Captain of Foot

Written by Ronald Welch
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Spain 1808. Napoleon’s army has conquered Spain, and Sir John Moore’s army is being driven inexorably back to the port of Corunna. Young Lieutenant Chris Carey of the 43rd Light Infantry has the unenviable job of holding back the French until all the British regiments are safely across the bridge over the River Esla, at which point the bridge will be blown up.

Instantly, we are there. Welch plunges his readers into action fast and furious and, such is his grasp of military tactics and ability to communicate them without resorting to ‘info dumps’ that we know exactly what’s at stake and what the odds are. William Stobbs’ first-rate drawings help. On page 1, there is a useful map of Spain so that we know what is where, and Stobbs’ atmospheric drawing of troops crossing the bridge over the Esla, with the swirl of inky water beneath it and the forbidding mountains behind, suitably sets the scene for us.

Captain of Foot is a terrific read, and there’s never a dull moment. I really liked the hero, Chris. He enjoys the soldiering and he’s good at it but he can’t bear the privations. When the book opens he’s cold, wet, tired, starving and fed up. Naturally, we are on his side.

Chris’s career as it unfolds is certainly lively. He is captured by the French, has a number of hair-raising escapes, finds himself embroiled with the notorious Spanish guerrilla chief, El Empecinado, and, generally, manages to be part of much of the action over the next four years as Wellington slowly claws his war back into Spain and begins to push the French back.  Boys of 10 plus should enjoy this book; I say ‘boys’ advisedly, for there is not a single woman in the entire book!

(Ed. note: To purchase this edition, see the publisher’s site rather than Amazon.)