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.
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.
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.