The Battle of Albuhera and the ‘Die Hards’

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Marshal Soult was to receive his greatest defeat at the battle of Albuhera (Albuera), in southern Spain on the 16th May 1811. The Buffs (East Kent), the 31st (Huntingdonshire) and the 57th (West Middlesex) were all in Marshal Beresford’s allied army. Beresford took up position against the 23,000 French and Polish force astride a main road overlooking the village of Albuhera. The French attacked in massed columns supported by artillery firing grapeshot and came round the allies’ right flank, which was held by Spanish troops. The Buffs were pushed into a counter attack against the French left flank and were making good progress when French Hussars and Polish Lancers charged from their right rear and cut them to pieces. Only eighty four men survived out of 728. The Regimental Colour was captured, with its ensign killed, but later recaptured by The Royal Fusiliers. The King’s Colour was returned after being found by a fusilier inside the tunic of a hideously gored and apparently dead officer, Lieutenant Latham. He had taken it when its ensign was wounded by gunfire. Hussars swarmed around him and slashed him mercilessly, but they could not wrench the staff from his grip. He survived with one arm chopped off by a surgeon and a crevice across his nose and cheek staunched, to receive from his brother officers a gold medal. He was also promoted. Silver centrepieces depicting this deed are among the prized possessions of the Regiment. The Buffs recovered so quickly from their experience that they were nicknamed ‘The Resurrectionists’.

The 2nd Battalion of the 31st (2nd/31st) commanded by Major L’Estrange, formed square in the rear and stood firm. They inspired Wellington to write how, ‘after the other parts of the Brigade were swept off by cavalry, this little battalion alone held its ground against all the massed French columns’.

Meanwhile, the 57th formed the centre of the Brigade that came up on the left of the 31st, in place of the Spaniards. For four hours, they withstood a terrible pounding by grapeshot as they engaged the French masses at very close range, never budging except to close ranks, always on their feet. Colonel Inglis, their commanding officer, was shot through the lung. Refusing to have his wound dressed, he lay propped on an arm in front of his lacerated Colours and kept exhorting his men, ‘Die Hard, 57th, Die Hard!’. Ninety-nine men did die, whilst 333 lay wounded out of a total of 600. Marshal Soult wrote of the British Army at Albuhera, ‘There is no beating these troops. They were completely beaten, the day was mine and they did not know it and would not run’. Albuhera was to become the Regimental Day of both The Buffs and The Middlesex Regiment and the Middlesex were granted the honour of wearing the name ‘Albuhera’ on their cap badge.

Now, the officers, warrant officers and senior NCOs of The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment celebrate the annual Silent Toast Ceremony, when the toast is drunk ‘To the Immortal Memory’ of all those of our forebear regiments and current regiment who have given their lives in the service of their Sovereign and Country. There is a large Regimental Memorial at Albuhera unveiled by the Duke of Wellington in 1997.

The 2nd/67th were part of the allied force, which defeated the French a month before, at Barrosa, but the Peninsular War went on for another three years as the French were driven back through the Pyrenees to their own soil. The fighting stopped after the fall of Toulouse in April 1814. The forebear regiments were not directly involved in the 100 day campaign, which finally ended with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, though the 35th were in reserve at the Battle and occupied Paris as part of the Army of Occupation. It was the Duchess of Richmond, wife of the Colonel of the 35th, who held the famous ball on the eve of Waterloo.