2011-03-17 / News

Long-time island author completes his first novel

By Ken Shane

Walter Schroder, a Jamestown resident for more than 30 years who now lives in North Kingstown, recently published his first novel after previously authoring five works of non-fiction.

“The Hessian Drummer Boy of Newport” is a fictional expansion of Schroder’s earlier non-fiction book, “The Hessian Occupation of Newport and Rhode Island 1776-1779.” 

Schroder’s novel is written with middle schoolers in mind, and the author recommends that teachers read his non-fiction account of the Hessian occupation while students read the novel.

“The Hessian Drummer Boy of Newport” traces the journey of a 9-year-old German boy, Peter Bauer, who joins his father Karl’s Hessian regiment as a drummer boy, and accompanies him on a journey to America to confront the rebellious colonists in 1776. Also along on the epic journey is Peter’s mother Anna.

While it was not necessarily common for the families of Hessian soldiers to travel with them, Schroder was able to verify through church records of the time that there were indeed families of Hessian soldiers living in Portsmouth during the occupation.

When the American Revolutionary War broke out, King George III of England bargained with German leaders like Frederich II in an effort to get them to send troops to supplement his armies in the new world. Nearly 30,000 of these soldiers were sold into service of the king, with about 12,500 of them coming from the Hesse-Kassel, a principality in northern Hesse, or Hessia. That is how these conscripts came to be known as Hessians. About 25 percent of the forces fielded by the British during the Revolutionary War were Hessians.

Before Peter’s journey begins, the reader is presented with his family history and a description of daily life in his home village of Kirchdorf. Schroder relied on his own experience of working on farms during the summer months for his descriptions of farm life. There are drawings throughout the book to illustrate the narrative.

Peter’s voyage to America involved traveling from Germany to England, and then to the United States. It was a journey of 3,000 miles, and took 14 weeks to accomplish. The British flotilla that the Hessians were a part of landed first at New York. After a short time there, they were sent to Newport.

At first, things are peaceful in Newport, but that changes when the French navy intervenes on behalf of the rebels. When the British and Hessians clash with the Continental Army in the Battle of Rhode Island, there are tragic consequences.

According to Matthew Blaser, chairman of the English Department at North Kingstown High School, “The descriptions of farm life in Peter’s home town, life aboard ship, and the fighting in Rhode Island are probably the most appealing aspects of the book. This first person perspective is particularly suitable for readers of middle-school level. Capable readers at a younger age would also feel comfortable with the text.” 

To write his new novel, Schroder called on the research that he did for his previous non-fiction book about the occupation of Newport and Rhode Island during the American Revolution. To some extent, the experiences of young Peter are based on Schroder’s own experiences as a teenage soldier during World War II.

In the book’s acknowledgements, Schroder states, “The fictional elements of the present narrative were adapted from my personal experiences as a ‘boy soldier’ during a time when survival took on a greater meaning than victory or defeat.”

Although Schroder was born in Pawtucket, his family returned to their homeland of Germany when he was 9 years old. At 15, he was drafted into an anti-aircraft unit of the German army and served during World War II.

Schroder was captured by the British and became a prisoner of war. Upon his release, his American citizenship was discovered and he was allowed to join the U.S. Army, where he worked as an interpreter for U.S. Intelligence.

Schroder recounted his unique story in the book “Stars and Swastikas: The Boy Who Wore Two Uniforms.” He later worked as a civilian for the U.S. Defense Department for nearly 30 years.

The dedication to “The Hessian Drummer Boy of Newport” reads: “This book is dedicated to the boys of all nations, who were exposed to war at an early age because of life’s circumstances.”

“The Hessian Drummer Boy of Newport” was published by Heritage Books, and can be purchased in Jamestown at Baker’s Pharmacy, Jamestown Designs and the Conanicut Marine Services store. Jamestown Press Publisher Jeff McDonough, former Editor Dara Chadwick and Production Manager Melissa Wicks helped with the editing and formatting of Schroder’s novel.

Schroder’s other books include “Defenses of Narragansett Bay in World War II,” “Dutch Island and Fort Greble,” and “Davisville and the Seabees.”

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