A REGIMENTAL AFFAIR
The late Colonel George Stephen,
sometime commanding officer 13th/18th Royal Hussars
(Queen Mary’s Own) and, ‘from time to time in such other regiments
and corps as Her Majesty directs’, a Cameronian and a Grey.
‘What a Go!’
‘Soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer,’ wrote William Cecil, Lord Burghley. At the end of every war, a grateful British nation has dismissed its surplus soldiers, and usually with indifference. One has only to look back not ten years, to the end of the Cold War, to see how ill-used a soldier can be when his arms are no longer required. Invariably, too, the calculation proves wrong and a shortage of soldiers soon follows — as was the case with the 1992 reductions.
After Waterloo there was a wholesale disbanding of regiments. Unlike 1992, however, when the cavalry — or, more properly, the Royal Armoured Corps — was all but eviscerated, the Duke of Wellington’s horsed regiments escaped the worst for a time because they were needed to deal with civil disturbances at home, there being no proper police force. On the whole they found it disagreeable work, as soldiers still do. One of the reasons was that their legal position was often ambiguous. I commend two books on this fascinating subject to those who would read more. First is
I am indebted to the staff of the Prince Consort’s Library at Aldershot, who have been most generous in searching out books and material. Again I owe many thanks to the two retired officers who keep the Small Arms Collection at the School of Infantry in Warminster, Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Tug’ Wilson and Major John Oldfield. I gratefully acknowledge, as before, my wife’s equestrian advice, and now my younger daughter’s help with the early manuscript. Fortune continues to smile on me with editors, too, for after Ursula Mackenzie’s leaving Transworld for greater things, my publishers took on strength Selina Walker, a woman of such apt cavalry credentials that the departure of Ursula (who taught me a great deal) was in the end bearable. And Simon Thorogood persists in his patient, painstaking way to serve the manuscripts and me admirably.
While I was writing this book, the man who gave my military life the greatest turn, and without whom Matthew Hervey would therefore never have been, died prematurely. I dedicate
At the commencement of the present reign, and indeed thirty or forty years ago, peace officers were seen keeping order among the crowd, but now not a court-day passes without a strong military force being stationed on the public highway.
I found myself obliged, by every tie of duty and affection to my people, to suppress in every part those rebellious insurrections and to provide for the public safety by the most effectual and immediate application of the force entrusted to me by Parliament.
PART ONE. THE BREVET
CHAPTER ONE. THE PRIVILEGE OF RANK
Five major generals — so much scarlet and gold that the usually sombre meeting room of the commander- in-chief’s headquarters was for once a place of colour — sat in comfortable upholstered chairs at a long baize- covered table, their chairman, Sir Loftus Wake, Bart., the Vice Adjutant General, at the head, while on upright chairs at the wall perched the Duke of York’s military secretary and two clerks. The atmosphere was somnolent despite the morning hour. In front of each general officer lay a blue vellum portfolio tied with red silk, as well as paper, pencils and a coffee cup of delicate pink Rockingham, rather out of place. Some of the cups were empty, and were being attended to by a footman in court livery. Major-General the Lord Dunseath, a dyspeptic-looking man with a purple nose, waved him aside without a word, intent on some detail in his copy of
Sir Loftus Wake resembled a small garden bird in both looks and animation. His frame was spare indeed, and his eyes — his whole head — darted from papers to watch, from watch to door and then back again with the speed and regularity with which small birds must search about constantly for predators. He stared again at the empty chair and then at his half-hunter. ‘It is a quarter past. Where
Lord Dunseath, his nose always a beacon of his disposition, put down his newspaper and made a loud huffing sound. ‘Well, if he’s trying to come through the City he’ll never get here. They’re hanging that caitiff Cashman at Newgate this morning.