The Fusiliers’ celebration of our valour in battle
The Fusiliers celebrate a number of days when our former Regiments displayed particular valour. They come from across our proud history, from the battle of Minden in 1759 and Albuhera in 1811 to the 20th century battles of Gallipoli in 1915 and D Day in 1944.
Every year, we also celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers on St George’s Day, 23 April 1968.
The events and bravery of each of each Regimental Day are described below.
Gallipoli Day – 25 April – “Six VCs before breakfast”
- On 25 April 1915, the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula were stormed by an Allied force in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the First World War and to turn the flank of the stalemated Western Front. The land attack was a sequel to a naval attempt to force the Dardanelles a month previously. This put the Turks on their guard, and under a German General they had redeployed their forces and improved their defences.
- 86 Brigade, a Fusilier Brigade consisting of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 1st Battalions the Lancashire Fusiliers, Royal Munster Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was the first to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula, to cover the disembarkation of the rest of 29 Division.
- Battalion Headquarters and two companies of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers sailed in HMS Implacable, the other two companies in a minesweeper. The Battalion had been allotted ‘X’ Beach, a narrow ribbon of sand about 200 yards long, with cliffs some 100 feet high rising steeply from the beach. The men rowed to the beach in the ship’s boats and covered by the fire of Implacable’s 12-inch guns, waded ashore when the boats grounded. Scrambling up the cliff, ‘W’ and ‘X’ Companies quickly captured the foremost Turkish trenches. ‘W’ and half ‘Z’ Companies were quickly then ordered to capture Hill 114, 1,000 yards away to their right, in order to join hands with the Lancashire Fusiliers who were landing at ‘W’ Beach.
- Hill 114 had been elaborately entrenched and was strongly defended, but after a stern fight the Fusiliers carried it at the point of the bayonet. Continuing their advance eastwards they met further strong opposition on the reverse side of the hill, but they eventually dislodged the Turks from their trenches and dug in for the night. The capture of Hill 114 turned the scale on ‘W’ Beach, and with linking of the two beaches a foothold was established on the peninsula. Meanwhile ‘X’ Company on the left was being heavily counter attacked but in the end they beat off the attacks and the position was consolidated. An official historian wrote ‘The success of the Royal Fusiliers at ‘X’ Beach must be set down as a particularly memorable exploit’. The Battalion’s casualties that day amounted to nearly half its strength, and included the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, and all the Company Commanders
- The 1st Battalion XX the Lancashire Fusiliers, were allotted ‘W’ Beach. This was a strip of deep, powdery sand about 350 yards long and 15 to 40 yards wide. The Battalion set sail in HMS Euryalus, except for ‘D’ Company, who were in HMS Implacable. At 4am they transferred to the ship’s cutters, which were first towed, then rowed by sailors to the beaches. At 5am the naval bombardment of the beaches began; there was no reply from the enemy. Shortly after 6am, the boats touched the shore, and immediately the Turks opened fire. Rifles, machine-guns and pom-poms kept up a ceaseless hail of shot. Many soldiers and sailors died in the boats; of those who struggled ashore through barbed-wire entanglements and deep, soft sand, few were unscathed.
- ‘D’ Company, on the left flank, surprised the Turks, bayoneted the machine-gunners there, and relieved the pressure. The few remaining officers rallied the remainder of the Battalion, and they pressed on behind ‘D’ Company. Other Battalions linked up now from other landing places, and together, the high ground behind the beach was carried.
- The Turkish counter-attacks continued long after dark, but they were successfully beaten off. The cost was high; at the end of the day only 11 officers and 399 other ranks remained fit for duty. Six members of the Battalion were later awarded Victoria Crosses; Capt R R Willis, Capt C Bromley, Sgt A Richards, Sgt F E Stubbs (killed leading his platoon), LCpl J Grimshaw (for gallantry in signalling) and Pte W Keneally.
- Gen Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander of the expedition, ordered that ‘W’ Beach should be renamed ‘Lancashire Landing’. He wrote in his despatch: ‘…So strong, in fact, were the defences of ‘W’ Beach that the Turks may well have considered them impregnable, and it is my firm conviction that no finer feat of arms has ever been achieved by the British Soldier – or any other soldier – than the storming of these beaches from open boats on the morning of 25 April. The landing at ‘W’ Beach had been entrusted to the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (Maj Bishop) and it was to the complete lack of the senses of danger or fear of this daring Battalion that we owe our astonishing success…Gallantly led by their officers, the Fusiliers literally hurled themselves ashore, and fired at from right, left and centre, commenced hacking their way through the wire. A long line of men was at once mown down as by a scythe, but the remainder were not to be denied…’.
- Vice-Admiral de Roebeck, in his despatch on the naval aspect of the operation wrote: ‘…It is impossible to exalt too highly the service rendered by the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in the storming of the beaches; the dash and gallantry displayed was superb…’. And HMS Euryalus signalled: ‘We are proud as can be to have had the honour to carry your splendid Regiment. We feel for you all in your great losses as if you were our own ship’s company, but know the magnificent gallantry of your Regiment has made the name more famous than ever’.
Albuhera Day – 16 May – “a proud day for the Fusiliers”
- In 1811 Wellington’s forces were laying siege to the fortress of Badajoz on the frontier of Portugal and Spain. Marshal Soult, the French Commander in Southern Spain, brought a force of 24,000 men to relieve the garrison. The Allied force of 15,000 Spaniards, 12,000 Portuguese and 10,000 British soldiers took up a position at Albuhera to meet the French.
- On 16 May 1811 the French attacked. They surprised the Spaniards and threw them into utter confusion. The remaining British Regiments stood firm, but, being now greatly outnumbered by the French, were in dire straits. The only British reserve was the Fusilier Brigade, commanded by Sir William Myers of the Royal Fusiliers, and composed of the 1st and 2nd Battalions Royal Fusiliers and 1st Battalion the 23rd, or Royal Welch Fusiliers.
- “This”, said Sir William Myers ‘will be a proud day for the Fusiliers’ – and a proud day it was. So fierce and determined was the Fusiliers’ attack that the French wavered and hesitated. The Fusiliers closed with the enemy and, as it was later recorded in history, ‘Nothing would stop that astonishing infantry’. The Fusiliers Brigade captured the heights of Albuhera and history tells us that the French, ‘giving way like a loosened cliff, fled headlong down the ascent’. It is recorded of Albuhera that when the battle was won, ‘Fifteen hundred men, the remnants of 6,000 unconquerable British soldiers, stood triumphant on the fatal hill”.
- Of the Battle of Albuhera, perhaps the most treasured of the 7th Fusiliers Battle Honours, it was said: ‘Then was seen with what strength and majesty the British soldier fights”.
- The British guns, lost earlier in the day, were recaptured by the Royal Fusiliers, and the Regimental Colour of The Buffs was recovered and restored to that Regiment.
- The losses at Albuhera were very heavy and the two Battalions were amalgamated, the staff of the 2nd Battalion going home to recruit a fresh Battalion. Sir William Myers was killed; Gen Cole and the three Colonels, Ellis, Blakeney and Hawkshaw were all wounded
Normandy Day – 6 June – “heavy losses, but the liberation was underway”
- On 6 June 1944 the greatest amphibious operation in the history of British Arms was launched on the coast of Normandy, in north-west France. This was the beginning of the assault by the Allies on Hitler’s Fortress Europe’. The aim was to liberate Western Europe from the German occupying forces.
- The Allied landing forces were under the Command of Gen Sir Bernard Montgomery, who had been an officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (later the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers) from 1908 to 1934 and who was subsequently promoted Field Marshal, and became Colonel of the Regiment. The 3rdBritish Infantry Division landed on the left of the Allied forces, on ‘Queen’ Beach between Lion-sur-Mer and La Breche. 8 Brigade of the Division, which was the assault force, went ashore at 0625 hours. It was followed by 185 Brigade, which was to pass through 8 Brigade and advance south to seize Caen, nine miles inland. One of the three Battalions in 185 Brigade was the 2nd Battalion the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
- The Battalion lost three landing craft by enemy fire during the final run in to the beach. By mid-morning on 6 June all four rifle companies were formed up under fire ready to advance south to clear the Brigade axis Hermanville – Beauville – Lebisey-Caen. Some German strong points, which were still holding out on the left flank and which were firing on the beaches, forced the plan to be changed. The Battalion was accordingly ordered to clear the villages to the east and south east, Coleville, Benouville and Blainville were these German posts were located. The first two villages were quickly cleared and a company was left in Benouville to hold the two vital bridges over the River Orne. By the end of D Day the Battalion had cleared the northern outskirts of Blainville, having advanced seven miles and incurred light casualties, four killed and 35 wounded.
- On D+1 the Battalion was ordered to extend the beachhead by capturing the village and the wood at Lebisey, which were on high ground immediately north of Caen and some 3,000 yards south west of the Battalion’s position at Blainville. Unknown to the Battalion or to 185 Brigade the village and the wood had been occupied in strength during the previous night by a Battalion of 125 Panzer Grenadiers of the 21st Panzer Division. In this attack, which was executed in daylight, by three companies only, the Battalion lost ten officers killed, including the Commanding Officer, and 144 other ranks. The Battalion reached and held the fringe of the wood, but despite a follow-up attack by the 1st Norfolks the objectives could not be secured and both Battalions were forced to withdraw.
- Lebisey was eventually captured a month later on 8 July, appropriately by the 2nd Battalion, which continued the next day to participate in the capture of Caen, at a total cost of six officers and 153 other ranks.
- The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment remained in the 3rd Division in 21 Army Group until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, fighting from the Normandy beaches to 75 Bremen. The 1/7th Battalion of the Regiment fought in Normandy with the 59th Division from June to the end of August 1944. In 1946, the Colonel of the Regiment ordered the observance of 6 June by the Regiment as Normandy Day to celebrate the Regiment’s part in the liberation of Western Europe.
Minden Day – 1 August – “I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry…”
- On 1 August 1759 the Battle of Minden was fought during the Seven Years’ War, when Great Britain was allied with Prussia against France and Austria.
- Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, the Allied Army Commander, split his force and thus enticed the French Commander, Marshal Contades, with his superior forces, from the impregnable position before Minden. He then concentrated quickly and placed the British infantry with some Battalions of Hanoverians on the right of his line. The French out-numbered the Allies by over 10,000, were stronger in artillery and had 10,000 cavalry.
- The six British Regiments were deployed in two Brigades:
12th Foot (now the Royal Anglian Regiment), 37th Foot (now part of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment) and 23rd Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers) were in the leading Brigade under Maj Gen Waldegrave.
The 20th Foot (later the Lancashire Fusiliers), 51st Foot (now the Rifles), 25th Foot (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) were in the second Brigade under Maj Gen Kingsley (former Colonel of the 20th), with the Hanoverians on their left. The 20th were on the right of Kingsley’s Brigade which overlapped the leading Brigade on both flanks.
- As a result of a misunderstanding, the infantry advanced with drums beating towards the massed enemy cavalry. During the advance they were subjected to devastating artillery fire but, closing up their ranks, they repulsed at point blank range a cavalry charge. A second line of cavalry was destroyed by controlled volleys.
- Marshal Contades then deployed four Brigades of Saxon infantry with more artillery on the right flank of the two British Brigades. They were also thrown back in confusion by the British. A final attack by a fresh body of French cavalry broke through the right of the leading Brigade but foundered before the fire of the 20th.
- This was the final turning point of the battle, and but for the failure of the Allied cavalry under Lord George Sackville to exploit the victory, the French Army would have been annihilated.
- Contades bitterly remarked: ‘I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle, and tumble them to ruin’.
- The price of victory was high and the 20th Foot lost 304 men and 17 officers killed or wounded. As a result, Prince Ferdinand issued the following orders:
“Kingsley’s Regiment of the British Line, from its severe loss, will cease to do duty”. Minden 2 August 1759’
“Kingsley’s Regiment at its own request, will resume its portion of duty in the line”. Minden 2 August 1759’
- Tradition has it that the British infantry wore in their hats, roses which they plucked on their way to battle and this is the background to the Regiment’s custom of wearing red and yellow roses in their hats and decorating the drums with them on Minden Day.