The campaign in the Netherlands in 1813-1814 was the British contribution to the Allied attack on the eastern borders of France that eventually forced Napoleon's first abdication. The overall campaign was moderately successful, with some military successes, and some useful experience gained of working with allies, but it is now remembered for the disastrous attack on Bergen-op-Zoom, which ended with a large number of British troops trapped and forced to surrender after the attack went badly wrong. This attack took place just before the armistice with France, and so General Graham never had a chance to mitigate this failure with later victories.
This book contains six very varied short sources relating to the campaign, including the letters of a senior engineer, several diaries and published letters written by a Corporal in the 1st Foot Guards. Some of our authors took part in the assault on Bergen-op-Zoom, and several were captured during the fighting, but their time in captivity was short, as prisoner exchange was soon agreed. Their accounts of the first half of the campaign are thus unaffected by long periods of captivity.
I must admit it'll be the diary of Ensign Duncombe of the Coldstream Guards that will stick longest in my memory, with Duncombe living up to every negative stereotype of young Guard's officers (arrogant, obsessed with status, the quality of his accommodation and food, hunting and entertaining companions). His diary entries for the three main battles of the campaign are quite revealing - on 13 January (First battle of Merxem) he records kicking a less important officer out of his lodgings. On 2 February (Second battle of Merxem) he was actually involved in the fighting, and does record it. On 8 March, the date of the culminating attack on Bergen-op-Zoom, he complained about being stuck on picquet duty all day. After his short military career Duncombe did grow up, and ended his life as a respected social campaigner, but you'd never have guessed that from his wartime diary!
All six sources are of great interest, both for students of this campaign and of the British army in this period. We get a view of life on campaign in a country that had been occupied by the French, but that was now an ally, with the problems of accommodation and food playing a major part in most accounts. Most also include interesting accounts of combat, as seen from a variety of positions and including small incidents as well as the major battles of the campaign.
I - Lieutenant Colonel James Carmichael Smyth, Royal Engineers
II - Ensign Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards
III - Lieutenant Charles Shaw, 2nd Battalion, 52nd (Oxfordshire) Light Infantry
IV - Ensign William Thain, 33rd (1st West Riding) Regiment of Foot
V - Corporal Alexander Frederic Meuller, 2nd Battalion, 1st Foot Guards
VI - 2nd Lieutenant Dunbar Moodie, 2nd Battalion, 21st (Royal North British) Fusiliers
I - Command and Order of Battle Under Graham
II - Officers and Officership
III - Britons and Russians
IV - The Duke of Clarence and the Battles of Merxem
V - Further Thoughts on the Bergen-op-Zoom Disaster
VI - Monuments and Commemoration
Author: Andrew Bamford