- Written by A McDougall
- Written by A McDougall
GLORIOUS FIRST OF JUNE - 1794
Britain had been at War with Revolutionary France for 14 months by the time of the events culminating in the Naval Battle of 1st June 1794.
By 1794 France was on the threshold of starvation due to a bad harvest and political disturbance. As a result, the French had assembled a convoy of some 117 Merchant ships in Chesapeake Bay, USA. The holds of these ships were filled with grain and stores for the relief of France.
The French plan of action to ensure the safe arrival of these ships was, an immediate escort of 4 ships of the line commanded by Admiral Vanstabel to accompany the convoy - a second squadron commanded by Rear Admiral Neilly to sail to meet the convoy and help escort it back to France and the main French Fleet commanded by Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse to sail from the port of Brest to provide any necessary cover should the convoy be threatened by the Royal Navy.
By April 1794, Admiral Richard Howe had assembled the British Fleet off St Helens on the Isle of Wight. The Fleet consisted of 32 ships of the line with attendant frigates.
Owing to a shortage of Marines the 29th of Foot, like a number of other infantry regiments had to provide drafts for sea-going duty. The four hundred-plus of the regiment were distributed among several ships; "Brunswick", "Ramillies", "Glory", "Thunderer" and "Alfred".
The French convoy sailed from the USA on 11th April and on 2nd May Howe sailed from Spithead with 26 ships of the line. After a reconnaissance of the French port of Brest to confirm that the French Fleet had not sailed, Howe moved to put himself in a position between the convoy and their covering force. On 19th May, Howe's frigates report that the French Fleet had sailed out of Brest. Howe then gave chase.
On 28th May, at about 8:10 pm a frigate made the signal for "a fleet bearing South West" directly to windward. It was not until 6 pm that action commenced and lasted until 10:pm. British casualties were slight in that the whole number killed and wounded was but twenty two. On the morning of the 29th it was hazy and the action continued from 9: am until about 4:pm when the French bore away to support their disabled ships. On the 30th, it was very foggy and there was no action with the French. On the 31st, the fog cleared about 2: pm and the French were sighted far to leeward.
On the 1st of June, at 5:45 am Howe counted 34 sail of the enemy - four sail of the line superior to him - and gave chase. At 9:15 am the action commenced.
The "Brunswick", with 81 men of the 29th aboard was played into battle by the ship's band and a drummer from the 29th with a popular tune of the day 'Hearts of Oak'. "Brunswick" sustained a most tremendous conflict, being singly engaged for a considerable time with three seventy-fours. One of these "Le Vengeur" she sent to the bottom. At one stage of the battle another of the seventy-fours seeing that "Brunswick" was much weakened by her exertions, determined to board and manned her yards and shrouds with a view to running alongside and flinging in all her crew at once. "Brunswick" with great intrepidity and coolness reserved a whole broadside and waited her approach; then in one discharge the "Brunswick" dismasted her and "scattered her crew like so many mice on the ocean". So closely at times was the "Brunswick" engaged that she was unable to haul up her lower-deck port lids and was obliged to fire through them. During the fierce fighting, the 29th detachment Commander, a Captain was killed and the Ensign and 20 others were wounded.
This Battle was fought so far out in the Atlantic that it has always been known by its date "The Glorious First of June".
For its share in the engagement, the Regiment was awarded the Naval Crown to be borne with its Battle honours.
- Written by A McDougall
SHERWOOD FORESTERS ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
BATTLE OF AUBERS RIDGE 9 MAY 1915
Before the 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters had made good their 458 casualties suffered at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 they were in action again a few miles further eastwards. On 9 May they fought the Battle of Aubers Ridge attacking the German lines near Fromelles in French Flanders.
The attack was mounted in co-operation with an attack by the French further to the south. The Battalion attacked in the second wave as part of 24th Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division. After a short bombardment B and D companies of the 1st Battalion went “over the bags” at 0555 am in support of the 2nd East Lancashires. Delays were caused by the fact that our front line trenches were choked by casualties from the first attacking wave who had made little progress against a German front line on which the short bombardment had been almost completely ineffective. At least eight machine guns were firing against the attacking Foresters. Despite this heavy fire one platoon got within 40 yards of the German breastworks but found that our artillery had only blown one gap, 4 yards wide, in the German wire. The two companies fell back to the British front line to re-group.
At 0735 am the Foresters attacked again in support of the East Lancashires, this time A and C companies leading followed by the remnants of B and D companies. The attack stalled under heavy enemy machine gun and artillery fire and most of the Foresters fell or took cover in No Mans Land before retiring to the British front line at about 1.15 pm where they suffered many more casualties in the next 6 hours as the German fire systematically destroyed the British breastworks. By the time that the Foresters were relieved by the 1st Worcesters at 10 pm they had suffered a loss of 55 killed , 257 wounded and 47 missing and not one British soldier had reached the enemy front line.
During the battle, as the citation for his Victoria Cross says “For most conspicuous bravery near Rouges Bancs on the 9th May 1915. During the whole of this day Corporal Upton displayed the greatest courage in rescuing the wounded while exposed to very heavy rifle and artillery fire, going close to the enemy’s parapet, regardless of his own personal safety. One wounded man was killed by a shell while this non-commissioned officer was carrying him. When Corporal Upton was not actually carrying in the wounded, he was engaged in bandaging and dressing the serious cases in front of our parapet, exposed to the enemy’s fire”. Corporal James Upton was a 27 year old from the Meadows area of Nottingham. He had joined the 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters on 1906. He married in July 1915, had three children and survived the war. He died in 1949.
Corporal James Upton VC
So many British artillery shells failed to detonate at the Battle of the Aubers Ridge that an enquiry was held. Two results of this enquiry were the fall of Asquith’s government and a total re-organisation of the industrial production of munitions including the foundation of National Shell Filling Factory No 6 at Chilwell over the winter of 1915-16
Author:Maj (Retd) J H Cotterill MBE