Marching with Marlborough

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For those of you not yet acquainted with the Carey novels (what a treat you have in store), a little publishing history. Between 1954 and 1972 Oxford University Press published twelve historical novels by Ronald Felton, the headmaster of Okehampton Grammar School. Written under the nom de plume of Ronald Welch, and aimed at young readers, the novels had a martial strain, and ranged from the First Crusade and the Hundred Years’ War to the First World War via the Babington Plot, the Civil War, Wolfe at Quebec, the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny; each described the wartime adventures of a member of the Carey family, who had lived on their ancestral acres in Wales since Norman times, and given loyal service to the Crown whenever the occasion arose.

A patriotic Welshman, Welch studied at Cambridge and served as a tank commander in the Royal Welch Fusiliers (hence the nom de plume) before becoming a schoolmaster, and his exciting, fast-moving adventures combine a soldier’s understanding of war, and the weapons of war, with a teacher’s instinct to instruct, albeit in the most painless and unobtrusive way.

Published in 1956, Captain of Dragoons is set in the reign of Queen Anne, during the early years of the War of the Spanish Succession, and the relevant member of the family is Charles Carey, ‘a tall, lean young officer of Dragoons, with a crop of black hair cut short for comfort under his wig, and a pair of inky black brows that were convenient warning signals that his quick temper was rising’; he is also one of the most brilliant swordsmen in the Duke of Marlborough’s army, and is given ample opportunities to display his prowess.

His story reaches its climax with the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 – but some background information might not come amiss at this stage, both for young readers and forgetful parents: Welch was writing for children who had grown up on a diet of Our Island Story, 1066 and All That and Arthur Mee’s

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About the contributor

Jeremy Lewis is writing a biography of David Astor, the editor-cum-proprietor of the Observer in its glory days, to be published by Jonathan Cape.

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