Monday, 27 August 2018

Ronald Welch

The books of your youth are rather special. I was very taken with the historical novels of Ronald Welch about the Carey family and their soldiering through the ages. The first two I remember reading (and then re-reading many times) were Knight Crusader (set in the Third Crusade) and For the King (English Civil War). The front end papers had a family tree of the Careys, showing how they related to the various bools of the series, going through to WW1 (Tank Commander). I borrowed all those I could find (repeatedly) from my local library, and I think they were where my lifetime interests in history and military history either started or were confirmed. They certainly sparked my interest in the English Civil War, which even survived A levels.

They bore the unmistakable signs of extensive historical research, which is no surprise as their author, Ronald Felton (1909-1982, was history teacher who served as a tank commander in the Second World War and took his pen name from his wartime regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

They have been out of print for a long time and second hand were expensive and hard to track down. In the last five years Slightly Foxed have been reissuing them in a limited edition of 2,000 copies and last week I bit the bullet and bought a complete set. Expensive but worth it I think.

The complete list of the Carey Novels (in chronological order) is:

Knight Crusader
Bowmen of Crecy
Sun of York
The Galleon
The Hawk
For the King
Captain of Dragoons
Mohawk Valley
Escape from France
Captain of Foot
Nicholas Carey
Ensign Carey
Tank Commander

There is also an unpublished novella, the Road to Waterloo.

Other non-Carey novels included The Gauntlet and Zulu Warrior.

I've also had that particular thrill of now finding titles I had never seen at the time - last summer I found a Dalziel and Pascoe novel by Reginald Hill I had completely missed on publication.

I have the same feeling about these novels as I did when I discovered a few years ago that the TV series The Flaxton Boys, which I watched about the same time, had been in part written by Don Houghton, of At the Colonel's Table fame. Now I've thought about it again, I've just ordered the DVD from Amazon.

I'm sure some of you out there probably read these once upon a time. For the rest of you there is an undiscovered treat if you want to look into them. Written for children yes, but with a depth of historical background which still makes them satisfying adult reading.

They deserve to be better known.


Ross Mac said...

Yup! The library only had Capt of Foot and of Dragoons as well as Knight Crusader. but they were a big influence. I did eventually find a copy of Knight Crusader but that was all.

Prufrock said...

Sun of York was one of my favorite books growing up.

Rob said...

Thank you for truly memory evoking post - 'rediscovering' the books of your childhood is a great feeling. I have only a vague recollections of reading a book set in the English Civil War featuring the Carey family and remember enjoying it and the family name now always makes me think the the period. However, I had forgotten the title and the author, your post has rectified that and I've just ordered a copy of 'For the King' so hopefully it stands the test of time.

Mike Hall said...

They do deserve to be better known but I fear that a £200+ limited edition set is not going to achieve that end, though it does at least show that someone cares about the books. Too often an author's works languish after their death as there is no-one properly managing their literary estate (the rights should have reverted once they went out of print). I think that what they really need is a full set of e-books to be put out with a publicity campaign and prices cheap enough to encourage readers to try them out. The couple that are out on Amazon have picked up plenty of high scoring reviews which suggests that the demand is there.

Vintage Wargaming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vintage Wargaming said...

And now with the spelling corrected:

Mike, you don't have to buy the whole set and the single volume price of the new edition is cheaper than second hand copies of earlier editions on ebay, Abebooks, Amazon etc. The original publisher was OUP with mainly hardbacks but some paperback editions, and certainly at least one (captain of Dragoons, which I have) or more were published in a Puffin edition, which will be the most mass market they'll ever have been. £200+ for 14 well produced hardbacked volumes (including the Road to Waterloo) isn't too dusty if you've been looking for them for thirty years and haven't been able to afford second hand prices to collect a set.

I do appreciate your point about ebooks and I'm delighted to see Kindle have done this with J P Martin's Uncle books.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

VW - you have said it all - Ronald Welch was as big an influence on my early wargaming hobby as Featherstone - I read them all many times as a spotty youth, and like you spent years looking for copies in my older years.. I managed to get Knight Crusader years ago, then found a copy of Sun of York on eBay, and then Slightly Foxed came to the rescue... sixteen quid or thereabouts for a beautifully bound copy of my favourite Welch's??? No brainer.. I now have all of the books, but not in any single edition... favourite? Probably Sun of York closely followed by Mohawk Valley...

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

PS. My homage..

Robbie Rodiss said...

Sadly I have never heard of this author, so I best get digging and sample one of them. My particular favourite from my youth was Alfred Duggan.A wonderful historical author with a great way of writing. My favourites were Family Favourites,about the mad Emperor Eglabalus, He Died Old about Mithridates and one about Romulus and Remus, the title of which escapes me. I managed to track down the lot on Abe Books.

David Bradley said...

I always regretted that he never carried the story of the Carey family into World War II

The Good Soldier Svjek said...

I remember borrowing these from the local library , especially the Napoleonic and Crimean war ones .

Anonymous said...

Remember reading them all (many times) and have even visited Llanstephan Castle which is in a very striking spot overlooking the estuary of the Tywi.

MIN ManofTin said...

I have not read or heard of Ronald Welch but will certainly check him out through my local library ordering service. Is he a little like Henry Treece or Rosemary Sutcliff? Her Roman Scotland book Eagle of the Ninth has long been a favourite of mine and still in print.