Orders, Decorations and Medals (19 & 20 March 2008)

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Date of Auction: 19th & 20th March 2008

Sold for £2,900

Estimate: £2,400 - £2,800

Military General Service 1793-1814, 3 clasps, Talavera, Busaco, Albuhera (H. Simmonds, Lieut. & Adjt., 31st Foot) edge bruising, polished and lacquered, otherwise nearly very fine £2400-2800

Footnote

Ex Debenham’s, 1902.

Henry Simmonds was born in November 1785 and was appointed an Ensign in the 31st Foot in March 1805.

Advanced to Lieutenant in the following year, he served in the Peninsula from February 1808 to February 1813, and commanded the 31st’s Light Company at Talavera on 27-28 July 1809, Busaco on 27 September 1810 and Albuhera on 18 May 1811, in addition to being ‘engaged every day during the retreat from Madrid and Salamanca, the retreat to Portugal and subsequent pursuit of Massena from the lines, besides several minor affairs’ (Hart’s refers). Added to which, according to his service record, he was ‘employed with Colonel Sir John Colbourne for 12 days on particular service within the enemy’s lines’ (WO 25/797 refers), an entry that appears under a heading of special acts of ‘gallant or skilful conduct’: so strong evidence indeed of a daring mission into enemy occupied territory.

At Albuhera the 2/31st, unlike the other three battalions in Colbourne’s Brigade, just had time to form square and so withstand the sudden and devastating attack of the French cavalry and massed infantry:

‘The word annihilation is rarely justifiable in military history, but it is stated that in five minutes these three of Colborne’s four battalions lost 58 officers out of 80, and 1160 men out of 1568: a very large proportion were killed, Latour Mauburg’s Polish Lancers showing no mercy and slaughtering the wounded. The 2nd Battalion, 31st being, as we have said, slightly in rear and still in column, happily escaped the fate of their brothers-in arms. The French cavalry immediately attacked them, but the little battalion, which only numbered 418 of all ranks, was ably handled by Major L’Estrange, whose men displayed the finest qualities of coolness and discipline. L’Estrange, as quick as a thought, formed square by an original manoeuvre of his own devising, and had no difficulty in withstanding the attack of the French Lancers and Dragoons; and having then cleared his front, moved up to the summit of the hill, where he bore for a considerable time the entire brunt of the French infantry attack ... the conduct of the weak battalion of the 31st, in beating off the sudden attack of an imposing force of cavalry flushed with success, and commanded by one of Napoleon’s finest leaders, received universal praise’.

Indeed it was the steadfastness and resolution of the 31st that turned the tide of battle against the enemy, but at a price of 155 casualties (or about 40% of those engaged). Simmonds, who must have played a crucial role in his capacity as C.O. Light Company, was advanced to Captain in March 1813.

A career soldier, he went on to serve for around 50 years on full pay, finally retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Ceylon Rifle Regiment.