Orders, Decorations and Medals (25 September 2008)

Date of Auction: 25th September 2008

Sold for £1,100

Estimate: £1,000 - £1,200

Military General Service 1793-1814, 2 clasps, Vittoria, St. Sebastian (Charles Hay, Serjt. Royal Sappers & Miners) extremely fine £1000-1200


Charles Hay was born in the parish of Glass, near Turiff, Aberdeen, in 1793. At the age of nineteen he was attested for the Corps on 29 February 1812, at Portsoy, Banff, as a Cooper. He joined the 8th Company 2nd Battalion, then stationed on the Lines of Torres Vedras in Portugal. To ensure the security of Lisbon, Wellington had designed a double line of fortifications, the Lines of Torres Vedras, running from the Atlantic to the Tagus estuary, with some 152 mutually supportive strongpoints. The work was directed by Lieutenant-Colonel R. Fletcher RE with a small staff (no more than seventeen engineer officers worked at any one time), with eighteen artificers and 150 infantrymen to supervise the 5,000-7,000 strong gang of Portuguese peasants who performed the labouring. The forts varied in size from accommodating 50 men and three 9-pdrs, to 1720 men and 26 guns. By taking advantage of the terrain, the lines were virtually impregnable, and designed to be garrisoned by 18,000 Portuguese militia, so that the field army could remain safely in reserve.

By 1813 Hay’s company was then attached to the Light Division in Northern Spain, and was encamped with the 43rd Light Infantry. At night while the bridge at Toro was burning, the company repaired the broken arch with ladders, trees and planks, under Lieutenant Edward Matson RE. This was the only sapper company present at the battle of Vittoria on 21 June 1813.

Hay then served at the siege of St Sebastian from 11 July to 8 September 1813, where his company occupied the Chofre Hills to construct embrasures, batteries for bombarding the citadel, and trenches. Following the capture of the fortress, the 8th Co./2nd Bn. built a pontoon bridge across the Bidassoa river, near Irun, on 7 October 1813, and after the crossing of the river, Charles Hay and another sapper were then detached from this company and joined Captain Wells RE on attachment to the Spanish Army in Galicia:

“After the passage of the Bidassoa, Captain Wells, with two men of the eighth company second battalion, marched to Santona to cooperate with the Gallician, or fourth Spanish army under General Barcos. Under their captain, they superintended the prosecution of various field works; and on account of his usefulness and intelligence, Lance-Corporal Hay was styled assistant engineer. Several villages in the vicinity of Santona were called upon to supply a certain number of scaling ladders for the operation, and Corporal Hay, furnished with authority from General Barcos, visited these localities, superintended the making of ladders, and had them conveyed to the park. Both the sappers were present in the escalade of the fort of Puntal on the 13th February (1814), and at the storming of the town and fort of Laredo on the 21st. Throughout the operations, Corporal Hay was particularly noticed for his ability and zeal (Connolly Vol. 1, pp 201-202).

Charles Hay and the other sapper then rejoined their Company to build several pontoon and flying bridges on the march from Orthes, and just before the battle of Toulouse on 10 April 1814. The company was then recalled to Britain, and they sailed from Pauillac on the 22 June 1814 and landed in Portsmouth in mid-July. They then sailed from Portsmouth for New Orleans in December 1814, arriving at Dauphinée Island on 28 February 1815, too late for the American War. Returning to Woolwich on the
Dawson transport in early June 1815, they were soon re-embarked for Ostend, for service in the Netherlands, under Sub-Lieutenant P. Johnson. The company left Antwerp at 2am on 18 June, and arrived at Waterloo on the day of the battle, having done a forced march of 28 miles. The company was congratulated by Colonel Sir James Carmichael Smyth RE for arriving in such rapid time but they nonetheless missed out on the Waterloo medal, although Hay did receive War Prize money for the Peninsula, Waterloo and the Capture of Paris.

Hay later served with the Army of Occupation in France, in the First Division, and was promoted to 2nd Corporal on 1 July 1815. In November 1818, the Company took charge of the pontoons and stores to Antwerp, returning to England by the end of the month. Hay then served with a company in Gibraltar for seven years, finally returning to England, where he was promoted to Corporal on 1 June 1825, to Serjeant on 1 December 1827, and to Colour Serjeant on 1 July 1833. He was discharged at Chelsea on 9 April 1834 after 22 years 99 days service, and had been of ‘exemplary conduct and character’. At the time of his discharge he was 41 years of age, and intended to reside in Portsoy. Charles Hay died on 15 February 1886, aged 93. Sold with full research.