This is the story of a Royal Marine who wanted to be a Riflfleman. He achieved his ambition, but not before he saw action and captivity in South America and endured hard service and many adventures as “a soldier afloat” in the Low Countries and the Mediterranean. Fernyhough eventually joined the famous 95th for campaigns in the Peninsula under Wellington, where he endured hardships he could never have imagined. This highly readable book concludes with accounts of the military careers of Fernyhough’s brothers – John and Henry – both Royal Marines – and Thomas, an infantryman.
He hurried me away, wrapped in a blanket, upon the back of a rifleman, got me put on a cart, and con≠veyed over the bridge. However, I did not die, as my friend had prognosticated; but if I could have foreseen the misery I afterwards suffered, I should have sooner wished his words had been made good.
We travelled the whole of that night, our army in full retreat, and the French in close pursuit; the weather miserably wet and cold, and the roads so drenched, that it was up to the middle in mud; the animals were knocked up, and I unfortunately fell into the hands of the enemy, a French hussar regi≠ment, who treated me vilely.
They knocked the cart from under me, sabred the men, and dragged me into the middle of the road; stripped me, tearing my clothes into shreds, and turning me over with their sabres, plundered me of what little I had remaining, tore a gold ring from my finger, and then left me naked, to perish with cold and hunger.
I lay in this miserable state two days and nights, with no mortals near me, except dead ones; one of which lay with his head upon my legs, having died in that position during the night preceding, and I was too weak to remove his body; I could not raise myself, I was so reduced.
In this suffering state I continued to exist, which I attribute to some rum, of which I drank a consi≠derable quantity from a Frenchmanís canteen, who was humane enough to let me do so, when I explained to him that I was a British officer. The rum soon laid me to sleep. The Frenchman was a hussar, and appeared to belong to the regiment who had treated me so vilely in the morning, (this hap≠pened about dusk.) I begged of him to take me up behind him; he shook his head, but humanely took an old blanket from under his saddle, covered me with it, and then rode off.
The whole of the next day I saw no living soul, still lying on the road, half famished. The day fol≠lowing an escort of French dragoons came up, with a number of prisoners, both English and Portuguese, among them was a soldier of the ninety-fifth, belong≠ing to the same company as myself; he recognised me, and begged of the Frenchmen to allow him and three others to remove me to a village, about a league and a half distant from where I lay.
After some entreaty they consented, as the rifle≠man declared that he would not leave his officer, notwithstanding the threats of the French soldiers, who menaced him with their sabres; but he persist≠ed, saying, that he would sooner die than leave me to perish.
I was conveyed on their shoulders in a blanket, almost in a state of insensibility, except when roused by the inhumanity of the three soldiers, who several times tumbled me into the mud, in the most unfeel≠ing manner, swearing I was dead, and that they would carry me no farther; but my rifle comrade threatened them if they dared to leave me.
During these altercations, I was roused from my stupor, and opening my eyes, assured them that life had not yet ebbed. They carried me to a village which had been plundered, and deserted by the in≠habitants. Starvation still stared me in the face, for the escort having laid me inside a hut, proceeded with their prisoners to Salamanca, where I begged in vain they would take me, to save my life, which was then hardly worth preservation; but the idea of being famished to death was dreadful enough, and I could very easily, at that time, have reconciled myself to any other mode of quitting the world.
However, it appears I was to overcome all my disasters. I felt a strong presentiment that I should emerge from this state of suffering, although these men refused to allow any of their prisoners to stay with me, or even to carry me farther, as I was a mere skeleton; they left me in this deserted village, destitute of food and covering.
I still survived, but suffered more from hunger than I can describe, having nothing to subsist upon but horseflesh and acorns, (and both sparingly,) for three weeks or a month, in the depth of winter, part of November and December; during which time, I lay in an old half-unroofed barn, where the Spa≠niards carried me on their return to the village, without giving me a morsel of bread or food of any sort, but telling me I might lie there and rot; which certainly must have been my fate had not an English soldier found me, who had, like myself, fallen into the hands of the enemy, but made his escape from them, and accidentally took shelter in my quarters, as I kept open house.
The poor fellow found me in a state of starvation, and took me upon his back (for I was quite help≠less) to the village, and craved food for me from door to door; but the inhuman Spaniards shut their doors in our faces, refusing me both shelter and food, at the same time they were baking bread for the French. However, my fellow sufferer, by good chance, found a dead horse, and he supplied me with this food and acorns, which at the time, I thought very dainty, believe me, and devoured when first given to me, in no small quantity, which nearly put an end to my sufferings.