Copyright © 2016
The Battle of Talavera
Thomas crouched low as he made his way up the small ridge where the guns were being readied. He had changed from his French clothes, as the others were doing at that moment, and had wanted to see the French lines for himself.
As he neared the top of the low ridge, Thomas saw that Lieutenant Scully had the guns set with wooden chocks. While some of the boys were loading the large artillery guns with powder and canister, Scully was giving the order of fire to the ten boys holding the lanyards for the flintlocks.
Thomas came up close to Scully and looked out over the plain below. It seemed that as far as he could see was an ocean of blue coats with white facings. The French were lined up in ranks of about one hundred a line and three ranks deep. A few yards behind the first line was another lined up just the same.
The soldiers were shoulder to shoulder and the second and third line was almost standing on top of the first line with hardly a space between them.
The Junior Officers were standing out front and the Senior NCO's were at each end of every rank to keep the men moving forward.
In a space between each rank of three lines and spaced about five paces apart were the next row of Officers and the smaller drummer boys. The ranks seemed to be like an ocean of blue and Thomas lost count as the French formed for the attack.
The French line was a good seven hundred yards from the thin red line of English soldiers up on the ridge to Thomas's right. It did not look like much of a defence to stop the blue horde he saw to his left.
Thomas checked with Scully before he went back down the ridge to prepare his one hundred and fifty boys that had remained with him. Among the drummers were the twenty boys who now had their issue of fifes. Thomas looked over to the four men of the colour guard and nodded his head. The colours were uncovered and the guard made ready for what was to come.
Thomas made a last check to make sure his boys were ready and knew what had to be done. The boys had carried their drums on their left hip as they marched to their position, it kept them from the sight of any French that had noticed their arrival. The drums were now at their front and ready for their orders.
Thomas once again crept up the ridge and stood beside Scully as they watched the French advance. If he did not get his timing right then he and all his boys would be lost. The chance he was taking even now was not an assured win.
General Wellesley looked out on the battle field below, the centre was holding only by the skin of its teeth and the right was also taking a heavy pounding but they were holding. For Wellesley it was the left flank that had him the most worried. The arrival of the artillery would probably be his death knell but he could not give up.
Wellesley raised his spy glass and turned towards the far off guns, he had to find a way to neutralise them somehow. As he scanned the row of ten guns, he suddenly stopped and swept his glass back a few yards. At first he had missed it but something in the back of his mind told him to go back and look again... he had not been wrong!
The Officers around Wellesley could not believe their ears when they heard a deep chuckle coming from the General. It was Colonel Stewart that found his voice first.
"What is it Sir?"
"The guns Stewart, the French guns. They are ours. It's that damnable boy again. He's pulled the wool over those French eyes once more."
"Lieutenant Marking and his Drummer boys, they have the guns. He must have been successful at Arzobispo. Colonel Stewart, what are the Dragoons doing right now?"
"They are preparing to charge the guns to our front Sir."
"Send a message. I want two platoons of Dragoons to break off and make haste for our left."
"But Sir, the French guns on the heights?"
"Colonel you have a full Brigade of Dragoons, you can spare two platoons, now see to it."
"Get word to your Brigades. I want four companies to break off and make their way to support Major Lewis on the far left."
"Sir, that will weaken our stand, our flank is already under attack by Ruffin."
"General Tilson, if you don't get those men to Major Lewis you will have no front at all. We have to hold the French come hell or high water Sir."
"And hurry damn it man. We have a chance to stop the left dead in its tracks if we hurry."
Thomas watched as the mass of French troops marched smartly over the plain. When they got to about five hundred yards from the thin red line of defenders, Thomas nodded to Scully and went to the back of the ridge and waved his arm high above his head.
At the signal from Thomas, and even above the crash and thunder of the battle, the loud long drum roll from one hundred and thirty drums could be heard. Even from his high point Wellesley could not believe his ears as he saw what appeared to be a faint stumble in some of the advancing French as the drum roll spread out over the plain.
At the right moment, the drums changed to the Della Guerra and the new fifes joined in to increase the sound coming from behind the ridge.
For the French, the first sign that all was not right on the ridge to their right, was the sight of four flags appearing side by side over the top of the brow. The English colours along with the Portuguese were easily identified but the other two flags were harder to work out. Very few Frenchmen had ever seen the colours of Andalucia but it did not take long for the word to spread that the large red and gold flag was that of the feared rebel leader, El Toro.
It was not immediately noticeable in the French ranks but there was an underlying trace of fear beginning to work through those who had seen some of the effects of the rebel.
Thomas waited for his drummers to march up to the top of the rise; when they were all lined up behind the guns they continued to play the last notes of the Della Guerra. Each boy was now armed with either a musket or rifle. In their boot top was their horn handled knife and each carried a pistol of some variety in their waist sash.
When the drums and fifes finished, Thomas looked at Lieutenant Scully and nodded as the drummers removed their drums and took the muskets and rifles from their backs. The drums were neatly stacked behind the guns.
At Thomas's nod, Scully smiled and called to the boys he had trained on the guns.
"Ready Lads! Remember, count to five between each gun. Don't forget to swab your barrels before reloading. Number one gun... Fire!"
The boys close to the guns were all surprised at the loud crash as the first gun fired its canister towards the massed French troops. As the smoke began to clear they could see the gunners already starting to swab out the barrel with a watered sponge.
Just as the first canister exploded above the heads of the French troops at the centre of the mass below, the second gun fired. Around the boys on the rise it became a continuous crash of the guns as they followed one after the other. By the time gun number ten fired, number one was ready again. For those watching it was like rolling thunder that never stopped.
For the French it was a nightmare. The canister shot seemed to be never ending and there were great gaps starting to show in their ranks. While panic was not setting in, it was a terrible time for the Officers and NCO's as they tried to regain order and continue with the advance towards the objective on the ridge ahead of them.
It was only the veteran soldiers that managed to reform their lines, the young recruits had little option but to be cajoled and threatened by the Officers and NCO's until they too retook their places but the guns were unrelenting.
A Colonel among the rear ranks saw their danger and gave the order for the rear most two ranks to turn towards the guns. His assumption that they would not be really needed for the few troops at their front was, at the time; a sound one.
Thomas watched as the rear two ranks of the French broke off and turned their way. There had to be close to five hundred men now looking to their guns and his few boys.
Thomas thought quickly and called for Scully.
"Lieutenant Scully! Can you turn three guns to our left? The French are sending troops after us."
"Yes Mister Marking we'll do our best."
"Drummers! Ready your muskets with double charges. We will hit them the same as at Vimeiro when the guns can no longer range them. Mister Scully, when they get too close, turn your guns back to the main body. We will take a stand below you when the time is right."
The French rolled forward, albeit not as enthusiastically as they first were. As they passed the four hundred yard mark, from their front came the small but sharp bark of two more small guns firing solid ball. While the smaller guns could not do as much damage, the fact that the solid shot bounced and careened among the troops was still unsettling and a little costly.
Scully managed to get his three guns turned with the help of the drummer boys and was soon ranging the troops directed at them. The French losses continued to mount as the canister did its evil work among those advancing.
Thomas heard a roar of cheers coming from the thin line on the other ridge top. As he glanced their way he saw a mass of red coats double timing over the slope to join those waiting for the arrival of the French. Wellesley had found reinforcements for his thin red line.
The French were now only two hundred yards from the ridge top but they were now marching up hill and slowed a little. It was then that the next surprise hit them.
Hidden among the rocks and bushes around the ridge came the fire of skirmishers. The sharpshooters were targeting only the Officers and NCO's. While there only seemed to be a few of the sharpshooters, they were very accurate and the Officers began to fall with regularity.
As the troops worked their way upward, the skirmishers leap frogged backwards towards the waiting lines above them. Three taking a shot while three others ran back behind them and then they repeated the process. It left no viable targets for the French troops, apart from the fact they had not been given orders to shoot at them.
The bad news for the French was not yet over, as those trying to get to the guns were being showered with canister and their numbers were decreasing with every shot. Those on the left flank attacking Major Lewis heard a new sound, one that could instil fear into the bravest of soldiers.
It sounded like a rolling thunder that soon became far too close for comfort. Those French soldiers who bravely glanced to their flank saw what was coming their way. While the guns on the other ridge still sent canister into the rear ranks of the main body, those in front were now out of their target area and felt a little more comfort. It was not to last as they saw the platoons of heavy Dragoons break from a canter into a full gallop.
Their breast plates and helmets along with their heavy sabres, flashed in the sunlight as they thundered down on the open left flank of the French infantry. Before the Officers could call for men to prepare for cavalry, the Dragoons were amongst them and slashing left and right as they bore into the foot soldiers.
Horse pistols were unsheathed and fired at point blank range and then the sabres were flashing again. The front ranks, now decimated but with little option but to force their way forward, now came under fire from something they had never seen before.
The small carronades sent a hundred pieces of shrapnel fully into the front ranks of the approaching French. They were to receive another full blast before they came under the terrible volley fire that the English were known for. The French now knew they were in trouble as they were cut down before most could even raise their muskets to fire. The thin red line was now larger and more deadly than when they had started their advance.
On the low ridge that held the ten guns, the French were closing in on their final target. With only a little more than seventy paces to go, they suddenly felt as though they could take the guns and end the stories of the rebel El Toro.
As the French troops stepped past the seventy paces mark, the sudden shattering volley's struck them. Not only was it unexpected but it was meant to be impossible for muskets to range that distance and yet, here they were under fire at a distance they could not hope to answer.
The ranks thinned as the continuous volley's cut them down, but ever so slowly the survivors were making head way even at the high losses it was costing them.
Thomas looked at the surviving French troops as they forced their way forward under the threats and urging of the few remaining Officers and NCO's. It would not be long before they were faced with hand to hand fighting.
Lieutenant Scully called his boys to make a last load and to angle the guns by lifting the tow ring with rocks or logs. They would get only one last shot before they would have to take to their own personal weapons of pistol and cutlass.
Thomas ordered his boys back behind the guns as the first of the French were only thirty paces away and ready to fire volleys at his boys. When the boys dropped back, the French were faced with ten angled guns at very close range. They did not get the chance to hear the young Lieutenants' order to fire.
With a roar like thunder, all ten guns fired their overloaded charges of grape shot. The front line of the French seemed to just disappear and as the smoke cleared, the results of the devastating fire could be seen in the shattered bodies that were now strewn where once stood solid ranks of hardened soldiers.
Those left stood still. The sudden blast of death had taken them by surprise and the results had left them with many doubts as to their chances of living through this day. What should have been a relatively easy advance had turned into carnage.
As Thomas readied his boys and Scully called his to join the last lines behind the guns, Thomas heard a familiar voice coming from behind him.
"Well Mister Marking; would ye mind if we joined this little knees-up you got going here?"
"O'Rourke! Where did you come from and where's Mister Grey?"
"No time for talking lad, we got Frenchies to dance with."
O'Rourke barely turned his head before Thomas saw about fifty green uniformed men run from the back of the ridge and began a devastating fire into the French ranks. Shaking himself from the surprise arrival, Thomas gave the order for independent fire as the French line faltered. Over the crash of muskets and the cries of the French wounded; Thomas heard O'Rourke say, "Mister Grey should be putting in an appearance about know, look to our left."
Thomas looked to the left of the French troops just in time to see another fifty or so green uniforms in three ranks come around the edge of the lower slopes. As the new arrivals got close to the French flank, the front rank went to one knee and fired a volley. The surprise had been total and the French never had a chance before the second rank, which had moved forward through the now standing first rank, went to a knee and fired their volley.
The third rank then ran through the other two and followed the same process. Once they had fired, they stood to fast load as the first rank came forward. To Thomas's eyes it looked like a rolling wave of green uniforms as they pushed the French lines back.
The accurate and independent fire from above soon forced the remains of the French troops to reverse their course and most headed back in full retreat. The new recruits among the French mostly just dropped their muskets, turned and ran. It was only the old veterans that tried to make a slower withdrawal as they tried to keep some semblance of order while firing on the men at the guns.
At the end of the day it was estimated that of the five hundred men who advanced on the guns, only a little more than two hundred made it back to the French lines. The ground in front of the small ridge was now littered with the dead and dying but Thomas had other thoughts as he looked at his boys.
They had held their ground but it had been at a cost and was to affect Thomas for a long time to come. At the end of the second day of the battle of Talavera, the true cost of the battle was reconciled. General Joseph had been forced to retreat but at cost to both the English and French that would cause both sides to break off any further battles for some time to come.
At the ending of the battle and the withdrawal of the French, Thomas's few servants that had stayed with the large wagons brought them up and started to erect their camp at the back of the small ridge. Within an hour the camp was up and the tired and battle weary boys went to find a little peace from their trial. All except those trying as best they could to help the wounded in some fashion.
While the huge battle had been a tough time for all, for Thomas it had been even more so. The final tally of his losses had him sitting alone in his tent at the end of the day with salty tears running silently down his young face. Twenty two of his boys would never have the chance to grow old and another thirty six were suffering wounds that needed attention.
Thomas was devastated at his losses. Each and every boy was more than just a member of El Toro's army, they were his friends and this hit Thomas harder than the fear of battle ever had.
Thomas suddenly felt the presence of another person in his tent. Try as he might he could not stop the tears from falling even as a warm young arm lay over his shoulder in a sign of comfort. Thomas could not stop the tears.
Carmelo hugged his smaller friend for all he was worth. He somehow knew he had to pull his friend out of the despair the boy was feeling and if he let it take over his soul then all they had fought for would be lost. Carmelo pulled Thomas tighter as he leant in to whisper in the sobbing boy's ear.
"Patron, your army needs you to be strong like the great bull. I understand how you feel about those who fell but you must put aside your feelings or they too will fall. The wounded need your help and the living must see that you lead them even when it is such a bad time."
Somehow the soft spoken words got through the deep feeling of loss and Thomas sniffled as he tried to stop the tears. A well timed hard hug from Carmelo brought him out of his depression and he gulped back his fear at facing what lay outside to stand up and wipe his face on his sleeve. His boys still needed him.
With the tear tracks still showing through the grime and smudges of the battle; Thomas stepped from the tent to see his boys all sitting around with their heads down. It was as though the French had won and they had lost everything.
Thomas straightened his young slim shoulders even as he wanted to add to his boys tears. In a voice that wanted to crack at every word, Thomas called out, "Drummers on parade!"
The call to parade broke through even the hardest of heads and the armies teachings took over. Every boy, even those from both Spain and Portugal, ran to their places and formed their lines. Not a single drummer forgot his drum or weapons.
The only ones allowed to miss the parade were those few boys who were trying to help their wounded even though they were having a very limited success.
"Sergeant Major Clement?"
"He has fallen Mister Marking."
Thomas recognized the voice of Perrin as this new piece of information shook him once again.
"Sergeant Perrin, you will take the place of the Sergeant Major until further notice. Men of the Drum Corps Auxiliary, today we lost good friends. We all know they will be missed and few could ever take their place. Sergeant Perrin, you will detail a burial party while I go to find us a surgeon. Lieutenant Scully, you will take your men and bring back our guns to be cleaned. Those who have little to do will go and try to keep our wounded company until help arrives. Sergeant Perrin, you may dismiss the men."
Thomas looked around until he could find Estaban; the boy had a nasty cut on his cheek that gave him a fearsome look. Next he checked that Carmelo was by his side and, as he looked around he saw only two of his original young servants standing by the cooking fire.
"Where is Marcelo?"
"He fell alongside of the Sergeant Major Patron."
A tear tried to force its way through Thomas's eyes as he thought of the young boy that had been such fun and done so many things for him. Gulping back his tears once again, Thomas turned to Estaban.
"Can we have some horses, we need to go to the General's and find a surgeon?"
Estaban called loudly for his three friends to bring up the white Andalucian horses. They would arrive in the Generals camp in style and not as devastated boys of the Drum Corps.
The main camp was a horror for the boys, if they thought theirs was bad then the sight that met their astonished eyes made their own problems seem minor.
Everywhere they looked were men in the throes of the horror they had somehow lived through while many of their friends had not seen the day out. The tents of the surgeons were more like a bloody battle field than a place for men to be healed.
Everywhere there were men with limbs missing or bad wounds that were covered in bloody bandages, their cries echoed around the camp as the surgeons tried their best to help them.
Thomas could not stop before he had the approval of the Generals to take one of their surgeons and so to this end he went in search of the Senior Officers tents. It did not take long for Thomas to find the ones he was looking for. The stern figure of Major Grey standing alongside a wounded Major Lewis told him where the General's tent was.
O'Rourke and the Rangers had disappeared as soon as the French had retreated and Thomas had been too overcome by his own losses to notice the men leave his ridge top.
Seeing the two men standing outside the tent brought Thomas and his two friends to a halt. As he dismounted, something deep inside Thomas took over. Gone was the feeling of being inadequate and the doubts he had of his actions on the ridge at the cost of his friend's lives. Now Lieutenant Thomas Marking was on a mission to save those wounded boys that had faith in him.
There was little in introductions as Thomas dismounted with his two friends by his side. Estaban took the reins of the three horses and tied them to the nearest tent pole, that being one of those holding up the General's tent.
Thomas was the first to speak as he saluted the two Majors. His own clothes were still dirty from the battle but that was the least of his concerns right at that moment. The two Majors noticed a new hardness in the young Lieutenant's voice, he was growing up far faster than either of them would have thought possible.
"Major Lewis, I need to see the General as soon as possible."
Both men noticed that Thomas's voice had a no nonsense sound to it. It was not the time to play games with the young Lieutenant. Major Lewis nodded his head and turned towards the closed tent, Thomas took note that the man had his left arm in a sling but said nothing about it, he had his own boys to look after first.
Thomas heard the strained voice of General Wellesley calling for him to enter. Thomas quickly went inside accompanied by both Estaban and Carmelo. They were going to present a united front to the man that could help save their friends.
"Lieutenant Marking, what can I do for you?" It's a bad time so spit it out quick."
"Sir, I need the use of a surgeon for my wounded, none of us know what to do to help them."
The General looked down his long nose at the boy who had saved his flank once again. While there was plenty that needed his attention, this one request had to be attended to.
"Major Lewis, make out an order to the Surgeon General for one of his men to accompany the Lieutenant to his lines for the purposes of attending his wounded. Lieutenant Marking, there will be a meeting of Officers on the morrow at noon. I expect you to be there, and Lieutenant? I would suggest you be in the correct uniform. You are dismissed Lieutenant, the Major will give you the orders."
Thomas saluted and left the tent to wait outside while Major Lewis wrote out the order. When Thomas had the written order in his hand, he headed in a direct line for the nearest tent of the infirmary. Time was passing and he had friends that needed help.
As he entered the tent, to Thomas's eyes it looked like a cross between chaos and carnage. Line after line of wounded lay on small cots or even on the bare ground as surgeons and their aides tried to patch them as best they could. Thomas saw a familiar figure bent over a table. His bloody, once white coat now no more than a memory as the man under his care screamed in pain.
"Colonel Wright, Sir?"
The Colonel turned from the wounded man on the table and looked at the somewhat dirty young boy in Spanish dress, the look on the Colonel's face was harried and drawn.
"What do you want boy...wait, is that you young Marking?"
"Well spit it out boy, as you can see I am a little busy right now."
"Sir, the General's orders, I am to take one of your surgeons to my lines. I have over thirty six wounded and need the help of a surgeon. Here are the orders, Sir."
The Colonel looked at the paper in the boy's hands to make sure it was official although he would not have refused the boy anyway.
"I don't have a surgeon to spare young Marking. The best I can do is one of my young orderlies. I'll give you the best I can but it's all I have right now. How bad are your boys wounded?"
"Some have been shot and others have bayonet or sword wounds Sir."
"Right then let me see who I can give you."
The Colonel looked around the large marquee that was used as the infirmary. Seeing the lad he wanted, he called loudly above the groans and noise of the marquee, "Jervis; have you nearly finished that stitching?"
"Just done Sir.'
Thomas followed the voice and saw a young man of about nineteen or twenty years standing by a soldier with fresh stitches in his thigh. The teen's short white jacket was covered in blood and there was a worn look on the young face.
"Right Jervis, let one of the others finish up there. I want you to go and get a clean jacket and your diary for taking notes then get back here lickety split."
The teen spoke to another younger boy near him and ran from the marquee. He was back in a matter of minutes with a brown leather covered note book in his hands.
"Jervis, this is Lieutenant Marking. I'm sure you have heard of him. He needs our help and you're going to be the one to do it. Lieutenant Marking has a number of wounded drummer boys, you'll be going with him to attend to them."
Thomas saw the teen gulp as he opened his note book and took a short stub of pencil from his jacket pocket.
"Now Jervis; you're going to need the following supplies from the store. Mister Marking, do you have some way to get the supplies and Jervis to your line?"
"Yes Sir. Lieutenant Colosio will ride and get our cart immediately while you assemble what is needed."
Thomas turned to Estaban and spoke quickly. As it was in Spanish the others did not know what he said but the sight of one of the boys leaving in a hurry gave them a good idea.
"I see you have the language Mister Marking, well done. Now Jervis here's your list. Take one crate of three inch bandages, two boxes of needles and cat-gut. You may go to my tent and get my old case of instruments for your use. Look after them they have served me well over the years. Keep them clean and watch your own hygiene as I have been teaching you. Mister Marking, can you supply a large quantity of hot water?"
"Yes Sir. As much as is needed."
"Right Jervis, keep yourself and the instruments clean and sterile. I know it is a new thing and not usually followed by other surgeons but it works for me. Now next take a box of that new fangled Sulphurous powder. They say it can stop infections and you may as well take that other stuff to try out. There's twelve bottles in a crate so take two crates of them. What they make of this Laudanum stuff is beyond me but you will be dealing with young boys so read the instructions properly. The young boys cannot take the pain like a grown man. I will expect a full written report on your actions and use of the new items. Well don't just stand there boy get moving, Mister Marking's boys are waiting for your healing hands."
Jervis nodded and ran off while Thomas stood and looked about him. While he was more than worried for his own boys, what he was seeing in the infirmary gave him pause for thought. By the look of things in this tent he was lucky he had not had more boys lost.
Thomas thanked the Colonel and went outside to wait for the cart to arrive. As he waited, Jervis would appear at times with a few boxes or a crate which he placed at Thomas's feet while he went off after something else.
Time seemed to drag as the three boys waited for the arrival of the cart. Once it was finally there it was quickly loaded and Sergio hurried the small donkey to a trotting pace as the others followed along on their horses. Jervis sat beside Sergio as the cart bounced along on the rough track back to their camp.
Once they had arrived Jervis took one look at the ten man tents and turned to Thomas.
"Sir I will need a bigger tent to work in if you have thirty six wounded, these are too small to move around in and I will need cots for each boy."
"You go and look at the wounded, I'll see about a large tent, the Quartermaster must have something I can use. Do what you can Private Jervis, I'll be back as soon as I can. Carmelo can you stay with Jervis in case he needs an interpreter for some of the boys?"
Thomas did not wait for an answer but just leapt back onto the white Andalucian and rode off at speed towards where he knew the Quartermasters camp was. It did not take long for him to reach his objective where he jumped from the horse and ran inside the tent.
Thomas was dismayed when he saw the same Corporal he had seen before sitting at the worn desk. Of the Sergeant there was no sign.
"Corporal, I need a large tent to use as an infirmary; I have wounded that need attention."
"Wait a minute boy, you got to have orders for that sort of thing."
The Corporal then looked up from his desk to see who the very young voice belonged to; when he saw who his visitor was he suddenly relaxed and smiled at the dishevelled boy in front of him.
"It's Mister Marking isn't it? Damn it all, if it weren't for you and those lads on the cannons we would all be worm food by now. What was it you needed Mister Marking?"
"A large tent Corporal, the surgeons aide said he needed something bigger to work in."
"How many you got hurt Mister Marking?"
"Thirty six Corporal and twenty two dead; but I need something right quick. I can't lose another friend now the battle is over."
"Well Mister Marking, them big marquee's are hard to come by right now but, as it happens there are some young Officers wanted my last one to extend their mess. Now as it happens the Sergeant is in the infirmary with a ball in his shoulder so I suppose it's up to me where that there Marquee should go. You wait here Mister Marking Sir; some of the lads should be about finished loading that there marquee for the Officers. Let me go have a word with them and I will see what can be done for you."
The Corporal was soon back with a very large Private in tow.
"This here is Private Batton, he's going off to find you some help to put up the tent. It's all loaded and ready to go. Is there anything else you need Mister Marking Sir?"
"No thank you Corporal, I just need my boys to be looked after."
"Well mister Marking I got to tell you, what you did fooling them Frenchies with their own guns saved our bacon and no mistake. If ever you need anything you come right back here and just ask. We was all up on the line and none of us would have made it out if not for you and those drummer boys. We owe you everything so you just ask when you need something."
"Thank you Corporal."
"No thanks needed Mister Marking, you saved our bacon and no mistake. Now then here comes Batton with some help, if you would just show them the way we will have your boys all healthy in no time."
Much to Thomas's surprise, the Corporal suddenly snapped to attention and saluted him. Thomas returned the salute and even felt the slight heat of a blush as he left to join the others for what was to be a very fast ride back to the camp.
As soon as the wagon pulled to a halt it was swarmed by a large number of his own boys to help the four men to unload the large marquee and then try to help in its erection. While this was being done, Thomas had Carmelo and a number of boys carry his large table to where the young man Jervis was standing so he could use it for his operations.
Jervis had gone through the wounded while Thomas was looking for the tent. He had now set them out with a paper tag in the order of importance to be worked on.
The large marquee was soon up and everybody was helping to carry cots inside and lining them up under Jervis instructions. In no time at all he was ready although Thomas could see how nervous the young man was at having to work on live wounded for the first time without supervision.
Thomas watched as Jervis closed his eyes for a second then opened them to show a determination far exceeding his young years.
"Right mister Marking, if you will have your boys bring in the first one in order of their numbers we will begin. I will also need a few boys to help in holding some of them down."
Lieutenant Scully soon had four of his Gunners Mates standing beside the large table, as he explained to Thomas.
"They have seen far worse on board ship Mister Marking, they won't let the boys suffer unduly."
Jervis began the first operation by making the young drummer boy swallow a small spoon of thick liquid. Within a minute the boy's eyes rolled back and he sank onto the table unconscious. Carmelo soon took Thomas by the shoulder and steered him out of the new infirmary as Jervis got to work quickly to dig out the lead ball that was in the boy's leg and had been bleeding quite heavily.
Time seemed to slow as Thomas sat outside his tent and waited for a report on his wounded friends. No amount of comfort seemed to allay his fears for the boys who had been hurt, and in the back of his mind was still the spectre of the burials that had to be done the next day.
Thomas awoke the next day to the feeling of something very different than he had ever been used to. Not only was he now naked, but someone was washing the blood and dirt of the previous day from his body.
The last thing Thomas could recollect was the large glass of brandy handed to him by Carmelo while he watched and waited for his wounded to be attended to.
An almost full body blush overtook Thomas as he realised his boyhood was pointing directly up at the top of the tent, something that had been happening a lot lately. Thomas prayed that the hands washing him would not stray as he felt there would be something not right happen.
Thomas cleared his eyes from the sleep induced torpor to see Carmelo smiling at him as he rinsed out the cloth he had used to wash his Patron. Thomas could not get over the feeling of goodness in his friends ministrations but he needed to dress and cover his nakedness.
Carmelo smiled one more time as he stepped back so Thomas could rise and dress. His English uniform had been taken from the trunk, aired and then cleaned before being placed ready for him. As usual, Thomas added the slightly soiled red and gold sash to his uniform. It was the one piece of cloth he would never give up for the sake of the official uniform.
When he emerged from his tent, it was to see the sun had risen to about nine of the clock. It was no surprise to Thomas to see a large breakfast ready for him and that his table had been returned from the tent of the wounded well cleaned and polished.
His first sip of the now usual cafe soon had him feeling a little better as the two boys, Sergio and Carlito placed a large breakfast on the table for him. Thomas was soon joined by Carmelo, Scully and Estaban at the table.
"Where is Corporal Jervis?"
"He is still sleeping Patron. He stayed up almost until the sunrise to watch over the wounded." Carmelo told him.
"I think he did good, I'm going to ask the surgeon for him to be placed with us, he did very well and we need someone like him in case we get any more injuries."
"Yes Patron, he would fit well with us." Replied Estaban.
It had become normal for them to use the Spanish language when talking amongst themselves, even Scully was now quite passable at the language and joined in as often as he could.
There was silence as they all ate the feast set out for them by the two remaining boys. When they had finished, with plenty left for the boys who had cooked it. Thomas got down to work, this was to be a big day and there was a lot needing his attention. Not least of which was first the big Officers meeting and then back to see his boys were buried in proper style.
Just before Thomas and the others were about to leave for the meeting, Corporal Jones appeared with a large ledger in his hands.
"Mister Marking, I think I should bring something to your attention. Perhaps you can raise it with the General if you get a chance Sir."
"What is it Corporal?"
"Well Sir, begging your pardon like, but none of the men have ever been paid. I have the list here and some of the boys have more than one year's wages owing, not to mention those who have fallen."
"Damn it all, this is the second time this has come up. Very good Corporal, get me a list and I'll bring it up with the General. Our boy's fight just as hard as the soldiers so they deserve their pay."
"I have the list here Sir."
Corporal Jones gave Thomas two pages of names and how much they were owed, it was a long list and carried every name in his little drum corps. Thomas folded the papers before dismissing the Corporal so he could get back to his work on other things.
Thomas felt he had just enough time to check on his wounded before they all departed for the upcoming meeting of Officers, he was not disappointed to see all the wounded looked better and some even wanted to leave their beds so they could be at the burial service of their friends.
Thomas and his friends were amazed to see the meeting was to be held in the Officers mess tent, as there was going to be every Officer in the army present, it was the only place large enough to hold them all in one place.
Thomas, Carmelo, Estaban and Scully found a place well to the rear of the tent where they hoped not to be noticed, they were soon joined not only by Major Grey but Colonel Wright. The two older men smiled at Thomas and his boys. It was easily noticeable they were the youngest Officers in the tent.
While most of the older and more senior Officers either nodded or smiled at Thomas and his friends, there was a noticeable coldness from the Junior Officers who were happy to keep their distance from what they perceived as young upstarts and rankers.
At exactly midday, General Sir Arthur Wellesley rapped sharply on the long table he was using at the front of the tent. There was instant silence as every Officer waited for the General to speak.
"Gentlemen, firstly a little good news before I spoil your day. Second Lieutenants, Colby, Westfield, Mitchell and Marking, you are hereby promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, effective immediately. Captains Searle and Crayford are promoted to Major and Major's Grey and Lewis are promoted to Colonel. You may celebrate later, for now we have more important things too attend to. It has come to my attention that Marshal Soult is hell bent on cutting the roads back to Portugal, it cannot happen gentlemen. At this time we don't have the men to stop him so we will fall back and hold the roads until we can once again advance on his armies."
The General paused as he watched the officers take in this piece of news, it was difficult for all of them when the losses they had incurred here at Talavera were taken into consideration.
"Now then please take notes as this will be the order of march. Colonel Travis, can you have your guns ready to move out by 8 of the clock tomorrow morning?"
"You will lead the way and the army will follow one hour later. Colonel Stewart. I would have two companies of your Hussars and four companies of your Highlanders to act as rearguard, they are to stay one mile behind the main army. All wounded that are able to march will do so. Colonel Wright, do you have enough wagons to transport the wounded that cannot march?"
"Yes Sir but just barely."
"Secure any that you need Colonel. Your wagons are to be at the centre of the order of march. Now Gentlemen, one last thing. Lieutenant Marking and Colonel Grey I wish for you to remain, the rest may now be dismissed and are to see to your troops. Any Questions?"
"The ten captured French guns Sir, will they be joining my lines?"
"No Colonel, those guns stay with Lieutenant Marking's Corps. After all they were his capture were they not?"
"Yes Sir, very good Sir."
"Right if that's all Gentlemen, I will let you see to your men. Dismissed."
Those that remained were soon called to the front and all stood close to the large table as the General shuffled some papers before looking up at them.
"Colonel Grey, as of this minute you are the Commanding Officer of all the sharpshooters. After our withdrawal you will take your men up north and cause as much trouble for the French as you can, and Colonel."
"The gloves are off Colonel, anything goes, I want those damn French to be scared to sleep at night, do you understand Colonel?"
"Yes Sir, it's right up my alley Sir."
"I thought it might be. Right Colonel, you are dismissed to see to your men."
The newly promoted Colonel Grey smiled at Thomas and winked before saluting the General and leaving the youngsters to the General's tender mercies, such as they were.
"Now then Lieutenant, firstly I have some bad news for you. Your gunner Lieutenant Scully has been ordered back to his ship by the Lords of the Admiralty. His promotion to Third Lieutenant has been approved but he has to report to his new ship, the HMS Hermes by the 19th of November so you have a couple of months for your boys to learn as much as they can on those guns. Next I want you to take your boys back to Vimeiro where they will stay until your return. On your return I want you to also head north and cause as much trouble as you can without getting yourself killed. The more you can disrupt the French the more troops he has to take off the battle lines. The French still outnumber us with over one hundred thousand troops and we need to keep them on the back foot so to speak."
"Return Sir? From where Sir?"
"Why England of course. You and your, ahem... servants, have a cabin on HMS Hermes back to England. There you will be given leave for two months but, you will also have to go and do some recruiting for your little army. The War Office has seen fit to enlarge your Corps to four Companies. It may be a good idea to have a look for some gunners if you get the chance."
"Four Companies Sir? Why do I need four Companies of Drummers Sir?"
"Not Drummers Mister Marking, soldiers, you well have enough drummers right now and also those Auxiliaries but you need more fighting men. The War Office has said it is entirely up to you whom you select and the necessary orders will be relayed to you as soon as they are written. Now then is there anything else you need?"
"Well Sir, there is one thing?"
"Then speak up Lieutenant."
"Sir, none of my boys have been paid since they arrived here, some of them for more than a year."
"What? How can this be Lieutenant? Are you sure?"
"Yes Sir, very sure. If you wish I have a list here of every boy that has not been paid."
"Go to the Paymasters tent and ask for the ledgers pertaining to the drummer boys, if Major Shortly has any questions you may refer him to me."
Colonel Lewis almost ran from the tent as the General looked at Thomas with a little suspicion. The General felt the boy was speaking the truth but there was also a faint chance the boy was trying to get extra pay for his drummers; not an unknown occurrence in this man's army.
The small group waited until Colonel Lewis returned with a large thick ledger under his arm. Colonel Lewis placed the heavy ledger in front of the General and then stood back as the man opened the book to the last page of entries.
"It would seem that all your boys were paid in full just last month Lieutenant. The Major has been the Paymaster for more than five years and is an upstanding Officer. I can see nothing wrong with any of his bookkeeping."
"Sir, may I see that? It's just I know the boys were not paid."
"Are you accusing a fellow Officer Lieutenant?"
The Generals voice held a very heavy hint of trouble and scepticism as he glowered at the young Lieutenant.
"No Sir, not as yet, but I know there must be a mistake. I swear Sir none of my boys have been paid since being over here. If I may look at some of the entries perhaps I can find out what the problem may be and if it is just an oversight by the Paymasters Office."
"Very good but be smart about it, I don't have all day to waste on idle suppositions."
The General turned the large ledger around so Thomas could look through some of the pages. As he ran his finger down the long lists of names and payments, he would occasionally stop at a name as though making sure to remember it. Once finished, Thomas looked back up into the stern face of the General.
"Sir, I think there has been some errors."
"You do? Which ones make you think so?"
Thomas turned the book around and flipped back to the second last page, he then pointed to three names.
"These ones Sir, they are in error."
"How so Lieutenant? They are signed by the boys and are dated just last month."
"That would be impossible Sir."
"How so young man?"
"Sir, those three fell defending the right flank at Vimeiro. They could not have been here to sign for their wages. There is also the fact that most of my boys do not know how to write even their names, Sir"
The General looked at the three names and a wrinkle formed on his high brow.
"Are you sure Lieutenant?"
"Yes Sir, it was the first time I lost friends."
"Yes well it is possible it is just an oversight by the Major. I'm sorry Lieutenant but unless you can bring me definite proof of wrongdoing by the Major there is little I can do. The Major only has to say it was an oversight and you have no proof."
"Yes Sir. But Sir, if I can find proof that my boys have not been paid, then what?"
"Well lieutenant, if or when you can provide me with definite proof then I will look into it further and make the correct restitution to those concerned. Anything else Lieutenant?"
"Only one thing Sir, I see I am still listed as a Corporal. Perhaps that too is just an oversight."
"Very good Lieutenant, I will look into it but without certain and sure proof it will be the Major's word against that of a Junior Officer. You can see where that would lead."
"Right then you have a lot to do and so do I, if that is all Lieutenant you are dismissed."
Thomas stayed quiet as he smartly saluted and left the tent with his friends close behind. If it was proof the General wanted then it was proof he would get, one way or another.
Thomas and his friends arrived back at camp just in time for a late lunch which was already waiting on the table for them. Thomas had been quiet through the whole short trip back to camp. His friends did not bother to interrupt his musings as they knew he was deep in thought about what they had overheard.
As they sat in the sun and ate their lunch, Thomas's mind was racing. What he was thinking was not within the laws of the army but perhaps this time he had little option but to use the talents of his boys that he had at his command. With his mind made up, Thomas looked at his friends around the table.
"Mister Scully, perhaps you may not wish to hear any of this?"
"If it concerns our Corps then it concerns me, go ahead Thomas, I know you have been thinking up something."
Thomas changed to Spanish as he began to unveil his plan to get proof for the General.
"Estaban, I need your three friends, this is what I want them to do." Thomas went into details as the other three listened and smiled widely as the plan unfolded. Next Thomas asked Carmelo.
"Now I will need the talents of Sergio and Carlito for tonight, they will have to try this."
Thomas continued with the rest of his plan as the others listened intently. When he was finally finished, Carmelo said.
"For this Patron, I should go with them and I think that Estaban should be also with us. If what you have thought is right then we should make him pay a little for his lies. Before the army moves tomorrow we will have the proof for the General."
"Ok but be very careful, if anyone is caught we will all be in deep trouble."
"Do not worry Patron; always the right is the might, you will see."
The boys broke up their impromptu meeting and made their way to find the boys needed for their great adventure. For the Spanish boys it was a way to repay all the kindnesses that their Patron had shown to all of them.
The next thing that Thomas had to attend to was the burial of his friends. He had chosen the top of the rise where the guns had fired from. It looked out over the battle field his friends had defended and Thomas felt it was only right they should be buried facing the place of their sacrifice.
Every boy had gone up the rise to help dig their friend's graves. The waiting holes were in two neat lines of ten with the two extra ones placed at the front, one for Clement and the other for Marcelo.
At the head of each grave was a fresh wooden marker which Corporal Jones had marked with pencil and others had taken hot wire and scorched over so the names and ages would not fade or be forgotten. Each wooden cross was adorned with the boys own red and gold sash.
It was a solemn procession that carried the twenty two white sheeted bodies up the rise. At the top stood Thomas all alone with his drum. Thomas stood at attention and played the funeral march on his single drum, the solitary echo ranged out over the now silent field of battle. It was even heard faintly in the far off main camp and many of the soldiers stopped to pay their respects in their own way.
After the fallen had been interred, the rest of the boys got to work refilling the graves of their friends. As they finally stood around to give a final thought to their friend's passing, they all heard a heavy shuffling of feet on the ground below the rise.
Thomas turned to look down the rise, coming towards where his little army stood solemnly were what appeared to be every man, woman and child of Talavera. Each was carrying what appeared to be a freshly white washed stone in their hands.
There was nothing said as the townsfolk slowly walked past Thomas and began to lay the white stones around each grave site in a silent tribute to the boys of their Patron El Toro.
Once finally completed, one of the older men approached Thomas as he stood with Carmelo, Scully and Estaban. With a bow of his head, the older man asked Thomas.
"Patron, the people of Talavera offer their condolences on the loss of so many, we would like to make the offer to have proper stone crosses erected in their name, with you permission Patron?"
Thomas could feel the tears once again welling up in his eyes at the offer, with little else to say all Thomas could do was nod his head. The older man bowed again and quickly gave instructions to two others to take the names on the wooden crosses, they would replace each one as the new stone cross was made ready.
Thomas could not stay any longer. The sight of the twenty two wooden crosses was too painful to stand over. With the last strength he felt he had, Thomas gave the order for his boys to dismiss and return to camp to prepare for the move in the early hours of the next morning.
If you are enjoying this story let Arthur know what you think of it: firstname.lastname@example.org