Amanda Theunissen on Ronald Welch, Captain of Foot

A Reluctant Hero

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What would you do if you were a soldier, the last in a long line of fighting ancestors who had all distinguished themselves in battle, but you really hated going to war and wanted to give it all up and become a writer? This is the dilemma for Chris Carey, serving in the 43rd Light Infantry under Wellington in the Peninsular War. He’s the reluctant hero of Captain of Foot, the latest volume in the Slightly Foxed Cubs edition of the Carey saga by Ronald Welch.

The book follows Chris’s adventures in the long campaign. He isn’t afraid of the actual fighting, it’s the acute discomfort he dislikes. He ‘never made any secret of his loathing of cold, wet clothes, of uncomfortable bivouacs, of poor food and long marches. But no one seemed to think any the worse of him for that, though he was notorious for his opinions throughout the division.’

In fact Chris is a very good soldier, better than he thinks he is. He starts the novel as a lowly Lieutenant and ends as a Captain, having been noticed by Wellington himself and mentioned in dispatches. Captured by the French, he escapes, falls in with Spanish guerrillas and manages to get back to England, but familypressures send him back to Spain. He dreams of returning to his comfortable family home in Wales. Does he make it? Well, that’s the story.

Ronald Welch writes about life in the early nineteenth-century British army with skilful conviction and an astonishing eye for detail. Captain of Foot covers four years of Wellington’s campaign against the French in the Iberian Peninsula, starting in 1808 with the retreat to Corunna and ending with Wellington’s advance on Salamanca in 1812.

Everyone knows that Wellington said his soldiers were ‘the scum of the earth’. What people forget is the rest of the sentence: ‘it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are’. Chris Carey’s regiment, the 43rd, was part of the Light Brigade, ‘by common c

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About the contributor

Amanda Theunissen is a television producer and journalist. Her husband once expressed an irritated wish that she’d done national service in a decent regiment so at least she could read a map. Too late for that, so she sticks to fictional military history instead. And still can’t read a map.

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