by Ben Hughes
Conquer or Die documents the encounters of 6, 000 British volunteers who sailed across the Mediterranean to aid Simon Bolivar in the wars of South American independence. With the smoke still clearing from the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and the country still drunk on victory, these volunteers set sail for Gran Columbia, confident in their own ability and experience. Their experiences fighting Napoleon’s sophisticated troops in France, Portugal or Spain however, could have in no way prepared them for what awaited them in South America.
From the offset, the expedition seemed cursed; the loss of 200 lives after one ship sank shortly after leaving Portsmouth was a portent of more terrible things to come. Those who reached South America were greeted by crippling disease, savage wild animals and ruthless guerrilla attacks. The conditions were horrendous, the massacres were frequent and the supplies were inadequate. These veterans from the Napoleonic Wars were used to a certain code of honour upheld by both sides in battle. Such codes were wholly disregarded in the coastal forests of New Granada. Here, the Guajiro Indians would emerge from the forests and fire their barbed arrows tipped with nerve toxins. As men lay paralysed or dying, and legions were swiftly and silently decimated, these deadly archers would melt back into the forest.
The fast-paced narrative and detailed descriptions make for a fascinating read. Contemporary photographs mix well with the wonderful early 19th Century illustrations and paintings as an accompaniment to the action. The tragedy of the deceased, the courage of the survivors and the mindless bloody violence that they very quickly had to adapt to is thrillingly recounted. Not for 80 years has a narrative been written on this little known story; Ben Hughes’ meticulous research and engaging style certainly do it justice.
978 1 84908 183 2