“Steady the Drums and Fifes”


Painting by Lady Butler 1897

"Steady the Drums and Fifes" was painted in 1897 by Lady Elizabeth Butler who was a famous artist who specialised in painting scenes from battles of the 19th century and World War One. The painting depicts the drummers of the 57th of Foot on the ridge above Albuhera under contact with the French Forces. What is striking is how young the drummers are and that they are visibly shaken by what is going on around them.

Albuhera is a small town in South-West Spain and was about 12 miles South of the border garrison town of Baderjoz which was deemed critical to allied success during the peninsular wars fought against Napoleon's French army between 1807 and 1814. General Beresford positioned his army of 35,000 (British, Portuguese and Spanish troops) to invest and protect Badajoz and his force was met on 16 May 1811 by the advancing French forces that numbered around 24,000. Albuhera was the bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic wars with a quarter of all participating troops dying on the battlefield. Albuhera was an allied success as Badajoz was not reached by Napoleon's forces.

Drummer Holloway, who is depicted in the painting, was awarded a medal for his part in the Battle of Albuhera as an eleven year old boy. The 57th of Foot (West Middlesex) withstood bombardment of grapeshot and attacks by the French columns for four hours. Their commanding officer, Colonel Inglis, shot through the lung, lay on the battlefield in front of his men and shouted "Die Hard the 57th, Die Hard!" thus giving them the nickname The Die Hards. As well as the 57th of Foot, two other forebear regiments of the Tigers were represented at Albuhera. The 2nd/31st of Foot (East Surrey) formed a square and stood firm while the Spaniards on their left turned and ran and after the battle Wellington wrote "After the rest of the brigade was swept off by the cavalry this little battalion alone held its ground against all the massed French columns". And last but not least the 3rd of Foot (The Buffs) suffered appalling casualties with only 84 men of 728 surviving the battle. As they were overrun the Regimental Colour was lost but later recovered by the Royal Fusiliers, and the King's Colour was taken from its pike by Lt Latham to protect it from enemy forces. Lt Latham was found on the battlefield alive, but mutilated by French sword and lance with the blood-stained Colour stuffed down his tunic. His deed is remembered in the Latham centrepiece that is held in the 2nd Battalion.

Drummer Holloway's Albuhera medal was the centre piece of the stem of the original loving cup that was handed down to the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment from the Queen's Regiment in 1992 who had inherited it from the Middlesex Regiment on amalgamation in 1966. Every year on the anniversary of the battle members of the Officers' and warrant officers' and Sergeants' Messes remember those who fell at the Battle of Albuhera. Albuhera is one of the days celebrated in the Regiment.