THE TIGERS’ FOREBEAR REGIMENTS IN THE PENINSULAR WAR
Colonel Patrick Crowley, Deputy Colonel Heritage
The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR) or ‘The Tigers’ have a long and distinguished military heritage, with strong connections to the Peninsular War of 1808-1814. This is particularly notable, when it comes to the commemoration of the Battle of Albuhera and the part played by:
• 3rd Foot, The Buffs, later The Royal East Kent Regiment,
• 2nd Battalion 31st Foot, later The East Surrey Regiment and
• 57th Foot, later the Middlesex Regiment, earning the nickname of the ‘Die-Hards’.
Thus ‘Albuhera’, spelt ‘Albuera’ in Spain, is remembered every year, a toast is made to ‘The Immortal Memory’ in all battalions and 16 May is a special Regimental Day.
However, the PWRR has much more heritage from the Peninsular War, which is often forgotten. Twelve Regiments of Foot make up the Regiment’s ‘family tree’. They are; 2nd, 3rd, 31st, 35th, 37th, 50th, 57th, 67th, 70th, 77th, 97th and 107th Foot. The 35th and 70th did not fight in the Peninsular War, serving, heroically, elsewhere during this period. The 97th and 107th were not raised at this stage and the 97th, who later became 2nd Battalion of The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment should not be confused with The 97th (Queen’s Germans), who fought, but are not part of the Regiment’s history. Eight Regimental forebears were to serve in the Peninsula, earning a total of 17 battle honours.
The Queen’s (Second) Royal Regiment of Foot)
The 2nd Foot, known as The Queen’s, later The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, arrived in the Iberian Peninsula in 1808 and joined 8 Infantry Brigade. On 21 August, they fought at Vimeiro, forcing the French Marshal Junot to withdraw to Lisbon, Portugal. They then took part in Sir John Moore’s retreat to Corunna, becoming part of the rearguard at the Battle of Corruna on 16 January 1809, where they held the extreme left of the defensive line and successfully repulsed an enemy column attempting to turn the allies’ flank; they then embarked for England. It is recorded that one soldier, Private Samuel Evans of the Grenadier Company, was wounded at Corunna and taken back to Engand. Unfortunately, he died on 30 January, but a post mortem identified that he had been shot through the heart, but survived 16 days.
One company of soldiers was left behind in Elvas, Portugal, fighting within the 2nd Battalion of Detachments; its commander was Lieutenant Colonel Copson of The Buffs. They fought at the Battle of Talavera, 27-28 July 1809, defeating Marshal Soult, before they retuned home.
The Regiment returned to the Peninsula in 1811 and was present, but did not fight, at the Battle of Fuentes d’Onoro in May. The Queen’s and 4th Foot besieged Almeida, but the French garrison managed to escape; unfortunately, that left The Queen’s with the unfortunate nickname of the ‘Sleepy Queen’s’. However, the Regiment had a significant role capturing a fort in Salamanca and, subsequently, at the Battle of Salamanca on 22 July 1812, where half of their numbers fell; so many officers were wounded that the Regiment was commanded by a subaltern, Lieutenant Borlase, at the end of the day. Under-strength, they had to join the 53rd Foot to form the 2nd Battalion of Detachments.
Later, they fought at Vittoria on 21 June 1813, Sorauren in the Pyrenees and the Battle of Nivelle, in France, on 10 November 1813. They also participated in the last significant battle of the War, at Toulouse, on 10 April 1814. At one stage, the Duke of Wellington commented on the Queen’s and 53rd detachment, writing that ‘it is impossible for troops to behave better’. The remaining elements of the Regiment returned to England in July 1814.
3rd Foot (The Buffs)
The 1/3rd Foot, The Buffs, also arrived in the Peninsula in 1808, but after the Battle of Vimeiro. They had rear escorting duties to begin with, so only the Grenadier Company, fighting with The 20th Foot, took part in Moore’s retreat and returned to England. The bulk of the Battalion remained to defend Lisbon until Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, returned to advance against the French again. In May, the objec**tive was Oporto and The Buffs were the first troops to cross the River Douro, within Rowland ‘Daddy’ Hill’s Brigade, in the successful assault the Regiment suffered 50 casualties out of the British total of 121. The next major engagement was the Battle of Talavera, 27-28 July 1809; The Buffs suffered 152 casualties, including the death of their commanding officer.
Albuhera on 16 May 1811 was to be their most notable action. As they moved to secure the right flank of Beresford’s allied army, they were caught by Polish lancers and French cavalry, just as a hail and rain storm hit. Sixteen year-old Ensign Thomas lost his life as the Regimental Colour, which he was carrying, was captured by the French. Ensign Walsh, carrying the King’s Colour, was also struck down, but Lieutenant Latham seized it, defended himself and, despite being slashed through the face with a French sword, survived the day and managed to keep hold of the Colour, securing it around his waist. At the end of the day only 85 men out of the original 728 were unharmed. The Regiment gradually recovered after the Battle, earning the nickname of ‘The Resurrectionists’.
The Buffs did not see action again until Vittoria on 21 June 1813, then also fought at Roncesvalles and Sorauren in the Pyrenees, Nivelle on 10 November 1813 and on the River Nive crossing. They were also present at Orthes and Toulouse in February and April 1814. In June 1814, they were posted to Canada.
Note that out of the PWRR forebears, The Buffs had the most Peninsular War Battle Honours awarded (10).
2/31st Foot (Huntingdonshire)
The newly-raised 2/31st Foot, later The East Surrey Regiment, arrived in Portugal in November 1808. They were also at the Battle of Talavera, 27-28 July 1809. The 2/31st was one of 3 regiments within Mackenzie’s Brigade, which was praised for saving the Battle. Fighting and casualties were heavy and the Regiment lost more men than it did at Albuhera; 250 men were killed out of the original 780.
Next came the Battle of Albuhera on 16 May 1811. The 2/31st, like The 3rd were in Colborne’s Brigade, as it moved to support the allied Spanish right flank. However, they were further back from the Polish lancers and French cavalry, when they charged, and managed to form square to protect themselves extremely quickly, thanks to good drills and the leadership of Major L’Estrange. Thus, they were able to withstand the brunt of the French attack, but they still lost 155 men, so subsequently, a Provisional Battalion had to be formed, in conjunction with The 66th Foot.
In October, the Battalion fought at Arroyos dos Molinos, but their next major action was at Vittoria on 21 June 1813, where they helped drive the French from the heights on the allied right flank. They were also at Roncesvalles and Sorauren in the Pyrenees and at Nivelle. At the Battle at the River Nive, Captain Hensworth’s company captured 2 French guns; Major General John Byng carried the Regimental Colour at one stage and was so impressed by the conduct of the Regiment that he requested that a representation of the Colour could be incorporated in his family’s coat of arms. They were at Orthes on 27 February 1814, Aire on 20 March and the final Battle of Toulouse on 10 April. In July 1814 they departed for Ireland, but only for disbandment in October.
37th Foot (North Hampshire)
The 37th Foot, later The Royal Hampshire Regiment, had a very minor role in the Peninsular War. They had to spend 2 years on garrison duties in Gibraltar from 1812 to 1814. However, in February 1814 they took part in the investment of Bayonne, France. In June 1714 they were sent for service in North America.
50th Foot (West Kent)
The 50th Foot, later The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, had distinguished service throughout the War. The battalion arrived in Portugal, as part of Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s 9,000 strong force in 1808 and fought at Vimeiro on 21 August. There, The 50th gained a fierce reputation after some very effective bayonet charges, which were instrumental in winning the Battle. The Battalion then joined Sir John Moore and also took part in the retreat to Corunna. In the Battle of Corunna on 16 January 1809, The 50th again launched a decisive bayonet charge in the vicinity of Elvina village. Moore was riding his horse behind the charge and is said to have shouted, ‘Well done, 50th. Well done, my majors!’, referring to the success of the action under majors Napier and Stanhope. Unfortunately, Napier was taken prisoner and Stanhope was killed a short time later, though the position was held. Since that date, The Regiment commemorated the day and annually drank to the memory of ‘The Corunna Majors’.
After action in the disastrous Walcheren Campaign, elsewhere, the 50th returned to the Peninsula in September 1810, where they were in action at Busaco, Fuentes D’Onoro and Arroyo dos Mollinos. In May 1812, The 50th attacked Fort Napoleon at Almaraz on the River Tagus. There, as a Regimental history describes:
Round shot and canister were fired against them, but they crossed the ditch and reached the ramparts only to find that the siege ladders, which had been cut in half to enable them to be carried across the hills, were too short.
Fortunately, Lieutenant Plunket of The 50th ran back to fetch the one remaining long ladder, which would reach the ramparts and led the assaulting force up the ladder, creating the breakthrough in the Battle. Their next major action was Vittoria on 21 June 1813, followed by the Pyrenees battles; they were also at the River Nive.
The 50th also gained a nickname during the Peninsular War, ‘The Dirty Half-Hundred’. This was earned from the troops wiping perspiration from their faces on the black cuffs of their uniforms; the black colour ran into the scarlet tunics and onto their faces. Wellesley commented, ‘Not a good looking Regiment, but devilish steady’. The Regiment left the War in July 1814, for Ireland.
57th Foot (West Middlesex)
The 57th Foot, later The Middlesex Regiment, arrived on the Peninsula in July 1809 and had a minor role at Busaco on 27 September 1810. However, they were sent, in the spring of 1811, to help lay siege to the fortress of Badajoz, but were soon diverted towards Albuhera as part of Hoghton’s Brigade of Hill’s 2nd Division within Beresford’s allied army. Hoghton’s Brigade had to stand firm after the demise of Colborne’s Brigade, which contained amongst other regiments, the 3rd Foot and 2/31st Foot, forebears of the PWRR. The Spaniards and Colborne’s Brigade were broken, so Hoghton’s Brigade had to hold the flank against the advancing French. It opened a devastating volley fire at 80 yards and held its position in the face of French musketry and cannon fire. The commanding officer of The 57th Colonel Inglis fell with his chest pierced by shrapnel, but called out, ‘Die Hard, 57th!’, creating a new phrase in the English language and one of the most famous Regimental nicknames in the British Army – The ‘Die Hards’. The Regiment and its brigade helped create the conditions for the Fusilier Brigade to advance and win the bloodiest battle of the Peninsula War. The 57th Foot suffered 66% casualties. The Regiment would have the rare honour of wearing the Battle’s title of ‘Albuhera’ in its cap badge in due course.
It was not until the Battle of Vittoria on 21 June 1813, that the Regiment took to the field again. It then saw action at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees and at Nivelle and the River Nive in France. They had a minor role at Toulouse and sailed for Canada in May 1814.
67th Foot (South Hampshire)
The 67th Foot, later The Royal Hampshire Regiment, was sent to Gibraltar and then Cadiz, which was under French siege, in 1810. Six companies were deployed and they participated in the Battle of Barrosa on 5 March 1811; they were split equally between Wheatley’s and Dilke’s Brigades. The latter advanced with the Guards and played a significant part in the French defeat. The French lost 3,000 of their 7,000-strong force and a prized Eagle. The Regiment suffered 44 casualties.
In the following 2 years, the Regiment carried out marine-type activities on the east coast of Spain. In May 1814, the Battalion was sent back to Gibraltar and it was disbanded in May 1817.
77th Foot (East Middlesex)
The 77th Foot, later The Middlesex Regiment, was involved in the hopeless Walcheren Campaign, like the 50th Foot, and did not arrive on the Peninsula until July 1811. Nevertheless, they had a role to play in the War. Their first battle was at El Bodon on 25 September 1811; one officer wrote that, ‘The greater part of our Regiment had never seen a shot fired before, but behaved most nobly’. In January 1812, they took part in the storming of Cuidad Rodrigo and then on 6 April 1812, Badajoz. They then had a tour garrisoning Lisbon in Portugal, before rejoining the army in 1814, at Bayonne, France. In September 1814, they departed France for Ireland.
THE REGIMENTAL BATTLE HONOURS FROM THE PENINSULAR WAR (17)
Vimeiro (Queen’s, 50th)
Corunna (Queen’s, 50th)
Talavera (Buffs, 31st)
Albuhera(Buffs, 31st, 57th)
Ciudad Rodrigo (77th)
Vittoria (Queen’s, Buffs, 31st, 50th, 57th)
Pyrenees (Queen’s, Buffs, 31st, 50th, 57th)
Nivelle (Queen’s, Buffs, 31st, 57th)
Nive (Buffs, 31st, 50th, 57th)
Orthes (Buffs, 31st, 50th)
Toulouse (Queen’s, Buffs)
Peninsula (Queen’s, Buffs, 31st, 37th, 50th, 57th, 67th, 77th)