A Fine Series of Peninsular War Medals

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Date of Auction: 19th March 2008

Sold for £1,200

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

Military General Service 1793-1814, 2 clasps, Vimiera, Talavera (John Webb, 40th Foot) edge nicks, nearly extremely fine £800-1000

Footnote

John Webb, a labourer from Frome, Somerset, enlisted in the 40th Foot around March 1808, following four years in the Militia.

Although present at Vimiera in August 1808, it was actually at Talavera on 28 July of the following year, when the 1/40th were in Kemmis’s Brigade of General Campbell’s Division, that the Battalion suffered its heaviest casualties, namely seven men killed and 50 wounded. Positioned near the Pajar de Vergara redoubt in the centre of the Allied line, the 40th faced two determined assaults from the Germans, Dutchmen and Poles in Leval’s Division - both attacks were repelled after heavy fighting:

‘Seeing part of the enemy’s line falling into disorder, General Campbell ordered his front line to charge. Then Colonel Myers of the 7th, seizing the King’s Colour of his regiment, ran out in front of the line and calling “Come on Fusiliers,” led the advance. His own battalion, the 40th and the 53rd, at once closed with the Nassau and Dutch regiments, who shrank into the thickets and melted away from the front. The victors pursued them for some distance, capturing on their onward career a whole battery of six guns, which was being brought forward to reply to the artillery of the redoubt, but had failed to reach the clearing before the line in front gave way’.

It was no doubt in this fighting that Webb was severely wounded, as a result of which he later endured the amputation of his right arm below the elbow (WO 120/25 refers). But before a Surgeon could carry out that bleak task, he must, too, have endured the hardships of retreat, for ongoing pressure from the French led to an acute lack of transport for our wounded, some 4,000 of them being left to their own devices:

‘The road to Oropesa was covered with our poor limping bloodless soldiers. On crutches or sticks, with blankets thrown over them, they hobbled woefully along. For a moment panic terror lent them a force inconsistent with their debility and their fresh wounds. Some died by the road, others, unable to get further than Oropesa, afterwards fell into the hands of the enemy.’

Of these 4,000 wounded it is reckoned that 1500 dangerous or hopeless cases fell into the hands of the French; 2,000 more staggered into the hospital at Truxillo and some 500 died by the wayside or were taken by the French in the villages along the way. Webb, undoubtedly one of these unfortunates, was among the hopeless cases to be taken prisoner, regimental musters revealing that he returned to the 40th ‘from a French prison’ that September.

Discharged to a pension of 9d. a day in August 1810, he drew his pension firstly in the Bath district, but afterwards in Woolwich, where he died in February 1863, aged 82 years.