Have you heard the one about a dead horse, a German beer and a Bernard Cornwell book?
I can’t claim to be one of those people who has had a burning ambition to write a book, although I count myself very lucky. For sixty years and counting, my family has run a small bookstall in Plymouth. I’ve been surrounded by other people’s stories in print, for as long as I can remember.
Every Saturday, in my early youth, I could earn a very reasonable amount of pocket money, helping my dad. My main interest, girls aside (it certainly wasn’t school work), was the world of little model soldiers. A trip to WH Smiths on the first floor was a chance to spend Saturday’s wages before the bus ride home. There was the most incredible display case, rammed with Romans and Gauls, cowboys and indians, and British Redcoats fighting just about everyone! Somewhere in that store, there was a book display but it seemed disloyal and outlandish to buy a new book. Besides within days or weeks, these titles would drift in and I could take my pick.
And one day I had that moment, that book that changes the direction of your life. Maybe that’s too dramatic but from that point onwards I scoured WH Smith’s shelves. I couldn’t wait! I needed that next fix of story!
For over thirty years I consumed these stories, Sharpe in particular! Then the feeling of wanting to a story emerged. There are lots of reasons why, most are too personal to share but each time and sat and reasoned the matter through, I came to the same conclusion. I couldn’t write a Sharpe story anywhere near as well as Bernard Cornwell could. Now, at this point I know that you are streets ahead of me. I didn’t have to be Bernard Cornwell…Bernard Cornwell is Bernard Cornwell! I just needed to find my own voice, my own niche. Write it well and people will read it. And even if no-one ever reads it, write it well for your own satisfaction!
I’m going to tell you now that I have a degree in History, not that I’ve been trying to work it into the article but in studying for the degree I discovered a love for research, borrowing books from the library that hadn’t seen the light of day since the mid-eighties. Often, the line of inquiry would fizzle out but every now and then, I’d unearth a gem. Searching for a story to tell, MY story to tell, had the same intoxication as university research had given me. Chasing down ideas and articles, I found myself reading an obscure link to a ‘Hanoverian Cream’.
Not some bizarre ointment but the horse of choice for royal carriages, the Hanoverian Cream served George III and Victoria, and undoubtedly other monarchs. During the Second World War the breed became extinct. As sad as that is, that wasn’t the story that caught my attention.
When Hanover was invaded in 1803, the Royal Stud at Celle had been captured. Most of the breeding stock had been spirited away but somehow, a few Hanoverian Creams were left behind. The horses were presented to Napoleon and those spoils of war drew his state carriage to Notre Dame for his coronation as Emperor, a year later. How best to cement the status as the de facto monarch of France than use that symbol of British monarchy. It is a safe to assume that King George was somewhat disapproving of such an act. He forbade the use of Hanoverian Creams to pull his state carriage until Napoleon had been removed from power. His new horses were black, perhaps a statement of mourning for the very notion of Kingship that the ‘scoundrel Bonaparte’ had devalued in the careful reconciliation of State and Church, that his imperial coronation sought to deliver.
From this, sprang a story, about the horses left behind. those that escaped, the soldiers who fought in the shambolic events of 1803 and the capitulation of Hanover. I began to flesh it out, not really knowing what I was doing but the ideas kept flowing: a tap wrenched open. There was only one major problem, there were to be plenty of problems but on that summer holiday in Hanover, I didn’t have a clue about those yet and they are very much for articles to come.
There’s that moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy and Sallah have that realisation that the Nazi archaeologists are digging in the wrong place. It’s not an analogy you want to share out loud in a German hotel bar but I shared it with my long suffering girl-friend of the time. I would tell the story of the soldiers who chose to leave their country, arrive in Britain and form the King’s German Legion. 1803 could have been the start of that story but my research had thrown up the involvement of Hanoverian soldiers in the earlier campaign of 1793, in Flanders. Rather than have a series of flash back stories, Flanders was the place to start, the fertile ground to dig. There were few stories of the Revolutionary War that I could think of and it was a period of history that I was largely ignorant of. The chances were, that other readers were too.
What’s more, I had these ideas for characters and now I could tell their story without the need to weave it into events in the Peninsular War. The King’s German Legion could live and breathe, in the days when they were just the King’s Germans.
But I still needed a name for a central character. I sipped from a beer bottle in silent contemplation. Something about the label caught my eye. The beer was first brewed in 1803. It felt like a sign. My thumb covered up the last two letters of the Krombacher beer…and Sebastian Krombach was born.
He isn’t Sharpe. He doesn’t have to be.
Sebastian Krombach, Captain Werner Brandt, Erich von Bomm and others, live and breathe of their own accord. You probably don’t know them yet; I hope that one day you do!
I’ve committed myself to tell their stories, across twenty-two years of history. I had better get moving. It’s taken me a long time to realise that I don’t need to be that pale imitation of someone else. I just need to tell the King’s Germans’ stories and they will speak for me.
The Black Lions of Flanders
(The King's Germans)
In the war of the First Coalition, friend and foe know one simple truth:
trust your ally at your own peril.
Private Sebastian Krombach has joined the army to escape the boredom of life in his father’s fishing fleet. Captain Werner Brandt yearns to leave his post and retire into civilised society and Lieutenant Erich von Bomm wants nothing more than to survive his latest escapade that has provoked yet another duel. Each man is a King’s German; when they are called to war, their lives will become inextricably linked.
The redcoats of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Regiment, must survive the divisions that sweep through their ranks before they are tested in combat. On the border of France, the King’s Germans will face an enemy desperate to keep the Revolution alive: the Black Lions of Flanders.
Dominic Fielder (1968-present) was born in Plymouth to parents of families from Roman Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. Then such things mattered to others but not to a first-born son who knew only love and a stable happy family. Two brothers made for a warm and somewhat idyllic childhood. He was bright but a disengaged student preferring instead to spend time with his dad at the family book business (the Bookstall) where a love of literacy flourished. Having finished sixth-form at Devonport High School for Boys, he passed opportunities to join first, the Tank Regiment, then the Royal Air Force, settling instead on a career in banking. Three years later, fed up with counting other people’s money, he travelled to Australia for a year, working for a time in the Outback and thoroughly enjoying life!
On returning to the UK, he drifted into work at his family’s Comic Shop (Kathies Comics). Despite fifteen years of hard work, the business failed and so did his marriage. Working a series of odd jobs, with odd hours, he finished a degree course in History, gaining a First and drifted into the world of education. Now he divides his time unequally between private tuition, running the family book business which has survived for sixty years and writing. More important than all of these, is spending time with his son. With what free time he has, he enjoys cycling, walking and horse-riding on the moors that surround his home in Mary Tavy, Devon.
His passion and interest for as many years as he can care to remember has been ‘little model soldiers’, painting them, researching facts about the regiments and playing wargames with them. For a dozen years or more, Dominic ran a series of ‘Megagames’ where people would arrive from all corners of the globe to game out World War Two scenarios for a week. Such events needed a strong narrative and his first attempts at writing were contained within the pre-game intelligence and the post-action reports. His writing project, ‘The King’s Germans’ is a few steps further down that road. For the person who drifted from one task to another, it’s a commitment to write twenty-two years of the history of Hanoverian soldiers in the service of King George III.