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

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Date of Auction: 19th & 20th March 2008

Sold for £3,000

Estimate: £1,800 - £2,200

Military General Service 1793-1814, 1 clasp, Albuhera (George Small, Serjt., 57th Foot) with riband buckle, edge nicks, very fine £1800-2200

Footnote

Just 38 “Albuhera” Military General Service 1793-1814 Medals are known to have survived to men of the 57th, four of them as single clasps.

George Small, a labourer from Glasgow, originally enlisted in the 89th Foot in December 1793, aged 19 years, but transferred to the 8th Foot in July 1795 and thence to the 57th in March 1796. Having then served in Barbados and Trinidad until June 1802, he was advanced to Corporal in May 1803 and to Sergeant in October 1804, and arrived in Spain via Gibraltar in the autumn of 1809.

During the early part of its service in the Peninsula, the Regiment, which contained a number of turbulent characters in its ranks, received the nickname of the “Steelbacks”, from the amount of flogging administered to its men and the way they bore their punishment; but, following its famous part at the battle of Albuhera in May 1811, they became known as the “Die Hards”, their Colonel having called out on being carried wounded from the battlefield, “Die Hard, 57th! Die Hard!” And so they did, suffering terrible casualties in a close range “firefight” perhaps never equalled in military history - thus from an original strength of 31 officers and 616 men, two officers and 87 men were killed, and 21 officers and 318 men wounded. Marshal Beresford, not normally noted for his eloquence, paid this magnificent tribute to the British infantry under his command: “It is impossible by any description to do justice to the distinguished gallantry of the troops; but every individual nobly did his duty; and it is observed that our dead, particularly in the 57th Regiment, were lying as they fought, in ranks, and every wound was in front”.

On 17 November 1812, in the terrible conditions of torrential rain and mud encountered during the retreat from Burgos, Small was posted “missing”, almost certainly one of over a thousand Allied stragglers carried off during the retreat by the French cavalry. Interestingly, he appears on a list of British prisoners arriving at Cambrai prison on 14 February 1813, ‘Venant d’Espagne’ (ADM 103/467 refers), while on returning to the 57th on 23 June 1814, he was demoted to Private ‘Per General Order of this Date’, a procedure which seems to have been adopted in the case of all returning P.O.Ws. Be that as it may, he quickly re-established his credentials in the 2nd Battalion and was re-appointed Corporal in February 1815 and Sergeant in August of the same year.

Transferring to the 8th Veterans’ Battalion in December 1815, Small was finally discharged as ‘worn out’ in April 1816, aged 42 years, and awarded a Chelsea pension of 2/1d per day (WO 97/1128 and 1133 refer). In the period 1845-1854 he was living in Barton on Humber, near Hull, the 1851 census recording that he was living there with his wife Elizabeth and a granddaughter, and his occupation as ‘Pensioner Sergeant 57th Regiment’. He was still alive in 1864 when he would have been 90 years old (WO 23 refers).