Thursday, 22 January 2015


Welcome again for another round with Dave McCall, who writes as David Ebsworth. Here, David, our Book of the Month winner, would like to talk to you about the background of his latest novel, The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour.

The Battle of Waterloo, its 200th Anniversary, and a new angle on the story--

The British Cavalry at Waterloo

They say that on the day after the battle, you couldn’t find a pair of pliers for love nor money. Not for fifty miles around.

The new fashion - in London, Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg – was for dentures fitted with real teeth. And there, on those few square miles of Belgian soil, lay no less than 50,000 potential donors, most of them dead, the rest so close to it that it didn’t much matter.

Carved ivory base with human teeth, 

And it wasn’t just the nature of dentistry that changed in June 1815.

The battles fought in Belgium over those few brief days brought an end to 22 years of almost continuous fighting between the European powers in what had been, effectively, the first “world war” – and historians estimate that as many as 7,000,000 military and civilian casualties occurred between 1804 and 1815 alone. Until 1917, this was known as “The Great War.”

Those battles also brought an end to that military rivalry between Britain and France which had flared so violently and plagued each of the six centuries since the Anglo-French War of 1202-14.

From now on, France would be our ally in all subsequent conflicts – the beginning of a new and more modern Europe in which Germany and Italy would be born, and the seeds of social democratic government would slowly begin to replace the despotism of the old royal houses. It’s a process that’s still evolving, of course.

But many other things remained entirely unchanged. International banking continues to fund all sides in current conflict, exactly as they did in 1815. The arms industry is still the main beneficiary of warfare, exactly as it was in 1815. And regardless of the original spark, which may ignite the bonfires of war, it has generally been international banking and the arms industry that have fanned the flames and kept the bonfires burning.

So, with this in mind, and the bicentenary of Waterloo coming up, I began to think how I might tell the story from a slightly different perspective.

As usual, I began by looking at the controversies. Was victory at Waterloo (a) won by the brilliance of Wellington and the resolute steadiness of his British infantry; (b) truly threatened by the alleged cowardice of his Dutch and Belgian contingent;  (c) snatched from the jaws of an ignominious British defeat by the timely arrival of Wellington’s dogged Prussian allies; or (d) simply thrown away, against all the odds, by the French. You’ll find whole battalions of eminent historians this year fighting their own battles, for and against each of these viewpoints.

And then there were the legends – none striking me so hard as the tale of Charles Napier (95th Rifles) and the broken body of a beautiful female French cavalry trooper he discovered among the thickest of Bonaparte’s dead. It was this tale that set me on the path of researching the many feisty women who fought in their own right, in their own way, in the French front lines.

By the time I’d finished that research, I knew what I didn’t want to write. Not yet another “boy’s own adventure” story of Waterloo. Not another one-sided account that failed to recognize the battlefield fever and frenzy, the heroism that gripped British, Dutch-Belgian, Prussian and French alike – nor to at least acknowledge that all the protagonists genuinely believed they were “on the right side.” Hindsight, and the pen of the victors, might have shaped the way we’ve been taught about Waterloo over the past 200 years but on the day among the French ranks, it all looked very different indeed!

So I became a bit fixated on some little-known and often forgotten issues.

First, Napoleon faced two very powerful armies, not one – and each of those armies was numerically as strong as his own.

Napoleon Bonaparte

By the time of Waterloo itself, over the previous three days, the French had already fought two major battles and several smaller ones.  The French army and its commanders had slept little over those few days. By the end of the battle, many French divisions, almost a third of Bonaparte’s total force, had still not fired a shot nor been engaged.

For at least half the battle a relatively small number of French soldiers held off wave after wave of Prussians trying to come to Wellington’s rescue – in some of the bloodiest fighting which those taking part had ever seen. And for most of the battle Bonaparte – either by choice or through illness – was not even present on the field.

The Prussians arrive!

The result of all this has been The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour – a tale of Waterloo told from the viewpoint of two French women participants. But is this Napoleonic chicklit? Definitely not. This is a very traditional action story, and will hopefully appeal to all readers of historical fiction. Somebody said that the novel is perhaps akin to Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars and if so, that’s a great compliment.

But I’ll leave readers to make up their own minds!


David Ebsworth has published three previous novels: The Jacobites’ Apprentice, finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2014 Indie Award; The Assassin’s Mark, set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War. Each of these books has been the recipient of the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion for independent authors.

More details of David’s work are available on his website:

The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour was published on 1st January and is available through all normal outlets.


  1. I loved reading this, so very interesting.

  2. Thanks again, Paula, for giving me space for this post. Just a quick correction though - before we get battered by #Waterloo fans - the top picture, of course, shows BRITISH cavalry at Waterloo (the famous charge of the Scots Grey) not French cavalry as the caption says.

    And how chilling is that picture of the Waterloo Teeth???

    Happy to answer any comments, as usual!

  3. Yes, wasnt it Polish Lancers that put the Scots Greys into retreat? Dentures from the dead? Urgh

  4. French Line Lancers, Rob - mainly the 3rd and 4th Regiments of Jacquinot's Division. I THINK that the film "Waterloo" shows them as Polish Lancers but actually it was Jacquinot's men, so green coats and breeches (with pink or crimson facings respectively) plus crested brass helmets and, of course, those WICKED lances!!!

  5. At least I got the Prussians right!

  6. Yes indeed! The bitterness between the Prussians and the French was legendary. There's a point during the late afternoon of Waterloo where the Prussians are trying to break through the village of Plancenoit, on the French right wing. The fighting is house-to-house and face-to-face for hours on end, with a particular clash in the village graveyard in which the opposing companies are so close that the muzzles of their muskets are touching - firing into each other's faces at a range of three or four feet. Scary!

  7. Very interesting about the dentures. I live in rural Ontario. Our house was built in 1887, but was not the original house on the property. One year my mom was cleaning up, what was originally the turkey barn, where turkeys were raised by the pioneer family,who were granted the land. While she was raking the dirt floor and the gravel, she noticed a metal object. It was an old pen (that you needed an inkwell for) that had fancy scroll work in the design on a Greek column and some tiny dates engraved on little plaques. It was an unusual bronze pen to commemorate the battle of Waterloo! We always wondered, where the pen came from and how it ended up buried in the floor of the turkey barn.