Timeline period - 1800
1801 - The Battle of Alexandria
On March 21st 1801 a battle was fought outside Alexandria which resulted in the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment being awarded a unique distinction. The army was led by General Sir Ralph Abercrombie and the 28th were part of the Reserve Division under the command of Major General Sir John Moore, occupying an unfinished redoubt in advance of a key position of the British defences. Thus exposed on low sandhills by the sea shore, they were subject to the full brunt of the French attacks. In one of these attacks the 28th were simultaneously attacked front and rear, but due to their steadiness and their devastating volleys they managed to turn the battle at a crucial time and inflict a significant defeat on the French for the first time in 30 years. Like Wolfe before him, Abercrombie was to die in the hour of his greatest victory. The gallant action of the 28th has been commemorated by the privilege of wearing the emblem of the Egyptian Sphinx on the back of the headdress. To this day, 21st March is known as Back Badge Day and celebrated accordingly.
Sergeant Joseph Coates of the 28th described the action in his memoir of the Egyptian campaign. (It should be noted that Coates ascribes the famous order to Colonel Paget, although, since Paget had been wounded in the throat, it is perhaps more likely that it was his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel William Chambers, who gave the order).
"... The French charged in three columns, the left of which came round the left flank of our regiment, over the ground which the 42d regiment had left, to charge it in the rear, whilst it was warmly assailed by the infantry in front, and just as this column was making the turn to come upon our rear, they overtook me. At that time Colonel Paget ordered the regiment to the right about, and firing a volley as the enemy came within a few horse lengths, occasioned a most dreadful carnage; such a quantity of horses falling from the fire, occasioned many others to stumble, and fall upon them, the others were thrown into complete disorder, and made all speed to return. In joining my regiment I had to jump over several of the enemy's dead horses and men, and turning around, was astonished at the execution which had so instantaneously been done. After the volley the 28th faced about again and resumed their fire on their assailants in front, such as had ammunition; but many having now expended it all, resulted to throwing of stones, and, indeed, some of the enemy had recourse to the same weapons."
The 61st (South Gloucestershire) Regiment was also involved in the Egyptian Campaign. In 1801 they were sent to India but were diverted to Egypt to take part and, after landing at Kosseir on the Red Sea, marched 130 miles across the desert to the Nile in nine days with the loss of only one man. Although they arrived too late to play an active role against the French Army, the Regiment was awarded Egypt as a a battle honour and the right to wear the Sphinx on its badge.
While at Alexandria, Captain Leighton of the 61st described in two letters home, dated 20th January and 4th February 1802, the attempts to remove the ancient obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle, which now stand on the Thames Embankment in London:
"... We have a good deal of duty here. Besides the guards, there are four Captains, sometimes six, employed in a day in taking charge of the working parties for the removal of the Needle. A Wharf is to be constructed, which will put about 90 yards into the sea; The nearest point where a ship can anchor in. there are people who doubt the practicability of the scheme. As we have gone so far I confess I feel anxious it should succeed."
"... In my last letter I mentioned that we were endeavouring to send home the fallen needle stone of Cleopatra; and that the means taken to embark it were a pier of considerable length: which was about half finished when one stormy night destroyed almost the whole of our labour. That method is now laid aside, & they are going to embark it on a large raft constructed for the purpose. The weight of the stones is supposed to be about 200 tons. You would find great amusement in hunting among the old ruins for antiquities. The whole of the ground for some miles to both Eastward and Westward of this place is entirely covered with ruins. Many pillars and foundations of buildings are seen in the sea, but not very distant from the shore."
Both attempts were to end in failure and Cleopatra's Needle had to wait until 1877 before leaving Egypt to find a new home in London the following year.
Picture: The 28th Foot at Alexandria.
1806 - The 61st at the Battle of Maida
The War of the Third Coalition saw much British activity in the Mediterranean, in particular in southern Italy, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. On 4th July 1806 a small British army of around 5000 under General Sir John Stuart met and defeated a French force of similar size under the command of General Jean-Louis Regnier, at Maida on the Italian mainland. The battle did not decide the campaign, and by the end of the year the British had evacuated their forces to Sicily. The battle's main claim to fame was the influence it had upon future historians who used the example of Maida to demonstrate the superiority of British line over French column. In fact, if the battle demonstrated anything, it was the superiority of British tactics and fire discipline over that of the French, who, in the climactic episode of the battle were also in line when the Light Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel James Kempt drove them off.
The 61st (South Gloucestershire) Regiment had two companies at Maida. The grenadier company formed the personal escort and bodyguard of General Stuart, and the light company were in Kempt's Light Battalion.
The British Minister in Naples was not slow to report the success of General Stuart's army to London:
"The battle of Maida, upon the 4th of July, will long be remembered in this part of Europe, as a remarkable proof of the superiority of British courage and discipline over an arrogant and cruel enemy. Of the nine thousand men whom General Regnier commanded in the province of Calabria ulterior, not more than three thousand are left to attempt their retreat towards Apulia; the remainder are all either killed, wounded, or made prisoners. Every fort along the coast, - all the stores, ammunition, and artillery prepared for the attack upon Sicily, are become the prey of the victors; and what, perhaps, may be considered of still more consequence than these advantages, an indelible impression is made of in this country of the superior bravery and discipline of the British troops."
Sir James Kempt was a fine commander of Light troops, as he would again show when commanding a brigade of the Light Division in the Peninsular War. He had also served in Egypt, as ADC to Sir Ralph Abercrombie, and, at Waterloo, the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment were in Kempt's brigade of Sir Thomas Picton's 5th Division.
Picture: The Battle of Maida
1808 - With Sir John Moore in Spain
After returning from the Copenhagen Expedition of 1807, the 28th Foot were sent to Portugal the following year. On 24th October 1808 the army under Sir John Moore marched into Spain to support our new Spanish allies who had risen against the French. Moore's strategy was to cut Napoleon's communications with France as the French army advanced into southern Spain, driving all before it. Moore's success ensured that he did not go unnoticed, and Napoleon turned about, anxious to defeat the "English leopard" in the field. Moore was in serious danger of being surrounded and destroyed in Northern Spain. He saw retreat as his only salvation and on Christmas Day began the Retreat to Corunna.
The 28th were in the Reserve Division which was commanded by their old colonel, Sir Edward Paget. (Moore, of course, had commanded Abercrombie's Reserve Division, including the 28th, at Alexandria). Paget's Reserve Division also included Moore's "Shorncliffe Boys", the 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry, and the 95th Rifles, later to form the nucleus of Wellington's Light Division. The Reserve Division made up the rearguard of Moore's retreating army and endured considerable hardships through the 220 mile retreat to Corunna. The severity of the winter weather, lack of food, clothing and shoes led to a breakdown in morale and discipline throughout the greater part of the British Army, with the accompanying women and children of the army dying in their scores.
Ensign Robert Blakeney of the 28th described how its Light Company covered the retreat of the entire Reserve Division, the rearguard of the rearguard as it were, as it crossed the bridge at Calcabellos on 3rd January 1809:
"The Guia, an insignificant stream, but at this season rising in its bed, runs along the base of the sloping hill upon which Calcabellos is situated, at the distance of from four to five hundred yards, and passing under the narrow stone bridge, winds around the vineyards in which the 52nd regiment were posted. At this bridge the light company, as has been said, were posted until everything belonging to the reserve should pass over; and, before this was entirely accomplished, our cavalry (at first preceded by the 95th, whom they passed through) came galloping down to the bridge, followed closely by the enemy's dragoons. The enemy's advance being seen from the high ground in our rear, the battalion bugles sounded our recall; but it was impossible to obey, for at that moment our cavalry and the rifles completely choked up the bridge.
"The situation of the light company was now very embarrassing - in danger of being trampled by our own cavalry, who rode over everything which came in their way, and crowded by the 95th and liable to be shot by them, for in their confusion they were firing in every direction. Some of them were a little the worse for liquor - a staggering complaint at that time very prevalent in our army; and we were so mixed up with them and our own cavalry that we could offer no formation to receive the enemy, who threatened to cut us down. At length, the crowd dissipating, we were plainly seen by the French, who, probably taking us for the head of an infantry column, retired. We sent them a few shots."
Robert Blakeney, "A Boy in the Peninsular War", 1899.
Moore, too, like his predecessors Wolfe and Abercrombie, died in battle at the head of his army at Corunna.
Picture: Sir John Moore.
1809 - Walcheren, Oporto and Talavera
Five months after the evacuation of the army from Corunna back to England in January 1809, the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment were sent abroad again, this time on the ill-fated Walcheren expedition in the Netherlands. The expedition resulted in nothing except for heavy losses in both dead and sick from Walcheren Fever, probably malaria. The 28th were particularly hard hit after arriving back in their old quarters in Colchester.
Lt.Colonel Charles Cadell wrote:
"We had hardly settled, when the dreadful fever broke out amongst us. It was truly melancholy to behold the numbers that were cut off: every evening about dusk a string of from eight to ten fine fellows were carried to their graves! The deaths were so numerous that a corporal and eight men only attended each funeral."
The army had in fact not quit the Iberian Peninsula entirely, for a garrison in Lisbon had been left behind, including 200 men of the 28th in a Battalion of Detachments. When Sir Arthur Wellesley returned to Portugal on 22nd April, he quickly assembled his army, 20,000 strong, including the Battalion of Detachments, and in a lightning advance, bounced the French army under Marshal Soult out of Oporto.
Following up his success in ejecting the French from Portugal, and in what was to be an unhappy experience of co-operation with his Spanish ally, General Cuesta, Wellesley advanced deep into central Spain, linking up with the Spanish army at Oropesa near Talavera on the River Tagus, three days march from King Joseph's Bonaparte's capital of Madrid.
Reinforcements had been hurrying from Lisbon to join the army through a series of forced marches into Spain. The 61st (South Gloucestershire) Regiment, 1,000 men strong, joined the army at Oropesa on 20th July, and on the night of 27th July the combined armies were attacked in their defensive positions at Talavera. The French attacks were resumed the following day, and Lieutenant Charlton of the 61st's Grenadier company described the action:
"About 10 in the morning we had a fine view of King Joseph surrounded by his body Guards. His Majesty took especial care to keep his Royal person out of the reach of our Artillery. The action was continued with varied success in the woods until about 1 o'clock. It was then obvious from the enemy's movements that a desperate attempt on our whole line was in contemplation. Our division received orders to charge the enemy with the bayonet the moment their caps could be seen as they ascended the ravine which was about 100 yards in our front. The French line of Infantry advanced supported by Artillery and Cavalry with cries of 'Vive Napoleon!'. The 61st, 83rd and Guards, with loud cheers, rushed towards the enemy with the bayonet, repulsing them, but continuing the pursuit too far, were much exposed, in returning to their ground, to the fore of the French Artillery and retreating Columns. These Regiments were also threatened with a charge of cavalry which being observed, the 48th Regiment and a body of Dragoons were brought forward to cover their Reformation. The enemy bringing up fresh troops, the action was continued with great obstinacy until about 6 o'clock, when their efforts became weaker, and before 7 o'clock the French fell back, completely repulsed at every point. In these several attacks the 61st lost 15 officers and nearly three hundred Non Commissioned Officers and Privates. With heartfelt sorrow I learnt that my ever lamented friend, Major Orpen, was killed in the last charge by a musket shot in the breast."
Picture: Uniforms of the 61st Foot, 1804-1833. Original watercolour in the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.
1811 - Barrosa and Albuera
1810 had seen the Allies on the defensive, and Wellington had retreated back to the Lines of Torres Vedras near Lisbon, after fighting a successful delaying action at Bussaco. The 61st Foot were present at Bussaco, as was the newly arrived second battalion of the 28th Foot (2/28th), but neither took much part in the fighting. Marshal Massena's starving and much depleted army had been compelled to retreat, and in 1811, the Allies resumed serious offensive operations.
On 5th March 1811 the first battalion of the 28th was present at the battle of Barrosa, in southern Spain. 1/28th had returned to the Peninsula in January 1810, forming part of the garrison of Gibraltar, which was under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham. A series of aggressive operations in early 1811 against the French forces besieging Cadiz culminated in Graham's victory at Barrosa. The 28th had been heavily involved, under the command of the charismatic Major Browne ("El Commandante Loco"), in the temporary absence of Lieutenant Colonel Belson. Belson had returned to take command of the battalion, and Browne (already with a brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel) was given command of a battalion of flank companies, which included the Grenadier and Light companies of the 28th. Lieutenant James Archibald Hope of the 92nd Highlanders, watched the 28th's fight with the French 54eme Regiment de Ligne at Barrosa:
"Some officers of another Regiment doubted the 28th would be able to repel the assault of so superior a number of the enemy. On hearing this Major B. who well knew what the "Bragge Slashers" could do galloped over to the doubters and offered thirty dollars to one that the 28th would "thrash the rascals" soundly. The bet being declined the Major soon after, and on seeing the storm thickening, pulled out his purse and holding it up, cried "This purse of gold to a dubloon, the Bragge Slashers will lick them yet." The bet being taken and the 28th having repelled the enemy's attack, Major B. rode up to the taker of the bet and very coolly said, "The Dubloon, if you please Sir.""
Meanwhile, on the Portuguese/Spanish border, Wellington had divided his forces in an attempt to seize the fortresses which were guarding the gateways into Spain. The 61st were in 6th Division and remained with Wellington's command in the north, taking part in the investment of Almeida, as well as being spectators at the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro. In the south, 2/28th were in 2nd Division, where Marshal Beresford's Anglo-Portuguese army with its Spanish allies was blockading Badajoz, when Soult's relieving army attacked at Albuera on 16th May.
Lieutenant Colonel Abercrombie of the 2/28th, son of the illustrious Sir Ralph Abercrombie who had fallen mortally wounded at Alexandria, was in command of 2nd Division's second brigade, comprised of his own battalion as well as the 2/34th and 2/39th. 2nd Division suffered horrendous casualties in the battle, but especially in its first and third brigades, where 1/3rd (The Buffs, the old parent regiment of the 61st) lost 643 men out of first brigade's total loss of 1,413; and 1/57th (who now acquired the sobriquet " The Die-Hards") lost 428 men out of third brigade's total loss of 1,044. By comparison, second brigade got off lightly, but, even so, 2/28th lost the most men from their brigade, 164 out of a total loss of 390. Beresford's gloomy despatch after the hard-fought and narrow victory recorded this tribute to Abercrombie's men:
"The 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division had behaved throughout the day with the most distinguished prowess: the 28th, 34th and 39th regiments vied with each other in discipline and valour and executed movements under the hottest fire with admirable precision. The conduct and able dispositions of the Hon. Col. Abercrombie were worthy of the renown of his father."
Picture: Map of the Battle of Albuera - The final French attack.
1812 - The Battle of Salamanca
In the summer of 1811, the first battalion of the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment having returned to Gibraltar, set sail for Lisbon to march to join the second Battalion in 2nd Division. The men from 2/28th joined 1/28th, and the officers and NCOs of the former returned to England to recruit. In October the 28th took part in Sir Rowland "Daddy" Hill's neat little victory over the French under General Girard at Arroyo dos Molinos, and for Wellington's 1812 campaign Hill's Corps acted as a distant flank guard while Wellington captured the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, and launched his offensive into central Spain.
Wellington's army engaged Marshal Marmont's army outside the city of Salamanca, after much marching and counter-marching, on 22nd July 1812. Wellington baited his trap, and Marmont fell into it. The crisis of the battle came when the French counter-attacked 4th Division's position in Wellington's centre. Wellington was prepared for just such an eventuality, and ordered Sir Henry Clinton's 6th Division to reinforce the gap that threatened to open up in the Anglo-Portuguese line. Major General Hulse's brigade of 6th Division, on the right and led by the 11th and 61st regiments, drove forward against Bonnet's Division. 6th Division drove Bonnet's Division from the field and they took Clausel's Division with them. But 6th Division's work was not finished. As they continued to advance they came up against Ferrey's Division:
"Clinton, it is said, refused to wait till the troops on his right were re-formed, and hurried on the attack: it was growing dark, and a few more minutes of delay would allow the French to make off under cover of the night. Therefore he advanced at once, and found himself engaged at once in a most desperate musketry musketry contest. ... " Sir Charles Oman, "A History of the Peninsular War".
In 6th Division's left hand brigade, under Brigadier Hinde, the 32nd Foot lost many men during this attack. Oman continues:
"... But heavy as was the loss of this regiment (137 out of 600 present), it was trifling compared to the loss of its neighbours to the right, in Hulse's brigade, where the right and centre regiments in the line, the 1/11th and 1/61st, lost respectively 340 men out of 516 and 366 out of 546 - a proportion to which only Albuera could show a parallel. For many minutes - one observer calls it nearly an hour, but the stress of the struggle multiplied time - the two hostile lines continued blazing at each other in the growing dusk. 'The glare of light caused by the artillery, the continued fire of the musketry, and by the dry grass which had caught fire, gave the face of the hill a terrific appearance: it was one sheet of flame, and Clinton's men seemed to be attacking a burning mountain, whose crater was defended by a barrier of shining steel.' The French, so far as losses went, probably suffered no more, or perhaps less, than their assailants: but their casualties were nevertheless appalling. And at last they gave way: 'the cruel fire cost us many lives,' writes an officer of the 31st Leger, 'and at last, slowly, and after having given nearly an hour's respite to the remainder of the army, Ferey gave back, still protected by his flanking squares, to the very edge of the forest, where he halted our half-destroyed division. Formed in line it still presented a respectable front, and halted, despite of the English batteries, which enfiladed us with a thundering fire. Here Ferey met the form of death which the soldier prefers to all others, he was slain outright by a round-shot.'"
The 61st had lost more men at the battle of Salamanca than any other regiment of Wellington's army. Major Harry Ross-Lewin of the 32nd in Hinde's Brigade wrote in his memoir:
"The 61st, which was almost annihilated in this severe action, was by far the finest regiment in the 6th Division."
Picture: Wellington, painted by Goya.
1813 - Over the Hills and Far Away
The winter of 1812/1813 saw Wellington's army encamped back on the Spanish-Portuguese border, around Ciudad Rodrigo. Madrid had been liberated, and the whole of southern Spain had been evacuated by the French, but Wellington's delay and failure before the fortress city of Burgos, together with a breakdown in the supply situation, had forced him back to his start position. Nevertheless, his army was growing in strength, while that of the enemy was weakening, as reinforcements streamed back to Napoleon in Saxony after the debacle in Russia.
In a brilliant campaign of manoeuvre, Wellington forced back King Joseph's army to the plains of Vitoria where, on 21st June, he inflicted a crushing defeat upon the French. Joseph lost nearly all his guns and vast quantities of materiel and treasure, as the remnants of his army fled, practically unmolested, back to the Pyrenees and the fortified city of Pamplona. The rest of the year was to be spent by Wellington's men in seizing and holding the passes of the western Pyrenees, laying siege to Pamplona and San Sebastian, and transferring his line of communication to London through the ports of northern Spain rather than through Lisbon.
The 28th was still with 2nd Division, and the 61st with 6th Division. Both had been reinforced so that at the start of the campaign the 28th had over 800 men and the 61st nearly 600. 2nd Division took part in the battle of Vittoria, and Captain Cadell of the Grenadier Company described the action of the 28th:
"In the glorious battle of Vittoria (where a British army had been victorious centuries ago) we suffered much. one serjeant and eleven rank and file killed; one major, two captains, twelve lieutenants, two ensigns, six serjeants and 165 rank and file, wounded. Four officers died of their wounds, viz. Brevet Lieut.colonel Paterson, (of the Castle Huntley family,) who was an excellent officer, and much regretted; and three fine young men, Lieutenants McDonald, Mitchell and Byrne. Soon after we had taken the village of Sabijana, the regiment formed in close column upon a gentle slope, and the men were ordered to go to the right about and sit down, resting their backs on their packs. We had remained but a few minutes in this situation when the enemy brought two guns to bear upon us. The second or third round struck McDonnell, of Captain Irving's company, on the back of the head, which it shattered in pieces over the regiment, wounding two other men. The body of poor McDonnell, who was sitting close to Captain Irving, never moved; his firelock rested on his breast between his clasped hands; the fingers dropped, leaving the thumbs supporting it. Soon after this we were sent out by companies, and skirmished the whole day."
6th Division had been guarding Wellington's supply route, and after Vittoria were sent to Pamplona to help in the siege. But on the 14th July 6th Division was relieved by Spanish troops, and marched to St Estevan on the River Bidassoa. July 1813 was to see the last serious offensive mounted by the French in the Peninsular, as Marshal Soult, sent by Napoleon from Saxony to take charge of and reorganize the shattered French army, launched a series of attacks on the Allied held passes, with the aim of raising the siege of Pamplona and turning Wellington's position. In a series of dispersed battles, known collectively as the Battle of the Pyrenees, fought during the weeks of July, both the 28th and the 61st were in action in their respective Divisions. After some hard fighting, the French were repelled at every point and sent tumbling back into France. The 28th were present at the battles and combats of Maya, Sorauren, Beunza and Venta de Urroz, and the 61st were also at Sorauren.
The summer and early autumn were spent in maintaining the sieges of both Pamplona and St Sebastian, although neither 2nd Division or 6th Division were involved in the sieges themselves. Some men found time for romance and dalliances. Lieutenant William Thornton Keep of the 28th wrote to home to his brother Samuel on 17th September:
"... two very pretty girls, about 16 and 18, favoured me with their company - why or wherefore it was impossible to tell - their pretty tongues in the Basque language being quite unintelligible to me - as mine was to them. I was left entirely to guess who or what they were, but my eyes convinced me they were extremely attractive - modest behaved and well dressed. ... As we could not speak a single word to each other to be understood, you will wonder how we amused ourselves. There was nothing in the least giggling or silly about them - but it was all serious work in dumb show as far as conversation went. This will remind you of "Drink to me only with thine eyes and I will pledge with mine etc", but they did more, for they danced and sang to entertain me, having a tambourine for the music. (You must know a chere amie is not unfrequent among us.) Dashing damsels accompanying some officers (one very much like a wife to a Captain of the 28th) came to request a peep at the bullfight at my billett in Vittoria. How this love making is brought about appeared difficult to imagine, until I came here, and found that signs only were required to be interpreted."
Picture: Fighting in the Pyrenees
1814 - The Flowers of Toulouse
Once San Sebastian and Pamplona had fallen, Wellington commenced the invasion of France. In a series of opposed river crossings, the Allies forced the Bidassoa on 7th October 1813, the Nivelle on 10th November, and the Nive between the 9th and 13th of December. There were still many more rivers to cross. The 28th suffered 101 casualties in killed wounded and missing at St Pierre in another of Sir Rowland Hill's expert little victories. At the battle of Orthez on 27th February 1814, both the 28th and 61st were present, but very lightly engaged. Wellington divided his forces again to take Bayonne and Toulouse, and on 10th April he fought his last battle of the Peninsular War outside the latter city. The war came to an end with the confirmation of the news of Napoleon's abdication, which had taken place four days previously. Both the 2nd and 6th Divisions took part in the battle of Toulouse, but 6th Division suffered by far the greatest loss of any Allied division at this battle, which was a Pyrrhic victory for Wellington.
The French army defending Toulouse were well positioned, with many earthworks having been thrown up along the hills around the perimeter of the city. The 61st (South Gloucestershire) Regiment were in Lambert's Brigade with the 11th and the 36th. Having advanced upon and then repelled one French counter-attack from the Heights of Calvinet, and having sustained heavy casualties in so doing (including the Colonel of the 61st), Lambert's Brigade were required to go into action again when Pack's Highland Brigade of 6th Division suffered even heavier casualties after they and Douglas's Portuguese Brigade had entered the fray.
Major Charlton of the 61st described what happened:
"The 61st were now reduced to about 250 men, and were lying down under cover of an earthen fence, and were under my command. The Portuguese and Scotch Brigades, having sustained hitherto little loss of men, were now brought forward to attack the remaining redoubts, supported by General Lambert's Brigade. In this second attack the Scotch suffered as severely as we had done in the first, particularly the 42nd., their killed and wounded being thickly strewn on the ground. They, however, carried the redoubts. But, as the enemy were bringing up fresh troops with Artillery, it became evident that they were preparing to make a vigorous attempt to recapture them. Seeing this, General Lambert ordered me to send off a Division of the Regiment to reinforce a neighbouring redoubt occupied by only a few men of the Scotch Regiments. Now, to reach this redoubt it was necessary to cross the Toulouse road which was of some width, and raked at the moment by a heavy fire of cannon and musquetry. As the Officer, Lieutenant S......e, and the men approached the road, they hesitated to pass, which being observed by me, I called out to the men to face a danger that I never would order a soldier to face a danger that I would not face myself, and then, placing myself at their head, told them to follow me and that I would show them the way, running across the road with Sergeant Fraser (afterwards Sergeant Major) at my side. Encouraged by this brief address, the Officers and soldiers immediately followed us, but several were struck down on the road and unavoidably left to their fate, as no one durst stop for a moment to drag them off."
Charlton records the 61st as having lost a total of 19 officers, 8 sergeants and 153 rank and file killed and wounded. The battle gave rise to a macabre new nickname for the 61st, on account of so many of their dead left lying upon the Heights of Calvinet - "The Flowers of Toulouse".
Picture: Shako Plate of the 61st Regiment of Foot. In the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum collection.
1815 - Quatre Bras and Waterloo
After the end of the War in 1814 Napoleon was imprisoned on the island of Elba and the Congress of Vienna started its work to bring about a permanent peace. However, everything was thrown into turmoil with Napoleon's escape to France a year later. This caused an urgent recall of the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment to join Wellington's army in Belgium. They were formed up in Sir James Kempt's Brigade of Sir Thomas Picton's 5th Division. On 16th June 1815 at Quatre Bras the 28th in company with the 1st Royal Scots marched to the support of the hard-pressed 42nd and 44th, forming square and standing firm in a tall field of rye while subject to continuous attacks from French cavalry.
Major Llewellyn wrote:
"The rye in the field was so high, that to see anything beyond our own ranks was almost impossible. The Enemy, even, in attacking our Squares, were obliged to make a daring person desperately ride forwards and plant a flag, as a mark, at the very point of our bayonets. On this they charged, but were invariably repulsed.
"It fell to the lot of the 28th to bear a leading share in this Action, and I may say they lost none of their former reputation.
"They were frequently hardly pressed, but never lost their discipline and their self-possession.
"Once, when threatened on two flanks by what Sir Thomas Picton imagined an overwhelming force, he exclaimed, "28th, remember Egypt." They cheered and gallantly beat back their assailants, and eventually stood their position.
Two days later at the Battle of Waterloo the 28th repeatedly displayed both its renowned dash and steadiness when it played a critical part in defeating the first attack of D'Erlon's French 1st Corps.
Sir James Kempt, who had commanded the Light Battalion at Maida, later wrote to Sir Hussey Vivian, commander of the Hussar regiments of 6th Cavalry Brigade in 1815 and a former Captain of the 28th in Flanders in 1794, telling him what had happened with his command:
"My Brigade consisted of the 28th, 32nd, 79th, and 1st Battalion 95th Regiments, and on poor Picton's fall (in the first attack that the enemy made) the command of the 5th Division, with the 6th that had just come up to our support, and all the troops, in short, on the left of the Great Brussels road, devolved upon me throughout the day.
"On the 18th, the 95th Regiment was in front of the other Regiments of my Brigade, occupying a knoll and some broken ground as Light Troops, and in a line with a considerable Corps of Belgian and Nassau Infantry. All three retired as the head of the enemy's mass of Infantry approached them, at which critical moment, and just as the French Infantry were gaining the road and hedgerow which runs all along the crest of the position, I met it at the charge with the 28th, 32nd, and 79th Regiments in line, and completely repulsed the Enemy's Column, driving it in a state of the greatest confusion down the slope of the position."
Attacks continued throughout the afternoon aimed at piercing Wellington's centre, and the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte finally fell to the French in the early evening. From there, Kempt's Brigade was subject to withering fire, and the 95th were forced to abandon their forward position. Following the defeat of the last French attack made on Wellington's position by the infantry of the Imperial Guard, the 28th took part in the general advance.
Major Harry Smith of the 95th was on the staff of 6th Division and he recalled the Duke's order:
"At this moment I saw the Duke, with only one Staff officer remaining, galloping furiously to the left. I rode on to meet him. "Who commands here?" "Generals Kempt and Lambert, my lord." "Desire them to get into a column of companies of Battalions, and move on immediately." I said, "In which direction, my lord?" "Right ahead, to be sure." I never saw his Grace so animated. The Crisis was general, from one end of the line to the other.
Wellington's controversial Waterloo Despatch, written in the night of the 18th/19th June, mentioned only one English Infantry Regiment by name - the 28th:
"The troops of the 5th Division, and those of the Brunswick corps, were long and severely engaged, and conducted themselves with the utmost gallantry. I must particularly mention the 28th, 42nd, 79th, and 92nd Regiments, and the battalion of Hanoverians."
All that remained was to pursue Napoleon to Paris, and the war was ended.
Picture: The 28th Foot at Quatre Bras, detail from the painting by Lady Butler.
1831 - The Yeomanry and the Bristol Riots
The rejection of the Reform Bill in Parliament by the House of Lords provoked widespread unrest throughout the country. The old order was being challenged and the "moth of democracy" was in the air. Nowhere was there more trouble than in Bristol. On October 29th 1831 Sir Charles Wetherell, the senior Alderman of Bristol, called upon the army to put an end to the civil unrest in the city and to this end Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton prepared for action a squadron of the 14th Light Dragoons and a troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards. The protesting citizens of Bristol became increasingly restless, and attacked Wetherell's carriage as it made its way to the Guildhall; the Mansion House was attacked, and the Riot Act was read. The cavalry finally arrived in the evening and, no doubt recalling the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and believing that his force was too weak to stop the riot but strong enough to exacerbate it, Brereton at first refused to commit his men. His irresolution was interpreted as weakness by the mob, and matters went from bad to worse.
It was into this maelstrom that Captain Codrington with forty men of the Dodington troop of the Gloucestershire Yeomanry Cavalry rode, having been summoned by messenger in the morning. Having told his men 'that as they had ridden sixteen miles, they had better put up their horses,' Codrington met up with Brereton. To Codrington's chagrin, Brereton failed to give him any orders (a charge that was repeated in the court-martial brought against Brereton after the riots), so Codrington turned his troop about and they rode back the way they had come.
The following day, Major Mackworth, ADC to Lord Hill of Peninsular fame and now Commander-in-Chief of the army, arrived to take control of the situation, along with another troop of the 14th Light Dragoons led by Major Beckwith. They set about the rioters with a will. William Cobbett, the great Radical and former sergeant-major who had exposed so much corruption in the army at the end of the previous century, and who had been warning governments for years of the dangers of civil insurrection or even revolution if parliamentary reform was not carried out, reported Mackworth's account in the Political Register:
"I called out 'Colonel Brereton, we must instantly charge' and without waiting for his answer - he could not but approve - I called out 'Charge men and charge home'. The troops obeyed with the utmost alacrity, Colonel Brereton charging with great spirit at their head; and I trust in God every man there injured was actually engaged in plunder or burning and that not a single innocent person there fell beneath our sabres. Numbers were cut down and ridden over; some were driven into the burning houses, out of which they were never seen to return, and our dragoons after sabreing all that they could at the Square, collected and formed and then charged down Princes Street and again returned to the Square, riding at the miserable mob in all directions; about 120 of the incendiaries were killed and wounded here."
At midday Captain Estcourt with the Tetbury Troop of the Gloucestershire Yeomanry Cavalry arrived in Bristol and they were sent to the St James Barton district of Bristol, with orders to prevent any more pillaging in that area. In this they were successful, and remained in Bristol for the next week.
On 6th November, Charles Pinney, Mayor of Bristol wrote to Colonel Horner, Commandant of the Yeomanry Brigade in Bristol:
"Sir, _ I am requested by the Magistrates of this City to convey to yourself, the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Privates of the Brigade of Yeomanry Cavalry under your command, their most grateful acknowledgements for the promptitude, alacrity, and zeal, manifested by them in repairing to this City, and for their valuable and efficient services in aid of the Civil Power, in preserving the lives and property of the Citizens and restoring tranquility."
In addition to the cost of the destruction of property and the loss of life of those killed in the riots, four rioters were hanged, twenty-seven transported for life, seven to shorter periods of transportation, and fifty-four were gaoled. Lt.Colonel Brereton took his own life before his trial was concluded.
The Reform Bill became law the following year, and in 1836 Bristol was to form its own police force.
Picture: The 3rd Dragoon Guards in the Bristol Riots.
1835 - The 28th in Australia
In February 1835 the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment started its voyage from England, twenty-three ships in all, bound for New South Wales in Australia. Here they were to remain until 1842, when they left for India.
The 28th's headquarters was at Parramatta, now a suburb of Sydney, but contingents were despatched elsewhere in New South Wales and Queensland, including Hassan's Wells, Illawarra, Tonrang, Harper's Hill, Enim Plain, Seventeen Mile Hollow, Newcastle, Maitland, Bloxland Station, Port Philip and Moreton Bay.
Australia proved to be quite congenial to some, and the Naval and Military Gazette of February 1838 reported that:
"The Officers of this [28th] Regiment have been less disgusted with banishment to New South Wales than others have been; for we observe that already a considerable portion have settled in the Colony, and twelve more are about to retire from service for that purpose."
It was not just from amongst the officers of the 28th that new colonists were found for this outpost of Empire. Before the 28th left in 1842, all old soldiers with at least seventeen years service and being of good character were offered the chance of a year's salary and 300 acres of land to settle in Australia. It was an opportunity that many could not turn down.
Recreational pursuits amongst the Regiment in Australia included putting on concerts and theatrical performances, and one popular hobby with the men was to produce scrimshaw work on powder horns, some of which survive today.
But there was serious and less congenial work to be undertaken. Convicts were employed in construction work, building roads and clearing forests, and they needed supervision. Sometimes, parties of soldiers were sent into the interior, to protect farmers and other settlers from the depredations of escaped criminals, the so-called bushrangers.
In 1839 one former convict, Frank "The Poet" MacNamara, wrote his own version of Dante's Inferno, entitled "A Convict's Tour to Hell", condemning his guards and tormentors, including one Sergeant Flood of the 28th:
Then I saw old Sergeant Flood,
In Vulcan's hottest forge he stood;
He gazed at me, his eyes with ire
Appeared like burning coals of fire.
In fiery garments he was arrayed
And like an Arabian horse he brayed;
He on a bloody cutlass leaned
And to a lamp-post he was chained.
He loudly called out for assistance
Or begged me to end his existence.
"Cheer up" said I, "be not afraid,
Remember No. Three Stockade.
In the course of time you may do well
If you behave yourself in Hell;
Your heart on earth was fraught with malice
Which oft drove convicts to the gallows,
But you'll now atone for all the blood
Of prisoners shed by Sergeant Flood.
The departure of the 28th from Australia was not without incident. The three ships carrying the Regiment to Bombay all ran aground in a shallow bay behind a coral reef, and it took six days to get them out. Today, the reef which they so narrowly avoided is named Slasher's Reef in the Regiment's honour.
Picture: Sergeant Flood's powder horn. Original in the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.
1849 - The Battle of Chillianwallah
The Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848-49 followed hot on the heels of the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-46. As a result of the first war the Sikhs had ceded Kashmir and accepted the presence of a British minister in Lahore, which gave the East India Company enormous power in the Sikh government. War broke out again in 1848 and the Sikhs were defeated, the entire kingdom of the Punjab being ceded to the British. The Sikhs were always highly regarded as warriors and soldiers by the British and were to become one of the jewels in the British Indian army's crown until independence in 1947.
The 61st Regiment left Ireland for India in 1845, but were not required to take part in the First Sikh War which broke out in December. In 1848 the 61st joined the Army of the Punjab under General Sir Hugh Gough, in Hoggan's Brigade of Sir Colin Campbell's Division. On the 13th January 1849, after fighting its way through the Punjab, Gough's army was encamped in the cold and wet in front of the village of Chillianwallah. In the afternoon, the Sikhs attacked. George Bace, an officer of the 61st, recorded his experience of the battle:
"The 61st advanced in double quick time, yelling and firing. Soon we passed guns which our rapid advance and destructive fire had caused the enemy to abandon; these were spiked. At length we halted, the foe having fled before us. I'm told that the 46th N.I. [Native Infantry], on our left, kept up pretty well with us, but the 36th N.I., on our right, not only fell back, but behaved shamefully, for when we halted, I looked behind me and saw the 36th N.I. in utter confusion; an armed rabble, more dangerous to friend than foe, inasmuch as the Sepoys were firing in terror and at random; some discharging their muskets straight up towards the sky, others direct to the front, and there were those who, for the sake of diversity probably, pulled the trigger of muskets which they were carrying at the slope. ...
"... The 61st met and repelled the enemy in various directions, sometimes they got in rear of us, when we faced about and charged, firing, rear rank in front. In this way I remember we routed a Regiment of Goorchurras, Sikh regular Horse, who had drawn up in our rear and treated us to a discharge of grape from a gun that was on the ground from which we had passed over, and from which they had, I suppose, succeeded in extracting the spike. ... "
The battle was fought to a bloody conclusion, with both sides claiming victory and licking their wounds. On 13th February Gough defeated the Sikhs decisively at the battle of Gujerat, and on March 12th the Sikhs surrendered. But, heavily criticized for his performance, particularly at Chillianwallah, Gough was sacked after the conclusion of the war and replaced by Sir Charles Napier.
Napier later said in an express order to London of the 61st Regiment:
"I am commanded to request that you assure the Secretary of State for War [the Duke of Wellington] that nothing in the whole of the British Army ever was more distinguished than the conduct of the Regiment - 61st Regiment - throughout the late campaign, but more particularly at the Battle of Chillianwallah, where the conduct of the regiment was the admiration of the whole army.
[signed] John Macdonald, Adjt.Genl. of the Army."
Picture: The British camp before Chillianwallah. Detail from a painting by W.E.D. Deacon. Original in the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum.