from Her Majesty’s Army by Walter Richards.
The East Kent Regiment
The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), consisting of the 3rd
Foot, have, like one or two other regiments, a history considerably
anterior to their appearance on the English establishment.
As in all such cases, so especially with the Buffs, the history
extends over the period in which were enacted some of the most dramatic
scenes in history; in which individual and national fame sprang into being
with the leap and the shout of a war god; when in all parts of the known
world the love of adventure, the dauntless courage and endurance, the
lordly masterful ness of the Anglo-Saxon were proving with a logic keen as
the swords and halberds with which it was enforced his right to domination
and power. It is from the
“spacious times of great Elizabeth,” when
wherever ship could sail, We founded
many and mighty state,”
That the Buffs date their origin, though for many years before that
the embryo of the gallant corps had existed in the train-bands of the City
of London. In 1572 one Sir
William Morgan, with a band of Englishmen, fought under Ludwig of Nassau
against the host of Spain. Later
on a namesake of his, Captain Thomas Morgan, rose, with the tactic
approval of the cautious Elizabeth, a company of three hundred men out of
the various London Guilds. From one or both of these Morgan led bands are the Buffs
lineally descended. Years
went by; the band of English warring in Holland waxed and waned in
numerical strength, but waxed ever in fame and honour; the names of those
who have made history-Essex, Vere, Sidney, William Russell, Leicester, and
Stanley are found amongst its leaders or warriors; and the deeds they
done, with what valour they fought, with what courtesy they lived and
moved, with what brave, old fashioned piety they died, read like a chapter
from some enchanting romance that the reader can scarce believe-and yet
knows, and is the better and prouder for knowing-is all unvarnished
historical truth. Doubtless
the heritage of all this is the nation’s, but doubtless, too, in an
especial manner is it the possession of the Buffs.
A goodly sized book might be filed with the record of the various
battles in which these English soldiers of fortune taught the world anew
how mighty was the nation that brought forth such sons, but anything
beyond a passing reference to the warfare of the time would be foreign to
our present purpose.
Before passing on to the period when “The Holland Regiment”
became more intimately connected with purely British service, we are fain
to record, in the words of an eloquent writer, some details of the battle
of Zutphen, in which the English fought so splendidly.
Five hundred Englishmen, amongst who were some of the flower of the
nobles, found themselves “face to face with the compact body of more
than three thousand men. There
was but brief time for the deliberation; notwithstanding the tremendous
odds, there was no thought to retreat.
Black Norris called to Sir William Stanley, with whom he had been
lately at Variance, ‘There hath been ill blood between us; let us be
friends together this day, and die side by side if need be for her
Majesty’s cause.’ ‘If
you see me not serve my Prince with faithful courage now,’ replied
Stanley; ‘account me forever a coward.
Living or dying, I will stand or lie by you in friendship.’ As they were speaking these words the young Earl of Essex,
General of the Horse, cried to his handful of troopers, ‘ Follow me,
good fellows, for the honour of England and England’s Queen.’
As he spoke he dashed, lance in rest, upon the enemy’s cavalry,
overthrew the foremost man, horse and rider, shivered his own spear to
splinters, and then, swinging his curtel axe, rode merrily forward.
The whole little troop, compact as an arrow head flew with an
irresistible shock against the opposing columns, pierced clean through
them, and scattered them in all directions.
The action lasted an hour and a half, and again and again the
Spanish horsemen wavered and broke before the handful of English.
Sir Philip Sidney in the last charge rode quite through the
enemy’s ranks, till he came upon their entrenchment, when a musket ball
from the camp struck him upon the thigh, three inches above the knee.
Although desperately wounded in a part which should have been
protected by the cuisses which he had thrown aside, he was not inclined to
leave the field; but his own horse had been shot from under him at the
beginning of the action, and the one upon which he was now mounted became
too restive for him, thus crippled, to control.
He turned reluctantly away, and rode a mile and a half back to the
entrenchments, suffering extreme pain, for his leg was dreadfully
shattered. As he passed along
the edge of the battlefield his attendants brought him a bottle of water
to quench his raging thirst. At that moment a wounded English soldier, ‘who had eaten
his last meal at the same feast,’ looked up wistfully in his face, when
Sidney instantly handed him the flask, exclaiming, ‘Thy necessity is
even greater than mine.’ He
then pledged his dying friend in a draught, and was soon afterwards met by
his uncle. ‘Oh, Philip,’
cried Leicester in despair, ‘I am truly grieved to see thee in this
plight.’ But Sidney
comforted him with manful words, and assured him that death was sweet in
the cause of his Queen and country. Sir William Russell, too, all blood-stained from the fight,
threw his arms around his friend, wept like a child, and, kissing his
hand, exclaimed, ‘Oh, noble Sir Philip!
Never did man attain hurt so honourably or swerve so valiantly as
you.’” Thus died Philip
Sidney, leaving an example which other officers of the Buffs in after
times have followed, not once or twice or with faltering purpose, but
often and gladly as beseemed English gentlemen and soldiers.
After many other battles in which the Regiment of Holland took
part, but which, as has been observed, it would be impossible in our
present limits even to enumerate, the regiment came to England, after the
Peace of Munster (1648), and were placed on the English establishment
seven years later. After
their adventurous career for the past three-quarters of a century, the
first years of service in England must have seemed singularly dull to the
bold spirits of the Holland Regiment.
Gradually that name sank into desuetude, as the veterans of the
Holland service died out, and in 1689, when the incorporation of the 3rd
Foot into the guards advanced the Buffs to their present numerical rank,
they received the title of “Prince George of Denmark’s Regiment of
Foot.” The custom of the
historians of the day was, however, to designate a regiment by the name of
its colonel, and the Buffs were accordingly known by the honourable title
of Churchill’s Regiment, the brother of the great captain himself being
their commander. They soon
went abroad to the neighbourhood of their early achievements, and at
Walcourt showed that the years of peace had in no way lessened their
material aptitude. The fought
at Steenkirke and at Laden, where they suffered so severely that active
measures had to be taken to recruit them.
While in the neighbourhood of Ghent, the official record relates
that General Churchill, Colonel of the Buffs, had an alarming adventure.
During an inspection, he, with two or three other officers and
about a dozen men, halted for a short time at a roadside house.
Almost directly afterwards the French surrounded it: half the guard
were killed, and the other half kept up a gallant fire from the windows.
Churchill trying to escape was taken prisoner, “and plundered of
his money, watch and other valuables.
While the marauders were engaged in sharing the booty, he stole
away undercover of a hedge and succeeded in safely reaching the allied
army. The small band left in
the house defended themselves for some time, but reinforcements for the
enemy constantly coming up, abandoned the unequal struggle and
surrendered.” The Buffs
took part in the expedition under the Duke of Ormond against Vigo, where
the allies captured two men-of-war and eleven galleons, with about
7,000,000 pieces of eight. Soon
after occurred the famous battle of Blenheim, the first distinction the
Buffs bear on their colours, followed, eighteen months later, by Ramillies.
At the latter battle the Buffs, led by the son of their Colonel,
made a most brilliant charge. They were posted upon a rising ground; “beneath them raged
the battle with varying fortune, until the genius of the British leader
and the valour of his troops extorted a reluctant victory. The enemy were driven back and fell into terrible confusion.
At this important crisis Lieutenant-Colonel Churchill proved
himself worthy of his descent. Placing himself at the head of head Buffs, followed by Lord
Mordaunt’s regiment, and five squadrons of dashing sabres, he swept down
the slope, crossed the morass which lay in his way, past the Little Ghent,
clambered up the steep hill beyond, and crashing with musket and bayonet
into the enemy’s left flank, drove three regiments into a miry hollow,
where most of them were captured or slain.”
At this period of there career, when the Royal order the colours of
English regiments received the addition of St. Andrew’s Cross, “Prince
George of Denmark’s Regiment,” says the official record, “was
permitted to display a dragon on its colours, as a regimental badge, as a
reward for its gallant conduct on all occasions.
The dragon, being one of the supporters to the Royal Arms in the
time of Queen Elizabeth, also indicated the origin of the corps in Her
They fought at Oudenarde; at Malplaquet, “Marlborough’s last
great victory, and his most decisive as well as his most sanguinary,”
the Buffs were in the thick of the fighting, suffering so much that again
they were forced into retirement to await the arrival of recruits.
It is recorded that dure in the battle, when the retreating French
were being pursued through the wood and fiercely disputing every step, the
Duke of Argyll, then colonel of the Buff’s, “threw open his waistcoat
to show his men that he was no better provided with armour than
themselves.” It was about
this time that the regiment acquired the title of “Buffs,” the facings
being changed to that colour. They
fought at Dettingen, at Fontenoy, and Falkirk-at the last named battle
almost turning defeat into victory, and when obliged to retire showing a
marked difference from the confused stampede of many of the other troops.
Lord Stanhope, quoted by Mr. Adams, thus speaks of the demeanour of
the Buffs: “Theirs was a retreat, and not like their comrades, a flight;
they marched in steady order, their drums beating and colours displayed,
and protected the mingled mass of other fugitives.”
They fought at Laffeldt, at Guadaloupe, and Belle Isle.
Then followed the American War of Independence in which they were
actively engaged, and in which, especially at Ewtaw Springs, they were
conspicuous for their valour. “The
British Force,” writes the historian before quoted, “was far inferior
in numbers to the American army. About
nine o’clock on the morning of September 8th, the attack
commenced. It was delivered with valour; it was withstood with patience.
A fierce swift fire of musketry ensued, and then the Buffs took to
the bayonet, driving back the troops opposed to them for a considerable
distance, until, advancing too far, they exposed their flanks to the
enemy, suffered a sharp loss, and retired to their original position.”
Seven years afterwards they joined the British Army in the
Peninsula. Some of the
regiment were with Sir John Moore at Corunna; the first Peninsula name on
their colours commemorates the passage of the Douro, of which it has been
said that “no exploit in Spain was more brilliant, grand, and
successful.” When the able
arrangements had been made, and Wellesley’s laconic, “Well, let the
men cross,” had given the command, the officer and twenty-five soldiers,
who, as Napier says, “were silently placed on the other side of the
Douro in the midst of the French Army,” were soldiers of the Buffs.
The gallantry of the Buffs, who, at first unsupported, had borne
the brunt of the enemy’s attack, was rewarded by the Royal licence to
bear on their colours the word “Douro.”
At Talavera they lost a hundred and forty-two killed, wounded, and
missing. At Albuera they were
well nigh annihilated. With three other regiments they charged up the hill in the
face of a scathing fire. They
were rushing onward, “confident in their prowess and cold steel,” when
they were charged by four regiments of cavalry, and fell in scores.
Then occurred some of those instances of heroic valour, which are
good to chronicle. “Ensign
Thomas was called upon to surrender the colour he held, but he declared he
would give it up only with his life, and fell, pierced with many wounds, a
victim to his gallantry. The
staff of the colour borne by Ensign Walsh was broken by a cannon ball, and
the Ensign fell severely wounded, but he tore the colour from the broken
staff and concealed it in his bosom, where it was found when the battle
was over.” They were
engaged, having received some reinforcements-badly needed-from England, in
all the operations of Hill’s division, and joined the main army in time
to join in the battle of Vittoria. They
fought at Nivelle, a battle at which seemed present all the material
required for the epic of the poet of the masterpiece of the battle
“A splendid spectacle was presented,” writes one whose
brilliant pen seems inspired with the genius of both.
“On one hand the ships of war, sailing slowly to and fro, were
exchanging shots with the fort of Socoa; while Hope, menacing all the
French lines in the low ground, sent the sound of a hundred pieces of
artillery bellowing up the rocks. He
was answered by nearly as many from the tops of the mountains, amid the
smoke of which the summit of the green Atchulia glittered to the rising
sun, while fifty thousand men, rushing down its enormous slopes with
ringing shouts, seemed to chase the receding shadows into the deep valley.
The plains of France, so long overlooked from the towering crags of
the Pyrenees were to be the prize of battle; and the half finished
soldiers in their fury were breaking through the iron barrier erected by
Soult as if it were but a screen of reeds.”
With indomitable valour the Buffs acquitted themselves that day;
they bear on their colours the record of their service at Nive; at St.
Pierre they formed part of the right of the army, under Byng, where at an
opportune moment they checked the French under d’Aurargnac.
The word “Peninsula” commemorates, as the official announcement
puts in, with a not ungraceful formalism, “the meritorious exertions of
the regiment on the field of honour during the preceding seven years.”
Service in America-where they fought at Plattsburg-and in Canada
prevented the Buffs from sharing in the victory of Waterloo, but they
arrived in France in time to form a portion of the army of occupation.
Passing over the next few years, during which they were quartered
in New South Wales, we next find the regiment actively engaged in India.
At Punniar, the twin battle of Maharajpore, the Buffs were with the
force under General Grey, which, “despite the fatigue of a long and
toilsome march,” inflicted a crushing defeat upon a large body of the
They joined the forces in the Crimea in the spring of 1855, and
were not consequently present at any three great battles-Alma, Balaklava,
Inkerman-whose names we recall involuntarily when the Crimea is mentioned.
But there was another engagement, almost as familiar, in which the
principal dramatis personae were officers and men of the Buffs.
We refer to the assault on the Redan.
The French were to attack the Malakhoff, and as, unless that were
first secured, the possession of the Redan would be useless, because
untenable, we were to wait until an agreed rocket signal should inform us
that our allies had performed their part of the allotted task.
Not till seven in the evening did a universal exclamation announce
that the signal was made-“four rockets almost borne back by the violence
of the wind, and the silvery jets of sparks they threw out on exploding
being scarcely visible against the raw grey sky.”
A hundred of the Buffs under captain Lewes formed half the covering
party; with the scaling ladders were a hundred and sixty men of the same
regiment under Captain Maude, while others were in support.
Soon the stormers advanced at a run, “while the round shot tore
up the earth beneath their feet, or swept men away by entire sections,
strewing limbs and fragments of humanity everywhere.”
The officers of the Buffs were amongst the very few that survived
the terrible approach unwounded. Even
when our men streamed in it was impossible to retain possession.
The Russians were being constantly reinforced; by some oversight
our stormers were left unsupported. In
vain did the Buffs and their companions fight desperately, stubbornly;
they were driven out, and on the slopes and in the embrasures lay heaps of
those who had given their lives in vain.
But though the assault was a failure, it was a failure devoid of
shame, and to many the opportunity for deeds of signal courage.
Amongst these were Captain Maude, who has been mentioned as
commanding the covering party, and Private john Connors.
Twelve years previously Maude had fought with his regiment at
Punniar, and while in the Crimea had shown himself a most able officer.
On this occasion, with only nine or ten men, ha had gained an
important position within the works, “and though dangerously wounded,
did not retire until all hope of support was at an end.”
For this he won the Victoria Cross.
Connors won his by displaying no less intrepidity.
“Fighting furiously hand to hand with the Russians, he sought to
save the life of an officer of the 30th by shooting one and
bayoneting another of the latter’s assailants.
As the body of this officer was found the farthest in the Redan of
any, it was a proof that Connors was one of the foremost of the stormers.”
After the Crimea the Buffs repaired to India, though not in time to
participate in the suppression of the Mutiny, and their next active
service was in the China war of 1860.
Here they were in the 3rd Brigade, which formed part of
the Second Division under Sir Robert Napier, and in the engagement at
Sinho were the first to come into actual contact with the enemy.
It was decided that the second division should take the chief part
in the capture of the Taku Forts, and when Tangkoo had been taken, the
Buffs were posted at the gates leading to the forts.
About this time the Chinese began to consider the advisability of
coming to terms, and, as earnest, returned a couple of prisoners who had
fallen into their hands. On
of these was a sergeant of the Buffs “who had suffered such barbarous
treatment as their hands as to be incapable of standing,” and whose
sufferings had driven him quite mad.
After the fall of the forts and the capture of Pekin, the Buffs
enjoyed another spell of leisure till the war in Zululand of 1879.
Here they were in the first column commanded by Colonel C. Pearson,
of the regiment, their immediate chief being Lieutenant-Colonel H.
Parnell. They speedily tried
the metal of the enemy at Inyezane, where both the officers above named
had their horses shot under them. Before
long colonel Pearson was practically blockaded at Etschowe, and during the
weary time of waiting the Buffs had to deplore the death from fever of
Captain J. Williams. Throughout the campaign the regiment behaved in a way worthy
of its traditions; and when it is remembered what the traditions of the
Buffs are it would be difficult to utter greater praise.
Since 1879 the services of the Buffs have being in China, Egypt,
and in England, Zululand being the last important campaign in which they
have been engaged.