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

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Date of Auction: 19th & 20th March 2008

Sold for £1,200

Estimate: £600 - £800

Military General Service 1793-1814, 1 clasp, Barrosa (J. Lees, Coldstm. Guards) edge nicks, extremely fine £600-800


John Less, a ‘stockinger’ from Basford, Nottinghamshire, enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in October 1799, aged 25, following four years in the Derby Militia.

In March 1811, he was to be found in Spain on the heights of Barrosa, near Cadiz, part of a force of 10,000 Spaniards and 5,000 British who had been landed further up the coast in a projected attack on the French besiegers of the city. As this army was approaching Cadiz the French suddenly attacked, and, as a result of the desertion of the Spanish, Lieutenant-General Graham’s force was left painfully exposed to a French attack from two directions. A furious firefight ensued, one of the severest of the whole war, as a result of which the enemy were driven down the slopes with great loss.

‘Meanwhile the main body of Wheatley’s Brigade was filing out of the wood ... and forming line under a heavy and destructive fire from Leval’s guns. So severe was the trial that Graham in person led the Coldstream Guards to cover the advance of Duncan’s two batteries, which unlimbered at close range and began with beautiful accuracy to play the hostile masses with grape and shrapnel ... Then it was that Graham who was leading the Coldstreamers on foot, his horse having been shot under him, struck up their muskets and shouted, “Men! Cease firing and charge”. Guards and 87th at once dashed forward and in an instant were in the midst of the defeated battalions ... They leaped into the crowd with their bayonets and made unsparing havoc of the 8th, breaking them up in all directions in the revelry of slaughter’.

This foiled an attempt to rally and the French were forced back to their lines in disorder, leaving behind some 3,000 killed, wounded and prisoner, including General Ruffin and several other officers, while about a quarter of the British had also become casualties, due to the intensity of the fighting - 57 of them from the ranks of the Coldstream, who only had two companies present at the battle.

Lees was discharged on pension of 5d. per day in September 1814, in consequence of him being ‘Infirm, and his general health being bad’. He died in the Nottingham area in September 1857, aged 73 years.