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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 1 June 2019

"The Man who broke Napoleon's codes" by Mark Urban

George Scovell was a man of low birth who, having initially trained as an engraver, joined the British army during the Napoleonic wars. This book traces his career from Captain with Sir John Moore at the time of the evacuation from Corunna to his work as an assistant quarter-master general with Wellington where he was initially responsible for a team of guides to reconnoitre and gather information, then taking on the duties of postmaster, running teams of men carrying messages, and finally as Wellington's code-breaker. The book also tells of the Peninsular campaign and includes the British attacks on the great forts of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz and the great victories of Salamanca and Vitorio; Waterloo and the aftermath of his career are included in a post-script.

This is a well-told (plain and clear, rather like the prose of the Duke of Wellington himself) narrative history and it includes some very useful maps. In an original touch there is a friexe above each chapter heading which shows a quotation written in the Great Chiffre Napoleonic code and which is gradually revealed as the chapters go by.

Some of my favourite lines:

  • "Captain George Scovell was a Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General ... the title itself seemed to denote 'insignificance'." (C 1)
  • "While Massena had kept his mistress at Headquarters ... Marmont, although reputedly one of the most handsome men in Paris, brought no Venus to the field of Mars." (C 7)
  • "Sometimes a column of infantry marching across a dusty Estremaduran plain would see the glint of a telescope on a nearby hillside and then catch sight of a silhouetted figure on horseback." (C 7)
  • "An intercepted mail ... was taken by Longa, who killed 400 men who escorted it except 12, who, he says, did not show so strong an inclination to leave their bodies there." (C 17)


May 2019; 288 pages

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