Saturday 22 December 2018

Christmas with the King’s Germans - Flanders 1793, by Dominic Fielder #Christmas #History @Kings_Germans

Christmas with the King’s Germans - Flanders 1793
By Dominic Fielder

Like most self-published authors, I have a day job (two, but that’s a story for another day). Part of one of these involves tutoring a child from a German family, living in the UK. in writing this article I’ve enjoyed a discussion with them about German tradition and customs around Christmas. I’ve challenged the gaps in my knowledge and research, the ‘known unknowns’ of Rumsfeld infamy.

Christmas 1793 was a wretched experience for the army under the command of the Duke of York. Battalions had gone wearily into winter quarters. British battalions and the Duke of York’s staff wintered in relative comfort in Bruges. Even here, two Guards battalions stood to, ready to march back to the frontier at short notice.

Others, like the Hessians in Furnes and the Hanoverians in Nieuport, were uncomfortably close to the front-line. The drudgery of daily patrols along forgotten outpost of the allied cordon would have punctuated the monotony of life in an army of occupation. That is what the Allies had become.

The previous year, Flanders had welcomed in liberating French army under Dumouriez, before hopeless organisation caused privation and chaos. Decrees from Paris both excused and legalised the most dreadful excesses in order that her soldiers might survive.

A year later the situation has worsened.

Now, upwards of one hundred thousand allied soldiers were encamped in Flanders, drawing food and fodder from a land where the harvest was impacted by a year of conflict. Winter was cruel and bitterly cold. For the footslogger at the front, the vitals of food, warmth and the fact that someone wasn’t trying to kill you would have been what mattered most. Beer and the occasional company of women would have been a close second. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in action.

My King’s Germans are principally about soldiers whose personal stories are lost to us now. I say principally because I also write from the perspective of the French and I would like to consider their plight a little too.

According to British sources, there was a steady stream of desertions from the French army, many of these souls ending up in Bruges. In a country that had turned its back on the Church, having the prospect of a God-fearing army to desert to (even if the army was Protestant) must have been appealing. Christmas is a time of good will after all!

The prospect of hot food, shelter and a man purporting to be a leader in waiting (General Dumouriez had led a failed coup in April 1793), must have help legitimise the decision to cross over to the allies. The fate of these men was either to be prisoners of war or having the chance to wear the uniform of an émigré battalion and fight in the following campaign on the side of the allies. There might have been a degree of envy from the redcoats towards the Frenchmen passing through their lines.

The Hanoverian and British governments had failed in the foresight of delivering greatcoats to the King’s Germans. The Foot Guards only having received theirs late in the campaigning year. Boots that had marched and counter-marched hundreds of miles had fallen apart many replaced by wooden Flanders clogs.

The army was in a ragged state.

A letter from the National Archive in Kew mentions about the necessity of furnishing ‘Foreign troops’ with appropriate clothing, in a short   timescale and for at a reasonable economy. The language of soldiering and politics in happy union.

So, what would Christmas have meant itself? Beyond Protestant or Lutheran celebrations, presents and letters from home would have been as important as they have been in any number of conflicts since. At least the post seems to have run on time! From British sources, there are details of gifts from home and I have imagined the same for the Hanoverians (a current known unknown). There is also the matter of traditions such as St Nicholas’ shoe, dating back to around the 9th century, where a shoe was left outside on the night of December the 5th. St Nicholas would deliver sweets and fruit to those deserving of them.

St Nicholas shoe.

I’ve taken a small liberty with this tradition and turned it into a chance for the officers of the 2nd battalion, 10th Regiment, to deliver gifts in the form of ‘home-made’ biscuits. The battalion has twenty wives acting as camp followers and rather resourceful cook cum scrounger. Somehow, those rare spices that flavour German lebkuchen (spiced biscuits) are going to be purloined from their intended destination of the Duke of York’s dining table and make the lives of the redcoats just a little more bearable.

This is the lot of the King’s Germans at Christmas time in 1793. Perched close to the French border, fighting a campaign to which no-one seems to have given any consideration either to them or how the war might end.

Letter, gifts and home-made biscuits will help pull them through. Just as well, 1794 is going to be the most difficult of years but that is their future; another known unknown.

The Black Lions of Flanders
 (The King's Germans Book #1)
By Dominic Fielder

In the war of the First Coalition, friend and foe know one simple truth:
 trust your ally at your own peril.

February 1793.

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

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.    

Connect with Dominic on:  Facebook • Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Great insights. Love the thought of them having stolen spiced biscuits at Christmas.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx