The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810

In May 1810 Marshal Massena took command of the Army of Portugal, with orders from the Emperor Napoleon to capture Lisbon and drive Wellington and his British army out of the Peninsular.

During the winter of 1809/10 Wellington’s engineers had built fortifications across the Lisbon isthmus, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. As Massena began his advance into Portugal the British and Portuguese Army fell back towards the capital.

Massena captured the Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo on the border and on 26th August 1810 he took the Portuguese fortress of Almeida. On 15th September 1810 Massena resumed his advance through Portugal towards Lisbon, harassed by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Division.

Wellington, intending to fight a delaying battle, positioned his army at the convent of Busaco. The convent lay on a long high ridge that stretched from the Mondego River for some ten miles to the North. The road to Coimbra and Lisbon climbed up the ridge and passed the convent, while a second lesser road crossed the ridge further south. The ridge rose steeply to 300 metres from the valley in places. A rough track meandered along the top.

The British and Portuguese regiments, including the 29th (Worcestershire) and the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiments, were positioned along the ridge with the main concentration at the northern end and the reserves further south.

The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810
The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810

Marshal Ney led the French advanced guard towards Busaco on the evening of 25th September 1810. His assessment was that only a British rear-guard held the ridge and that it could be easily driven off by a frontal assault. Massena came forward and agreed with him, ordering the assault for the next morning.

The first attack was carried out by Reynier’s corps, advancing up the lesser southern road, Massena’s assumption being that this would take the French behind the British right flank.  Once Reynier was established on the crest Ney’s corps would advance up the main road to the Busaco convent at the northern end of the ridge. Far from being held by a rearguard, on the ridge were all 50,000 British and Portuguese infantry supported by 60 guns.

Early morning mist hampered the first movements and observations. Heudelet’s division, setting off at 6am, followed the southern road up to the crest of the ridge where they were engaged by the 74th Foot, two Portuguese battalions and 12 guns. The fire fight continued for the whole of the battle, Heudelet’s division refusing to give ground.

Merle’s division reached the crest to the north of Heudelet’s. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th Connaught Rangers had seen the French column climbing the hill and hurried his regiment to the threatened point with several companies of the 45th Foot. Wallace led his men in a fierce attack on the French and drove them back down the hill.  Wellington wrote in his dispatches: “I can assure you I never witnessed a more gallant charge”

The final element of Reynier’s attack was carried out by Brigadier Foy who took his brigade to the top of the ridge and remained there until he was driven out by Leith’s British Brigade of the 5th Division, the counter attack being headed by the 9th Foot.  Reynier’s corps suffered 2,000 casualties in its abortive assault.

Ney, from his position further north, thought that Reynier had taken the crest and ordered his corps to begin the assault up the main road to the convent.  Loison’s division advanced up the hill with its left on the road. As it reached the crest, the 43rd and 52nd Foot of Craufurd’s Light Division rose from their positions in the sunken section of the road and poured a volley into the French column at 25 yards. The two light infantry regiments then attacked with the bayonet driving the French back down the hillside. A watching artillery officer described the fight as “carnage”.    Mermet’s division attacking alongside was halted by a Portuguese brigade.

Seeing the failure of all the attacks Massena called off the assault and began a reconnaissance to the north, discovering a road that circumvented the ridge. As the French marched away to the flank, Wellington’s army withdrew south towards Lisbon, having inflicted a serious reverse on Massena’s Army of Portugal.  The French suffered 522 dead, 3,612 wounded, and 364 captured. The Allied losses numbered 200 dead, 1,001 wounded, and 51 missing. The British and Portuguese each lost exactly 626 men.

Masséna then moved off to the right to flank the position, and Wellington, after spending the night in the convent, resumed the retreat of his army into the previously fortified Lines of Torres Vedras. He reached these by 10 October.  After probing the Lines in the Battle of Sobral on 14 October, Masséna found them too strong to attack and withdrew into winter quarters. Deprived of food for his men and harried by Anglo-Portuguese hit-and-run tactics, he lost a further 25,000 men captured or dead from starvation or sickness before he retreated into Spain early in 1811.

The 29th Foot heroes of Talavera

 

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

Having driven Marshal Soult’s French army from Portugal, General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s 20,000 British troops advanced into Spain to join forces with 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta. They marched up the Tagus valley to Talavera de la Reina, about 120 km southwest of Madrid. There they encountered 46,000 French under Marshals Jourdan and Victor with the French king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte in nominal command. On the 23rd July the combined Allied force lost an opportunity to defeat the French corps of Victor at Talavera, because Cuesta insisted that the Spanish wouldn’t fight on a Sunday!

Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heathThe French crossed the River Alberche in the middle of the afternoon on 27 July. A couple of hours later, the French attacked the right of the Spanish and the British left. The dominant feature of this battlefield was a hill about a mile distant from Talavera, upon which Wellesley’s left flank rested.  The hill was taken and lost, until, finally, the British held it firmly. At daybreak on 28 July, the French attacked the British left again to retake the hill and were repulsed when the 29th Foot (the Worcestershire Regiment) who had been lying behind the crest stood up and charged up the slope at the double with bayonets fixed and forced the French off the hill. A French cannonade lasted until noon when a negotiated armistice of two hours began. That afternoon, a heavy exchange of cannon fire started ahead of various infantry and cavalry skirmishes. Early in the evening, a general engagement resulted in the French being held off. A cannon duel continued until dark. At daylight, the British and Spanish discovered that the bulk of the French force had retired, leaving their wounded and two batteries of artillery in the field.

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The French lost 7,389: 944 killed, 6,294 wounded, 156 prisoners. The Allies lost : 7,468. The Spanish casualties were about 1,200 and British lost 6,268, including 800 killed, over the two days of fighting.  Many of the wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire.

After the action Wellesley wrote to Viscount Castlereagh:  … “I wish very much that some measure could be adopted to get more recruits for the 29th Regiment.  It is the best regiment in this Army”……..

Roll of Honour

Serjeant Joseph Martin Corporals: George Duckworth, Jonas Palmer

Malayan Gift Tin

The 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, fought in the Malayan Emergency of 1950-53. Many National Servicemen and volunteers spent weeks and months in patrolling the dense jungle, tracking down Communist-led bandits.

Malayan Gift Box

Malayan Gift Box

These tins were sent out to the members of the Battalion at Christmas 1952. They were paid for by the Sergeant’s Mess Reunion, and contained a card, cigarettes and other small presents. They follow the tradition started by Queen Victoria in giving her soldiers a gift box for Christmas in 1900, as did Princess Mary in 1914. They also show the strong bond which exists between past and present members of the Regiment

Important acquisition – a Lovell pattern 1839 musket

The Mercian Regiment Museum Trust has recently acquired a fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

A fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

The Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum have recently acquired an British Pattern 1839, percussion smooth bore musket. It is 55 ½” long with a 39″ barrel marked with ordnance proof marks. The barrel is equipped with a standing foresight and a plain rear sight. It is equipped with a side action lock which is engraved with a Crown over VR (Victoria Regina) set over an Enfield stamp. The lock bears a crowned broad arrow Ordnance mark and is dated 1841. The lock is retained by 2 side nails with Lovell cups. The musket has a New Land pattern style full stock, with brass furniture including a plain brass fore-end cap for socket bayonet, three ramrod pipes retaining the original ramrod. The musket has two sling swivels, one mounted from trigger guard, the other above front ramrod tube.

percussion musket p.39

The percussion lock of an 1839 pattern musket

It was with this pattern of musket that the 29th Regiment obtained its victories in the Sikh Wars. Although it is equipped with the most up to date percussion ignition system the musket’s smooth bore limited its accuracy and its effective range was between 50 to a hundred yards. The musket fired a lead ball of .75″ calibre (approximately 18mm).

The Black Drummers

1770's Drummer

One of the Black drummers c.1770.

In 1759 ten slaves captured from the French were presented to the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot for use as drummers, and started a tradition which would last nearly a century.
Over the next 84 years nearly 50 black men were actively recruited to serve as drummers in the 29th. Each man was a volunteer, and many served for 20 or more years, receiving equal pay, pensions, medals and status as any other soldier. Some sons followed fathers, and fresh recruits joined from Canada, Ireland, the West Indies and India.
The black drummers remained an important and proud part of the Regiment until the last drummer died in 1843.

Yeoman, 1916

Mounted Worcestershire Yeomanry Trooper at Huj

This Yeoman is stopping to check his compass while on patrol in the Sinai Desert.

During the First World War the Worcestershire Yeomanry fought in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine. Roving across wide open desert in the blistering heat for days on end, the Yeomanry led the British Army all the way from the Suez Canal to Damascus in one of the most successful British campaigns of the war. It was a tough life in a very harsh environment. Water was always short and disease common.

The Yeomen also carried out raids on enemy positions, and could act as storm troops in battle. At Huj, in November 1917, less than 200 Yeomen charged eleven Austrian field guns and over 2000 Turkish infantry with swords drawn – and won. It was the last great charge of the British cavalry .

First World War Body Armour

WWI body armour

WWI body armour worn in Flanders

 This is a set of First World War body armour, used by the British Army. It has curved metal plates for the chest and the back, and was supposed to protect snipers and other vulnerable soldiers by stopping or deflecting bullets. Unfortunately, the metal is very thin, and probably would not have stopped a direct hit. Also, the metal curves in to the middle, so any bullet hitting in the centre of the armour would have been deflected inwards!

This set belonged to Private A. W. Tunkiss of the 1/8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. He used it in France in 1916. He was wounded in action on the 5th November 1916, and discharged from the Army the following March .

The Sikh Wars, 1845-49

Sikh War Case

The Sikh War Case

In the 1840’s the 29th Regiment of Foot were on garrison duty in India, and took part in both Sikh Wars. Despite being outnumbered and against some of the best troops in the world, the British fought two bloody and successful campaigns against the Sikhs, with the 29th in the thick of the action. The 29th fought in the centre at the battle at Ferozeshah, and repeatedly stormed the Sikh fortifications at Sobraon, despite being heavily outgunned and outnumbered.

During the Second War they fought at Goojerat (alias Gujerat) and Chillianwallah, where the 29th took heavy casualties taking a line of Sikh guns. A few years later, detachments from the 29th also served in the Indian Mutiny.

Sikh Jacket

The Sikh Jacket

The Sikh Jacket

This jacket, or tunic, is traditionally referred to as the ‘Sikh Chieftain’s tunic’, although its small size means that it probably belonged to a young prince or a son of a chief. It was picked up on field at Sobraon by an officer in the 29th Regiment.

Between 1845 and 1849 the 29th fought in two wars against the Sikhs in north western India. The Sikhs were a very martial nation, and their Army was very well trained and equipped in modern warfare. The battles in the two Sikh Wars were very hard and bloody, and this jacket has always been a proud trophy and a popular attraction in the museum.

 The jacket and other material from the Sikh Wars currently forms part of the exhibition ‘Anglo-Sikh Wars: Battles, Treaties and Relics’ being held at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester from 11th March to 4th June 2017. The exhibition is being developed by the Sikh Museum Initiative and hosted by Leicester City Council.  Please follow the links for more information.Anglo-Sikh Museum Initiative

Hitler's Clock

Hilter's clock

Adolf Hitler’s Clock

Hitler’s Clock – This electric clock was removed from the wall behind Hitler’s desk in his Conference Room, above the door into his ante-room, by Major H. F. Boddington on 26th July 1945. He was an officer of the Worcestershire Regiment, but had worked in  the British Intelligence Service for most of the war. That day he was escorting Winston Churchill and other important people in a tour of the Chancellery, Berlin, which had been captured by the Red Army.

After deciding to ‘liberate’ the clock, Major Boddington gave it to the museum for safe keeping, where it has remained as a popular exhibit.

The Glorious First of June 1794

In June 1794 Britain had been at War with Revolutionary France for 14 months.  France was on the verge of starvation due to a bad harvest and political upheaval. As a result, the French had assembled a convoy of some 117 merchant ships, filled with grain and other stores, in Chesapeake Bay, in America.

The French strategy to ensure the safety of these ships was, an immediate escort of 4 ships of the line, commanded by Admiral Vanstabel, to accompany the convoy – a second squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Neilly, to sail to meet the convoy and escort it back to France while the main French Fleet, commanded by Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, was to sail from Brest to provide any necessary cover should the convoy be threatened by the Royal Navy.

In April 1794, Admiral Richard Howe had assembled the British Fleet, consisting of 32 ships of the line with attendant frigates, off the Isle of Wight. Owing to a shortage of Marines the 29th Regiment of Foot, along with a number of other line regiments, had to provide drafts for sea-service.  Over four hundred officers and men of the regiment were distributed among five ships; “Brunswick”, “Ramillies”, “Glory”, “Thunderer” and “Alfred”.

The French convoy sailed from America on 11th April and on 2nd May Howe sailed from Spithead with 26 ships of the line. After a reconnaissance of the port of Brest to confirm that the French Fleet had not sailed, Howe placed himself between the convoy and their covering force. On 19th May, Howe’s frigates report that the French Fleet had sailed out of Brest and he immediately set off in pursuit.

Loutherbourg,_The_Glorious_First_of_June

The Glorious First of June

On 28th May, at about 8:10 am a frigate made the signal for “a fleet bearing South West” directly to windward. It was not until 6 pm that action commenced and lasted until 10 pm. British casualties were only twenty-two killed and wounded. On next the morning it was hazy and the action continued from 9 am until nearly 4 pm when the French bore away to support their disabled ships. The 30th was very foggy and there was no action that day. However on the 31st, the fog cleared about 2 pm and the French were sighted far to leeward.

On the 1st of June, at 5:45 am Howe counted 34 sail of the enemy and gave chase.  The general action commenced at 9:15 am.

The “Brunswick”, with 81 men of the 29th aboard was played into battle by the ship’s band and a drummer from the 29th to the tune of ‘Hearts of Oak’. “Brunswick” was in the thick of the fighting and endured a tremendous onslaught, being engaged for a considerable time with three French seventy-fours. One of these “Le Vengeur” she sank. At one stage of the battle another of the seventy-fours seeing that “Brunswick” was much weakened, determined to board and manned her yards and shrouds with a view to running alongside and flinging in all her crew at once. “Brunswick” with great intrepidity and coolness reserved a whole broadside and waited her approach; then in one discharge the “Brunswick” dis-masted her and “scattered her crew like so many mice on the ocean“.

During the fierce fighting, the 29th detachment Commander, a Captain was killed and the Ensign and 20 others were wounded.

The 29th Foot abroad the "the Brunswick" on the Glorious First of June

The 29th Foot abroad the “the Brunswick” on the Glorious First of June

This Battle was fought far out in the Atlantic and so it has always been known by its date “The Glorious First of June”.  For its share in the engagement, the 29th Regiment was awarded a Naval crown to be borne with its Battle Honours.