Reviews: Fiction

Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood

Bois, Mark. Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood. Tucson: Fireship Press. 2014. ISBN: 9781611793093 Paperback ($17)  Kindle ($6).

Lieutenant and Mrs Lockwood

One of the most illustrious regiments of the British Army during the Waterloo Campaign was the 1st Battalion 27th Foot, a regiment recruited in Ireland and led by mostly English officers.  At Waterloo, the battalion was led by the senior captain and consisted of only seven companies.  Among the officers there were three captains, eleven lieutenants, and five ensigns, three of whom had two years experience, while two had less than two months.  Also present was the battalion quartermaster and two assistant surgeons.[1] (The battalion headquarters and three companies became separated from the rest of the battalion when their ship  encountered a gale on the way back from Jamaica.)[2] Surprisingly the battalion had a strength of 698 men at Waterloo.  During the afternoon of 18 June 1815, the regiment would gain fame for standing its ground against the might of the French and by the end of the day only seven of the officers[3] and 220 men were left standing.[4] This was a staggering 68% casualties, the highest of any British infantry regiment at Waterloo. Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood is its story.

The  saga of the regiment is told through the eyes of one officer and the infantry company he leads.  Lieutenant James Lockwood is one of the senior lieutenants in the regiment. Although he comes from the gentry, he has been all but disowned by his father because he married an Irish woman. He has few prospects for promotion since he has no means of purchasing the next step and with peace broken out, the chances for a battlefield promotion is slim. 

The book begins in late 1814 on the island of Jamaica. There it tells of the daily life of a junior officer on garrison duty. It is one of mounting guard, inspections, drills, and keeping the company books in order.  Yet it is also the story of how friendships are formed in the officers’ mess and something that is rarely talked about in histories – the training of newly commissioned officers.  Much of the initial chapters is devoted to the efforts by Lieutenant Lockwood to train his new ensign, in the hopes that should they ever go to war, the ensign will survive.  One of the more enjoyable aspects of this portion of the book was the shenanigans the young officers got into in their free time.  They are similar to some of the pranks we pulled when I was a 2nd Lieutenant in an infantry battalion 35 years ago!

The real strength of the book however lies in the story of the battalion when it is sent to Belgium as part of the Duke of Wellington’s Army in 1815. Much of it is centered around the efforts of the junior officers to adapt to being 30% under strength and missing virtually all of the battalion’s senior leadership.  Soon orders reach them to march and before they know it the battalion is at Waterloo.  Unlike any other novel I have hear, the author deals with the minutia of managing the battalion in the hours leading up to the battle.  Such things as where the baggage will be placed and the decision on which officer will be in charge of the baggage guard and how the soldiers were selected for the duty, as well as where the battalion surgeons will be located are seamlessly interwoven into the narrative.  The real meat of the story is how the regiment stood in square against numerous cavalry charges and under a massive artillery bombardment for what had to seem like hours.  Mr. Bois places you in the thick of it, as you see your comrades fall around you, as you try to control your terror as you move your men to plug gaps in the ever shrinking formation, hoping all along that your life will be spared.  Even though it is a fictional account, it is the best description I have ever read of what it must have been like in one of those battered British squares at Waterloo.

Most novels of the Napoleonic Wars ignore a very important factor in a soldier’s life – his family.  Some will mention in passing the family of the enlisted soldier who accompanied the regiment on campaign, but few ever write about those left behind.  One of the main characters in Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood is Brigid Lockwood, the protagonist’s wife.  She lives with their five children in Clonakilty, Ireland and has not seen her husband in three years.  The story explores how she copes with his absence and living on his meager officer’s pay.  A subplot of the novel is the simmering resentment of the Irish to the continuing British occupation of Ireland after the quelling of the Rebellion of 1798.  Mrs. Lockwood, an Irish woman, is caught in the middle, for much of her family supported the Rebellion, yet she is married to an officer who helped to put it down.

In writing Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood Mr. Bois drew heavily on the Inniskilling’s regimental history, records, memoirs, and unpublished material in the regimental archives.  Many of the numerous anecdotes and sketches that bring to life its characters actually occurred.  Since the 27th Foot was an Irish regiment, the author occasionally has the soldiers’ dialogue in Irish.  It re-enforces the idea that there was a religious and ethnic divide between the mostly English officers and the Irish soldiers that went beyond the normal class division of officer and enlisted.

One of the things that puzzled me about the book was that none of the major characters in the book were listed in Dalton’s Waterloo Roll Call.[5]  To me this was a major oversight and I asked Mr. Bois why he did not use the actual names of the battalion’s officers.  He said that it was the publisher’s decision, because of the desire to avoid potential lawsuits, in the event a character was depicted in less than flattering terms.  That being said, I was able to use the clues in book to determine the real names of most of the characters.  The one exception was the antagonist, which the author state “The demands of an interesting novel require that numerous fictional elements be created; the  author has, for example, inserted a very disreputable character into the regiment, though there is no hint of such a rogue ever inhabiting the Inniskilling officer’s mess.”[6]

Although there are many similarities with the Richard Sharpe novels, Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood is more focused on the life of a junior officer. It is not a book of strategy and grand tactics. Instead it only covers what a lieutenant commanding a line company in a British regiment could realistically expect to experience and see.  All and all Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood is an enjoyable book that will hold the attention of the reader from page one. Although it will mainly appeal to those interested in the Napoleonic Wars, the themes of loyalty and sacrifice are broad enough to engage readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham


[1] Dalton, Charles. The Waterloo Roll Call. London: Arms & Armour Press, 1978.  Page 132

[2] Trimble, W. Copeland. The Historical Record of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment..London: William Clowes & Sons, 1876. Page 67

[3] Dalton; Page 132 Of the surviving seven officers, three of them were the quartermaster and the two assistant surgeons.

[4] Trmble; Page 69

[5] The book lists by regiment every British officer who served in the Waterloo Campaign.  For each regiment the officers are listed in order of seniority within the regiment, and includes their regimental and army ranks, plus whether the officer was killed or wounded.  For many of the officers there is additional biographical information.

[6] Page 5


Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2014


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