Two Wheels to War – Volunteer motorcycle despatch riders and the British Expeditionary Force 1914

Two Wheels to War is the story of the first motorcycle despatch riders – the talented volunteers who served alongside the Regular Army in 1914.

With no military training, they served on the retreat from Mons, at the Marne and the Aisne, and they endured the First Battle of Ypres before winter 1914 brought stalemate to the early days of the Western Front. The book follows them into 1915, when despatch riding became routine and the group gradually dispersed as they were commissioned into other units.

Our book project started from our interest in how new technology is developed – in this case, motorcycles. My brother, Martin, restores early motor vehicles – particularly those made before the First World War, and up to the early 1930s. As well as using his engineering skills, he studies the stories of these vehicles and, as an amateur genealogist, I’ve often worked with him to trace the people who made them and used them, and their descendants.

At the time, we were researching the story of Cecil and Alick Burney – a pair of brothers who designed an innovative motorcycle in 1912. They were among the very first to volunteer as motorcycle despatch riders and we found their medals and 1914 photograph albums in an auction.

The Burneys’ captioned group photographs helped us to connect the Burney brothers with W.H.L. Watson


W.H.L. Watson was an Oxford undergraduate who volunteered at the same time as the Burneys. Riding their own motorcycles, they were sent to the Fifth Division – and when they landed at Le Havre, Watson, the Burneys and nine others quickly bonded into a highly effective unit.

From Mons to Ypres, these amateurs had a hectic and character-building experience. The despatch riders won praise from the Regulars for their work in keeping the army together when it threatened to disintegrate during the retreat. Many also won gallantry medals.

After that first phase of the war, Watson collected his letters home and turned them into a book, Adventures of a Despatch Rider, which showed the character of the first despatch riders. They were an elite who adapted well into army life. Many were university-educated and others were professional motorcycle engineers. Nearly all of the 1914 despatch riders were later commissioned – either as infantry officers or in specialist units like the Royal Flying Corps or Army Service Corps.

We uncovered the real identities of the original 12, which was concealed by Watson under nicknames such as ‘Pollers’ or ‘Fatters’, and then we turned to tracing their families. To our amazement, we found five children of these 12 men – all with living memories of their fathers, as well as many other relatives. We met their wider families and searched museums and archives. All the while, we were building a detailed picture of their lives from service records, the men’s own letters and diaries, and family photographs.

The tidal wave of patriotism which followed the declaration of war is well known. The volunteers of the new armies have been celebrated many times over – in print, in photographs and in film. They were the courageous men of the battalions which suffered such horrendous losses going over the top in 1916. Less well known is the story of the old Regular Army – the original ‘Expeditionary Force’. By Christmas 1914, their losses – though less than the later disasters – had robbed the army of military skills and leadership, and made the creation of the new armies longer and more arduous than it might have been.

In reading about the 1914 campaign, we were struck by the courage and aggression shown by all sides – British, French and German – when there was a ‘firing line’, but no ‘frontline trenches’. Many units – infantry, artillery and cavalry – used fighting tactics which would have been recognised by the soldiers who fought at Waterloo a hundred years earlier. Many officers went into action with newly sharpened swords, and there were even a few cavalry charges.

Several new accounts of the 1914 campaign were published about the time we began our research, but few challenged the conventional wisdom that only a handful of motorcyclists reached France in 1914 and that they had a limited impact on the campaign. Some studies even omitted the Divisional Signal Companies, to which the motorcyclists belonged, from their ‘order of battle’ pages.

Our examination of service records showed that there were many more motorcyclists than previously thought. We concluded that at least 400 motorcycle despatch riders served in France in 1914.Whilst the contribution of a handful of motorcyclists could be overlooked, the fact that so many were deployed so early forced us to reconsider their role and achievements – particularly when we realised what a carefully selected group they were.

German airmen prisoners at 5th Division Headquarters

Letters and diaries kept by individuals are still turning up and being published for the first time. Two Wheels to War stands out because it includes material from more than half the members of a small group. It contains the full text of Watson’s Adventures of a Despatch Rider, together with words and pictures from more than half of his colleagues. The photographs portray many men who can be identified; sometimes, we can identify the exact date when the picture was taken. We have added notes on units and people, and explanatory comments on unfamiliar terms.

Two Wheels to War will be showcased to vintage motorcycle enthusiasts on our stand at the International Classic Motorcycle Show at Stafford Showground on 22-23 April, along with a Douglas despatch rider motorcycle and – a work in progress – Martin’s restoration of a Blackburne of the type designed and used by the Burney brothers. There will then be a family event at Milestones Museum in Basingstoke, to which we’ve invited members of nine of the original 12 families. Lastly, we have a good relationship with the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Forum, who want to add our working papers to their archives.

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The Polish Brigade at Arnhem

Released in 1946, Brian Desmond Hurst’s film Theirs Is The Glory recounts the part played by the British 1st Airborne Division, in concert with the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, during operation MARKET GARDEN in September 1944…

At least that was the intention of Irish born film director Brian Desmond Hurst.  Sadly, the final cut of the film, premiered on 17 September 1946, fails to show any Polish paratroopers on screen; their involvement was reduced to a line of commentary some nine minutes into the showing.

Evidence exists that Hurst did include the actions of the Polish Brigade; the 1990 publication De Polen Van Driel by George F Cholewczynski has photographs of Polish soldiers in action.  While the authors of Theirs Is The Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film were able to uncover and interview several past members of the 1st Airborne Division who took part in the making of the film, it proved impossible to find any surviving Polish members; nor was there reference in the surviving paperwork available.  It is entirely possible that British members played the part, as they did in some ‘German’ roles.

As to why the role of the Polish Brigade was virtually ignored, the answer must lie in politics. During the making of the film in August 1945, Poland was still a staunch and valuable ally in the fight against Nazi Germany. By the time of the film’s release, the world had changed (the situation clearly summed up in a recent review of Theirs is the Glory, Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film by Professor Eunan O’Halpin of Trinity Centre for Contemporary Irish History, Dublin).

The British government, who had already turned away from the Polish government-in-exile by recognising the Soviet-backed administration installed in Warsaw, did not want the film to highlight free Polish military achievements and sacrifice fighting alongside the Western allies.

While Theirs Is The Glory gave little credit to the role of the Polish Brigade at Arnhem, a slightly more detailed story was told in A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977 and starring American actor Gene Hackman as General Sosabowski – one of the few actors to receive glowing plaudits for his role.

An examination of the customer comments on Amazon regarding the DVD of Theirs Is The Glory shows plainly how modern audiences fail to understand what the director was attempting to show in 1946.  Hopefully, Theirs Is The Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film will help to explain why it was made and enshrine the pedigree of the men we see on screen paying their tribute to their comrades that did not return from battle.

The role of the Polish Parachute Brigade and those other Polish units that served in the Allied armies during the Second World War, deserves to be more widely known.  The accompanying photograph is of a mural unveiled in 2016 in East Belfast as a tribute to both the Polish Brigade and the Polish airmen who joined the RAF.  Interestingly, the latter were the central story line in Brian Desmond Hurst’s Battle of Britain film Dangerous Moonlight (1941).

Theirs Is The Glory. Arnhem, Hurst and Conflict on Film by David Truesdale and Allan Esler Smith can be purchased here

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Britain’s Forgotten War With the Soviets

By Damien Wright

Why should such a remarkable event as the two-year campaign by the British Government to militarily defeat the Bolsheviks (later known as the ‘Soviets’) on Russian soil be virtually forgotten today?

From August 1918-July 1920 – initially in an attempt to restore a ‘White Russian’ Government to power, which would recommence hostilities on the Eastern Front after Lenin’s Revolutionary Bolsheviks had signed a peace agreement with the Central Powers (considered a great betrayal by Britain and France) – the British Government sent troops, ships and the most modern planes and tanks in the British arsenal to fight the Red Army on the ground in Russia.

When I first developed an interest in the campaign some years ago, asking around British military history circles, few knew anything at all about the British campaign in Russia after the First World War, which seemed bizarre, given the significance of the Secretary of State for War – Winston Churchill – pursuing an undeclared war against the first leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin. The victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War – and the establishment of the Soviet Union – would shape most of the 20th century, so why should this fascinating and important period of British military history be so neglected and forgotten?

More than 15 years of research has culminated in Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-20. The research was exhaustive, with many thousands of pages taken from the National Archives in the UK, Australia and Canada, but also from many diaries, photographs, letters and unpublished private papers generously donated by families of servicemen from across the Commonwealth (particularly the UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand). Without the generous contributions of those family members whose relatives served in Russia, the book would not have been possible.

The highlight of my research into the campaign was meeting with Mrs Victoria Christen (née Pearse) – the daughter of Sergeant Samuel George Pearse VC MM, who was an Australian ‘North Russia Relief Force’ volunteer killed in action in North Russia in 1919. He was awarded the VC posthumously. Victoria was born after her father’s death and, at the private presentation of the VC to Pearse’s widow in 1920, Queen Mary nursed baby Victoria – remarking how sad it was that the little girl should have to grow up without her father.

Readers of Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin may be surprised to learn that the last British servicemen to be killed by the German Army during the First World War met their fate in the Baltic, which was almost a year after the Armistice and, in fact, were not soldiers at all, but nine Royal Navy sailors of the cruiser HMS Dragon. It was struck by shells fired by German ‘Iron Division’ troops ashore in Latvia, who considered the Armistice to apply to the Western Front only and not themselves in the Baltic.

British and Commonwealth servicemen held as POW’s of the Soviets in Moscow, winter 1919-20

Readers may also be surprised to learn that the first Soviet submarine kill in history was a Royal Navy destroyer – the HMS Vittoria – which was sunk by torpedoes fired from the Soviet submarine Pantera in the Baltic Sea in 1919, or that the RAF and Red Air Force fought each other in the skies over Russia, or that the last Canadian and Australian soldiers to be killed in action in the First World War met their fate in North Russia in 1919 (many months after the Armistice). It is likely that readers will never have heard of the more than a hundred British and Commonwealth servicemen from all three services (including a VC recipient) who were held as POWs by the Soviets in Moscow. It is also a little-known fact that the bodies of nearly a thousand British and Commonwealth servicemen who died fighting the Soviets remain buried in Russian soil.

Immediately after withdrawal in mid-1920, the British Government attempted to cover up their involvement in Russia by classifying all official documents relating to the campaign under the ‘50 year’ rule. By the time the files were quietly released decades later, there was very little public interest.

Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin fills a huge gap in the knowledge of modern British and Commonwealth military history. Imagine if the British attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks had been successful and there had never been a Soviet Union… the ramifications would have been enormous, and the world we live in today would be very different indeed.

Churchill’s Secret War with Lenin: British and Commonwealth Military Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-20 by Damien Wright is available for purchase here.


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Paper Soldiers: Hamburg Tactica Show 2017

By Peter Dennis

Every year, a small group of the Perry mafia goes over to the Hamburg Tactica Show as guests of the organisers. I like to repay their hospitality with a piece of artwork for whatever purpose, and last year Frank Becker of the Hamburgers, who has taken to paper soldiers bigly (as we say nowadays), asked me to do a camp scene for the magazine in the style of the Zinnfiguren flats. This page is the result and is, I hope, an attractive addition to the Battle for Britain. Wargame the English Civil War book.

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WW1 Artefacts: Private Harold Tookey’s Camera

By Steve Corbett

Early last year, at a vintage collectors’ fair being held in a village in Sussex, an elderly lady approached one of the stall holders and offered him a small Kodak vest pocket camera – often referred to as the ‘Soldier’s camera’. With the camera came two cases: one in leather and marked with the name ‘Harold Tookey’, and the other was a rather battered canvas case with a piece of paper inside, which bore a regimental number and just a few details of the soldier.

The elderly lady explained to the stall holder that the camera had belonged to her relative in the Great War and had been passed down through the generations, but no one was now interested in it. Out of curiosity, the stall holder checked the details on the medal index for First World War soldiers, and this confirmed that what was written on that scrap of paper was indeed correct, but this was as far as the dealer went with his research.

At 7:30 a.m. on 1 July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began, and from Maricourt in the south to Serre in the north, the British troops attacked the German lines after a preliminary seven-day bombardment of the German defences. At the northern end of the assault, the 11th East Lancashires – ‘The Accrington Pals’ – launched their disastrous attack upon the fortified village of Serre. The tragic outcome of this battle is described in detail in my book: An Accrington Pal: The Diaries of Pte Jack Smallshaw.

Just north of Serre lies the Gommecourt salient, and this too was the scene of bitter fighting on the morning of 1 July 1916. The assault carried out by the 46th (North Midland) Division and the 56th (1st London) Division on the Gommecourt salient was a diversionary attack – launched with the primary aim of protecting the northern end of the main battle, but it had another aim too, as revealed in a letter sent after the battle on 3 July 1916 by Brigadier General F. Lyon of VII Corps:

The Corps Commander wishes to congratulate all ranks of the 56th Division on the way in which they took the German trenches and held them by pure grit and pluck for so long in very adverse circumstances.

Although GOMMECOURT has not fallen into our hands, the purpose of the attack, which was mainly to contain and kill Germans, was accomplished, thanks to a great extent to the tenacity of the 56th Division.

Sgd/ F. Lyon, Brigadier-Genl 3rd.  July 1916, General Staff, VII Corps.[1]

The 56th Division had some initial success: the first two lines of German trenches were soon captured, and the third line – at Nameless Farm – also came under attack, but the Germans put up a stubborn resistance. By now, the defenders were regrouping and a heavy artillery barrage from the German guns – combined with machine guns and grenade attacks – prevented reinforcements reaching the besieged survivors of the assault Consequently, their situation was hopeless – and those that could, began to withdraw to their own lines; many of the wounded men had to be left behind. A total of 569 officers and men were listed as dead, wounded or missing by the end of the battle.

Second Lieutenant R.E. Petley wrote an account of the battle at the request of his CO. In it, he makes reference to the fate of the wounded:

There is an incident I should like to mention which shows that we had a decent lot of HUNS [sic] opposite and which would prove a source of consolation to the relatives of the missing. About 9.45 p.m. (early twilight) a German came out to us, and as I saw his red cross I prevented our men from firing. He came up, saw I had been roughly dressed, and went on nearer to our own lines to attend to one of his own men. Some of our men got up to go and he shouted out and stopped one of their machine guns. I think his action showed pluck and decency and augurs well for our wounded which we had to leave behind.[2] 

(Photograph taken from the Commonwealth War Graves website.)

4092 Private Harold Tookey, of the 5th London Rifles, was one of those wounded men who had to be left behind; he was captured by the Germans. On 27 July 1916, he died of his wounds; he had been in France just four months. His personal effects – including his pocket camera – were returned to his family. Private Tookey was interred by the Germans at Caudry Old Communal Cemetery.


[1] TNA: ref WO 95/2961/1.

[2] ibid.

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From Docks and Sand: The men and women of Southport and Bootle’s during the Great War

This new book is the first to study the men and women of Bootle and Southport during the Great War through the story of their local battalion: 7th King’s, Liverpool Regiment.

This Territorial battalion fought within Regular divisions in 1915, but from 1916 was a unit in the well-respected 55th West Lancashire Division, under General Sir Hugh Jeudwine. The book gives a detailed account of their war record, starting at the Battle of Festubert in May 1915 – an event which seared itself into the lives and memories of not only the soldiers, but also the whole community of South-West Lancashire for a hundred years.

The 1/7th King’s were in frontline action at Guillemont, Ginchy and Guedecourt on the Somme in 1916; the opening day of Third Ypres at the end of July 1917, and later at Zonnebeke; under German attack in the spring offensives at Givenchy in April 1918; and part of the final advance into Belgium in the summer and autumn of 1918.

The 55th Division was widely held as heroically preventing the German breakthrough at Givenchy on 9 April 1918 – and if you look for the real heart of the division, now on the Western Front, it is in this area of Lys-Festubert and Givenchy. Not only is the divisional memorial there, but a number of villages were adopted in the 1920s by towns in the North-West of England who had soldier sons who had fought there; Southport, Preston, Blackpool and Liverpool itself all have their names attached to this area. The book gives an in-depth account of this process of adoptions, which was undertaken by the British League of Help.

From Docks and Sand also studies the Home Front, the agriculture and the munitions work which held the fabric of the community together, as well as the imposition of billeted troops who were training on the sands.

Perhaps the most significant single event to affect the home community came when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by German torpedoes in April 1915. This Cunard liner was very closely associated with workers and families of Bootle, and the book describes the immediate aftermath of riots, as well as the direct links made in France, when the troops advanced on Festubert calling: “Avenge the Lusitania!”

The study of the war through 1/7th King’s provides an insight to all Territorial battalions rarely found elsewhere, and it also emphasises the importance of morale and identity. Indeed, Jeudwine generated a Lancastrianisation across the division – forging a regional identity comparable to those of Tyneside, Scotland, Wales or Ireland – but it is the longevity of that identity and significance to the community, which we find through memorials and the links with French towns and villages, that the book highlights.

The book is the result of years of research and study, and it quotes extensively from local and national archives, as well as letters, diaries and newspapers, which also contain several photographs. This is an important study of a King’s Liverpool battalion – providing a unique understanding of the men and women of Southport and Bootle and their involvement in the Great War of 1914-1918.

From Docks and Sand. Southport and Bootle’s Battalion, the 7th King’s Liverpool Regiment in the First World War by Adrian Gregson can be purchased here.

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Far Distant Ships – The Blockade of Brest 1793-1815

After completing my previous book on the war in the North Sea during the First World War, which was published last December, I turned to the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars as a subject for a further book on naval history. Lasting from 1793-1815, these Wars saw the Royal Navy confirm its reputation as the most powerful and successful navy in the world; they imposed huge demands on the navy, its ships, its men and its administration.

My book concentrates on the Royal Navy’s blockade of Brest – the strategically vital port from which the French Navy could menace the United Kingdom. As with my previous book, I have examined, in particular, the way in which critically important decisions were taken. I have also made extensive use of the many valuable collections of documents published by the Navy Records Society. It was no great surprise to find that the correspondence between the senior commanders, and theirs with the Admiralty, was just as bad tempered and argumentative as was to be seen in the similar documents of the First World War. The admirals felt that the administration paid insufficient attention to their needs, while at the Admiralty, there was persistent dissatisfaction with the way in which orders were executed.

Nonetheless, it was the Royal Navy’s operations such as those around Brest which led Admiral Mahan famously to write: ‘Those far distant, storm beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the domination of the world’. The blockade required a constant watch on the port, from which at any time the French fleet, or part of it, might emerge to carry out offensive operations – especially against the coastline of England and Ireland. The British Admiralty was particularly sensitive to the possibility of a descent on the southern coast of Ireland; in fact, the French were able to make their escape from Brest on many occasions. It was, of course, easier for single ships or small squadrons to do so, but sometimes a substantial force emerged, as for instance in 1794, when the French sent out a large fleet to cover the arrival of a vitally important transatlantic grain convoy. This led to the battle known as the ‘Glorious First of June’, when Lord Howe won a significant victory over the French fleet, led by Villaret-Joyeuse, but failed to prevent the convoy getting safely in.

A key responsibility of the Channel Fleet was the protection of British trade. This was hampered by the shortage of frigates with which to hunt down the French ships that preyed on British merchantmen. The convoy system that was introduced – involving large numbers of merchantmen escorted by warships – was an important factor in meeting the threat.

The Channel Fleet was led, at various times, by a number of self-willed and assertive commanders. Howe’s successor was the acerbic Lord Bridport; the two men cordially disliked each other. History has not been kind to Bridport, but I suggest that he has generally been underrated. He was followed by the arrogant St Vincent, and then by the supremely competent Cornwallis, who was, perhaps, the ablest of all the fleet’s commanders. Day in, day out, it was the ambition of each of them to win a major fleet action, but for most of the time, as their correspondence showed, their attention had to be focused on the grinding reality of blockading – in all weathers – a notoriously dangerous coastline. Their contribution to Britain’s ultimate success, however, can be said to have been at least as valuable as the winning of a spectacular sea battle.

Far Distant Ships. The Blockade of Brest 1793-1815 by Quintin Barry is available for pre-order here.

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Remembering Montgomery: The largest Civil War battle fought in Wales

The largest English Civil War battle to take place in Wales – involving more than 8,000 soldiers – has been reappraised in a ground-breaking new book, written more than 350 years later.

The Battle of Montgomery, 1644. The English Civil War in the Welsh Borderlands offers the most detailed reconstruction and interpretation of the battle to date, using field work to propose the likeliest location of the fighting.

“The Battle of Montgomery, fought outside the town on 18 September 1644, was the largest engagement in Wales during the war of 1642-1646, yet it has been overshadowed by the more well-known battles, such as Edgehill (1642) and Naseby (1645),” says military historian Dr Jonathan Worton, who lives near Shrewsbury in Shropshire.

“I am pleased and proud to have expanded current knowledge not only on the Battle of Montgomery, but also of the Civil War in the Welsh Borderlands – a fighting region that is still often overlooked by historians of the wider national conflict.”

Sir Thomas Myddelton, who had jointly commanded the victorious Parliamentarian Army at Montgomery, later described it as: ‘As great a victory as hath been gained in any part of the kingdom’. Securing Parliamentarian control of this key frontier town and castle significantly weakened royalism in the area – paving the way for ultimate victory in 1646.

Drawing on his doctoral studies of the Civil War, Jonathan spent part of 2015 thoroughly researching his work from mostly originally sources.

He said: “Living in Shropshire, Montgomery – just across the border, in Powys – is my ‘local’ Civil War battle. Being a keen walker, I made many visits to the area of the battle site – looking at the topography of the still largely unspoilt agricultural landscape, which has probably not changed greatly since the 1640s, and comparing it with the contemporary sources from the time of the battle. This helped me to create what is considered by far the most thorough account of the likely course and nature of the battle.”

Publishers Helion & Company Ltd. have specially-commissioned artwork for The Battle of Montgomery, which contains a wealth of photographs and illustrations.

“We are immensely fortunate to have a historian of Jonathan’s considerable talents taking a long-overdue look at this decisive – but long-forgotten – battle,” says Charles Singleton, commissioning editor of Helion’s Century of the Soldier series.

‘Jonathan’s first book for Helion, To Settle the Crown. Waging Civil War in Shropshire 1642-48, was a huge success and it is no surprise to me that The Battle of Montgomery has been equally well received, with very favourable reviews.

‘This is a must-read book for those with an interest in not only the English Civil War, but in conflict in the Welsh Borderlands.”

The Battle of Montgomery, 1644. The English Civil War in the Welsh Borderlands is available here.

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A Real-life ‘Barry Lyndon’: The Adventurous Career of Horace St Paul (Part II)

Helion author Neil Cogswell tells the story of Horace St Paul, whose extraordinary career has more than a little in common with the eponymous hero of Thackeray’s novel and its Stanley Kubrik film adaptation. In Part I, we heard how the young St Paul fled into exile to avoid a murder charge stemming from an illegal duel. In France he made the acquaintance of Prince Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands and the brother-in-law of Maria Theresa the Empress Queen of Austria. With war clouds gathering, this connection enabled him to make the transition from fugitive to soldier.

The Seven Years War

When, in 1756, Frederic of Prussia invaded Saxony, Prince Charles of Lorraine, expecting to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian army, offered St Paul a post as aide-de-camp and sent him to learn his new trade by attaching himself as a volunteer with Marshal Browne, then commanding in Bohemia. St Paul records: “I laboured hard to master every point of the profession,” and it is this learning process that makes the detail of his Journal especially interesting.

Horace St Paul in 1759

In 1757 Prince Charles of Lorraine took over the chief command in Bohemia with St Paul as a volunteer aide-de-camp. St Paul was an eye-witness at most of the major actions or had access to those who had been participants. During the following two years he occupied a similar position on the staff of Marshal Daun. During this period, St Paul rose to the rank of honorary Colonel-of-Horse and was rewarded for his services by being appointed a Count of the Holy Roman Empire. By 1760, financial stringency meant that the volunteers could no longer be given a fodder allowance, and, in addition, General Lacy had developed a more professional General Staff. Despite this, St Paul did make the campaign of 1760 possibly as part of the suite of the Princes of Saxony, but he had to return to Vienna at the end of that year.

In the Northumberland Archives at Ashington, there is some evidence that St Paul spent time at the end of the war as military secretary to Adam Friedrich, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg-Wurzburg. There is also evidence that St Paul may have considered offering his services to Russia.

In 1762, Horace’s father – Robert Paul – died aged 76. In his will, Robert left St Paul £1,000 per annum, noting that the campaigns of his eldest son had already put him to considerable expense! Because of his banishment, Horace could not inherit his father’s property which passed to his siblings.

Reinstatement and Diplomatic Career

With the war ending in 1763, David Murray, 7th Viscount Stormont, was appointed British Ambassador in Vienna. It appears that Lord Stormont and St Paul were previously acquainted and good friends. Stormont urged St Paul to submit a memorandum on the circumstances of the duel with Mr Dalton and attempt to have his banishment rescinded. It is possible that Stormont solicited the assistance of his uncle Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the Kings Bench, in this matter. In July 1765, a “Most Gracious and Free Full Pardon” was duly issued and St Paul was free to return to England.

In 1770, St Paul applied for and received leave to retire from the Austrian service to enable himself to accept other duties so that he could provide for his dependents.

Those other duties soon crystallised when his friend Lord Stormont was appointed Ambassador to France and requested St Paul to join him in Paris as First Secretary. During the four years of this appointment Lord Stormont was absent from Paris pursuing his other interests for more than half his tenure; in this he demonstrated the great trust that he had in St Paul by leaving him in charge of this most sensitive of legations. His Majesty’s Government also demonstrated its approval of St Paul by appointing him Minister Plenipotentiary in 1776. Regrettably HM Treasury was not especially generous in his allowance and St Paul was obliged to expend his own monies “to support that decency and appearance which is expected of the representative of a great nation”.

The time in Paris had one pleasant outcome. On 5 February 1774, Horace St Paul married Anne Weston at the Embassy Chapel; his bride was 17 years his junior. Although initially Anne was to complain to her confidantes that “We are penniless,” the marriage was happy and she gave her husband three sons and a daughter.

After his success in Paris, as judged by London, St Paul was appointed Envoy Extraordinary to the Swedish Court in Stockholm on 23 October 1776. He took this role only for a year but finally had to give it up because he could not afford it – though the excuse that he offered was the effect of the climate on the health of his wife.

The diplomatic career of St Paul is comprehensively recorded in George Grey Butler, Horace St Paul of Ewart Soldier and Diplomat (London: St Catherine Press, 1911).

Retirement to Private Life in Northumberland

St Paul now settled with Anne to country pursuits and to raise his family at Ewart House, near Wooler in Northumberland, which property he had purchased from his unmarried brother in 1775.

Horace St Paul’s saddle-furniture, with his coat of arms

His public service, however, was not yet at an end. In 1798, during the Revolutionary Wars he raised the Cheviot Rangers of 4 companies of infantry for local defence. After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens in 1803 this force was renamed the Royal Cheviot Legion and augmented to 4 troops of cavalry and 10 companies of infantry making a total of 810 men of which St Paul was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel-Commandant.

Aged 83, Horace St Paul died peacefully with his wife and children at his bedside on 16 April 1812. He was interred in a vault beneath the Western Apse of Doddington Church, which hosts a fine memorial to his career. His wife Anne now rests beside him having died aged 92 on 5 August 1838.

The London Gazette of 15 September 1812 records that, in token of St Paul’s many services: “The Prince Regent on behalf of His Majesty grants that the title of Count shall devolve to his children.”


Some people may wish note similarities between the early career of Horace St Paul and a certain character of fiction known as Barry Lyndon. In this context, it may be of interest to note that Henry Chowell Cooper, a grandson of Horace St Paul, was at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1828. A certain William Makepeace Thackeray was also briefly at Trinity College at about that time.

My work with Horace St Paul has brought me into contact with several of his descendants, in America, in Canada and in England. I thank them, and in particular Francis Brennan, for encouraging my interest in their ancestor. The Northumberland County Archives now at Ashington have a fine selection of his papers which have proved invaluable in constructing the second volume of his campaigns that takes the story up to 1760. I am also pleased to acknowledge the interest of Phiona Stoughton, who fell in love with the portrait of Horace St Paul, and of Andrew Lumley, who was fortunate enough to purchase the horse furniture of the Count. A reproduction of the portrait and photographs of the horse furniture illustrate this note.

Neil Cogswell March 2017

Lobositz to Leuthen. Horace St Paul and the Campaigns of the Austrian Army in the Seven Years War 1756-57 can be purchased from Helion here.

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A Real-life ‘Barry Lyndon’: The Adventurous Career of Horace St Paul (Part I)

Helion author Neil Cogswell tells the story of Horace St Paul, whose extraordinary career has more than a little in common with the eponymous hero of Thackeray’s novel and its Stanley Kubrik film adaptation. Neil’s first annotated volume of St Paul’s Seven Years War journal and other papers has been published by Helion under the title Lobositz to Leuthen as the first book in our new series From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815: the second volume will be published in the autumn of 2017 as Olmütz to Torgau.


Horace St Paul in 1748

The first-born son of Robert Paul and his wife Judith, née Collins, was baptized Horatio at St Olave’s Church, Hart Street in the City of London on 17 May 1729. Horatio would be joined by five sisters, only one of whom married, and one brother – a lifelong bachelor. Robert Paul (born 1686) was a Justice of the Peace and a Fellow of the Royal Society; he was also a friend and supporter of Sir Robert Walpole through whose influence he for some time held the lucrative post of Collector of Customs for the Port of London. Horatio was so christened as a compliment to Sir Robert Walpole who had chosen that name for his first-born son. Horatio’s mother was an heiress in her own right and it was through her line that Ewart House and the estates pertaining to it entered the family.

From this privileged background, Horatio – or Horace as he was more commonly called – was destined for a career in law and entered Gray’s Inn. Like other students, Horace Paul was highly sociable and that sociability would lead to an unfortunate incident which was greatly to affect his later life. Despite using the third person in this account, Horace told that story in his own words in a memorial to accompany his letter to the King in which, in 1765, he sought pardon for the offence.

Narrative of the Unfortunate Affair Between Mr Paul and Mr Dalton

On Friday the 24th May 1751 Mr Paul in company with his sisters, Mr Blackburne, Mr Dalton and some other Ladies were at a visit at Miss Green’s. During the visit, Mr Dalton, who as it appeared afterwards made his addresses to the youngest sister, took a snuff box out of his pocket and was asked by her for a pinch of snuff. It is to be observed that this snuff box was the lady’s own, and had been taken from her a few days before by Mr Dalton to prevent her taking too much snuff. Some time after she asked Mr Paul for a pinch of snuff, and he gave her one. Some of the company saw that Mr Dalton was affected by this circumstance, but Mr Paul did not for, being ignorant of the connections formed between Mr Dalton and Miss Green, he did not expect so trifling a civility to the lady could be matter of offence to Mr Dalton.

A little after, Miss Green asked Mr Paul if he tasted her snuff, and then, at her request Mr Dalton gave Mr Paul her box and, while he held the box, Miss Green said: “Mr Paul, as you are my friend, you’ll keep it.” Upon this Mr Dalton said he was sure that Mr Paul would give it again to the person from whom he had it. Mr Paul, not from opposition, but merely in gaiety and complaisance, replied that he must preferably obey the Lady’s command. Upon this, Mr Dalton sprung from his chair with an air of great anger, which Mr Paul could not account for, and attempted to wrest from him the box as he sat in his chair. Mr Paul continued sitting, and the struggle that ensued was conducted on the part of Mr Dalton with so much vehemence and indecorum, that the treatment Mr Paul received amounted nearly to blows, so that the Ladies were sufficiently alarmed to interpose and desire Mr Paul to give it up. He did so, and said to Mr Dalton: “Since you make a serious affair of it, there it is.” Mr Paul though it necessary some acknowledgement should be made for what had passed, and, in this persuasion as soon as he could, he took the resolution of calling at Mr Dalton’s house and sending for him, who, it was natural to suppose, upon reflection would have been inclined to make that sort of verbal acknowledgement, which was all that Mr Paul wanted.

That Mr Dalton was conscious his behaviour to Mr Paul had been such as he might expect to be called upon for an explanation of is apparent from the conversation that passed between Mr Dalton and Mr Blackburne at the Braunds-head Tavern, where those gentlemen retired upon leaving the Ladies. Mr Blackburne there told Mr Dalton that he was sorry for what had passed, but hoped nothing further would come of it. Mr Dalton replied that he hoped so too, but said that Mr Paul could not but take notice of it, and added that he would not ask his pardon. He went on and asked Mr Blackburne whether upon being called upon by Mr Paul, his courage would be questioned if he desired a day to settle his affairs. He consulted Mr Blackburne whether it was better for him to fight with Pistols or with Swords.

Mr Blackburne told him that he thought it better to make use of swords, for with pistols both parties were often killed and that with swords one if not both generally escaped. Mr Dalton then drew his sword, tried it on the table, and said: “I will receive Paul’s thrust with my left hand, and depend upon one I shall make with my right.”

Mr Paul and Mr Dalton met at Mr Dalton’s house, in consequence of being sent to by Mr Paul. When Mr Dalton came into the room to Mr Paul, he instantly said: “I know it cannot be avoided, I told Blackburne so,” and added “if you will, we will do it here,” and proposed to make use of pistols, to which Mr Paul agreed; but Mr Dalton said pistols did not signify, or words to that effect, and saying something about mourning swords being generally bad, proposed going upstairs to change his, and asked Mr Paul if he would do the same, who said it was indifferent to him, on which Mr Dalton observing that Mr Paul’s sword was as bad as his own, desisted.

Mr Dalton was the first that drew his sword, and bending it upon the ground, he measured blades with Mr Paul. Mr Paul declares that he himself acted chiefly upon the defensive, that in moving about the room a table on which candles stood was thrown down and the candles put out, whereupon Mr Dalton went out of the room and brought in another lighted candle. About this time, Mr Paul says they heard a great knocking at the door, which Mr Dalton said was somebody come to prevent them, and went out of the room and gave directions that nobody should be let in, and then returned. Mr Dalton pressed very hard upon Mr Paul, who very soon thought that he had wounded Mr Dalton in his sword arm, and desired him to desist, saying: “I am afraid that you are wounded,” but Mr Dalton, still pressing upon him, received another wound and staggered and fell. Upon this Mr Paul dropped his sword and ran for the surgeons.

If the unfortunate Mr Paul, by anything above recited, has offended against the letter of the Law, he hopes the warmth and inexperience of a young man, not much above twenty years old, acting under the prejudices of custom and the laws of honour, may be some excuse and entitle him to compassion, and he hopes farther that it appears that the unhappy method of the deciding the dispute was not what he wished or meant to insist on, but, that the least acknowledgement on the part of Mr Dalton would have avoided it.


Despairing of the possible outcome of this unfortunate affair, when the Coroner directed that he should stand trial for wilful murder, Horace Paul fled to France, where he had spent some time the previous year. The Duc de Penthièvre acted as his host, and in his company he met many distinguished persons including Prince Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands and the brother-in-law of Maria Theresa the Empress Queen of Austria.

During this time of banishment Horace adopted as his surname the form St Paul that was long dormant in his family but more familiar to French and Flemish ears and was probably more acceptable in the circles in which he moved. During this time, he also received a substantial allowance from his father.

To be Continued in Part II…

Neil Cogswell, March 2017

Lobositz to Leuthen. Horace St Paul and the Campaigns of the Austrian Army in the Seven Years War 1756-57 can be purchased from Helion here.

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