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Breakfast went on longer than Thomas thought. It was only the sound of the bugle calling parade on the other side of the rise that brought him back to his duty. O'Rourke sat and watched as the small camp of the new Corps of Drummers formed for parade while Thomas quickly went back inside his tent and finished dressing.
When Thomas returned fully dressed, he called the drummers on parade then taking the head of the two columns began to beat the cadence as they all marched in good order towards where the rest of the army was parading. The sound of the massed drums rang out over the country side as they marched. It was a far better and stronger sound than ever before.
An hour later, when the main parade was over and Thomas new Corps of Drummers was released, he marched his boys back to their camp site. There was little to do now until the call to parade next morning. Thomas saw that O'Rourke had been joined by the two riflemen Cooper and Jones while he had been on parade. Both men were sitting back like little lords drinking cafe.
Thomas dismissed his boys and joined the three men waiting for him. For the next hour they explained many things to him and helped work out a training schedule for the drummers. Looking it over on completion, Thomas knew there were going to be some very surprised drummer boys very soon. Thomas decided the new training would start right after lunch.
Carmelo and Estaban had also been brought into the discussion. There were things they knew that could make all the difference in a fight. Just before leaving, O'Rourke told Thomas.
"You had better get your banner raised. It will give your boys something to identify with and if my ears did not deceive me last night, there is another on the way, in fact that looks like it coming now."
O'Rourke had pointed behind Thomas as he spoke. Turning around in his chair, Thomas could not believe his eyes. Marching towards him were the four young survivors of the colour guard. In the hands of one of them was a wooden staff with the King's Colours. The bright Union Jack fluttering in the gentle breeze as they marched forward and finally came to attention before Thomas. The one carrying the banner spoke to Thomas as he handed the boy a sealed letter.
"Sergeant Marking, we have been ordered by Lieutenant General Wellesley to report to you as your Colour Guard. It will be our duty to defend the Colours should the Corps of Drummers go into battle."
Thomas looked at the older privates and wondered what the hell he was supposed to do or say. He had no idea what to do with the Colours. O'Rourke came to his rescue once again.
"If you will excuse me Sergeant Marking, perhaps I can help a little?"
"Thank you Sergeant O'Rourke."
O'Rourke looked up at the four privates standing at attention and waiting for orders.
"Right privates, your first duty is to find two poles suitable for both banners. They are to be planted outside the Sergeant's tent and the flags raised. After that you know your duty and how to carry it out."
"Yes Sergeant." Thomas watched as one of the men stayed holding the Colours while the other three went in search of two suitable poles to be used as flag staffs. They had not asked about the second flag that was to be flown. They were only privates and it was not in their interest to question orders.
Thomas sat back and opened the letter. It was sealed with wax and that meant it was from the General or someone equally as high up.
To Sergeant Marking
1st Drum Corps Auxiliaries
I have dispatched these four privates to be your Colour Guard. As you can see they fought with you at the wall and so I felt it was only fitting that they now protect the Colours under your care.
There are things afoot that may make certain events untenable and so I am dispatching an Officer to your Corps to assist in the forming and running of the Corps. The Officer in question has my full support and I am sure he will do all he can to make your new Corps successful.
As of this day the 5th of September, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major so that you will have sufficient authority to maintain your Corps of Drummers.
Enclosed is a copy of the gazetted orders so others cannot dispute your claim should it arise in the future. I would suggest you keep it in a safe place.
I may not have the chance to talk to you again but know this, I wish you all the best in your new endeavour and that you will take full note of Mister Cruikshank's advice.
Sir Arthur Wellesley
Lieutenant General of His Majesties forces in Portugal.
Thomas reread the letter and then looked over the copy of orders. He was not quite sure how to accept them. Thomas looked up and saw the smile on O'Rourke's face.
"Good news I hope lad?"
"I'm not sure if it's good or not O'Rourke. Don't they realise I'm only eleven, well nearly twelve?"
"What do you mean Lad?"
Thomas pushed the letter over to O'Rourke and then sat back and watched the older man's expression as he read.
"Well now, don't that put feathers in your hair. So now I'm going to have to bow and scrape to a snot nose because he outranks me?"
Thomas laughed as he replied.
"Never O'Rourke. I somehow don't think I would get away with that sort of thing."
"Aye you're right lad, you wouldn't get away with it. Now then who is this bloody Officer that's coming?"
"It doesn't say. I hope it's not one of those funny types that wants to run everything and then makes us do silly and dangerous things."
"Yes lad, I agree. We don't want no Officer that would make you take on seven Froggies alone or try to defend a wall with drummer boys against two companies of French Veterans. Nothing dangerous like that. Perhaps you will get one of those new snot nosed Lieutenants right out from home. He can teach you all to march right smartly and tap your little tin drums. Now there is a nice thought."
"Oh shut up O'Rourke. You know what I mean."
"Yes Sergeant Major, no Sergeant Major, right you are Sergeant Major."
Thomas could not help bursting out with laughter as O'Rourke put on his most innocent look as he saluted with each claim.
"Yes Sergeant Major?"
Thomas giggled as a smirk came over O'Rourke's face.
"I was going to ask you all to lunch but if I am now too high and mighty for you, perhaps you will want to eat with the other ranks?"
"No bloody way Sergeant Major."
The two finally broke up into laughter as Carmelo arrived with four glasses of wine so they could make a toast while they were waiting for lunch. Around them was the usual noise of the drummers relaxing before their own lunch. Thomas knew that Estaban and Clement had taken three of the wagons to the armoury to gather the stores he had selected the night before. After lunch was going to be a busy time.
Just as Carmelo and the three boys were placing the normal lunch of cheese, bread, olives and tomatoes on the table, Thomas heard the sound of wagons approaching the camp.
O'Rourke, Cooper and Jones looked up as well to see what the noise was about. All of them got a surprise when they saw the upright figure of Captain Lewis sitting beside Clement on the first wagon. Lunch was delayed until everyone had got down from the two wagons.
Thomas ability with Spanish had improved by leaps and bounds over the last few weeks, thanks to the help and insistence of all the Spanish boys. As yet he was not as fluent as O'Rourke but he could get his message across and, he even understood more than he could speak. It made life with the Spanish boys so much easier.
Thomas decided it was time to make plans for the drummers training. For this he would need the help of the Spanish boys as well as the more experienced British troops. To this end, Thomas looked along the large table. It could seat six to eight but he needed just a few more places for what he had planned.
Thomas looked about and then asked Estaban in his broken Spanish, about getting another table so they could all sit together. Estaban smiled and then called two of his cousins after asking all the men to stand aside for a minute.
Thomas watched in awe as the three boys then slightly lifted the two part table top and then slid each end outward until there was a new gap of about three feet. Two of the boys then went under the table and did something with the solid looking legs and they suddenly had the extra length supported by fold out extensions.
The centre piece was well hidden under the original top and was slid into place. Thomas now had a table that could seat twelve. The three boys laughed as they rearranged the chairs to suit the new longer table.
Thomas indicated for Captain Lewis to sit at one end while Thomas took the other. It was noticeable that the Spanish boys made sure Thomas had the larger chair at the head of the table.
Thomas called for Estaban, Pablo and Thomasino to sit with them as well as Clement and Perrin. With Carmelo added the eleven people now could discuss what had to be done next while all eating together. It was to become the normal setting for all meals and made for better communications with all parties.
For the rest of the drummers and other Spanish boys, there had been set up the long plank forms under an open awning that was close to where the younger boys had set up their rudimentary kitchen.
The kitchen was open and more in the Spanish style rather than the English rough tents. There had been dug a long pit about six feet in length, three feet in width and ten inches deep. Beside that were two heavy wooden footings with strange oval clay ovens set on top. Each oven had a thick stone base and was where the bread was baked as well as other dishes that could not be cooked over the open pit; that was used for cooking large sides of meat.
The other thing most noticeable by any newcomer was the configuration of the camp tents. Unlike the normal army setting which was in straight lines and all facing the parade ground. The drummers had theirs set in a single circle around the kitchen and Thomas's tent at the centre. There would soon be the addition of another six man tent for Captain Lewis to use and it would be erected next to Thomas's.
There was one rule for meals and it was agreed by Captain Lewis that he was quite happy with it. During meals there would be no formality. Everyone could speak their mind and no offence was to be taken. There would be no rank at the table.
As they ate lunch, the finalising of the training plans was set. There was much the drummers would need to learn about being a guerrilla force when it was needed. It was planned that after lunch all the drummers would be issued with their new muskets and equipment. They would have the afternoon to familiarise themselves with it. Cooper and Jones volunteered to do that.
Once lunch was finished there would also be the official raising of their banners and the whole Corps would be there to watch the raising of the colours.
Carmelo came up with an idea that no one of the others had thought about. As they were a new Corps and they were also a mixed group, Carmelo suggested they should have their own music to march to and from when the colours were raised each day.
There was a lot of discussion over this until Estaban said something to Carmelo. The other boy thought for a while and then nodded for Estaban to speak up.
After translation the non Spanish speaking people at the table thought over the suggestion. Within minutes all had agreed once it had been explained fully to them. Carmelo told them all what the full meaning of it meant.
"The drums are very powerful. When you play the Della Guerra it will put fear into the French. Of course we will have to put some small words into their soldiers. The Della Guerra is...how you say it...full war...uhm total war. When the enemy hears it they will only think that there is now no escape but death and it is perfect music for so many strong drummers. Estaban is no drummer but he knows the music. He can teach the Patron the beat and the Patron will teach his many drummers. It will sound many magnificent, yes?"
Captain Lewis had sat back and not said a word. He wanted to get a feel for how this strange alliance of drummer boys and Spanish civilians worked together with the added help of the more experienced Rangers. He had little doubt the boys just may pull off Cruikshank's plan if it came to the need for the boys to turn into guerrilla fighters.
Lewis had been sceptical at Wellesley's plan for the strange young boy from Limehouse but the young lad did have a head for new ideas. Lewis thought about the age of the new Sergeant Major. That the boy was somehow gifted there was little doubt and his fighting ability and the need to do the right thing must have come from his father.
Lewis thought that the secret ingredient to the boy was his thought process. Like all children, nothing was impossible regardless of the odds against them. That was the young boy's secret and Wellesley had seen it and was exploiting it to the fullest as was Cruikshank and his little band of spies.
After lunch it was time to raise the two flags on the newly risen poles. To the drum beat of the battle charge, the flags were raised slowly by the four man Colour team. It was the first time for everyone to see the new colours that the women of Vimeiro had made for Thomas as it rose beside the Union Jack of England.
It was in the Spanish colours of red and gold, one atop the other. Around the edge were a large number of small red and gold tassels. The centre of the new flag caught everyone's eye. It was the head of a black bull right in the centre and on its two horns were two more tassels of red which made it look like blood dripping from the black horns. Its symbolism was not lost on anyone that knew of the spreading story of the Patron El Toro.
Once the flags had been raised, all the boys gave out with a mighty cheer. Their new flag fluttered in the afternoon breeze beside the well known Union Jack. They were now a recognisable force. None of the people present at that time knew what that red and gold flag would come to represent to the French.
Thankfully for Thomas, O'Rourke and the other two rangers set about helping to distribute the new equipment. It was a long and laborious job as each boy had to be tested for strength as to whether he could carry one of the lighter rifles or heavier musket. There was also the issuing of the knives and the solid leather back pack that was normally worn by the troops and not the drummers.
Thomas returned with Captain Lewis to the table where the young Spanish boys had finished clearing it and were already working on dinner.
"Captain." Thomas asked. "What are you going to be doing? Are you going to take over and give all the orders?"
"No Sergeant Major. The General was quite clear. This little set up is entirely yours. I'm only here to see that you get all the co-operation the army can give you and to deflect any interference by some Officers who did not want this Corps formed. As far as the Corps and how you run it goes, you are in charge. My job can be called, purely 'administration'. The General said I was more like a figurehead. You get things done and I just look good at the right time."
The Captain laughed as he finished. Thomas could still not quite believe he was being told to run it how he liked and the Captain would run interference for him if things got sticky.
It was nearing six of the clock when the last of the boys had been instructed on the maintenance and safety of their arms. Tomorrow the real training would begin. The only change had been suggested by Estaban. Once he saw the knives he could not hold his tongue. Taking one from the box he walked over to Thomas but the speed of his words was too much for Thomas to clearly understand. He was saved by Carmelo.
"Patron, Estaban says that these blades are not worthy of being carried under the colours of El Toro. He will take them all to the town of Vimeiro and find a blacksmith of quality to remake them into something more worthy of your colours, if it please you Patron?"
"Really, well I suppose it won't hurt if it can be done." Thomas changed into his broken Spanish and told Estaban. "Yes Estaban, you do what you think is best. It is something I have little knowledge of."
Estaban smiled and then called out to one of his cousins. After a few words the two Spanish boys called for the other two and went to get their horses saddled. Once done Estaban and Pablo took a box of knives each and galloped off towards the town of Vimeiro. The two younger cousins also mounted and galloped off in the other direction. A large empty bag over their shoulders. Thomas could not understand what was going on but it was now out of his hands. He had so much more to do.
It was just turning dark when the four riders returned. Estaban had a bag on his shoulder and the two younger ones had their own bags full to the brim. Neither group showed Thomas what they were carrying as they dropped the bags off at their tent and returned to the table where all the others were waiting for the nights meal to be served.
The drummer boys were already lined up at the long pit where two sheep had been cooked whole and were now being carved.
It was a sign of things to come and became well known among the troops of the army that the Drummer Corps ate better than most Officers, even if the food was Spanish in nature.
The sun had not even risen the next morning before the camp was woken by the bellowing sound of O'Rourke's thick brogue. Within minutes the drummer boys were stumbling out of their tents only half awake. They were soon returning to their tents to finish dressing and to get their muskets. It was to be the first of the early morning five mile runs that became a part of every day. Breakfast would be served when they got back so it was in their own interest to make it as quick as they could.
The last group of boys straggled into camp with Cooper harassing them all the way. The others could not eat breakfast until they were all present and that included Thomas. Only the Spanish boys were exempt from the morning runs.
Once breakfast was finished, O'Rourke then had all the boys doing what he called exercises which were a form of fitness he had picked up from many different countries he had served in. Each exercise had a different use for the body and the boys were left on the ground after an hour, breathless and feeling as though they had been run over by heavy carts.
After a short rest, O'Rourke then started them on the Parade ground drills. They were still in His Majesties Army and would still do all drills as before.
With Lunch finally served, the drummers were then given only a half hour to eat and then they were taken by Cooper and Jones for musket drills. When the musket drills were complete two hours later, the boys were given time for a pipe and short rest before Estaban and Carmelo started to teach them about knife fighting in the Spanish style.
The long day finally came to an end at 6 of the clock in the evening. It was to be how their days were for the foreseeable future. After dinner there was then a one hour lesson in the Spanish Language. Thomas saw no reason why the drummers should not learn the language just in case there became a need for it at some other time.
On that first night, Estaban asked Thomas if all the boys could be lined up without their boots. Thomas agreed and called for the Corps to do so. He had no idea why Estaban needed it but he must have had a good reason.
For the last hour before the boys went to their much needed beds, Estaban measured all the boys feet with the strange wooden blocks he had brought back from the town. As he measured each boy he would ask their name and then write in a small book before letting the boy go to his bed.
When the last boy had gone to bed, Estaban went to his horse and rode off into the dark without a word. The next morning was the same again but this time the boys were just a little faster and there were not so many stragglers. O'Rourke had put the youngest in the front of the two columns and the older ones had to set their pace to them.
On the return of the boys, they all had to stand at attention while the flags were raised before they could eat breakfast. As the flags rose, Thomas felt a light nudge on his arm from Carmelo. Following the boys eyes he looked up at the town of Vimeiro. What he saw almost brought a tear to his eyes.
Rising above the bell tower of the small church was the exact same flag as the one called El Toro. As the flag reached the top of the church tower, there came a single small cannon shot from the town. They were also saluting their new Patron, El Toro. Thomas gulped as he realised what the town's people had just done. If the French came back this way it would mean very bad things for the town if the flag was still flying.
For the next week the hard days went one after the other with no let up. The drummer boys were now hardened and were making better times with their run in the morning and their 'exercises' were now extended in number. The drummer's musket drills were also easier as they grew stronger and there was a new confidence and feeling of belonging in the camp.
Captain Lewis found he had little to do although he was tasked with the required reports that had to be written but his new station in life he found to be far more enjoyable after the back stabbing and clawing for seniority with the Officers of Headquarters.
The daily parades for the Regiments still had to be done and then it was back to the training under O'Rourke and his two friends. Thomas had spent time with Estaban to learn the Della Guerra just with his sticks until he felt confident enough to try it out on his drum under the critical eyes of Estaban.
When Estaban was finally happy with Thomas performance, Estaban clapped his hands and smiled widely. He walked away saying nothing but "Si...Si...Si" Thomas felt he had accomplished something special. It was now up to him to teach the rest of the Corps.
Another week went by and the news on the following Monday morning was not good. The Generals, Wellesley, Burrard and Dalrymple had been recalled to England to answer charges over the Convention with Junot. The new Officer in charge of the army was known for his lack of skill but held a high position with many Politicians back home.
O'Rourke summed it up for Thomas.
"Well lad, it looks like the fools have taken over the devils chair. We'll be in for it now lad."
Two days later the news came through that Napoleon had landed 200,000 troops in the north and was going to take back Portugal at any cost.
On the day of the news, Thomas made a decision that was to cement his name with the people of Vimeiro. When the Regimental Parade was finished, instead of marching his drummers back to camp as usual, he turned them about and began to march up the rise to the town. As he went he had the drummers play the Della Guerra.
The whole camp stood still as they heard for the first time the new cadence and watched the little Corps of Drummers march towards the town on the hill. It was to become an every morning event much to the chagrin of some senior Officers.
When the boys marched into the town; every man, woman and child was on the street and a great cheer went up as the young drummers marched to the church where the new flag flew.
Thomas brought the Corps to attention in front of the church and called for the drums to be silenced then in his loudest and best voice and while the drummers were facing the flag on the tower, Thomas called for the Salute. When done the whole town became silent as they also showed respect.
When the salute was over, Thomas called for the same cadence to be played as the drummer boys marched back to their own camp. It was time to get back to training. The townsfolk cheered them all the way out of the small town and watched as they went back to their camp over the rise.
When the drummers were dismissed back at camp, they all hurried to their tents to change for O'Rourke's exercise period. It meant they wore only boots, trousers and shirt. Quickly they lined up on the small parade ground set up to the side of the tent circle. O'Rourke was waiting for them with a smile on his face.
"Well me lads, you did right well this morning. As a treat for you there will be no exercising. Instead I am going to teach you to dance so all of you go back and get dressed in full uniform. Don't forget to bring your musket, backpack and drums. Oh, and make sure your boots is tight.
The boys looked at O'Rourke as thought the older man had gone mad. They really should have known better. On their return to the parade ground, O'Rourke had been joined by both Cooper and Jones. All three men also were in full kit.
The drummers lined up in their two troops and O'Rourke looked them over to make sure they had all their kit on. Once satisfied he began.
"Now then lads, we are going to teach you the steps to a special dance. It is called Sharp's Gavotte. Others call it the Rangers Waltz. Now I want you to take note of the steps. They go like this. Thirty paces at marching pace then thirty paces at the double. Now lads, that aint to difficult is it. As this is your first time we will only go for ten miles this time but I expect you all to make it twenty by the end of the week. Right then. Corps, thirty paces, quick march."
The boys were a little stunned but obedience took over straight away as the marching order was given and they began what was to become another daily event instead of the five mile route march each morning. Unknown to the boys this was only the start of it.
For the first day it was difficult for the boys to keep in time and step. At the march their musket was slung on their shoulder. At the order to double march, it had to be slid down and carried at the trail. During this they had to keep their left hand on their drums to stop them from bouncing around.
Even with the empty packs, it did not take long before the thick leather straps were starting to rub on their shoulders under the hot red jackets. It was four hours before the last drummer got back to camp. In the weeks to come that time was to be cut to three hours and then two and a half.
When the drummers were finally used to the Sharp's Gavotte, O'Rourke came up with another twist for them. The packs were loaded with stones until the older boys carried thirty five pounds and the younger ones twenty. O'Rourke also increased their marches to thirty miles.
It was a tough march for such young boys but not one of the young drummers gave up. If one weakened, the others would step in and help him either with his pack or carry his musket for him. Not once did O'Rourke stop them. It was part of being in the new Corps, you helped your mates.
It was now November and the winter had set in but it made no difference. The army was encamped for the winter and the new Senior Officer had arrived with all the pomp and ceremony he thought he deserved. He was not happy when he saw the changes to the drummers or the march to the town at the end of the parade.
Sir John Moore had brought extra reinforcements. The army was now back to a full complement of 30,000 and General Moore thought himself more than capable of stopping Napoleon's 200,000 or at least delaying him until more men could arrive from Britain.
On the return of the drummers on that first day of what they came to call, 'The Gavotte' Estaban was waiting with one of his wagons. It was loaded with an assortment of goods.
After lunch the boys were told to line up. As their name was called they were to go to the wagon and Estaban would issue them with their new kit. It was not long before the loud happy voices of the boys could be heard from a distance away.
Each boy was given a new pair of boots just like those that Thomas wore, as well as that they all received a new well tempered and made knife with a cow horn handle. Thomas now knew what the other two cousins had been out doing.
Estaban showed the boys that the knives would slip into the right hand boot top where a sheath had been sewn in. Many boys thought it had been a great day when Thomas had told them to discard their chokers but now to have new boots unlike anything the army had was even better. The cunningly hidden knives were seen as a bonus, but it also meant there was something new to learn.
Even during the worst of the winter, the boys never stopped doing their Gavotte or training. Their weapons skill had improved far outside that of the ordinary soldier. They could all be just as deadly with a musket as a knife and their endurance was disbelieved by many grown men in the camp.
It was near the ending of December when the army was told it would move out in early January. Sir John Moore was going to face off against Napoleon to the north at Burgos in an attempt to push Napoleon's army back from Portugal. It would not go as he hoped.
It was in the middle of a violent storm that the camp was ordered to break up and begin to make its way towards Burgos. Lieutenant General Moore had plans to stop Napoleon on, or about the 3rd of January.
While Sir John Moore wanted to break up the newly formed Drummer Corps Auxiliary, others at Headquarters still held a little sway and had been friends of Wellesley. At the mention of the Corps being already gazetted and that he would need the order of the department for war, Sir John Moore put it aside, he had much bigger fish to fry, until later.
It seemed no time at all before the drummer camp was broken down and loaded on the wagons. Earlier that morning, Estaban had driven one of the wagons up to the town and loaded on four large chests. No one asked any questions.
The drummers were already far ahead of the main army. All that remained of their camp was a large oblong hole near the centre of the camp. In time it would also disappear and no one would be the wiser that The Patron, El Toro had been there.
It was Captain Lewis who represented the drummers at the Officers briefing but Thomas was also standing beside him even though some Officers thought it inappropriate for such a young Sergeant Major to be there. For Captain Lewis it took only the mention of Thomas name for him to be allowed to stay although, Sir John Moore scowled at Thomas whenever he saw the boy.
Sir John Moore was to be a lot more irate when he saw the new Corps of Drummers lined up for the march between the 1st and 2nd divisions. It really was not the done thing to have drummer boys armed with muskets or wearing better boots than most Officers and what the hell were drummer boys doing carrying knives in their boots like common criminals. Had Sir John Moore had the time, he would have had each and every drummer court-martialled and whipped for non regulation dress.
Each company had still made use of three drummers to beat the cadence but when the massed drums of the new Corps took up the cadence, the sheer volume soon had all the other drums at the head of the 30,000 strong army setting their cadence to them. It was to be the first time that the army arrived at its evening camp with no stragglers.
As was common for Officers of that era, a halt was called for lunch. It was noticed by many of the old soldiers that the new Corps of Drummers was barely breathing heavy, even after they had marched nearly ten miles and been the only ones to keep the cadence going fully while the other drummers faded as the miles passed.
There were more than a few old heads nodding in respect as they saw the young Drummers settle down to a good hearty lunch which somehow appeared as if by magic by a number of young civilian boys.
The afternoon march was like the morning but they only covered another eight miles before the Officers thought it was time to rest. Again it was noticed that the Drummer boys of the new Corps already had their camp up and waiting while the old hands still had tents to erect and meals to cook.
The intention of Sir John Moore was to divert Napoleon's northern troops away from southern Portugal. It was to succeed but it also meant that totally outnumbered by the French troops of General Soult and being pursued closely for a final victory by Soult, Sir John Moore had to call a retreat and try to evacuate his army at La Coruna.
The retreat was not without its dangers. Whenever possible, the French would try to attack the long column with sharpshooters or arrange ambushes. Sometimes these were a little too close for comfort and other times, the ambushers became the ambushed. Mainly thanks to the small units led by men such as Captain Grey.
The retreating British, Portuguese and Spanish forces could not slow down. The orders coming from above were at times contradictory and caused even more disruption.
It was sometimes mentioned by a few Senior Officers that there was one bright spot among the disorder. The new Drum Corps had positioned itself between the third and fourth Divisions. Their massed drums were the cause of many of the foot soldiers staying together and not lagging behind. Even from the front of the long column, the massed drums could be heard in the distance behind them.
It was heard that Napoleon was furious that the combined armies may be able to escape from his army at La Coruna. He began to push Soult harder to get a result. Without the British presence, Napoleon could secure his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain.
For Napoleon there was also the matter of the two defeats of Delaborde at Rolica and Junot at Vimeiro. He was determined to make the British pay, and pay dearly.
As the retreat wound on towards La Coruna, the 15,000 Spanish and Portuguese slipped away into the landscape. They would be staying to fight another day and there was little hope of Sir John Moore being able to recover land for some time to come.
The 15,000 English troops came in sight of La Coruna on the night of January 11th/12th The first three divisions pushed on into La Coruna while the 4th Division stayed back at El Burgos to try to blow the bridge over the Mero River and slow the rapid advance of General Soult. As yet unknown by the British, the loss of the bridge to the French gave the hard pressed army a valuable four days.
Sir John Moore's army was pushed back into a pocket and there they would have to hold while the evacuation was underway. For Sir John Moore the order of evacuation was easy to work out. His guns would have to go first. The standing troops would have to hold without them. Next were to be his beloved and favoured cavalry brigades. The foot soldiers would be the last to be taken off or those who still could be.
After the French finally found a way across the Mero at Celas, they began to push General Paget back towards La Coruna. The defence of the evacuation site had begun.
General Soult was now sure he could finally push the British out of Portugal for his Emperor. He was feeling confident as he gave orders to his 20,000 men to advance on the heights of La Coruna.
All of General Moore's hopes were on his three subordinate Generals and their divisions. General's Baird and Hope took guard on the low ridge of Monte Mero, although it was not the most ideal of sites as the lower western end was open to the heavy guns of the French and they may be able to force a divide between Elvina and heights of San Cristobal.
General Moore decided to hold what remained of Paget's division in reserve. They had been hit by the French on their retreat from the River Mero and were not as strong as the other two divisions. When asked about the small Drum Corps and if they should also be evacuated first, General Moore shrugged his shoulders and said.
"They are only drummers. They can take their chances after my troops are aboard."
There were a number of disbelieving looks around the Officer's table. The fact that a certain Captain Lewis was also there seemed to be missed by General Moore, it was to be a deciding factor later in the battle.
By the 16th Soult was ready to take La Coruna and destroy Moore's army on the beaches. The attack began just after noon. Soult's plan was bold and could be the quick undoing of General Moore. Every gun of the French batteries was directed onto Elvina while his troops advanced inline on Monte Mero.
General Soult had seen all his options with clear eyes, as his guns bombarded the heights and his foot troops advanced in number, General Soult called for every last Cavalry man to charge the gap below San Cristobal. It left General Moore with little option but to commit his reinforcements far too early. General Moore ordered General Paget into the gap. He now had nothing in reserve for other emergencies.
It was now plainly obvious that the slopes behind Elvina were going to be the key to the defence of the evacuation beaches.
The prime target for the French was now the slopes and town of Elvina. To this end, General Soult sent two brigades to attack General Bentinck. Bentinck was forced to retreat under the pressure until two fresh Brigade's of British swept through Elvina and pushed the French back out again. It was not to be so simple.
The French then sent in their own reserves under the direction of General Lefebvre. He was well known for his persistence and fire and attacked on Bentinck's flank. Was it not for the support of Paget after he had repelled the cavalry, then all would have been lost.
The assault on Elvina continued unabated and General Moore finally had to send in his last two Brigades of Guards to help the beleaguered Bentinck.
Not long after the guards had reinforced General Bentinck than the word went around the army that General Moore had been felled by a cannon ball. The army was now under the orders of Lieutenant General Hope. Unfortunately for some, General Hope was of similar ilk as general Moore.
Captain Lewis was soon back with his new Corps of Drummers. He felt it was only fair that he related to Sergeant Major Marking what he had heard in the Officer's tent.
The battle raged on around the Drum Corps. There was little need of them now that the lines were in desperate battle to hold the pocket for the evacuation.
At hearing that his new Drum Corps was deemed to be expendable, Thomas thought back to the words of Mister Percy. Thomas had to decide if this was the time for him to lead his boys on another tack. If they stayed they would be under the direct threat from the French. If they went with the evacuation he felt he would be letting down his new friends.
Thomas found his decision far easier than he thought it would be. Thomas looked at Captain Lewis and without a word began to issue orders to his little corps. As though completely understanding Thomas, Captain Lewis stepped back at attention and saluted the boy Sergeant. He knew he would not be able to help them anymore.
The guns and muskets began to cease fire as dusk began to fall on the 16th. There was now a short time to settle the lines ready for the next day. The evacuation on the beaches was going slowly as the guns took time to load aboard ships.
The French General Soult had no intention of making it easy for the escaping British and sent out small groups of skirmishers to harass the pickets during the night. There turned out to be another twist in his decision.
When morning broke, a large number of the skirmishers were found dead. Their throats had been cut and beside them, on a small stick in the ground, was found a roughly cut piece of yellow cloth. In itself it was not much but what caused concern for many soldiers was the crude drawing made of charcoal from the fires of a bull's head. The message was clear. Not a single soldier wondered why there was not even a copper sou left in the pockets of the dead or wounded.
Added to the strange signs around the dead skirmishers was the rumour that was spreading among the troops. The Spanish Irregulars were talking about the legendary El Toro joining the battle tomorrow. It was enough to send doubt and fear through the lower ranks. No one knew how the rumour had started but those who had seen what happened at Rolica and Vimeiro were not happy.
The 17th dawned bright. General Soult was sure this would be the final day that he would crush the British before they could get their troops away. At 10 of the clock the battle continued. The British were now under the full force of the French assault.
There was one opening for the French and that was to the east of Elvina. Just after midday when the fighting had been at its bitterest, one of those strange silences came over the battle field. It was strange and somehow uncanny. It was as though every soldier had taken just that moment to stop for breath. The silence was almost eerie and then every man heard it.
It was a sound that came from the right flank of the British on the heights above Elvina where they were being pushed harder than any other position.
There were troops in the British ranks that had heard the sound before as had those Frenchmen at the total defeat of their army at Bailen. For most it sounded like thunder as sixty drums beat out the Della Guerra. For those in the front lines it seemed the drums started well back from the front line and were moving forward.
The first hint of anything real, was the appearance of two flags flying above the heights to the east of Elvina. As the flags rose higher there appeared four red coated guardsmen, the drums grew louder as the small party of four took stance on the highest point of the ridge.
The next event was a surprise for every man on both sides. Expecting to see ranks of redcoats line the ridge top they were all nonplussed as sixty drummer boys took a station three ranks deep on top of the ridge on the right flank of Bentinck.
The drummers were not wearing anything like the uniform of the British. Instead they were all identically dressed as though they were Spaniards. Each boy carried a rifle or musket slung across his back and his drum still being beaten smartly on his left hip.
On the boy's head was a strange flat crowned and wide brimmed black hat which showed a gold and red scarf wrapped around their heads underneath the hat.
All wore a black bolero sleeveless jacket and a white shirt with voluminous sleeves. Around their waist was a red and gold sash which held a long bayonet of the French style. Their trousers were plain black and were tucked into the tops of highly polished and well fitting black boots in the top of which, those close enough could see the horn handle of a knife.
The colour guard placed the two flags to the front of the three ranks. It was the first time that the French soldiers below saw the large gold and red banner with the black bull's head tipped with blood of the now feared Patron El Toro. As the rumours had told them in camp, El Toro was going to take part in the battle.
The drums continued to play the Della Guerra as the first shots filled the air. What was more amazing was the French Brigade at the bottom of the ridge that was going to assault Bentinck's flank, suddenly retreated and took up and attack on the left flank instead.
For the rest of the day there would be no attempt at taking the right flank. As the guns and muskets grew silent in the oncoming dusk, the French finally fell back to hold their lines. General Soult now knew he would not be able to stop the British from evacuating their troops and so it proved to be.
Monte Mero was the last position to be evacuated. None of the British officers noticed that they were missing some sixty drummers and a set of colours as the ships left the coast.
On the morning of the 18th, the French held all of Portugal and there now only remained the crushing of Portuguese spirit to complete Napoleon's plan, Napoleon left Portugal and let his General Soult complete his work. He had other things far more important than staying to see the climax of his subjugation of Spain and Portugal.
Thomas led his boys and the four guards back down the ridge. At the base waited one of the large wagons and a smiling Estaban was seated on the front with a loaded musket.
With practised speed, Thomas had the boys load their drums on the wagon and remove the black packs from the tray. Three of the colour guard hopped up on the wagon but the fourth refused to do so. He explained to Thomas that he was responsible for the gold and red colours and would carry them wherever Thomas and the boys went. There was no time to argue.
As agreed in their plan last night, the boys donned their packs that contained food and a few personal things, placed their rifles and muskets at the trail in their right hand. Led by Thomas with the colour guard at the front with the colours now furled and covered with the brown cotton cover, the Drum Corps now became the guerrilla group of El Toro.
The agreed stopping place was nearly fifteen miles away. There the other wagons waited for them under the orders of Carmelo. He had not been happy to leave Thomas alone with the others but saw the need for someone who the other Spanish boys would listen to.
The boys of the Drum Corps began the long march towards where the others waited. In the dark of night they had little to fear as they set the pace of Grey's Gavotte. They were sure that there was not a soldier in the French army that would be able to keep up with them, let alone see them in the darkness. Their new clothes made sure of that.
The gift of the clothes that had been sewn by the widows of Vimeiro as part of their need for a new disguise should things turn out as they now had. It was just one thing more they had to be thankful for.
When they caught up to the other waiting wagons, the boys relaxed and dug into the waiting feast. There would be no setting up of the camp. For them it was the cold ground and a warm fire. In the morning, Thomas sent the wagons on ahead as he held his boys back to cover their rear. They would catch up with the wagons at midday, refill water flasks and eat then do the same again until nightfall.
Three days later they were five miles on the other side of Vimeiro and slowly making their way up a very narrow track which was not much better than a goat track. The larger wagons almost had one wheel running along the very edge as they inched higher.
They were making their way to a good defendable gorge that Carmelo had been told about by one of the old shepherds in Vimeiro. It was to be their permanent camp and they would venture out from there to attack French supply columns and small forces of troops.
There was little doubt in Thomas's mind that the English army would return and he wanted to be ready for when they did. His briefing by Mister Percy had detailed what he could expect but not how long it would be. For that he needed to use his own judgement.
The narrow track rose high until finally coming to a very narrow gorge that they had been told about. For the French to come up here after them was going to be not only very dangerous but very costly. The gorge was barely wide enough to get the large wagons through, even then a few splinters were rubbed off the side of some of them.
At the end of the gorge it opened out into a very large bowl shaped clearing and it was encircled by high towering walls of steep rock faces. There was a small spring that came out of the far wall of rock and formed a pool of clear clean water at the base.
In the grassy meadow were a few sheep that had been driven up there for them as food and two milk cows were also eating contentedly.
The sound of birds was everywhere and there was an overall feeling of peace as the last wagon pulled into the open meadow and rolled towards the far end where the others were already setting up camp. What had once been the tent for Captain Lewis was now used to store their drums and the four chests that held their British uniforms. From now on they were the Guerrilla force of the Patron El Toro.
The four colour guard shrugged out of their uniforms and sat around in their white shirts and waist coats. They did not have other clothes to change into. Something Thomas decided to change as soon as he was able. It was too obvious of a giveaway if the four left the gorge at some time.
As Thomas saw it, the biggest problem would be finding fire wood. There was virtually nothing in the gorge that could be used apart from some scrubby bushes growing among the tumbled down rocks. The problem was soon solved by one of the boys suggesting they use the small donkey cart to gather wood outside the gorge. It was far safer on the narrow track and would carry enough for a few days use.
Food was not going to be a problem, with what ran wild and a new input of fresh coin and jewellery from the battle, the people of Vimeiro would be well compensated for any help they gave. Although it was said many would rather donate to the small band as their part to ousting the French.
Thomas would not hear of it. The people of Vimeiro had to work hard to farm the land and raise their cattle and sheep. It was only fair that they be paid for it. He never did hear how little the boys paid for their food. Some things were better kept from the proud and honest Patron.
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