5 March 1770: 29th of Foot caught up in the Boston Massacre

A contemporary engraving depicting the 29th firing upon the crowd during the Boston Massacre

A contemporary engraving depicting the 29th firing upon the crowd during the Boston Massacre

In 1770 the 29th Foot were stationed in Boston at a time when the discontent and hatred felt by the American colonists towards the Mother country, England, was extended to the British Troops stationed in the Colony. Boston was a particular centre of discord and on several occasions there had been free fights between the townsfolk and members of the Regiment.

On 5th March, it being their turn for garrison duties, the 29th provided a guard for the Customs House, where a certain amount of cash was kept. A mob of 100 rioters tried to rush the post shouting, ‘Kill the soldier, kill the damned coward, kill him, knock him down!’ and the lone sentry called out the guard who came to his assistance. The guard, consisting of Captain Thomas Preston, a corporal and six men, fixed bayonets and kept the crowd at bay, taking no more violent action, although being subjected to a barrage of abuse.

However, words led to blows, and Captain Preston and Private Montgomery were struck down by one of the mob leaders. On regaining his feet, Montgomery heard someone shout ‘Why don’t you fire?’ and, thinking that this was an order to fire, did so. Five or six more shots were fired in quick succession: three of the rioters were killed and five wounded. The rest of the mob ran away.

The Old State House, Boston MA, site of the Boston Massacre

The Old State House, Boston MA: site of the Boston Massacre

In memory of the incident which the Bostonians called the Boston Massacre, the Regiment, being the first to shed the blood of the colonists, was given the nickname ‘The Blood Suckers’ or the ‘Vein Openers’.

The Incident led to the arrest and trial of Capt Preston, Pte Montgomery, 7 other soldiers and 4 civilians on a charge of murder.  However, with the aid of John Adams (later to become the 2nd President of the United States) as counsel for Capt Preston, six were acquitted, while two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences; they received a branding on the hand.

Extracted from ‘The Worcestershire Regiment: A Brief History’

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The Battle of Nivelles, 10th November 1813

After the successful Allied siege of San Sebastian (7 July – 8 September 1813), Wellington, with 80,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops advanced northwards pursuing Marshal Soult’s retreating army.

Soult turned to face the British at prepared position along the River Nivelle.    The French army was drawn up on a series of hills on which they had constructed a number of strong  redoubts.   However, Marshal Soult’s lines stretched from the shores of the Atlantic on the French right flank to the snow-covered pass of Roncesvalles on the left, a perimeter of about 20 miles. With only 60,000 men to protect this, Soult’s forces were stretched impossibly thin.

The French position was dominated by the Greater Rhune, a gorse-covered, mountain nearly 3,000 feet high. Separated from the Greater Rhune by a ravine, roughly 700 yards below it,was the Lesser Rhune along the precipitous crest of which the French had constructed three defensive positions.

Wellington decided to attack along the whole of Soult’s line, but to mount his major assault in the centre.  A breakthrough in the centre or on the French left flank would enable the British to cut off the French right.   Wellington disposed his forces as follows:  the left wing led by Sir John Hope, comprised the 1st and 5th Divisions as well as Freire’s Spaniards. General Beresford was to lead the main Allied attack against the French centre with the 3rd, 4th, 7th and Light Divisions,  while on the British right (attacking the French left ) Sir Rowland Hill would lead with the 2nd and 6th Divisions, supported by Morillo’s Spaniards and Hamilton’s Portuguese.   In this assault, the 2nd Division, including the 29th Worcestershire Regiment and the Sixth Division, including the 36th Herefordshire Regiment, had the toughest job and earned special praise from Wellington.  The battle honour “Nivelles” was to be  borne on the Colours of both Regiments thereafter.

The battle started just before dawn on the 10th of November, as the Light Division headed towards the plateau on the summit of the Greater Rhune (the summit had been garrisoned by French troops but they had fled after the skirmish on the River Bidassoa, fearing to be cut off from their own army). The objective of the division was to sweep the three defensive forts the French had constructed out of the battle. They moved down into the ravine in front of the Lesser Rhune and were ordered to lie down and await the order to attack.   After the signal from a battery of cannon, the assault began. It started with the men of the 43rd, 52nd and 95th – with the 17th Portuguese Caçadores in support – storming the redoubts on the crest of the Rhune.   The surprise and boldness of the British sent the French fleeing towards forts on other hills.

The Battle of Nivelles

The Battle of Nivelles

While the 43rd and 95th were dealing with the French on the Rhune, there still remained one very strong star-shaped fort below on the Mouiz plateau which reached out towards the coast. This was attacked by Colborne’s 52nd Light Infantry, supported by riflemen from the 95th. Once again, the French were surprised and in danger of being cut off, they fled leaving Colborne in possession of the fort and other trenches without a single fatal casualty.

The main British assault then began with the nine divisions fanning out over a five-mile front.  When the 3rd division took the bridge at Amotz, all French resistance broke as any communication between the two halves of Soult’s army was now impossible. The French resistance melted away and soon they were in full retreat (by 2 o’clock they were streaming across the Nivelle) having lost 4351 men to Wellington’s 2450.

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.

A new acquisition reminds us of the Indian Mutiny

Pierced with bullet holes and stained with blood from a brutal exchange that should have seen its wearer fatally wounded, the National Army Museum’s latest acquisition is a rare survivor from a bloody conflict.

It is a unique 156-year-old military tunic that belonged to Lieutenant Campbell Clark, who was caught up in one of the many bloody episodes of the Indian Mutiny between 1857 and 1859.

Seeing Lt Clark’s battered redcoat reminded us of the service provided by men of the 29th Regiment of Foot during this period.  Detachments from the 29th were sent to assist the British troops, having already had experience of garrison duty in India during the Sikh Wars of 1845 to 1849.

We have information about all the soldiers whose medals we hold.

We have information about all the soldiers whose medals we hold.

In one of the medal cases in the Worcestershire Soldier exhibition, you will find the medals of Pte John Fudge, who enlisted on 27th September 1844, at the age of 19.  He served in the Punjab, during the Sikh Wars, and then in the Indian Mutiny.  In all he spent 14 years in India.

He was discharged on 17th October 1865 having completed 21 years service.  His Long Service and Good Conduct medals, which you can see in the case, came with a £5 gratuity, surely a welcome gift to augment his soldier’s pension.

The Regimental Badge

badge_web

The badge of the Worcestershire Regiment from 1881

Men of the Worcestershire Regiment in 1897 - note the star on the soldiers 'valise' or leather backpack.

Men of the Worcestershire Regiment in 1897: note the star on the soldier’s ‘valise’ or backpack.

The regimental badge of the 29th Regiment of Foot until 1881

The regimental badge of the 29th Regiment of Foot until 1881

The Star of the regimental badge is that from the Order of the Garter, and was used by Colonel Farrington, founder of the 29th Regiment of Foot. He had been an officer in the Coldstream Guards, and kept the Star for his new Regiment. As a result, the 29th were nicknamed ‘Guards of the Line’.

The number of the regiment in written in the centre of the star in Roman numerals. The lion above it may be copied from the Royal Crest.  It is believed that it was presented to the 29th when they were on duty at Windsor in 1791.

The 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment also used a star in their badge, which bore their motto ‘Firm’. It was worn from the 1770s at least, although the origin is unknown, and became official in 1810.

The Regiment also used to use the Naval pattern of crown on their badges to commemorate their service with the Fleet at the Glorious First of June in 1794. This link to their maritime service is also remembered in two of the regiment’s marching tunes, Hearts of Oak and Rule Britannia, both traditionally associated with the Royal Navy

In both regiments, the Star was worn for many years on the Valise – part of a soldier’s backpack. When the regiments were amalgated to form the Worcestershire Regiment in 1881, the badge incorporated the star, the lion of the 29th and the motto of the 36th.  Thus the regiment continued to remain ‘FIRM’.