1st Foot Guards (1815)
The Bamford DespatchÖ May 2016
On 8th March 1995 I attended my first drill session with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Foot Guards under the command of Colonel Derek Saunders (who founded the unit) in the yard of the Waterloo Museum that he had set up in Broadstairs. I had been invited to attend by Sgt. Andy Clark who was senior NCO of the Centre Company; I was kitted out with a rudimentary uniform and was deemed competent by the end of March and so attended my first event at Fort Amherst on 2nd April. A unit photograph was taken at this event and featured almost thirty members in glorious technicolour. I was at the back wearing my shako at a jaunty angle on account of it being a particularly snug fit and crushing my head.
This cranial constriction obviously did little for my mental capacity as following the 180th anniversary of Waterloo on 18th June 1995 (when my dear wife slammed the gates of Hougoumont in my face so I was bayonetted to death) I asked for a promotion and was subsequently appointed Chosen Man.
At Stafford Castle it fell to the Foot Guards to lead a final charge up the embankment to take the remains of the keep from the enemy. The day was hot, the slope was steep, the battle had been long and tiring. Our levels of energy had also been drained through lack of sleep the previous night which had been spent in a local pub which, to this day, I am convinced we saved from bankruptcy by descending upon it mob handed. The number of customers went from three to about eighty in five minutes. Then the singing started which resulted in local re-enactors from other periods joining in having gone home first to get into their kit. Members of the local BNP (head to toe in black, and wearing shades even though it was midnight) came in and joined in the lusty singing of Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem. The evening ended with us all singing "One on a Chair-o" which follows the tune of "Once in a Meadow" and is accompanied by an extra person standing on the single chair each time it is sung. The second verse is "Two on a Chair-o" and so on. We had reached somewhere between 11 and 14 -, all standing on one chair being held in position by others still on the floor and those at the top hanging onto light fittings above their heads, when the landlord, assured his business was safe but his building was in peril, threw us all out. So, in a state of near exhaustion, as we ascended the slope to the climax of the Battle of Stafford Castle I received my first experience of Napoleonic command as our officer and all the other NCOs collapsed in a heap and simply shouted "Take them forward, Bamford, you are in charge now" and relaxed in the afternoon sun as we brave boys recaptured the castle. I fell asleep at the wheel on the way home and nearly crashed, but it was worth it!
Following this I have to admit that many events become lost to memory in the mists of time but for all of us there will always be some stand out moments. I attended an NA event at a place called Bortange. This is an authentically restored walled star fortress town on the Dutch German border. It took an age to reach in the NA coach and led to a debate over the origin of Pontefract cakes. You may well ask. The fact was we were all wearing jeans which, although fashionable, have so little "give" that they have a particularly constricting effect on the nether regions when sitting for a prolonged period (eg. Kent to Holland). On arrival at the first "piss stop" (to use common parlance) we all found that our once wrinkly pink spheres had become compressed to virtually two dimensional discs bruised and darkened with a strange pattern on one side, next time you have a Pontefract cake you may wish to reflect on this story.
At this same event I experienced the most dramatic cavalry action of my career. On day one we were marched into Germany and then out again to take post in an open area of field land. Facing us at a distance of some two hundred yards was a formidable array of French horsemen. As a set piece we were to allow the horses to charge at us, give them a Brigade volley and immediately form square. We formed and re-formed square many times in practise before the officers decided we were ready. The signal was given. The cavalry charged towards us in line. We presented and fired but before we could even begin to form square the horses had bolted in every direction other than towards us. At least 25% were unseated and one poor soul was even dragged across the field, foot in stirrup, with sabre bent up behind him and clods of earth being dug up into the air as if he were a plough. Priceless. It was with great confidence on day two that we formed into line facing the French cavalry for the spectacular set piece. However, this was now Sunday and the horsemen of yesterday had been replaced and re-enforced with more competent and confident riders from local groups. They charged. We fired. We waited for the smoke to clear. They were still charging. Panic! This was the closest I had ever come to being ridden down by enemy horsemen until at least 15 years later with you all at Waterloo200.
Yarns such as these are endless and it would be impossible to recount every fantastically enjoyable moment I have spent as a member of the 1st Foot Guards for 21 years. I travelled all the way to USA to take part in a War of 1812 event only to be accused of molesting an indian squaw the size of a bison and end up being flogged for my troubles.
I went across Spain (once again by NA coach from Madrid) to fight at Corunna where we danced with Cuban beauties, who rolled cigars on their thighs (which accounts for the dreadful dancing and the bent cigars) and it was here that I first tried the battlefield technique of clearing a musket barrel by urinating down it. It was also the last time I tried it, the smell next morning was appalling as I formed part of an honour guard to fire a volley over the tomb of Sir John Moore.
I was captured at Boulogne and presented to the Emperor himself, he did not speak to me even though I saluted him. Come to think of it, he smelt as though he had been clearing his barrel as well.
I have been marched into a mosquito infested dried up river bed by our Colonel to get stung and bitten at Coudekerque. I have seen the whole unit fall to the ground when he ordered someone to die, so that only he was left on his feet. He did not like that. In fact if you ever have someone commanding you on the field who you do not get along with it is the best way for a unit to register its protest. Do not tell anyone I said so.
I have resisted invasion attempts at Folkestone, Harwich, Eastbourne, Seaford, Ramsgate and Dover; not to mention literally hundreds of "fictitious" battles and skirmishes around the UK. I have taken the fight to the enemy at Boulogne, Calais, Coudekerque, Corunna, Mississinnewa, Jersey, Nomandy and, of course, Waterloo.
I have given Boney s Boys thrashing after thrashing both at home and abroad but it seems he will never be truly beaten. Very strange that, as it was the French, following a defeat in the peninsular War , who said "the British had lost the battle, we knew it, their generals knew it but the soldiers did not know it and so kept fighting".
And so it seems there will always be Frenchmen to fight and that is good because it means there will always be a need to keep recruiting, meeting, drilling, equipping and blasting away at those like-minded but ultimately misguided individuals who make up La Grande Armee.
After a wonderful career in the army of King George III the time has come to hang up my sabre. This I do with heavy heart yet also happily, as I know the hobby will continue but even more importantly, the unit will go on providing entertainment and information to the general public whilst at the same time giving its members that level of camaraderie and companionship that is so hard to find elsewhere. You are all friends and I shall miss you, but if you keep your powder dry, stand firm and fire four rounds a minute you will not go far wrong.
God save the king and his 1st Foot Guards.
Brian Bamford , Major & Colonel, 1st Foot Guards (1815) (Retd.)
The Hoogstraten Despatch – May 2014
It was a fair, fresh morning as a hugely overloaded carriage wound its way down the slope towards Dover Docks from whence the First Foot Guards expeditionary force of hand-picked, shining examples of British manhood were set to embark for daring adventures across the Channel in deepest Belgium. Our noble Captain, together with his grizzly and wizened travelling companion Corporal Ashford from Hastings (whose modest campaign supplies outstripped even the tentage requirements of Chipperfield’s Circus) rendezvoused with Private Bloxsome outside the port and together proceeded to board their chartered packet. Due to the extensive security arrangements and an appalling lack of map reading skills our heroes managed to leave the country twice; showing their passports before taking a wrong turn and ending up back on Dover seafront and having to go through passport control again! Having been subjected to a fingertip search of weaponry (enjoyed a little too much by one of the Mikes) our gallant band joined the queue to board. Here they met up with Sergeant Deakin and his bodyguard Private Chapman who, as usual, had set off hours before anyone else and had arrived with only two days to spare before the ship sailed. There was no sign of William.
All kit stowed and hatches battened down, the voyage began. Once offshore Private Bradley appeared; he had apparently stowed away inside his father’s jumper and so managed to avoid paying export duty on the extensive crop of carrots and other assorted root crops he had brought along to form his rations for the duration of the expedition.
Having agreed to rendezvous on the side of the road once disembarked, we immediately drove off in different directions and would not see each other again until arriving at the field of glory.
Using the latest technology in direction finding instruments ensured that the trip to the site was straight forward, with only one mis-hap along the way when the string holding the magnetic fish snapped and, despite it being a clear sky, it temporarily lost sight of the North Star. But what joy when the sight of Hoogstraten windmill came into view confirming that our gallant band were well and truly in the right place at the right time and our arrival could not have been more timely as we managed to secure one of the few remaining sites within the camp offering plenty of space to erect our six tents.
No comfort was overlooked, with cold and cold standing water, pre-owned straw liberated from the cowshed and plenty of logs which a neighbouring group of re-enactors had so kindly gathered together outside their tent to save us having to walk all the way to the woodpile (the kindness of others never fails to impress). And so, tents pitched, gear unloaded, vehicles parked away, fire burning and hot cups of tea warming our hands and bellies we proceeded to learn how absolutely, totally and impossibly cold it can get in May, in mainland North East Europe at night. Never in the field of fabricated conflict has so much shivering been enacted by so many for so little purpose. There were Captain Oates freeze-alikes staggering out of overcrowded tents across the field. Those who were foolish enough to try and use the porta-pissoire found themselves frozen to the central pillar, afraid to try and break loose for fear of leaving a little bit of England in this frozen, foreign field. It is at moments like this that we find a use for some of the most obscure of items, and it was at this point that Private Bloxsome amazed us all with his super thermal, patriotic, union flag Onesies. A joke gift from a relative it made him the only sensible person in the place and the envy of us all. Yet in a typically selfless act of humanity he willingly gave it up in exchange for a fractured jaw and two broken fingers.
Throughout the night there was no sign of William.
The following day dawned dry and bright. The sun beamed down from a cloudless sky melting the frost and drying the ground in no time at all. Once fed and watered we renewed old acquaintances with fellow seasoned campaigners from different units. The infamous fellow who spent the weekend in a hole in the wall at Le Quesnoy some time ago was there, sporting a broken arm. In his stuttering English he told of how he had been off work for weeks with it but yesterday had managed to carry the colours only to be seen from the crowd by his boss – back to the hole in the wall, I think.
Our brave boys assembled prior to reporting to Divisional HQ. There was no sign of William but he was eventually encouraged to join us by the persuasive powers of the ever humane Sgt. Deakin.
The morning was spent going through several drill manoeuvres with our fellow units from B Division; and what fine fellows they all are. So fine in fact that despite Adrian Proudfoot of A Division being presented with the Army Gold Cross, we managed to go one better with our own, beloved, Ed Parker being promoted to the lofty rank of Brigadier General! Oh, how proud the boys all felt as the commemorative citation was handed to him, the smiles on their faces, the Huzzahs on their lips; it warms the heart to see our self-appointed appoint themselves still further. And so to the business of the day.
Battle was joined as the opposing forces took their places on the field; artillery, cavalry and, of course, the PBI. The serried ranks stood facing each other across a field that usually pays host only to maize stalks, now filled with the finest troops to grace this ground in 200 years. The French opened the battle with an artillery barrage. This went on for many minutes with some magnificent examples of smoke rings from both sides. The thing that impressed your heroes the most was the ferocity with which a female gunner from the Royal Foot Artillery rammed home the charge into her cannon; such power, such passion, such control – quick, talk about something else.
Cavalry charges took up the field next but the uneven terrain meant that they had to perform on the far side from the spectator who later demanded that his five euros be refunded. Then the grand infantry advance. On they came like an impenetrable wall of garlic munching pride, bellowing and shouting, waving flags and beating drums and being, quite bluntly, so very obnoxiously French. They were received with a typically contemptuous British volley. The men of B Division had taken up the centre of the British line and so bore the brunt of the onslaught. Ordered to advance into the oncoming enemy we set off with a grand Huzzah and proceeded to be shot to pieces, torn to ribbons, shredded by the enemy’s fire. The C Division moved to cover the slaughter and held off the French until the remains of B Division could recover and regroup. The recovery of some of our number was a little inelegant as we were dragged, hauled and otherwise wrestled back into some form of order to begin a reprisal attack.
Once again we found ourselves at the centre of the action as the whole Allied line moved forward. Volley after volley was buried into the bodies of the now retreating enemy until we held the ground in front of a bridge which spanned the river between the two competing armies. Ours was not to reason why; we pressed onward to take the bridge. Soldiers of both sides fell victim to the unrelenting laws of gravity and were tumbled into the ditch below the bridge but slowly the number of Allies on the French side increased until we could no longer be resisted. Our noble Captain gave the word and we raced forward with him to capture a French cannon from under the (very ample) nose of the French commander, just then some French Grenadiers came on to us, but we were equal to the task. We held them in check until they broke and it was at this moment of triumph that our gallant officer fell victim to an enemy musket butt, leaving him with a black eye – a battle scar worn with pride throughout the remainder of the campaign.
The battle won, we retired from the field to prepare our evening meal and to celebrate our victory. As a special treat Private Bradley handed round carrots before retiring at sixteen minutes after five.
That evening we were promised a humorous entertainment. At this point, dear reader, you must consider the following question: Have you ever heard of a famous Belgian or Dutch comedian? This will give an idea of quite how humorous this entertainment was to be.
It began with great promise with the lighting of flaming torches before a large area which was clearly going to be the place of entertainment. It transpired it was to take the form of a shadow show played out behind a white sheet with the eager audience seeing everything in silhouette. So far, so good. Then it started. It would seem that 19th Century Dutch-Belgian humour began at the base of the toilet bowl and raised itself only as far as the rim of the seat. How we laughed at the outline and sound effects of people urinating into buckets (ho, ho, ho) and passing wind into each other’s faces (hee, hee, hee) and examining the contents of their chamber pots (ha, ha, ha); on reflection it’s almost impossible to believe we watched it to the end. The operation performed would not have impressed our own surgeon whose standards of cleanliness (he wipes his hands on a rag before probing the lower torso) are so exacting. Once it ended we began to realise once more how cold it was before retiring, physically and emotionally drained, to our prestigious accommodation. Throughout the night there was no sign of William.
Sunday, and after unit prayers and miscellaneous devotions we once again prepared for the rigours of the continuing campaign. We breakfasted, took tea, washed and dressed and generally maintained all the standards of home even though we were in the field. Despite all the noise we made there was no sign of William.
Private Bradley emerged from his tent just in time to join us for morning drill following a period of sixteen hours hibernation; Private Chapman went sick having been subjected to a close proximity discharge the previous day. Drill went well and we all learned something about retiring by section by file of twos (or something like that) to be introduced at Dover very soon.
Later that afternoon Private Bloxsome consulted his new timepiece and so provides the only accurate part of this report: the Sunday confrontation began with another artillery duel at thirty seven minutes after one. This time, however, there were far more cavalrymen on the field with the result that we had to continually form square to protect ourselves from them. Particularly impressive were the Red Lancers who could even stab front row members of our squares – and did (where’s Horan when you need him?). Once again our combined martial efforts managed to force the Corsican Ogre back into his cage but, being in no close proximity to the bridge, we had to jump across the ditch to properly see him off (such jumping was clearly beneath the dignity of our sergeant who walked round and met us on the other side). Having fired volley after volley until the muskets became unusable we finally declared victory and marched proudly from the field of glory back to the authentic camp, the cheers of the crowd ringing in our ears.
Immediately after the battle Private Bradley found he had completely exhausted his supply of arable crops and so departed for home, happy but tired and snoring into his hessian nose bag; ah, the joys of the boundless energy of youth.
With another freezing night in the offing all members began to wrap as much material around their pits as they could muster and there was not one man who was not covetous of our captain’s new cloak obtained locally for a bargain price! There is not one man of the Foot Guards who would wish to take his place when he reveals its true cost to his good lady; she may just black that other eye.
The return crossing was made in good time across flat calm seas and it is pleasing to report that all will be fit to fight another day. This was a most successful campaign resulting in firming relations with our overseas friends ahead of Waterloo 200. Across the weekend over 15,000 people paid to come and watch us. The next time someone pokes fun at your hobby just ask them how many people turn out to watch them play golf, football, catch fish etc?? The unit even looks set to receive a bounty for our efforts. Well done to all.
God save the King’s Foot Guards.
The Dymchurch Despatch. August 2012
Under orders received our previously anticipated sojourn into Welsh Wales had been abandoned in order to preserve the English coastline. Information had been received that a large group of local inhabitants from the village of Dymchurch were to stage a bi-annual smuggling operation and, just as twenty four months ago, the brave boys of His Most Britannic Majesty’s First Regiment of Foot Guards were required to prevent this heinous act.
It is well known that the world is divided into five main parts; these being Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney Marsh. An expanse of reclaimed land providing a flat platform between the English Channel and the rising chalk downs to the north. An excellent coastline for landing flat bottomed or shallow draught vessels carrying anything from invading armies and spies to gold coins and contraband; this natural feature, together with the generally untrustworthy nature of the Marsh residents, make this an area in need of close guarding if it is to be properly regarded as part of Great Britain.
No one in their right mind would live in a place so isolated, barren and windswept but fortunately we have a member who fits that description. He inhabits a single storey building (it used to have an upstairs but this was blown away in the teeth of a ferocious south westerly and is now in use as a bus shelter in Hythe) built directly on the shingle at the edge of Dungeness. This ensures he has a fine view in all directions across the Marsh. Looking towards the sea he can see - shingle; looking along the coast he can see - shingle; looking inland he can see - shingle; his back garden is full of shingle; his front garden is bordered by shingle. Like all males on the Marsh – he is a shingle man (i.e. a bachelor with a lisp).
But enough of this nonsense, it was our own Sgt Deakin who provided the intelligence needed to intercept the foul smugglers in the throes of their dastardly activities.
The first stage was to attend the church on the Sunday to get a sight of potential smuggling locals; unfortunately this duty was not accompanied by a promise of free beer and so it was that Sgt Deakin attended alone, surrounded by officials worrying greatly that there would be more than just him the following day to take on the smugglers.
Happily on Monday the lure of posing before bikini clad beauties, blasting away at ne’er do wells and of whetting whistles with copious amounts of local ale proved sufficient to draw a thin red line across the sandy beach.
The day started with the making of rounds, forming up and marching the length of the village from the Rec. to the Ship Inn, colours flying in the wind as parts of buildings flew overhead and horseless carriages stacked up behind us. Drummer Bradley had obviously had a late night on the Sunday as his drumbeat to set the pace was particularly slow (about 40 beats a minute) which suited those short of leg very well but did nothing to assist our punctuality. Having assured Captain Collyer of His Majesty’s Royal Navy that we would be in attendance by ten o’clock we arrived, sweating, wheezing and fagged out (who described Dymchurch as a small village?) at twenty past. In order to redeem ourselves we fired a point blank volley over the crowd – that did the trick.
Following an introduction to the main characters of the Syn story we made our way to the beach for the main action. I don’t know for sure but I would be very surprised if Private Hastings did not capture an image of the sweet, slim, smooth siren known as Imogene (he has a developing reputation)
The Artillery was already there with two field pieces capable of decimating an entire regiment of oncoming infantry with canister, grape or case – shot; with such assistance this would not be difficult.
For a change we were actually cheered by some members of the usually partisan crowd as we took up our position. Then on came the smugglers. It was eerily reminiscent of Waterloo ’95 – the enemy just kept coming and coming. The beach was black with the bast….. fellows. Earlier information had led us to believe the smugglers had been let down and would be few in number; if this were the case then, had they all been there, one would have been unable to glimpse even the ground upon which they stood.
The main protagonists were there – The Scarecrow, Jimmy Bone the highwayman, Mr Mipps, Dr Pepper, Mr Rash the schoolmaster and even little Jerry Jerk the potboy. If these, and a handful of anonymous smugglers, had been it the day may well have gone our way but - unfortunately for us – they were accompanied by another, more well-known character of recent yarns; Captain Jack Sparrow.
A popular rogue Sparrow could not possibly be shot down by us before the youngsters in the crowd and this was our undoing. Other smugglers also assumed an air of immortality and despite well timed and well-aimed volleys from the muskets of the rank and file together with repeated fire from both the cannon operated by the artillery they simply would not die (they must all have been cursed as crew of the Black Swan – even though that story has nothing to do with Romney Marsh or Dr Syn). In an attempt to ward them off the order was given to fix bayonets and on at least three occasions the line charged the oncoming smugglers with bayonets levelled but to no avail.
Individual fights broke out as the smugglers got ever closer refusing to either fall or yield in the face of our superior fire power. Men took on the Scarecrow but were beaten back by protocol (don’t kill the main characters), our Captain engaged Jimmy Bone in frantic sword play and overcame him when young Hamish (temporary pennantless pennant bearer) jumped onto his back enabling him to be pushed to the ground and be held at our Captain’s mercy. He was spared on offering his parole but, not being a proper gentleman, immediately re-joined the fight.
There were several acts of outstanding personal bravery: Gentleman Private Mad, Bad and Dangerous Allen, unable to overcome one particularly determined smuggler with his bayonet, finally floored his opponent by reciting a recently composed ode only to be stabbed by an envious iridium tipped nib-yielding local author. Drummer Bradley, having failed to have brought his sword with him (was it unpolished?), beat off the enemy by using his drum as Private Horan terrified friend and foe alike by making faces (well, he does have a significant head start). It was, however, Private Horsley who caused the greatest stir by taking on the wailing banshee known as Maureen Yellowskirts. She threw herself at him waving a short sword in the manner of an epileptic egg whisk, he tried valiantly to fend her off using his bayonet but it became unfixed (poor drill execution) so he reversed his musket and used it as a club. At one point she wrestled him to the ground and it was only his heavy duty winter issue “unterpanten” that saved his modesty by keeping the beast of Normandy well and truly furled. The crowd was not on his side and as he was forced back towards the cannon and stabbed by no less than three separate blades a huge cheer rent the air and he fell motionless to the ground.
It was clear that the rehearsal-free meetings of the Day of Syn Committee had served to prolong this battle on the beach to above thirty minutes and when all powder had been exhausted by both infantry and artillery, with the loss of only a hand-full of smugglers, the time had come to save the colours. Our Captain ordered Ensign Austin from the field carrying with him the King’s Colour in order to save it from being taken and abused by the King’s own subjects.
As the remainder of the King’s men were either captured or put to the sword our noble Captain left the beach in an act of unrivalled sacrifice – it was quite clear that he would have preferred to have stood fast with his men and face the fury of the smugglers - but he knew that a report would have to be made and so went to make it.
The success of the smugglers has been examined closely and a theory has been reached which would seem to explain the reason for the ignominious defeat of our brave boys. All information regarding this incident had been gathered by our own Sgt Deakin. It had been he alone who had determined where we should be and at what time. It had been he alone who had liaised with members of the local population. It is, indeed, he alone who is a member of the local population. It is the smugglers who transport not only contraband but also information and spies back and forth across the Channel to the enemy. Could it be that Sgt Deakin is operating on behalf of the smugglers?
Study of the roll call for that day shows that, significantly, he was absent from duty on the day of the battle and had locked himself safely in his home on the shingle, barricading the doors with piles of shingle, kept for just such emergencies, under the sitting room mat.
The previous day our sergeant had reported to the surgeon (also curiously unavailable on the day of the battle) on sick parade that he was unwell – someone said he might even have shingles (boom-boom!)
Our remaining duties on the Day of Syn were to execute a prisoner by firing squad (poor lamb didn’t even have a blanket to fall on so actually did receive a wound as a result of falling over) and to provide an arena display which lasted for another half hour.
All in all a hectic and exhausting day but at least it didn’t rain.
At our next encounter all that will be left of the Scarecrow will be the stick up his a**e. And as for Sparrow – he’ll be plucked!
God save the King and his Foot Guards Huzzah!!!
The Flanders Despatch - June.
The First Foot Guards Expeditionary Force made a further sortie against the maladjusted followers of the Corsican Ogre this mid-July. At the express invitation of an undercover agent and former Foot Guard who had, he claimed, convincing evidence that the people of the fortified town of Le Quesnoy were ready to rise against the republican tyranny at present being spread like a suffocating blanket over the population of France. In the event it turned out that Marc (Demi-Frog) Middleton’s intelligence was defective – in fact there remains serious concern over whether he has any at all – and the promised royalist forces paraded for the Thief of Europe and not His Britannic Majesty. We were left with a loyal group of four local imbeciles who had gathered for an annual village idiot competition and, having arrived, could not find their way home again (all being from different villages they failed to agree the route).
Erring on the side of caution Captain Bamford sent a vanguard ahead in the form of Privates Hastings and Chapman whose express duty was to secure an appropriate camping ground for the ‘Gold’ when it arrived some two hours later. As one would expect of unsupervised other rankers they did their very best in completing this task, and lined us along the dried up bank of an obvious flood plain at the base of an unassailable wall in the killing zone of this impregnable fortress. We were not alone however, as the rest of the mongrel battalion comprising Saxons, Germans, Prussians, Hollanders and a peculiar breed of French-Belgian Scots decided to pitch up in our vicinity thereby offering at least some form of protection from the French musketry. Quite why they should all set up camp in such an obviously inappropriate spot was difficult to fathom until Quarter-Master-Sgt. Gardner pointed out that one of their number (later to be entrusted with the colours) appeared to be an uncomfortably close relative of our very own Private Horan (what a shame that Kevin was unable to attend due to the expedition clashing with the annual English Horan family bath and hair-wash).
How refreshing it was to be received by our vanguard, tents already pitched, and it filled us all with joy to be re-united with them and offer them the opportunity to help us erect our tents. Typically of the British soldier this kind offer to them was thrown back in our faces and all those holding rank were left to complete the camp construction as Hastings and Chapman promptly recruited the mad, bad and dangerous Private Allen and made off into town to sample the delights of a particularly well endowed, but sadly hideously ugly, landlady of the Cambridge Pub. It is believed this unfortunate woman was in fact some form of sorceress who had laced our brave soldiers’ drinks with a form of love potion; it seemingly having the effect of making her appear more beautiful as the evening wore on. Apparently it has been subsequently reported that on a last sighting she resembled a series of minor road works.
Returning to camp our rough other ranks then proceeded to upset our noble allies by hurling all sorts of loud and unnecessary insults against the manhood of their nations; fortunately this was only overheard by most of them who then spent the rest of the time smiling and offering us curious forms of local salutation made by forming their hands into various shapes.
The following morning saw us forming up for battalion drill under the watchful eye of Captain Marc (Demi-Frog) Middleton, a Euro-Mulatto with confused loyalties but none the less a representative of The Staff. It was his intention to parade us in an open column of companies. Three companies were made. Viz:
1st Foot Guards (Splendid fellows, one and all)
41st Regiment of Foot (Taffs)
Commanded by Captain Bamford – 1st Foot Guards
Some Foreigners (Saxons)
Some More Foreigners (Germans)
Commanded by a Foreigner
Commanded by a Hollander
It is easy to ascertain the finest, leading company which managed to set the standard for the campaign. So the march began to the town band stand where, it was rumoured, some Frenchmen intended to enter and take the town by force. 1st Company was deployed alone to hold the top of a slope up which the French were advancing. Continuous volley fire from the two ranks (operating as separate bodies) managed to hold off the Gallic advance but despite a superior rate of fire the enemy kept on coming. Eventually we were bayonet point to bayonet point; and it was then that the ‘rules’ were explained:- if the enemy had more bayonets than us we had to give ground. As one might expect we had the fewer bayonets. Such a fine body as this was not going to give up just because of the rules, however.
Working on the Brute Strength and Ignorance theory we held our position only giving way to reveal a Dutch gun loaded and ready to fire point blank into the French. This being the land of no H&S – it fired. We still had to give ground.
This war-gaming with real people continued until a general ceasefire was declared to allow a group of dog walkers to promenade their beasts on their constitutional and for us to take part in our campaign lunch. French loaves were supplied but Private Hastings (obviously nervous of damaging his replacement wooden teeth) chose not to take up the challenge of chewing this pseudo-anvil but instead finished off his packed lunch so lovingly prepared for him prior to embarkation.
During the afternoon session the French tried to turn our flank and appear behind us. We spotted their movement and 1st Company sprinted off to hold them at the other entry point to the town across a substantial bridge. We formed out of sight and as the French came across the bridge our brave boys wheeled into line and fired a volley into them at a range of less than 25 feet. They were obviously shaken, out manoeuvred and, in reality, defeated. A bayonet charge would have finished them off all together when their officer presented himself to Captain Bamford saying: “We ‘ave fiff tin bayoynits, I count you ‘ave unlee twelff. The town, Ah theenk is arse.”
As you might imagine we were to a man spitting feathers at this infernal application of the ‘rules’ but when we called upon Demi-Frog for support he gave his half Gallic shrug – and surrendered.
The French saluted us as we marched away back to camp still smarting at how victory had been so cruelly snatched from us. Later that afternoon it rained. It continued to rain all evening. It carried on raining into the night. Even the spit roast sheep had to be served wearing snorkels. The dried up river bed became decidedly moist and filled up as everyone remained in their tents playing various manly games, either alone or with their camp mates, until they fell asleep. It stopped raining early the following morning allowing us to take breakfast. The hosts did us proud with another breaded anvil together with ox-cart axle grease and a splendid conserve in either strawberry or apricot flavour. Private Chapman once again pronounced that he should have been provided with a Full English but to no avail.
Brigade drill commenced at 10:00 on the Sabbath with a blessing of the colours. This required the troops to remove headdress and kneel. As the order was given it began to rain. Colour Sgt. Jackson reminded us that we had fought with mud on our boots before and so could drill like it. What a splendid, morale booster that was. Drill continued until it stopped raining when all hands were stood down until 14:30. Prior to this the French attempted to invade the allies’ camp but were seen off by potato hurling Welshmen. The most frantic part of this action was when a canon was fired into a covered way following which the French, led by a huge pistol wielding Zouave named Abdulla the Munge, charged in. All went well until he became wedged in the tunnel – as you might imagine it all ended in tears and handfuls of lubricant.
The final clash between the sworn enemies was scheduled for 15:30 but was brought forward to 15:00 due to the ferry timings. We marched proudly through the town to the field of glory where much powder was burned by both sides. At one point 1st Company found itself supporting 2nd Company as it tried to take a bridge. A huge, hairy, hideous Frenchman (whom we later christened the Wookie) was becoming frantic and had to be subdued by his CO. Once on the bridge a series of obliquely fired volleys weakened the French resolve and we marched across to face them head on. They exposed a canon to our front and were most annoyed when we obliqued to the left to avoid its blast then reformed to finish off the French before us, we laid flat when they fired their gun again, then charged and captured it as the remaining infantry fled the field, the sound of Private Allen’s abusive sonnets ringing in their ears.
As we acknowledged the cheers of the crowd (yes, they cheered despite it being an away win on a Sunday) it began to rain again so that as we returned to break camp not only was all our tentage wet but so were our uniforms and equipment – great fun.
We left the town of Le Quesnoy in the hands of the vanguard (now the rearguard) and returned without incident to Old Albion. Well, without incident if you discount the altercation with both passport control and the ferry loading staff enjoyed by the QM who was last heard to be saying ‘Don’t you tell me to shut up, I’m the customer here’, as he was marched off to the control building. At which point the rest of us made our excuses and left.
An excellent event – Nous retournerons!
The Peninsular Despatch - May.
To Spain with the First Footguards. A long and irksome journey crammed into a bullock cart with eight soldiers for company. I am not one to complain, but I shall have words with our Regimental Surgeon when next I see him. (He remains in Folkestone struck-down with yet another bout of Walcheren fever).I was promised by him, as due to my rank, my own equipage, a room to myself in billets and a soldier servant. I do not want to appear in any way churlish, but the indignities heaped upon me of late have been legion. Viz: Having to share a Flanders tent with a Colour Sergeant, suffering a boneshaking journey from Hell alongside a flatulent Drummer and not being paid the 7/6d per diem as promised by Horse Guards. Captain Barnford will hear of this and no doubt with a sympathetic ear. (He had to remain in his quarters at Deal and bring to a conclusion the outstanding with the Belgian gentlemens’ outfitter who measured him for those trousers, which incidentally have now been accepted as the sealed pattern for the future).
My Colour Sergeant companion, notwithstanding his unsavoury nocturnal habits, turned out to be entertaining if not eccentric in his ways. He seemed to have acquired the woollen sock issue for the Regiment, and spent many happy hours sorting them into pairs and counting them ad infinitum. Strange how the sun affects people.
Our two drivers, seconded from the Royal Waggon Train (Newgate Blues), thrashed the poor ration bullocks overthe Pyrenees and deep into Spain itself. They then slaughtered the hapless beasts which lifted our spirits no end. Very tough meat but palatable, I must give Mrs. Witham the recipe.
We camped finally at Albuera, a fly-blown place but perfect for halting the French advance, or so my veteran travelling companions informed me. The young ladies of the town showed promise, one of which, a racing certainty, sported jet-black hair but with teeth to match unfortunately.
I had the misfortune to lose my way and blundered into the French lines. I struck up conversation with an intriguing fellow, stocky, with piercing eyes and wearing a drab grey overcoat and an enormous bicorne worn en battaille. He was most interested in our dispositions, and asked me about the calibre of our guns, the number of bayonets that we could field and did I have the name of a good London tailor? I helped him to the best of my ability and he noted everything down. Curious. On hearing that I was a medical man he asked for a second opinion regarding a malaise he had borne for many years. Before I could refuse I was ushered into a tent by a Mameluke servant who handed me a quizzing glass. I was then invited to inspect my new companion’s nether regions. In all my years practice I have neverencountered the like. Haemorrhoids the size of grape-shot, a veritable hanging-gardens of Babylon. The extreme heat must have tormented the poor soul. His Surgeon, Larrey, was a firm advocate of leeches. I suggested ice and possibly a long sojourn in a cold climate, a few weeks in Smolensk with the family perhaps.
My friend said he was considering taking the children to Russia next year, and that my advice had now made up his mind. I was pleased to be of help. I asked him where I should take my good lady next year, and he said that Corsica was very nice in the Spring. We parted company on the best of terms.
I returned to our camp only to find a scene of chaos. We had been ordered to march and all appeared at a loss. The common soldier, in the absence of an officer, soon becomes a rabble. Kit was thrown everywhere pell-mell, our Quartermaster would have suffered one of his seizures had he not been trapped on a Rhine barge with a brace of Rhine-maidens (details to follow).
The battle itself was bloody but a foregone conclusion. We managed to decimate a Portuguese regiment which crossed our front. They turned out to be our allies but I find it’s always best to trust one’s instincts in these matters, they looked damn’d foreign any We came close to blowing one of our staff officers to pieces, sillyfellow exposing himself like that, a moment of madness on Clapham Common came to mind. The Rifles spent the whole time, it seemed to me, skulking behind bushes and not standing proud to be shot at like everyone else, but I speak as a layman. The day was saved by our resolute discipline and the timely charge of our heavy cavalry.
It transpired that the fire that swept through the Polish Lancers camp was started by a carelessly dropped cheroot, I really must be more careful.
God bless the King, and all those that love him.
Ned West-Sherring, Assistant Surgeon, First Footguards.