Through Spain with Wellington: The Letters of Lieutenant Peter Le Mesurier of the "Fighting Ninth".

Author Rating:
5/5,
  • Author:
    Edited by Adrian Greenwood.
    It was during the writing of an earlier military biography that Adrian Greenwood first found references to Peter Le Mesurier's letters. However, it was not until some forty years later, in 2013, that he discovered a copybook of the letters which describe Le Mesurier's service from beginning to end.

    Altough there is already a large body of literature, both factual and fictional, centred around this period, this collection of letters provides a unique insight of the everyday life of a junior officer.

    The "Fighting Ninth" which Le Mesurier joined as an Ensign in 1808 saw more action than any other regiment and these letters cover virtually every major engagement up to the Battle of the Nive, where as a Lieutenant, Peter Le Mesurier was killed in action.

    The Le Mesuriers were an old Channel Islands family with an already impressive history of military service. Coming from a poor side of the family and being one of five children there was a certain inevitability to him joining the army, although the question as to why he did not follow his elder brother into trade remains unanswered.

    Since the letters are written to his family he made little of the bloody battles and diseases which carried off so many of his men and brother officers. Despite the appalling hardships he suffers - lack of food, clothing, shelter and no pay for prolonged periods - plus the awful reality of his profession, he managed to give a humorous and fascinating commentary on his life in the field. He provided a wealth of small details which served to divert and reassure his family whilst at the same time he was able to be open about his real fears and also his longer term plans. All of this was done with such casual understatement that seduces the reader away from the grim realities of his daily existence, exactly as he intended.

    The five years of his correspondence show a rapid transformation of a boy to a man and an officer and despite the hardships his patriotism and zealous service is never in doubt. Indeed, on several occasions he recommended a military career for young men seeking travel and adventure and never showed regret or doubt about joining the army.

    From the outset the reader is well aware that Le Mesurier faced the probability of death, the odds being well stacked against his survival as a junior officer. Having been charmed and captivated by his letters, his inevitable and sudden death still comes as a shock. His last battle at the Nive was apparently a desperate affair with tremendous losses on both sides. The 9th Foot found themselves surrounded and the entire 5th Division (to which it was attached) barely survived, being rescued by the timely arrival of the 1st Division. Le Mesurier is reported killed in action by two shots to his chest.

    Adrian Greenwood has produced an absolute gem of a book. The letters and background information are seamlessly woven together resulting in an eminently readable book which will appeal to both scholar and lay reader.

    5/5
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  1. LeoRoverman
    Through Spain with Wellington


    By

    Adrian Greenwood


    Paradoxically it’s sometimes the most enjoyable reads that are the most difficult to appraise, simply because the reader has enjoyed them so much and after heavy material there is little with which one can disagree as the book contains the first-hand accounts of Lt Peter Le Mesurier of the 9th foot which I understand was the East Norfolk Regiment. Indeed since first-hand accounts of the peninsular war are rare, there is little one can dispute.

    In fact the most touching part of the book is the short paragraph of his death written by a family friend which one finds in later wars too, indicating that death was swift as a means of assuaging the perceived grief of the family. Poignant as well is the fact that he so nearly survived and that rung bells for me too as that happened in my family. So near yet so far!

    In the introduction Adrian Greenwood points out that Le Mesurier changed his name from Pierre to Peter as a matter of political convenience. Now where have we heard that before? Even George the V changed the family name from Hannover to Windsor to suit political winds. It is far from my favourite, but it’s the kind of book I have always enjoyed and it certainly presses the right buttons at the right time.

    The Author has inserted information to give a fuller picture of the background to the letters throughout the book which were quite informative and the maps were by far the best aid. It’s certainly a must for those with a real fascination for the campaign.

    With the unfortunate demise of Adrian earlier this month it gave that paragraph by George Brock about Le Mesurier’s death an added poignancy. To that effect the cutting was extracted and left with the book as a memorial.

    LR