In an era of Empira and an age of change, tradition meshes with new technology to shape the destiny of men and nations. As the Age of Sail gives way to the power of steam and battleground muskets yield to sharp-shooting rifles, Captain Philip Blackwood eagerly takes command of his old vessel, the H.M.S. Audacious, in the summer of 1850. Sent out to Africa to eliminate the last strongholds of slavery, then on to the Crimean War, Blackwood and his men battle brutal heat and bitter opposition to uphold the Royal Marines' motto-Per Mare-Per Terram. The first volume in Douglas Reeman's stirring story of the Blackwoods, Badge Of Glory begins a vivid saga that spans a century and a half in the life of a great seafaring family and their enduring British heritage.
Douglas Edward Reeman, a contemporary British writer, joined the British Navy at 16, serving on destroyers and small craft during World War II and eventually rising to lieutenant. He also has taught navigation to yachtsmen, and has served as president of the British Sailors Society and as a script adviser for television and films. Under the pseudonym, Alexander Kent, Reeman is the author of the best-selling 25-volume series of Richard Bolitho Novels. His books have been translated into nearly two dozen languages.
About the Author
Douglas Edward Reeman, who also writes under the name Alexander Kent, joined the British Navy at 16, serving on destroyers and small craft during World War II, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant. He has taught navigation to yachtsmen and has served as a script adviser for television and films. As Alexander Kent, Reeman is the author of the best-selling Richard Bolitho Novels. His books have been translated into nearly two dozen languages.
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Badge of Glory
The Royal Marines Saga, No. 1
By Douglas Reeman
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1982 Highseas Authors Ltd.
All rights reserved.
The Old Navy
It was said that the August of 1850 was one of the hottest and finest anyone could remember. With only a few days left in the month it showed no sign of breaking, and on this particular evening the fleet anchored at Spithead breathed and quivered like molten gold. Only a certain mistiness around the Isle of Wight and longer shadows beneath the towering shapes of the assembled ships gave a hint that it was nearly sunset.
Between the land and the anchorage many smaller craft pulled busily back and forth, some connected with affairs of the fleet, and others, less expertly handled, to carry their untroubled passengers on sightseeing trips around the display of naval might.
One white-painted cutter thrust her way swiftly through the local traffic with what appeared to be casual ease. For she was one of the flagship's own boats, and woe betide anyone who was foolhardy enough to delay her passage.
In the sternsheets, his scarlet coatee making a bright contrast with the uniforms of the coxswain and the midshipman in charge, Captain Philip Blackwood looked around, surprised that he had almost reached the flagship and had barely noticed he had left the shore.
He searched his emotions for the hundredth time. Did he feel resignation or apathy, resentment or excitement? There seemed to be nothing at all. Like a clock which has stopped for no recognizable reason.
He glanced at the biggest vessel which was anchored at the head of the line. Her Majesty's Ship Audacious of ninety guns, the squadron's flagship, and somehow a symbol of Britain's unchallenged sea power. She was not old, but had been laid down and built to a design which had barely altered since Trafalgar, nearly half a century ago. She seemed to grow and expand as the cutter glided closer, and Blackwood saw a levelled telescope at the entry port as his approach was watched and reported.
Everything appeared to be exactly the same as when he had left two weeks ago to spend his leave with his father in Hampshire. During those weeks he had made up his mind, or thought he had. He had sent his marine attendant on ahead to deliver a letter to his lieutenant, the only other marine officer in the ship, and to pack his personal belongings in readiness to leave for the barracks. Blackwood had broken his own journey to face the colonel commandant at Forton Barracks. It had not been an easy interview, and in his mind Blackwood could still feel the dry stillness of the room, hear the distorted cries of a drill sergeant on the square as new recruits pounded up and down under musket and full pack.
Colonel Menzies had said in his calm, unemotional tone, "Resign the Corps? Bloody rubbish." One eyebrow had risen slightly. "What did you expect me to say, man?"
Everything Blackwood had prepared, each carefully thought out reason had seemed to wither away like dead leaves under the colonel's unhurried appraisal.
"I served with your father. I respect him. And what of your grandfather? Another fine marine. A great man."
At any other time Blackwood might have smiled. The colonel commandant's admiration for the Blackwood family had stopped there. All the others had been soldiers.
Colonel Menzies had pressed his fingertips together and stared up from his desk.
"You are 26 years old, and already a captain. You have proved your worth on active service, so one will aid the other. In these days of peace it is not easy to gain advancement, especially in the Corps. But there is no reason why you should not be an asset to us, and a link in your family's tradition."
Looking back over the last hours Blackwood could remember little of his own voice in that quiet room.
Menzies had finished the interview in an almost matter-of-fact fashion.
"In any case, it is out of the question, at present. I have been told that the squadron will proceed to sea within the week. To replace the flagship's senior marine officer at this stage ..." Even his austere face had cracked slightly. "... Twenty-six years old or not, would be unthinkable. I am required to send additional marines to the squadron, many of whom will be new recruits. Officers and NCOs with combat experience will be like gold nuggets."
"My request is dismissed then, Colonel?" They were the only words he could recall.
"What request, Blackwood?" It was over.
"Boat ahoy!" A challenge from the flagship's gangway brought him back to earth with a jerk.
The coxswain cupped his hands. "Aye, aye!"
Perhaps that was it, Blackwood thought. The tradition before all else. The gangway staff knew this was one of the Audacious's boats, and the duty officer would already have been told that Captain Blackwood, Royal Marines, was returning on board. He sighed and grasped his sword scabbard firmly in his left hand.
The playful enmity between seamen and marines was still there, another tradition. He was not going to stoke anyone's fire by tripping over his sword under the eyes of the side-party or by falling headlong into the Solent.
He pulled himself swiftly up the tumblehome and onto the gangway, conscious that he was no longer breathless in doing so. Two weeks ashore after the close confines of a crowded ship had worked wonders for him. Long walks around the estate, riding every day with his half-sister Georgina. It was already like part of a dream, made more so as the ship opened out as if to swallow him.
Blackwood touched his shako to the quarterdeck and nodded to the side-party. To his surprise, his lieutenant, Dick Cleveland, was not there to greet him, and instead the towering figure of Colour-Sergeant M'Crystal waited with obvious impatience for him to speak with the officer of the watch.
The latter said quickly, "There's been a change, Major." He sounded harassed, on edge.
Blackwood waited. Once again tradition had spoken. Always the captain of marines was referred to as major, but had anyone, he wondered, ever in the past confused him with a ship's commanding officer?
"The Flag has shifted."
Blackwood felt a tinge of warning. Menzies had said nothing about that. A new admiral for the squadron. It should have been worth mentioning, surely.
"The captain left word for you to see him as soon as you came off shore, sir."
"And what about my lieutenant?" The officer of the watch stared at him as if that was of no importance at all compared with the awesome responsibility of receiving a new admiral.
"Mr Cleveland's broken his leg." He flushed. "There was a party aboard Swiftsure."
Blackwood controlled his features with an effort. The lieutenant need say no more. Parties in other ships were always Cleveland's true weakness. After a few glasses he seemed to go wild. Now a broken leg had taken him from Audacious when he was really needed.
Blackwood said curtly, "I'll see the captain."
He nodded to Colour-Sergeant M'Crystal. Thank God he at least was here. To some people M'Crystal appeared frightening. He was tall and solidly built yet without an ounce of spare flesh on his frame. His scarlet coatee matching his face which, in spite of long service ashore and afloat, refused to tan and remained brick-red. Blackwood had known him since he had been commissioned at the age of eighteen. M'Crystal had not always been a sergeant, and his stripes had gone up and down with his misfortunes and his hasty temper. But Blackwood had seen the real worth of the man. In New Zealand, just four years back during the Maori War, he had watched M'Crystal rally a handful of marines when they had been outnumbered by ten to one.
"What is it, Colour-Sergeant?"
M'Crystal ran his eyes over the youthful captain as if to reassure himself about something. It felt like an inspection.
He said in his thick voice, "You heard about Mr Cleveland, sir, in Haslar Hospital. Took a fall, he did." Without any change of expression he hurried on, "New admiral's coming aboard tomorrow forenoon, sir. Full guard and ceremonial required, o' course. Twenty new privates have joined today and Sarnt Quintin is settling 'em into the barracks right now. Private Doak is under arrest for drunkenness."
"I see." Blackwood waited. There was more to come. Anything short of mutiny would be accepted as normal routine by M'Crystal and his crony, Sergeant Quintin.
"You've not seen the orders yet, sir?" He did not wait. "The flag officer to command this squadron is Sir James Ashley-Chute."
"Come aft to my quarters."
Blackwood fell in step with the towering sergeant and together they ducked their heads beneath the poop and made for the companion ladder. It was strange he had just been remembering M'Crystal's courage in New Zealand just four years ago. Vice-Admiral Sir James Ashley-Chute's appointment to command the squadron would have roused a few memories for him also. No wonder Colonel Menzies had made no mention of it. To be in the same squadron was bad enough. In the same ship was far worse.
Blackwood could picture the ferocious fighting on North Island as if it had just happened. Blazing sun, choking clouds of dust and musket smoke as the army had fought to overthrow the well-defended Maori stronghold at Ruapekapeka. A contingent of seamen had been landed earlier to relieve pressure on the troops. Ashley-Chute had been in overall charge of the operation, and had seemed determined that no matter what the army attempted, his men could and would do better. Things went badly wrong from the outset. Unused to fighting ashore, the blue-jackets soon got themselves separated from the soldiers and were hemmed in by hundreds of the battle-crazed Maoris. Blackwood felt a chill at his spine as he relived the sights and the terrifying yells of the attacking Maoris.
M'Crystal had been a corporal at the time, having lost his sergeant's stripes after a brawl with a ship's cook.
The major in command of the marines had requested permission to attack and relieve the beleaguered seamen. Ashley-Chute had sent back a curt refusal. The major had snapped angrily, "At least I asked him, dammit!" Then, drawing his sword, he had yelled above the din, "Royal Marines will advance! Fix bayonets!"
There had been less than fifty marines, and 25 had fallen before the enemy had retreated and the stronghold had been taken. The naval commander had been grateful enough, but Ashley-Chute had sent an immediate summons for the major to report to him with an explanation for his actions.
Seeing Blackwood, then a lieutenant, he had snapped. "I sent for your commanding officer! Has he not the courage to face me?"
Blackwood had been shaking with fatigue and the delayed shock of the short, savage fight. It had taken all his strength to place his list of casualties on the admiral's table.
"The major is among the dead, sir."
There had been no sign of remorse or pity, not even the satisfaction of knowing that the marines' action had saved a terrible loss of life and almost certain defeat.
He had said coldly, "Just as well for him."
M'Crystal was watching him grimly. "There was talk of you leaving the Corps, sir."
Blackwood looked at him and smiled. There were no secrets in any ship or barracks.
"It was just talk."
M'Crystal beamed. "Good. I'll pass the word, sir."
Blackwood thrust open the door of his cabin and stepped into its familiar surroundings. There was no sign of a chest or case, and he could see his uniforms hanging in their canvas wardrobe, swaying very slowly as the great ship tugged at her cable.
Smithett, his personal attendant for two years, seemed to dominate the small cabin. He was almost as tall as M'Crystal, but whereas the colour-sergeant was fierce or joyful as the mood took him, Smithett was always the same. He was a dour, dullfaced man, with all his lines turning down. His eyes, his mouth, even his chin, seemed to be set in permanent disapproval. Fortunately, Blackwood had grown to understand him and to appreciate his many skills. Servant, orderly, Smithett could turn his hand to various things which were never mentioned in regulations. He had volunteered for the work of marine officer's attendant, and when Blackwood had asked him why, Smithett had given as near as he dared to a shrug and had replied, "Knew yer father, sir." And that, apparently, was that.
Blackwood sat down on the edge of his cot. "You didn't pack my gear then."
Their eyes met.
Smithett said, "No point, sir. We're sailin' next week."
Blackwood could feel his earlier resolve fading away. M'Crystal's anxious scrutiny, Smithett's positive belief that he would not quit the Corps and all that it stood for had a lot to do with it.
When he had faced his father on the first day of his leave he had expected a rebuke, even a show of contempt. Lieutenant-Colonel Eugene Blackwood would still be on active service if he had his way. But promotion was restricted, and in peacetime any officer who wanted an appointment was considered fortunate to gain one.
But his father had said, "I know you, Philip. You want action. You think that is all there is to being a marine. Action and glory. There are many like you, men who forget that it is continuity of service and training which count. A month of war requires years of experience and leadership."
Blackwood had tried to describe his feelings when he had seen his own commanding officer fall in the Maori War. It had seemed senseless for a man like him to die out there in a place nobody had ever heard of.
But as he had tried to explain he had felt the same inner uncertainty as when he had faced the colonel commandant. Perhaps his father was right. Action and glory, was that what he really wanted for himself?
He thought suddenly of his grandfather. What had Menzies said of him? A great man. Curiously, Blackwood had always felt closer to his grandfather than his father. As a boy he had grown up with the old man's memories, had seen the pale eyes above the white whiskers light up from within as he had told and retold the stories of places and ships he had known. Names painted in history. The Nile. Copenhagen. Trafalgar. In memory it was always the same, with no gaps of fear or boredom in between. The old man had died in the same house where Blackwood had tried to persuade his father to see his point of view.
It might have been different if his mother was still alive, he thought. But she had died after a short fever, and Blackwood's father had remarried the following year to a girl twenty years younger than himself.
Perhaps his father had been too worried about his own news to care much for his son's uncertainty over his future.
He had eventually dropped his announcement with the forthrightness of a 32-pound shot.
"We're selling Hawks Hill, Philip. Your mother, er, Claudia intends we should move to London. It's her sort of world, y'see."
Blackwood frowned as he thought about it. He felt Smithett running a brush over his shoulders, patting his coatee into place. Routine and order.
It was unthinkable to be leaving Hawks Hill and the estate in Hampshire. His father obviously hated the idea but, as usual, would do anything for his wife. The colonel's lady, as they called her in the village. They had never really accepted her, but then she had done little to encourage the "local bumpkins," as she called them.
Blackwood said, "I am going to see the captain. Tomorrow we shall have to do something about getting another lieutenant sent to us."
It was always easy to say "we" and "us" to Smithett. Rather as you might to a faithful dog. He never answered back, but could make his displeasure known in other ways when he felt like it.
He picked up his shako and left the cabin. For a moment longer he paused and glanced aft towards the great cabin and private quarters where the admiral would hold court. It would be even worse for the ship's officers, he thought, unless they knew Ashley-Chute's little ways.
With a sigh Blackwood ran lightly up the companion ladder and turned towards the shadowy confines of the poop. In the short while he had been in his cabin it had grown dark. Around and beneath him the great ship of the line groaned and murmured, her massive timbers and towering masts and rigging keeping up their constant chorus as they had since the day she had first slid into salt water.
The smells too were like part of himself. Paint and tar, cordage and damp canvas. The old navy. Blackwood stopped short within view of the scarlet-coated sentry outside the stern cabin. That too might be a reason. He did not want to stay with a navy which seemed content to remain old and unchanged. Young officers were volunteering to serve in the discomfort and dirt of the new steam vessels simply because they were new, and young like themselves.
Excerpted from Badge of Glory by Douglas Reeman. Copyright © 1982 Highseas Authors Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1 The Old Navy,
2 Of One Company,
3 A Man of Authority,
4 First to Land,
5 Battle Fury,
6 One of the Best,
9 Officers and Men,
10 Sudden Death,
11 A Bargain Kept,
12 "Up the Royals!",
13 Remember this Day ...,
14 The Colonel's Lady,
15 Something Personal,
16 Last Farewell,
17 New Arrivals,
18 Gesture of Hope,
19 The Enemy,
20 A Handful of Rifles,
21 The Redoubt,
22 A Time for Action,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Marines are always the first to land, and here they land first in Africa (and then later in the Crimea). The action is well-related, but there is something drab about the characters; worrying, really, since this is the first in a series of novels charting the path through history of a sea-faring family. Definitely genre fiction: subgenre perhaps. Good at times, but like candy floss, it began to stick in my teeth.