Dr. Quien Number 12
The Finest Hour of Fuengirola Castle
My story starts sitting outside the Salon Varietes on Friday 14th October reading my Sur in English. Turning to the back page, I find the account by Patrick H. Meehan of the Battle of Fuengirola which took place 212 years ago today. In fact, it’s worth taking a quick read of first. Link (here as soon as it is ready)
After 212 years, it is with some incredulity that I realise that modern Fuengirola has no memorial to this, possibly most noteworthy event of this town’s known history. It was a real battle. The official figures tell a grisly story of 20 Polish troops dying with 100 wounded and 40 British dead, with 270 wounded. It has been speculated that this figure was much higher with some famous missing pages from British regimental records.
To die in a more famous battle such as Hastings, Waterloo or Mons would surly serve one’s eternal spirit better than to die, however gloriously, where historical memory is erased. In some famous battlegrounds they are eager to remember, often inflating the death figure. In others, they are anxious to forget and minimise the figure.
If it were not for the celebrations of the 200th anniversary in October 2010, this event would locally have been erased from history. However, 12 years after the 200th anniversary, it’s back to being a forgotten event, no museum, no plaque, no publicly available information. Those who died defending and attacking this far off corner of a foriegn field are deprived of publicity or prayers. So in an attempt to bridge the historical gap with modern journalism, I decide to get in my tardis, a time travelling boat, and report live from the battle scene.
<Quick Explanation>Dr. Quien is a time-travelling journalist staying in Los Boliches while on a mission to report on three thousand years of history in the location of Fuengirola. You can find out more about Dr. Quien here, or just suspend belief, read on and read the introduction later </Quick_Explanation?>
As usual I leave from the boatpark in from of Hotel Yaramar and head through time to the morning of the Battle. HMS Topaz is a huge command ship and my boat has morphed into the Captain’s shore boat and is almost unnoticed on this vast ship. My 3D wardrobe has provided me with the suit of an English country gentleman and the credentials of a journalist from the London Times. It seems I am a neutral non-combatant observer and cannot be taken prisoner (that could be useful).
As I lift my head from under the boat’s canvas, a voice calls to me, “are you Quien, from the London Times? We got your authorisation from the war office.” “That’s me”, I replied cheerily, “who are you?” “Lieutenant Ponsonby-Forbes Smythe. I am the press liaison officer for the 89th Regiment of Foot the most essential part of the British Army Iberian Peninsula Expedition Force. Normally you ‘press’ types are scared to go on Lord Blaney’s expeditions but don’t worry, it’s my job to accompany you, make sure you understand the full picture and stay safe. Obviously you know all about Lord Blaney……….”
He proceeds to give me a full account of the career of Lieutenant General Lord Andrew Thomas Blayney, the 11th Baron Blayney. Distinguished soldier, politician, aristocrat, Irish landowner and possibly a future Prime Minister. Smythe espouses a sycophantic torrent to inform me that Lord Blaney is among the world’s greatest men, nodding toward my notepad to ensure that I convince my readers of the same. After what seemed like an eternal lecture of the greatness of Blaney we go up to the foredeck to see what’s happening.
It’s dawn on 14th of October 1810 and the mist and drizzling rain limit visibility to about 700 metres. We are at anchor off the beach of La Cala where a large watchtower stands alone with a British flag on it. They tell me two Polish soldiers manning the watchtower were killed by Spanish partisans in the night. The Castle will have no idea that we are coming.
Around us are another 9 ships, each of them are unloading men and equipment into lifeboats and onto the beach. Smythe explains to me how 2,500 men are being landed on the beach and when given the order will follow the road and coast North to arrive at the Castle at 14:00 hours. At the same time all 10 ships will sail along the coast and arrive in front of the Castle.
Smythe explains that there are about 100 soldiers defending that Castle, “you can be sure they will ‘do the maths’ , be good chaps and surrender. We will have dinner in the Castle and then demolish it. Before we return in glory to Gibraltar we should have time to destroy Posada Inn next to the old Watchtower in that small town over there, to save it from the French. You see,” continues Smythe, warming to his task, “this whole expedition is a reflection of the greatness of Lord Blaney.
He is the great tactician, strategist, leader and politician, a man you can trust”, he says with another nod toward my notebook. He goes on to explain how we are indeed fortunate to be on this, his flag ship in this great flotilla. “Some of these ships have come from Ceuta, some from Cadiz, we sailed here from Gibraltar, can you imagine what has been invested in this expedition”.
After about 2 hours, all of the equipment had been unloaded and 2,500 troops were forming columns to march North through the rain toward the Castle. It seemed odd, so I asked Smythe why they did not keep some of the troops back in case they were needed for the next day. He went off on a ranting lecture about military tactics, his own training and the brilliance of Lord Blaney; in short, it would be over on the first day; “its not a bloody cricket match”.
Then he looked at me quite sternly and said, “listen to me, I know you journalist types are not military strategists, but do be a good chap and don’t ask any stupid questions”. Taken slightly by surprise, I thanked him and expressed my appreciation of his vast experience whilst thinking, ‘this is going to be fun!’
“Anchors Away” came the cry from the Captain and within 30 minutes 10 large ships were tacking into the light North wind. The ships crews were brilliant, climbing sails, pulling ropes, in a perfect symphony of command from the Captain.
As this was the flag ship carrying the expedition leader the crew also doubled as a choir, singing sea shanties, some in time to the rising of the waves. In a display of Naval genius the fleet appeared in a straight line within the 350 metre firing range of the Castle at exactly 1400 hours. They immediately exchanged signals with the advance party. The fleet was in clear visibility in the rain and along with the arrival of the troops, must have been a fearsome sight.
Try it yourself sometime, go up the battlement of the Castle and imagine the sight of 10 large ships off the beach and 2,500 troops below (they would reach from the hotel to the BP Garage). Then imagine how you are going to defend it with 200 troops.
As we arrived Smythe announced that I could now come up the command deck in the presence of Lord Blaney. What a character, with long dark hair and puffy face, he looks old for 40 and his self-confidence exudes both charisma and pomposity. If it helps the reader, he could be mistaken for Boris Johnson with dark hair!
Smythe introduces me to Lord Blaney, I say how pleased I am to meet him and he tells me that I darn well should be. He explains to me that he is related to royalty and will one day be prime minister. He is aware that the editor of my newspaper likes nothing more than a report of a glorious victory and informs me heartily “my God he will get one today”.
He explains how I will have to give my account of the battle to Smythe who will check it is good enough, make changes as necessary and send it to my editor, perhaps with a note to say what a good chap I have been. Look at what I have planned here”, he says with confidence exuding. “What you are about to witness will be a clean victory. It will show that the creepy Arthur Wellesley is an upstart and that I will one day command the British army, government, empire etc”.
Fortunately, our attention is called to look across at the Castle as the scene unfolds. We watch the emissary carrying a flag of truce, delivering a written ultimatum to the “poor souls” tasked with defending the Castle. As we watch the scene, Blaney asks me if I have any questions, I remember Smythe’s warning, but, having done some research, I just had to ask…… In Gibraltar I was told we were going to take the City of Malaga, now we have arrived to take a Castle in Fuengirola, is it as important as Malaga or are we going there after?”
Good question he says, as Smythe breathes a sigh of relief. Blaney sums it up for me, “this expedition has taken 6 months to organise and bringing this many troops and ships together has been a mammoth task. We have recently received intelligence that Malaga is better defended now and we would risk defeat if it were rapidly re-enforced.”
An awkward smile flushes his face, as if he realises admitting to taking an easier target, I empathise with him and reply “uh hu”.
He realises I am on to something and then sweeps his hand across the view, ”have you any idea how important this Castle is, the rich territory it defends, the strategic crossroads?”
By this time he is shouting at me, “everyone knows that if Fuengirola Castle falls, the French will send armies down from the Madrid and Portugal battlefront. Welesleys army will break through, Spain will be rid of the French and it will be my victory that enabled it”. Fortunately, his attention was taken by the observers of the scene on the Castle slope.
Through the mist we can see the emissary is now leaving the Castle and heading back toward the British lines. While he is walking, Blaney explains how they probably wanted a few terms sorted out to ensure they could leave peacefully rather than be taken as prisoners. On the beach a man with 2 flags is making signals, this will be it, says Blaney with an expectant grin.
Blaney insisted on receiving the exact text of the reply so a signal was sent back requesting it, and when the reply came it said.
“F*** OFF ENGLISH FELLOW”
Blaney laughed, nervously at first but as the sycophantic staff officers joined in a hearty laugh filling the deck. He then ordered the white phosphorus flare to be launched to signal to the fleet to commence firing. “What you are about to witness”, Blaney explains, “will be the Royal Navy demolishing that pile of rubble over there. Darn thing is 800 years old and built by some extremist Moors long before modern science. It’s about time it was leveled, just watch and record it carefully. When we get back to London you will be describing this great victory in glowing terms, the primacy of the intelligent man.”
He tells me to imagine what those defenders are thinking now as they watch hundreds of cannon doors open across ten ships and 2,000 troops staring at them. Who in their right mind would fight us?” “Nobody on earth Lord Blaney”, I say with great deference, as the first cannons begin to fire. The rolling sea makes it difficult for the cannons to hit their target which is 300 metres up in the air. As any golfer knows, you have to have a longer range for a higher target. Cannonballs are falling short and others are going wide, some dangerously close to the troops on the beach.
Then in response, giving a surprise to the fleet, large cannons were fired from the Castle. The walls had been extended in previous decades to hold larger cannon, and as long as they fired at the line, the fleet was a row of sitting ducks. Amazingly the very first shot from the Castle brought one of the ships rigging crashing onto its deck.
They warmed to the tasks, as cannonballs hit the nearest ships first. A frigate with a crew of 55 men was hit directly and sank within a few seconds, we were reminded of how shallow the sea was as its mast poked up from the sea bed. (I wonder if it’s still there?)
Lord Blaney was arguing with the Captain over the need to retreat or keep firing. In the end the Captain had his way as an officer of the senior service and the ships were ordered to sail away. Sails were unfurled for those who had them and the 2 ships that had lost all of their masts and rigging were towed out of reach of the Castle’s deadly cannons.
Next Blaney ordered the signal to be sent for 500 waiting troops to advance up the hill. Something seems odd here, so I cannot resist asking, “what will they do when they get there?” Blaney pretends not to hear me and Smythe pulls me to one side and says, “dear chap, please remember what I said about stupid questions.” “Right”, I nod enthusiastically.
It’s hard to see what’s happening in the chaos, the closer they get to the Castle the more they are fired on. Again the principles of ballistics apply, the range from the hill firing up at the Castle is less than the range from the Castle firing down. As a result, the troops can never get in range to shoot the defenders on the battlements. As soldiers can be seen falling, it seems clear that we are witnessing a defeat. Surprised but still confident, Blaney orders the signal to be sent to end the battle for today and ‘finish the job’ tomorrow.
The night passed with cannons being loaded onto the beach, meetings with the commanders and signals being passed between the ships. Lord Blaney was furious with the way the assault went today and at their meeting did his best to make his commanders more fearful of him than the defenders of the Castle.
The whole ship could hear him shouting. He explains how tomorrow there will be cannons fired at the Castle from land and sea to make a hole in the wall.
“Surely 2,000 of you can kill a few hundred war dodgers dragged from thousands of miles away to defend somewhere they have never heard of? If this lot had been any good, they would have put them between Portugal and Madrid…….. now get out there and finish the job.” They left, looking dazed, it had been a long day.
The next morning, (I slept for a week, it’s a Time Lord trick) I was awoken by the sound of cannon fire. The ships had again sailed in front of the Castle, avoiding yesterday’s wreck, and began to fire. On the hill the advancing troops had placed a large cannon half way up on the south side, just out of musket range of the castle. This was able to gain better accuracy and after a few shots a crack appeared in the facing wall.
The cannon from the boat was still of little use, the sailors explained to me how these ships were not made to attack land based Castles, they are made for fighting other ships on the open sea. Another ship masts comes crashing down dangerously close.
Meanwhile, the cannon in front of the Castle was having more success and before the defenders could pick the whole fleet off, a huge castle wall came crumbling down. The dust of 800 years erupted and as the rain cleared it away, a huge hole appeared that an army could walk through. From the rolling deck of HMS Topaz, I could see the advancing troops with Blaney screaming at them from the ship, as if they could hear! “just do as I damn well told you and get in there.”
As they got nearer the covering fire from the battlements began, the advance fell back and then from the hole in the wall came at least 200 defending soldiers. We could hear their fierce screams from the ship as they swept down the hill in a line with fixed bayonets. As the first line fired, the second loaded. As the attackers retreated, the cannon that had blown the hole in the wall was abandoned along with its ammunition.
The Polish troops took the cannon and turned it around to fire deep into the invader’s lines sending panic through the planned second wave. Blaney is incandescent at this stage everyone within earshot was being cursed which I think included God due to the weather.
It was still raining when the day’s exchanges ended. The ships moved out of range and the British lines were drawn further back to avoid their own cannon. Signals were sent to HMS Topaz. The attack had cost 40 more lives and there was some shock at the names of the officers killed, some had been at the meeting the night before.
A second night on the rolling sea in intermittent rain. Scores of wounded some groaning some dying, are ferried to the ships for treatment. Shelters are created, rations distributed and preparations are made to get some sleep in the worst of conditions. Blaney summoned his commanders to HMS Topaz.
Blaney’s fearsome reputation and overbearing manner stopped them from blaming him for the failure so far, but they all urged him to give it up. They point out that the troops stationed at Malaga will soon re-enforce the Castle and they were wasting time and blood by trying to take it it. The more this was politely mentioned by the officers the more Blaney dug in. It seemed determined to go back to London with a victory and perhaps get a castle on his coat of arms, all other conditions were secondary. “It has taken me 6 months to organise this expedition, the casualties so far are manageable and there is no way that we can leave here without a victory.”
One of the officers, the oldest, suggested that Blaney come ashore and join them in leading this glorious charge to victory. “Just think what this journalist chap could write in the London Times about your bravery.” Blaney thought for a minute, and to the surprise of everyone in the room (except me because I am a time traveller) he agreed.
The next morning at first light, I was invited aboard the executive shore boat (my Tardis in disguise) and joined Blaney Smythe and the other staff officers. Blaney had told them the night before that they had spent long enough in offices and now had a chance to prove themselves in the heat of battle. The bravado had given way to nervous laughter as they boarded in full battle dress. Ashore they were greeted with surprise that senior officers had left the ship before the Castle surrendered.
Blaney addressed the troops in a sterling and brilliant speech, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V at Agincourt. Doubtless learnt at school, it’s what they were taught in those days! He finishes by saying “we will be through those castle walls in a matter of hours and I will personally lead the charge and accept their surrender.”
Hearty cheers all round, but few could hear, as the sky cried water and the men accepted their fate as 700 infantry line up with twice that in reserve. A flare is fired and the cannonade begins from the ships. The sea is calmer today and they are hitting their target. A fire starts within the Castle but the rain soon puts it out. Looking at this situation, Blaney has no choice, he is either going to be responsible for a debacle with multiple deaths or be the hero of Fuengirola.
He has no choice but to advance forward at the head of his army. Feeling inspired by his bravery, I continue up the hill behind him as we head to the wall of the castle to breach the hole made yesterday. And then came the most frightening scene of my life! From across the river and straight to the battlefield the reinforcements, a Polish cavalry regiment, arrived from Alhaurin. As they arrived 200 soldiers led by Captain Mlokosiewicz came charging down the hill under the covering fire of the Castle, with fixed bayonets they screamed as they charged.
Our soldiers had spent 2 nights at sea and 2 nights on land trying to shelter from the October rain. They had seen their comrades killed and more grievously wounded, some did not have the training for this, others were suffering exhaustion and PTSD. The sight and sound of the screaming Polish troops was too much, despite Blaney’s order to ‘stand your ground’ they turned around and ran.
Only those closest to Blaney stayed as they did not want him to see them leave, this included myself. Soon there was a circle of 50 then 100 Polish troops around us gesturing to put our arms up. Captain Mlokosiewicz walked up to Blaney and requested he hand over the sword, as we are prisoners.
Actually, ‘they’ were prisoners, ‘I’ soon pulled out my press pass. With use of my implants for Polish, French and Irish languages, I was soon being given a tour of the Castle a good meal and some French wine.
Oh, how its changed since I was here last.
As the chaos died down I met Captain Millsoovich and an Irishman in uniform as a Colonel in the French Foreign Legion. Mlokosiewicz was elated with his victory and that he had finally proven to be the bravest commander in the Polish Army. He tells me how his next posting will be in Leipzig. The Irishman was interesting, O’Callaghan, from Cullaville just 6 miles from Lord Blaney’s Estate. You can read about him in ‘Fuengirola Revisited’.
Some years before his family had complained about Blaney to the British authorities at Dublin Castle, after which they had received even more persecution from Blaney’s troops. To get revenge he joined the French Foriegn Legion and had risen to the rank of Colonel. He had come with the reinforcements from Malaga and as the senior French officer had taken charge. He could not believe the unearthly co-incidences that led to him being in charge of this particular prisoner.
Before I could ask him a dozen questions that history has obscured, he asked me how come I could speak the Irish language. Just as I was thinking of a good answer, a loud explosion is heard, it is clear that the ships have decided to resume the bombardment of the castle. O’Callaghan gives the order to get the prisoners up to the edge of the battlement and instructs Lord Blaney to signal them to go home. If Blaney argued he could be pushed off the edge of the Castle walls, he gave the signal and the firing stopped.
The troops are scrambling to get into the boats in case the now confident defenders came to kill them on the beach, the last to board are in greatest danger. It would have been great to stay and listen to Colonel O’Callaghan meet Lord Blaney or drink the best french wine with Captain Milosovich, but I have a boat to catch. Even trainee Time Lords can get stranded!
In the chaos I pass Blaney as he is being led down to the cells, “good luck old chap”, I say cheerily. He turns and begins to tell me what I have to write in the Times (fought to the last etc), but a Polish guard pushes him forward; that was close. Now I need to get to my boat, this is my time machine temporarily distorted into a luxury shore boat. So I run down the hill and see soldiers fighting to get into the boats, (with some Matrix-style acrobatics) I jump over them and am in the overloaded boat as it casts away.
“Are we going to HMS Topaz?” I shout, “no”, came the unanimous reply, “we are going to the nearest ship that still has masts, you can do what you want with this boat after.” They leave me with the boat and after a few alterations, it’s ready to time travel back to Fuengirola on the 14th October 2022.
Travelling back I checked the history books, Blaney spent three years as a prisoner and was exchanged for members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He died 23 years later. Numerous inquiries blamed the weather and bad intelligence for the debacle. Blaney’s sword can be found in the military museum of Krakow along with the original of the above painting of this unhappy event. As I sit back in my time travelling boat I realise my own shock at the horror that I have witnessed the grisly deaths of scores of brave young men, the grim fate of the wounded and deep trauma.
The sacrifice to the failure of diplomacy, why do they do it, OK they did it then, but have not stopped to this day. “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Plenty of time to philosophise it on the way home, and perhaps listen to some music, here is a song that comes to mind…..
Finally, thank you for reading this far, I appreciate it and hope you enjoyed it. Dr. Quien is an attempt to make history a little more entertaining and at this stage your feedback would be very helpful. Your opinion counts please add to the comments below or you can mail firstname.lastname@example.org