About Us




Guards Watch Offer


More Features

People, Places & Events



Book Reviews




Lord Saltoun & the First Guards from Sicily, Walcheren and the
Peninsular War to Waterloo

by John H Lewis

I was given this book, hot off the press, by my brother in law, Charlie Radford. He is a keen supporter of the publishers, Leonaur, well known for their first-hand accounts of warfare.  He thought that being a Grenadier I might be interested, and interested I was.  Many will be familiar with the Peninsula and Waterloo but this book is different as it tells the story through the eyes of a participant, young Lord Saltoun.  What makes the book so attractive to read is that it is almost a love story as the prose is interspersed with letters from Saltoun to his lady friend and later his wife. He marries Catharine Thurlow, the natural daughter of a past Lord Chancellor, just before the 100 days when Napoleon reasserts his crown as Emperor, and so those early days of marriage are ones of anxiety rather than joy.

The narrative, covering Saltoun’s experiences over the ten years from 1805 to 1815, is snappy and easy to read.  The book does not cover all the campaigns mentioned but relies on Saltoun’s often shrewd comments.  At the start of the book Saltoun is just 20 and so at Waterloo where he plays a key part he is 30 years old. There are some good anecdotes of his time on operations, like on the River Nivelle when he spared a sleeping French sentry, an incident which paid dividends when he himself was captured.  Another is the chance discovery of a deserter, who had absconded four years previously but had been recognised by one of his erstwhile comrades from the 1st Guards. He received his just deserts.

Perhaps the most interesting episode is his experience on the battlefield around Hougoumont and later back on the ridge.  Although this is a time when letters to Catharine are less frequent for obvious reasons the narrative is clear and understandable. After Waterloo, where Saltoun seems to have had a charmed life, he takes part in the siege of Peronne, a hardly significant action but Saltoun is hit by a musket ball which luckily hits a purse containing ducats (gold coins) given to him by Catharine.  Many years later, after Catharine’s death, the purse is stolen but the letter she wrote on hearing of this mishap was recovered and it is the only letter from Catharine to Saltoun we are lucky to read. 

The prose is reminiscent of Victorian monologues and there are several wonderful phrases such as description of the prevailing French exhaustion with war:  ‘ ...the perpetual sacrifice of its sons on the altar of his  (Napoleon’s) megalomania’.  Another ‘He (Napoleon, again) had spent the human coin of his nation profligately’.   I wish the book had an index, and there is a lack of bespoke maps following the place names frequently mentioned.  But this is a budget book and these are small shortcomings to a well written and interesting book on the life of an articulate and talented officer, who in due course was to reach General rank

Evelyn Webb-Carter

The book is available at www.leonaur.com £24.99 (hardcover) or £14.99 (softcover)







© Crown Copyright