Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Too Few For Drums by R.F. Delderfield

Post Reply
annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Too Few For Drums by R.F. Delderfield

Post by annis » Sat November 27th, 2010, 2:02 am

Image

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild train-loads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back, silent, to village wells.
Up half-known roads.


Wilfred Owen
The Send Off

Delderfield is better known for his novels set in rural England around the lead up to and aftermath of the First World War, and it’s significant that he chose a piece from WWI poet Wilfred Owen as the epigraph for Too Few For Drums. However he had an abiding interest in the Napoleonic Wars and wrote several non-fiction history books about the period. He also wrote a couple of novels with a Napoleonic War setting, the best known being Seven Men of Gascony, which follows the fortunes of seven voltigeurs from Napoleon’s Grande Armée, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo. Too Few For Drums is a lesser known and slighter story, set during the Peninsular campaign where the Duke of Wellington made his mark.

Hounded by the French through Portugal after the Battle of Busaco, the British army pauses at Coimbra to blow up the bridge across the Mondego River as they retreat to the coast to hole up at Lisbon. A small squad of men from the 51st Foot is left behind when the British engineers set off the charge under the bridge prematurely, leaving them stranded and at the mercy of the enemy. When their captain is killed by a shot from a French skirmisher, nineteen year old Ensign Keith Graham realises to his horror that he is now in charge of the group. Fresh out of officer training school in England, Graham is quite clueless, but with the help of an experienced sergeant, leads the men on a hair-raising trek through hostile territory in an attempt to rejoin the main British army. On the way they meet up with a Welsh camp-follower, Gwyneth, who becomes essential to their survival.

Image
Battle of Busaco

Together the British soldiers and Welsh woman are 10 in number, and like the 10 little Indians their number dwindles one by one during their dangerous journey. Graham grows up fast, learning steadfastness and leadership, and the enduring fellowship of fighting men. It’s a tale of suspense and action, perhaps a little slower-paced and more prone to introspection than modern historical adventures, but enjoyable for all that. Remarkably, given that the book was published in 1964 at the height of macho HF, although Graham is the main protagonist, it is Gwyneth who is the heroine. Still young and beautiful despite being a follower of the drum for years, she holds the group together with her calm certainty. She is an instinctive tactician, utterly pragmatic and ruthless; conventional morality is irrelevant to her. She's definitely not merely decorative eye-candy à la Richard Sharpe’s female partners! In spirit a warrior woman from ancient Celtic tradition, Gwyneth could in fact quite easily be seen as the goddess figure of myth and legend who for a time visits men in mortal form and shapes their fate. Although Too Few For Drums is a straightforward adventure, Delderfield's nod here and there to Celtic mysticism encourages this fancy.
Last edited by annis on Mon November 29th, 2010, 4:45 pm, edited 17 times in total.

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Sat November 27th, 2010, 6:42 am

Sounds good. I read about half of a Delderfield a while back, God is an Englishman, I think - one of the Swann series, anyway - and couldn't force myself to finish it. Too meandering and episodic. There were a few good bits, but overall, it just didn't have enough of a thread of conflict to keep me interested. Too Few for Drums sounds better.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Sat November 27th, 2010, 7:49 am

Those used to the pace and bloody body count of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books may find Too Few For Drums a bit slow in comparison, though it's not a long book so Delderfield didn't have as much space for meandering as he did in some of his more saga-sized books. As someone (Misfit?) mentioned, writers of today tend to keep things tighter than authors of the past in response to reader demand. A shorter attention span and lifestyle with more distractions mean readers don't have as much patience for dawdling around as they once did. However, the nature of Too Few For Drums, being the story of a journey taken under urgency, does keep the action moving along reasonably briskly.

User avatar
Vanessa
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4290
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favourite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Post by Vanessa » Sat November 27th, 2010, 11:20 am

I loved R F Delderfield's The Horseman Riding By trilogy. I have his The Avenue books on my TBR pile.
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Post by Misfit » Sat November 27th, 2010, 12:43 pm

[quote=""annis""]Those used to the pace and bloody body count of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books may find Too Few For Drums a bit slow in comparison, though it's not a long book so Delderfield didn't have as much space for meandering as he did in some of his more saga-sized books. As someone (Misfit?) mentioned, writers of today tend to keep things tighter than authors of the past in response to reader demand. A shorter attention span and lifestyle with more distractions mean readers don't have as much patience for dawdling around as they once did. However, the nature of Too Few For Drums, being the story of a journey taken under urgency, does keep the action moving along reasonably briskly.[/quote]

Yes, as much as I enjoy discovering those older books I find that is a common complaint of mine - and I like big fat books.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

Chris Little
Reader
Posts: 64
Joined: February 2010
Location: Going back in Time

Post by Chris Little » Sun November 28th, 2010, 6:08 pm

http://www.amazon.com/Rifleman-Dodd-Gre ... 0933852762
.

Having enjoyed Delderfield's slender Napoleonic tales, particularly "Seven ...," I suggest Forester's "Rifleman Dodd" as an additional option. It has been used by US Military training instructors ...

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Mon November 29th, 2010, 4:59 am

Thanks for the reminder about this one, Chris. I must add it to my wishlist. Bernard Cornwell has said Rifleman Dodd was an inspiration for his Sharpe series, and I can't help wondering if it influenced Delderfield as well, with its plot being the story of a British soldier accidentally cut off from the British Army. I believe the English edition had the title Death to the French. Forester wrote another Peninsular War novel called The Gun, which I haven't read either. The two can be bought together in an omnibus ed. but second-hand prices are surprisingly expensive- it might have to be an interloan, I think.

Chris Little
Reader
Posts: 64
Joined: February 2010
Location: Going back in Time

Post by Chris Little » Mon November 29th, 2010, 5:08 am

Like "Rifleman Dodd," "The Gun" is one I'd read again, too. For Napoleonic Iberia, I'd place Forester as read first.

I've been trying to reread Delderfield's "Farewell the Tranquil Mind" but may not finish. The French world of the 1790s just too insane.

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Mon November 29th, 2010, 11:39 pm

I managed to find a cheap copy of Rifleman Dodd locally in its Death to the French incarnation, so I'll look forward to that arriving sometime soon.

Yes, the French Revolutionary regime was bloody and chaotic- at least Napoleon put France back into some semblance of order. It's scary how the highest of ideals- in this case liberty, equality and brotherhood- can bring out the very worst in people :(

annis
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Mon February 7th, 2011, 4:45 pm

It was interesting after reading Death to the French/Rifleman Dodd to see just how much Delderfield's Too Few for Drums owes to Forester's book - including the link to the First World War to which which Forester draws direct parallels in his novel. I'd be inclined to see it as Delderfield's homage to Forester.

My review of Death to the French here

Post Reply

Return to “By Author's Last Name A-F”