounded UNDERSTAND!”
With that we were dismissed. I reflected the way Wellington spoke; the way he barked his orders and at times bellowed to emphasise points brooked no argument.
Next we went to a harassed looking man who allocated us three tents at the very edge of the camp. The largest for Anna, the children and myself; a small tent for the Ensign and a canvass shelter for his men who were to guard us night and day.
It was a short distance to our ‘lodgings’ and soon we were settled in first we looked after the children then Anna and I changed out of our finery into our travel stained Maja dresses and went to visit the Surgeon General complete with children.
As we approached the ‘hospital’ tent I as appalled at the horrific conditions both in and around them.
Inside the tent was crammed with broken bodies stank of sweat, vomit and blood there were operations going on all around the groans, screams and moans of these poor men assaulted the senses.
I looked at Anna to see she was as shocked as I.
Outside the tents were in a way even worse than the inside strewn around there were pieces of men! Whole limbs, parts of limbs, hands feet and the flies they were a dark cloud when disturbed when they were at rest they made the limbs look like they shimmered. The air was heavy with the reek of rotting flesh blood and bodily fluids – all in all it was a scene from the depths of hell.
Poor Ensign Rothwell looked a little green around the gills this must have been his first experience of a field hospital I felt sorry for him as if his luck didn’t hold he too could end up in a charnel house like this.
The Surgeon was a tired looking man of indeterminate age his hands and arms were covered with blood he was outside one of the tents having a pipe. When we approached and told him our story he gave a weary smile saying, “Ladies I thank you for your offer of assistance; but what about your children? This is no place for children so young as there is so much disease and death.” He took a puff of his pipe and continued. ”And it’s no place for their mother for the same reason so I must decline your offer.”
I protested that there must be something we could do to help him he looked steadily at us weighing us up finally he said. “You will wash the used bandages this will release two orderly’s.” This is how we ended up washing used bandages for 12 hours a day.
It was not a bad task though it was disgusting. Three huge cauldrons one for boiling the rags they called bandages. The second to wash them in Lye and the third to rinse them we hung them on trees to dry.
For a week this was our constant work. The place where this was carried out was at the edge of the camp close to the impromptu cemetery.
In the mornings there was always a huge pile of soiled rags to start the day; during the day new loads of rags arrived at regular intervals and clean dry ones returned to the hospital.
One of the soldiers that guarded us made 2 slings so Annabel and George could hang from the branches gurgling away totally oblivious to their disgusting surroundings while we toiled.
Once the piles of bandages stopped arriving we were relieved of our duty by the surgeon general as there were enough orderlies now the rush of wounded had ceased.
The city of San Sebastian was now calm the Anglo-Portuguese soldiers had just about razed it to the ground the French Garrison had withdrawn to the Citadel but after sustained bombardment they had surrendered early September and were allowed to march out with full military honours.
Shortly after this we were told that our transport home was leaving the Mediterranean where it had been on patrol for 2 years. It was picking up supplies for the army at Gibraltar and should arrive in about two months time. The plan was that it would drop off the supplies they had picked up in Gibraltar and pick the four of us up.
This time was really idyllic we were close to the coast away in the far distance the Pyrenees could be seen which was the French border was. Anna and I spent our time playing with George and Annabelle sometimes on the beach sometimes around our tent
Anna spent her time reading and practicing her numbers, which she was quite accomplished she was progressing well with her learning it amazed me how quickly she had picked up reading and writing as for her numbers she was a bit slow and still used her fingers to help!
We wrote letters and received some. William was in the mountains harrying the French lines of supply while Anna’s sailor was patrolling in the Atlantic doing a similar job to my William harrying the French supply lines.
In the middle of September William wrote me a letter and told me he had been promoted to full Captain! (Previously he had been an acting captain) They had taken part in the battle of San Marcial where his company had held off a French division they inflicted 231 casualties on the French but 14 of his company were killed including his superior a Captain Cadoux hence Williams promotion.
To all it became apparent that the war was slowly drawing to a close.
Meanwhile after the sacking of San Sebastian there was the usual floggings and punishments for the worst offenders though no executions as high command needed all the men they could get. Though after 300 to 500 lashes from the ‘cat’ a mans back was like a slab of raw meat from shoulder to buttocks – he was in no state to fight.
Historical Note: San Sebastian these days is a sprawling city surrounding the beautiful La Concha Bay. In 1813 it was very much smaller a provincial town in the Basque region.
The original walled city stood on the banks of the River Urumea that created wetlands and shifting marshes.
Parte Vieja (Old Town) was rebuilt in the 19th Century after the 1813 destruction by Anglo-Portuguese.
With 18,000 men, Wellington captured the French-garrisoned city of San Sebastián under Brigadier-General Louis Emmanuel Rey after two sieges that lasted from 7 July to 25 July (In the meantime Wellington departed with sufficient forces to deal with Marshal Soult's counter-offensive, he left General Graham in command of sufficient forces to prevent sorties from the city and any relief getting in); and from 22 August to 31 August 1813.
The British incurred heavy losses during assaults. The city in turn was sacked and burnt to the ground by the Anglo-Portuguese: Meanwhile, the French garrison retreated into the Citadel, which after a heavy bombardment their governor surrendered on 8 September, with the garrison marching out the next day with full military honours.
Military discipline was maintained through the laws and practices established by royal and parliamentary authorities. The Rules and Articles for the Better Government of all His Majesty’s Forces, better known as the Articles of War formed the basis of military law and were first promulgated in 1663.
To modern eyes the punishments seem extremely severe. As flogging was mentioned in the chapter I will deal with this form of punishment.
Flogging – this was administered by the infamous ‘Cat O Nine Tails’ commonly called ‘The Cat’ this was a whip used to flog soldiers (and sailors).
The length of the wooden stick was 43cm (1' 5"), its tails 53cm (1' 9"), and it weighed 141,75 g. (5 ounces)
The maximum number of lashes was 1200! In the Iberian Campaign this punishment was carried out 9 times while another 50 soldiers received 1000 lashes the average number of strokes depends on the crime something minor 50 lashes for something like looting 200 to 500 lashes would be given. The battalion’s drummers usually dispensed the punishment and the whole battalion was present to watch – this was seen as a form of deterrent.
I will leave it to your imagination what the back of the recipient was like after this amount of punishment. Yet this was thought to be better than either hanging or firing squad.
A final thought after receiving punishment the soldier was expected to be back on duty within a day or so unless they had received over 500 lashes then they were allowed to recover for a short time depending upon the Provost of the regiment.
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