Fire & Retire !

First hand accounts from
the Napoleonic Wars.

Cavalry Sword.
The diary of a cavalry officer in
the Peninsular War and Waterloo Campaign, 1809-1815.
The Late Lieut.-Col. Tomkinson - 16th Light Dragoons

Diary of a Cavalry Officer.
Editor's Preface


Although it may appear late in the day to publish for the first time a record of military life in the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns, at a date now separated from us by the greater part of a century, I am encouraged by the opinion of many friends to hope that the contents of this book may prove not without interest to the general public, and possibly of some value to the student of military history.

A recent perusal of the "Memoirs of General Marbot" make me fully sensible of the fact that, in comparison with the thrilling scenes and incidents with which that book of contemporary history abounds, this volume may appear tame, if not dull. The good horse "Bob" at Girijo cannot claim to emulate the deeds of "Lisette" at Eylau, although, like her, he saved his helpless rider; from death or captivity; nor had her master the opportunities, even if he had the will, to perform such deeds of desperate daring as the French General describes. Something, possibly, should be allowed for the difference of nationality and temperament of the two writers; and, in any case, the writing of the English Cavalry Officer carries with it, I venture to think, by its directness and simplicity, a conviction of accuracy and absence of exaggeration.

The original volume was written near the scene of the events described in it, and bears at its commencement the superscription, "Copied from some memoranda made at the time." Both ink and writing have stood the test of age well, and are still for the most part clear and legible; though fortunately for the Editor, a fair copy was also made some thirty-five years later. It has been thought best to publish it almost exactly as it was written, suppressing no names, and to let it tell its own story. Consequently, little is needed by way of introduction or explanation.

The Author, Lieutenant-Colonel William Tomkinson, was the youngest son of Henry Tomkinson, Esq., of Dorfold Hall, Nantwich, Cheshire.

Born in 1790, he was gazetted to a cornetcy in the 16th Light Dragoons in December, 1807; joined his regiment in April, 1808; and in 1809 entered on that period of mihtary adventure described in this volume. He was thanked in the general orders of the day of January 22nd, 1811, and recommended for promotion in the Duke of Wellington's despatch to the Horse Guards of May 14th of the same year. In 1812 he was gazetted a Captain in the 60th Regiment, from which he exchanged back into his old regiment without leaving it. It is somewhat remarkable that, while severely wounded in four places in almost his first skirmish, he passed practically unscathed through four years' service in the Peninsula and the Waterloo campaign, although under fire, to the best of his recollection, on nearly one hundred occasions. He received the Peninsular and Waterloo medals, with clasps for the actions of Busaco, Fuentes, Salamanca, and Vittoria.

Of his character it may be said that, simple in tastes and habits, quiet and unassuming in demeanour, yet prompt and decisive in action, of iron constitution, and an excellent rider, he was in all respects a worthy follower of the great leader under whom he served. He retired on half pay in 1821, and settling at Wellington in his native county, engaged actively in the duties and pursuits of a country gentleman, as a magistrate, landlord, and sportsman. In the hunting field he became as distinguished as in the field of battle, and with his two brothers formed one of the trio sung by the Cheshire poet as "The brothers three from Dorfold sprung whom none of us could beat." He married, in 1836, Susan, daughter of Thomas Tarleton, Esq., of Bolesworth Castle, Cheshire (by Frances, daughter of Philip Egerton, Esq., of Oulton Park), and sister of the late Admiral Sir Walter Tarleton, K.C.B., and died in 1872, in his 83rd year, leaving surviving issue four sons and two daughters. One of the former is Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Tomkinson, now in command of the ist Royal Dragoons; and upon me, as his heir and successor, devolves the duty of editing his diary. James Tomkinson.

Willington Hall, Tarporley.


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Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.

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Updated: 7 July, 2011.
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