A Kick in the Balearics
Casual readers of Lard Island News may be unaware that prior to becoming an on-line publication we had been serving the inhabitants of the island for in excess of 250 years. The following snippet from our archives from 200 years ago will serve to illustrate this pont. In those days the concept of a war correspondent was quite unknown, so most reports took the form of eye-witness accounts from those who took part in the events that shaped history.
Here we reproduce an account of a small action that took place in the Mediteranean where the fleet of Admiral Sir Roger Boyes was causing havoc amongst those outposts of Spanish territory still loyal to King Joseph.
The lantern in the midshipmen’s berth swung gently to and fro. From the forward section of the ship Jack could hear songs and laughter as the men celebrated and shared stories of the day. He leaned forward again, looking carefully at his colleague.
Fifteen year old Nathanial Trusty was grimy and his hair was lank and thin.
“Nathanial, tell me more about your day, I’m really most envious of you”.
“Well, Jack, it really was the most wonderful day”, started his friend with a look on his face that is only seen on those recounting similar tales of derring-do. “The Chlamydia has given Johnny Crapaud something to think about today, and that’s for sure”
Jack shifted eagerly on the bench as his comrade continued in earnest.
“As you know, we were landed from the Chlamydia in the early hours of this morning. Mr Lattimore was able to run the ship close inshore so that we could be on the island with all haste and without being spotted. The landing party went ashore in a number of small boats, Captain England himself commanding the largest. I myself piloted a boat containing Captain Fondler and a group of his riflemen. In total, there must’ve been almost 80 of us on the raid”
“Yes, I know”, said Jack, “I myself commanded a launch containing Mr Twangg and a number of his marines. But what happened once you were on the island itself?”.
“Well, my friend, that’s when the fun really started. We were closing in on the bay and just reached the headland from where we could see all the town laid out before us. The town itself looked very quiet, but there, berthed majestically on the quayside was the French brig. She looked a fine ship, rigged in good style and ready for sea. I can still see the tricolour fluttering over her poop as clear as though I were gazing on her right now. Captain England made a few observations with his telescope and soon laid out a detailed plan for the attack. Boson Piles and I were to lead members of the ship’s crew on a diversionary raid on the large Martello tower which stood on the southern side of the bay. In the meantime Captain Fondler and Lieutenant Twangg were to take the main body of rifles and Marines into the town, defeat the garrison and seize the French ship.
We all got a bit bunched up at first as the lie of the ground made it difficult for us to get close to our objective without being spotted. But soon, Boson Piles and I found ourselves scratching through the dirt with our men and coming up close to the tower. The Rifleman moved up further to our right into some olive groves from where they could see down into the town more clearly.
It was such a lovely, balmy day, and I was quite enjoying the feeling of solid earth under my feet when, all of a sudden, I was jolted into the here and now by the boom of a volley of musketry as it crashed out from a flat roofed building near the olive grove. It turns out the Spanish were using it as a form of Garrison, from where they had observed the riflemen moving up. I saw one of Sgt Paisley’s men get hit but I didn’t get chance for a second look because before I knew it there was another crash of musketry – this time aimed at us! I ducked for cover and Boson Piles uttered some words which would totally unrepeatable in company. But we did not let the Spaniards distract us from our main objective. We crept on through the brush with our jolly shipmates coming on behind in good fashion. As we got closer to the tower I could see the Spaniards in the top of it desperately trying to crank round the gun to fire it recklessly at us but there is no way they could depress the gun to the point where they be able to do so. Boson Piles and I exchanged laughs at what we saw as the sad state of the enemy’s mettle and moved on towards the tower at fresh pace, and with cutlasses drawn. But the Spaniards soon realised the futility of their efforts with the main gun and started taking potshots at us from the top of the tower. Nonetheless this fire was generally wide of the mark and we were barely shaken.
A brief reconnaissance soon informed us that the main door to the tower lay on the side of the bay. I found this a most unusual design and not one with which I was familiar. Nonetheless Boson Piles reacted with amazing aplomb and we soon deployed the men in good fashion to attack the fort. But no sooner had old Burgess wielded his chopper against the door then next thing I knew the devil himself was upon us. There were splinters and screams all around me and I could not for an instant ascertain what on earth had happened. But soon all became clear. It was apparent that the Spaniards across the bay, who must have been the most observant examples of their countrymen I have ever come across, had seen us moving towards the fort and, on hearing the musketry, had understood their comrades to be in the most desperate straits. Regardless of the peril they may be causing to their comrades, the aforementioned Spaniards proceeded to fire all five of their long nine pounders at us. The consternation this caused was quite disturbing as their fire was most effective. One shot took young Turner’s head straight off whilst a second smashed through the door which, only seconds previously, old Burgess had tried to smash down with no avail. Nonetheless, the morale effect of being under such crashing and accurate fire was now quite phenomenal. Not only were we taking musket fire from the tower itself, but we were now also receiving the attentions of the full Spanish battery across the bay! Boson Piles shifted uncomfortably and suggested a course of action which I was only too happy to approve of and before long we found ourselves back in the brush on the far side of the tower licking our wounds and reconsidering our options ahead of a second attempt.
I looked away momentarily to my right where I could see the Marines, spurred on by Lt Twangg and our very own ships chiropodist, Doctor Reg Maturin, were making their way into the town itself under the protective fire of rifles whom I could still see dotted around the hillside. By now, Captain Fondler had gallantly led his men in an attack on the house and cleared out the Spanish contained therein, and I could still see glimpses of the odd bicorne as the lubbers hid from his fire on the beach.
But then, something else caught my eye… A dust cloud had blown up on the far side of the town through which I could just make out the blue clad coats of Johnny Frenchman. There were around 50 of them. Quite what they were doing there was not clear to us at the time, although now we know all about their devious deeds, and, due to their numbers I thought for a few moments that we were in a sorry state. But I am pleased to say that our chaps responded with such classic courage as befits the truest traditions of the service. Quick as a flash, I saw Lt Twangg and the Doctor gather together a group of marines, form a hasty firing line, and deliver a crashing volley into the Frenchies. In reply, the Crapauds, who were in a most confused state, nonetheless put out the most horrific fire and saw a number of comrades fall, but not, thankfully, the good Dr nor Mr Twangg.
My eye then fell on the activities around the quayside, where I could see men in French uniform hastily packing crates on board the brig. Had I known at the time they were loading all that gold on board I would, perhaps, have become most overexcited, but, as it was, my dear Jack, I found it incredulous to believe that they could still concentrate on this menial task when such an evil fire fight was at hand so close by.
My observations of what was going on in the town were taking my full attention and it took the tug on my sleeve from Bosun Piles, who looked most uncomfortable with his current predicament, to refocus my attention on the matter at hand. I could see the lads around me were keen for a fight and so I ordered the men to gather their weapons for a second attempt on the tower, hoping that our eagle eyed friends across the Bay had enough to think about with the fight going on in the town.
But in this thinking I was horribly misled, for, no sooner had we rounded the top of the headland once again, when the guns of the battery spoke again. This time the carnage was most horrific. Baker, Pettigrew and Oliver Sacks were killed outright and Barney Ambrose had his right leg shattered below the knee by a ball. We later had to throw him overboard, God rest his soul. This latest bombardment was enough to put the rest of our fellows to flight, and although the Boatswain and I did what we could to stop them, I soon perceived them to no longer have the stomach for the fight. I tell you now, Jack, that no man could have stood under such artillery fire and survived.
We did what we could for poor Ambrose, and the boson slung him over his shoulder as surely as if he’d been about the potatoes, and once again we lurked in the undergrowth like jackals. We pondered as to what will be our fate, but it soon became clear that this was being decided by the events going on in the town. I crawled my way carefully back up to the top of the ridge from where I could see now more clearly the events which were playing out in the town and on the quayside. I could see quite clearly that Captain Fondler and his Rifleman had, by now, fought their way through to the quayside and were now engaging in hand-to-hand fighting with the Frenchies we had seen earlier. On the edges of the town square, the Royal Marines were standing firmly amidst the carnage. Despite the smoke it was clear from even from a distance that we had many casualties, and I could see Doctor Reg was working hard to keep as many men in action as he possibly could. But so few of them had injuries to the feet that I fear he was of little use to most. What few Spanish militiamen there were in the town seemed to offer very little resistance.
After what seemed like an age, but must, in reality, only been a few minutes, it was clear that the fight on the quay was over and that Captain Fondler had been successful. I saw him calmly sally up the gangplank and onto the French brig with as much calmness as though he were going on a trip up the Thames. The ship, it appeared, was ours and before long I saw the tricolour that had fluttered above her poop being hauled down and thrown overboard. On the quayside stood dejected Frenchmen and I swear that from my position on the hill I could hear the cheers as our boys ripped open the crates to discover the gold that lay inside”.
“But,” said Jack, “I still don’t quite understand how you managed to escape from under the guns of the battery?”
“Ah, dear Jack, I’m pleased to say that Captain England was able to confound the local Spaniards and negotiate our exit of the harbour without challenge on the promise that we would not further plunder nor pillaged their town. It appears that the French had not told the Spanish about the gold and that they were intending to take it from under their very noses, and so it was that subsequently, when the gold fell into our hands, the Spaniards themselves knew nothing of it. Hence here we sit, safely back on board the Chlamydia, with Captain England and the other officers all unscathed enjoying such a feast as I’ve never before witnessed on a ship of his Majesty’s Navy, whilst not half a mile behind us sails our Mr Lattimore with our new prize and a hold full of the don’s bullion.
Now, please excuse me old chap, but I must pay a visit to our French guests. Something surely must be done about that Captain of theirs. There is such a strong smell of ammonia coming from their quarters and I have already handed out as many spare breaches as we can find on board, and told Lumu to throw all their old clothes overboard. I simply cannot wait until we can get back to Gibraltar and be rid of them”.
And with those words, Midshipman Nathanial Trusty slid out into the companionway, leaving young Jack Tarr with such visions in his head as would prevent him from sleeping yet another night.