The Regiment, 1719 to Now.


Episode 6: The 41st: Waterloo to the Crimea

As the Battle of Waterloo was being fought on June 18, 1815, the 41st was being rushed to Belgium to reinforce Wellington's army. They somehow managed to make do without them, however. The 41st spent a short time in Paris under Wellington's command, but when peace was finalized and regiments were officially designated to be part of the Army of Occupation, the 41st was withdrawn for home service in Ireland and Scotland.

Hopefully, the snippets of French gutter-talk the lads no doubt picked up during their times of service in French-Canadian areas came in handy when dealing with the "lower orders" in Paris. They would not hear French on any regular basis for a long time thereafter - not until the Crimean War, in fact. So this episode could have been titled "Frenchless at Last" or something to that effect.

In 1822, the facing colour of the Regiment was changed to White, at the request of its then Colonel, Major General Sir Edward Stopford. Reasons for this request are not noted in the Regimental History. Also in 1822, the regiment was posted for service in India, and they arrived in Madras in July of that year. One hopes they developed a taste for curried foods, because this posting would last a long time!

In February, 1824, war broke out with Burma, and an expeditionary force of 10,600 men, including the 41st, sailed from Madras, reaching the mouth of the Irrawaddy on the 10th of May. The 41st, under Lt. Col. Henry Godwin, numbered 27 officers and 692 other ranks. On 11 May, Rangoon was occupied. On the 10th of June, Major Peter Chambers (he of extensive War of 1812 experience) and 450 men of the 41st "carried" a stockade. Chambers, in leading the assault, suffered a spear thrust in the face. However, the main casualties of the 41st in Burma were caused by sickness - by March of 1825, 176 men had been lost to various tropical diseases.

In February of 1826, the 41st were in the center of the attack that captured Pagan (along with a draft of men of the 69th regiment, destined to become the 2nd Battalion of the Welch Regiment). As a result of the capture of Pagan, which was the Burmese capital, peace was signed on February 25. The regiment arrived back in Madras in July of 1826. Total casualties: 18 KIA, 223 dead from disease. The Battle Honour "AVA" was awarded. In April of 1827, Peter Chambers was promoted Lt. Colonel and placed in command of the Regiment. Four months later, he died of cholera.

In 1831, the 41st was still in garrison at Madras. On February 25, the regiment received the name "WelCh". Regimental historians have not really figured out why. In the 112+ years of its prior existence, the Regiment had never set foot in Wales (except for maybe recruiting parties). However, Lt. Colonel Sir Edmund Keynton Williams was in command of the Regiment for the period 1827 to 1837, and... he was Welsh... The 23rd was the only "Welsh" regiment at that time, and the 41st was one of the only regiments without a county designation. So the theory goes that when Sir Edmund asked for permission, it was granted. On December 19, 1831, permission was received to use the Prince of Wales' Arms on Regimental regalia, and the motto "Gwell angau neu Chwilydd" was adopted. This was translated as "Rather Death than Dishonour" although a more literal translation of what the Welsh words mean was "Better Death or Shame". Yes, you read that right: it seems the word "neu" means "or", what they wanted was "na" for "not": so it would have translated as "Better Death not Shame". As Brereton remarks, this "dreadful blunder" was not rectified until 1895, when "na" replaced "neu"...

Of course, what the overwhelmingly non-welsh soldiers of 1831 thought of all this is probably not printable. Incidentally, it must be admitted that almost certainly, the permission was granted to call the regiment the WelSh regiment, not the WelCh... but, perhaps because the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers spelt it with a "c", the WelCh decided they would too. And eventually won perhaps their most notable victory on this point - after all, it is easier to face a horde of Afghan tribesmen than the bureaucrats at Whitehall!!! No battle honour, unfortunately.

Speaking of Afghans, in 1842 the Regiment formed part of an "Army of Retribution" which launched a two-pronged attack on Afghanistan. The event being "revenged" was the destruction of the "Army of the Indus" which had been occupying Kabul, and was totally destroyed in an infamous retreat in November of 1841 (the final element of the army, being the remnants of the 44th, were overwhelmed at Gadamack as depicted in a famous painting). Only a single man reached safety. Included in General Nott's Column, based in Kandahar, a wing of the 41st first saw action on 28 March at Haikulzi, the only desperate engagement the 41st saw in the campaign. Because only a wing was present, no battle honour was awarded. Most of the Regiment's remaining actions were relatively bloodless, during the campaign the regiment lost 2 officers killed and 117 other ranks killed and wounded - most casualties came from the fact the Regiment marched over 2000 miles over some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth during its hot and dry season, whilst wearing its woolen uniforms... its services in the arduous campaign gained the Battle Honours "Candahar", "Ghuznee" and "Cabool".

In 1843, the Regiment returned to the UK and actually served in garrison in southern Wales for a short period of time. In 1845, it shifted to the Irish garrison, where it remained until 1851. The next posting was the Mediterranean, where until 1853, the Regiment formed the garrison of the Ionian Islands. This service undoubtedly helped acclimatize the Regiment for its next posting, service in the Crimea.

 

 

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