FIRST WAR EXPERIENCE
I ARRIVED at the headquarters of the Carlist Army, the stronghold of Estella, about the middle of January, 1875. Estella had been the seat of Government of the first Don Carlos in the earlier war.
On December 31, 1874, young Alfonso had been proclaimed King of Spain. His accession to the throne had taken place earlier than the Civil Government, then in power in Madrid, had intended. Its members were Royalists, and were preparing the way for the restoration of Alfonso to the throne, but were not anxious to hasten it until their plans were matured. Sagasta was their Civil Head; Bodega, Minister for war; Primo de Rivera, Captain-General of New Castile, all powerful with the soldiers then under his command. The man who forced their hands was General Martinez Campos, a junior general. A mile outside a place called Murviedro he harangued 2,000 officers and soldiers, then camped there, on December 24, 1874. The officers were already known to him as favourable to Alfonso. They applauded him enthusiastically, the men followed, and they there and then swore "to defend with the last drop of their blood the flag raised in face of the misfortunes of their country as a happy omen of redemption, peace and happiness." (December 4, 1874.) The fat was in the fire. Those who were delaying the Pronunciamento had to give it their support, however much they considered it inexpedient. The Commander-in-Chief of the Army in the Field, Jovellar, and his Chief of the Staff, Arcaguarra, were also Royalists at heart. Jovellar hastened to instruct his generals openly to acknowledge Alfonso as their King, as King of Spain.
One general, the Marquis del Castillo, was then commanding the Government troops in Valencia. He was a loyalist too, but he did not think it right to assist with the troops under his command in effecting a change of Government, practically to take part in a rebellion while facing the common enemy. Castillo prepared to resist the Pronunciamento and march against the troops at Murviedro. Jovellar frustrated his intentions and marched at the head of his troops against him. Castillo's officers and soldiers fraternized with Jovellar's troops, and Castillo was ordered back to Madrid.
Alfonso XII reached Barcelona January 9, 1875. Official functions, his entry into Madrid, the issuing of Proclamations, fully engaged his time. But he was most anxious to proceed north and place himself at the head of his troops to whom he owed so much. Amongst the Proclamations was one practically offering the Carlists complete amnesty and the confirmation of the local privileges of the Provinces where the Carlist cause was most in favour. Don Carlos rejected the offer with disdain. Alfonso then, early in February, 1875, proceeded north to the River Ebro, reviewed some 40,000 of his best troops and joined General Morriones.
Such was the political situation. The military situation was as follows: Don Carlos's Army numbered some 30,000 men. The provinces from which they had been fed were becoming exhausted. On the other hand, Alfonso's troops numbered about twice their strength, and their moral had been improved by the success of their Pronunciamento and the return of some of the best leaders to the command of groups of the Army. The Carlist mobile forces had been much weakened in numbers by the blockade of the old fortress of Pamplona, which had lasted a long time.
Alfonso, with the army of General Morriones, marched to the relief of Pamplona and successfully raised the blockade, February 6, 1875, forcing the Carlists backwards. The situation became most critical for the Carlists, as another Royalist Army, under General Laserta, was on the move to join Morriones in an attack on Estella. If this plan had succeeded it is probable that the war would have been finished there and then. Don Carlos, however, succeeded in inflicting a severe defeat on Laserta and completely upset the intentions of the Royalists. Alfonso returned to Madrid, having been only a fortnight with the Army. His presence was a source of embarrassment to the High Command.
I was able to be present at the retreat of the Carlist troops from the blockade of Pamplona, as well as the capture of Puente de Reina by Morriones, the defeat of Laserta, and other guerilla engagements. I had become so interested in the work in hand that I had over-stayed my leave by a very considerable period, and would either have to return at once and take my gruelling at the hands of our Governor at the "Shop," or make up my mind to join the Carlists and become a soldier of fortune. I thought it out as best I could, and it seemed to me then that the experiences I had gained-of perhaps the most varied fighting that any similar campaign has supplied- might be considered of more advantage to my career as a soldier than a couple of extra months of mathematics, science and lectures at Woolwich, and that if I promptly returned and surrendered myself to the authorities I might perhaps be pardoned. So I collected my few goods and chattels, said good-bye to Don Carlos and my friends, and returned home by no means feeling so elated, happy and contented as I did on my outward journey.
On arriving in London I duly wrote to the Adjutant at Woolwich, informing him that I had arrived safely in England after my campaign in the North of Spain, and that the next day, which happened to be Tuesday, I would deliver myself as a prisoner, absent without leave, at the Guard Room at 12 o'clock noon. This I did, and I was met by the gallant Adjutant, and a guard, and was promptly put under arrest. Some of my contemporaries may still remember the occasion of my return. Numerous had been the rumours about my doings. At times I was reported dead. At other times I was rapidly being promoted in the Carlist Army. I had also been taken prisoner by the Government troops, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to durance vile in the deep dungeons of some ancient fortress. Their sympathies for me had risen to enthusiasm or were lowered to zero, according to the rumours of the day, but they were all glad to see me back. Still they pitied me indeed, as they wondered amongst themselves what my fate was now to be.
The preliminary investigation into my disorderly conduct took place before the Colonel Commanding, and I was then remanded to be dealt with by the Governor. I was duly marched in to his august presence, under armed escort, and, after having had the charge of being absent without leave duly read to me, I was called upon by him to make any statement I wished with reference to my conduct.
As I have already said, I had learnt English only after I was thirteen years of age, and on joining at Woolwich I still spoke English with a considerable foreign accent, which perhaps had become more marked during my recent protracted visit to Don Carlos and his Army. I have always noticed that when one gets excited a foreign accent becomes more accentuated. It undoubtedly did on this occasion, especially when I endeavoured to give a description of some of the fighting in the course of my statement. I even ventured to ask that I might be given a piece of paper and a pencil to jot down the dispositions of the opposing forces which took part in one of our biggest fights. I had barely made the request when the Governor stopped me and said: "Do you mean to tell me that you have picked up a foreign accent like this during the short time that you have been in Spain ?" "Oh, no, sir, I have always had it. I mean, I've had it ever since I learnt English."
Sir Lintorn looked serious when I said this. A smile flitted across the countenances of the Colonel Commanding and the Adjutant-and even of the escort. "When did you learn English-and where? And where do you come from?" "I learnt English," I answered, "about five years ago at the Oratory at Edgbaston, Birmingham, and I spoke Spanish before that." "What countryman are you, then?" "Well," I said, "my father is Scotch, my mother is Irish, and I was born in Spain. I'm not quite sure what I am."
This time the smile turned into suppressed laughter. General Simmons looked at me for a short instant. Then he, too, smiled and said, "Well, I am going to let you off. You must take your chance of getting through your examination, considering the time you've lost. I let you off because I feel that the experiences you have gained may be of good value to you." Turning to the Adjutant he said, "March the prisoner out and release him. Tear up his crime sheet."
I forget now the wonderful escapes from tight corners in the field, the glowing descriptions of the valeur of the Carlists, the number of times that Staff Officers had asked for my advice as to the conduct of the war, and the many other extraordinary tarradiddles that I poured, night after night, into the willing ears of my astounded and bewildered fellow cadets. One curiosity, however, may be mentioned. Amongst the most energetic of Don Carlos's officers was his sister, Princess Mercedes, who personally commanded a cavalry regiment for some considerable time during the war.
The rest of my stay at Woolwich was uneventful. I did manage to get through the examination at the end of the term, but this was chiefly owing to the generous help of those cadets in my term who personally coached me in such subjects as I had missed. A year afterwards, at the end of the fourth term, the Royal Regiment of Artillery was short of officers. The numbers of cadets in the A Division leaving the "Shop " was not sufficient to fill the vacancies. Some eight extra commissions were offered to the fourth term cadets who were willing to forgo their opportunities of qualifying for the Royal Engineers by remaining for another term. A gunner was good enough for me, and I was duly gazetted to the regiment.
I am just here reminded of an incident which took place on the day on which His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge attended the Academy to bestow the commissions and present the prizes on the breaking-up day. The Prince Imperial of France had been a cadet with us. On that particular occasion he was presented with the prize for equitation, of which he was very proud. He was a good sport. He was very keen on fencing, but he had been taught on the French lines, and, as the French system was different from our English system he did not enter his name for the fencing prize. But he said that he would like to have a go with the foils against the winner of the prize. I had happened to win it. The little encounter was arranged as an interlude in the athletic exhibition forming part of the day's function. We masked. We met. I was just starting to do the ceremonial fencing salute which generally preceded the actual hostilities, when he came to the engage, lunged, and had it not been for the button of the enemy's foil and my leather jacket, there would have been short shrift for J. M. G. He quickly called "One to me." Then I quickly lunged, got home, and called out, "One to me." Next instant we both lunged again, with equal results. We would have finished each other's earthly career if there had been no buttons and no leather jackets. The referee sharply called " Dead heat. All over." We shook hands in the usual amicable way and had a good laugh over the bout.
We parted on that occasion on our different roads in I life-he shortly afterwards to meet his untimely end in the wilds of South Africa. Later on I remember attending his funeral. His death was indeed a sad blow to his mother, the Empress Eugenie, whose hopes had been centred on him her only son. I well remember, as a youngster, when visiting Madrid with my mother, looking forward to he taken to see her mother, the Countess of Montijo, who, with my grandmother, had been lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty queen Christina.
Just lately I was at Jerez again, when the ex-Empress Eugénie motored from Gibraltar to Seville, accompanied by her nephew the Duke of Alba. They stopped for luncheon at the Hotel Cisnes. I had the honour of a conversation with her. Her brightness and her memory were quite unimpaired though in her ninety-fifth year. She recollected the incident of the fencing bout at which she had been present. Now she has passed away to her rest.
Gazetted Lieutenant, Royal Artillery, March, 1876, I was ordered to join at the Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich, in April.