31st August

san sebastianSan Sebastian nowOn 22nd August 1813 the second siege of the highly fortified port of San Sebastian began. In a week of attacks repulsed by the French garrison 3,770 British and Portuguese and 850 French soldiers were killed or wounded. The final assault, on the 31st August, succeeded. Wellington’s forces had taken the town but it was not an honourable victory.
Fuelled by looted drink a week long rampage of the town began. British officers did nothing to stop the orgy of rape and massacre, nor did they prevent the town being completely destroyed by fire.
On 31st August 1967, 21 year old Carl Witherby (at the beginning of his career as an historian) ended the summer he had spent hitch-hiking around the battlefields of the Peninsular wars on the beach of San Sebastian.
His thoughts were of those who had fought so hard and died so horribly 154 years before. But they were also of Susannah. It was her 21st birthday. He loved her but they could never be together. He had been told she was his sister.
31st August, in various years, is an important date in The Last Dance, in Walking Alone and in Runaways, the three books which make up The Iniquities Trilogy.
Professor Carl Witherby (in 2014) features again in A Set of Lies.

 

The last days of Power and Freedom

LignyNapoleon, having escaped Elba, re-established himself as Emperor and raised a vast (if largely untried) army, was facing the combined forces of Austria, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom who threatened to invade France. On the basis that attack is the best form of defence Napoleon sought to defeat the Prussians and the British before the armies could link up and on 15th June 1815, by clever use of misinformation, established his position between those two armies in what is now southern Belgium.

On Friday 16th June 1815 two of the main protagonists of the more famous battle which was to follow two days later faced each other in the Battle of Ligny.

Field Marshal Blücher, commanding the Prussian army (84,000 strong), was facing up to the Armée du Nord (68,000 men) under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. 24,000 men were killed or wounded.

The Duke of Wellington had been caught unprepared as he was, famously, attending the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels when he was told of the proximity of the French. He engaged a smaller French army at Quatre Bras. 9,000 men were killed or wounded.

Two days later, Sunday 18th June, the French fought the British under Wellington and, against all odds, Blücher’s battered Prussian army arrived on the field of Waterloo just in time to turn the tide of battle against Napoleon. 65,000 men were killed or wounded.

History records that these mid-June days two hundred years ago were the last days of Napoleon’s power and freedom.

But perhaps what history records of the events after June 18, 1815 is all A Set of Lies.