68th (Durham) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)

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68th Regiment in ordinary dress, 1855

The 68th (Durham) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry) was an infantry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1758 and amalgamated into The Durham Light Infantry in 1881. It saw action during the Seven Years' War before being converted to Light Infantry in 1808, fighting with distinction in the Peninsular Army under Arthur Wellesley. It would go on to fight with some distinction during the Crimean War, was present during the Indian Mutiny and the New Zealand wars before returning to India between 1872 and 1888. It would become one of the battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in 1881, the other being the 106th Bombay Light Infantry.

Formation and the Seven Years' War[edit]

The regiment was raised by the redesignation of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment of Foot on 22 April 1758, ranked as the 68th Regiment of Foot; it was considered the successor to a previous 68th Foot raised in 1745 and disbanded the following year by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford. It was placed under the command of Colonel John Lambton and in May 1758 was stationed on the Isle of Wight during the Seven Years' War. The Regiment was part of the 14,000-strong army stationed on the island at the request of Britain's ally Frederick the Great of Prussia. This action consisted of descents upon the French coast to disturb privateers in the area, distract the French army and relieve pressure on Britain's allies, the Prussians. The first expedition anchored at Cancale Bay, near St Malo, and after pillaging that village and an attempt at taking Cherbourg returned on 1 July.

A second expedition involving the 68th on the French Coast would be embarked on 23 July, disembarking on 7 August in the Bay of Ureville and marched for Cherbourg. The town was taken with little resistance and the fort and harbour were demolished; after a few minor skirmishes the 68th sailed for England on 16 August.

A third and final expedition was launched in succession; the 68th landed at Lunaire Bay on 3 September, but suffered severe defeat after a concentrated French army engaged the British army at St. Cast. The Governor of Brittany, the Duc d’Aiguillon, led a force of 6,000 regulars, several squadrons of cavalry, the "Garde de Cote" and militia against the British, who fought a rearguard action while evacuating the beach. The British casualties were between 600 and 700 officers and men, with between 300 and 400 taken prisoner by the French. The 68th itself lost 73 men from Captain Revell’s Grenadiers company who formed part of the rear guard force left on the beach.

The 68th disembarked at Cowes on 19 September, and proceeded to its former camping ground at King’s Forest. In October, the regiment went into winter quarters at Rochester. With losses in expeditions and providing a draft of 173 men to the 61st regiment, it was very weak indeed and recruiting parties scoured the country to refill its ranks.

On 23 March 1759, the regiment marched from its winter quarters at Rochester to Southampton where it remained until 2 June, when it embarked on three transports for Jersey. It arrived on 21 June and remained there until February 1760 when it returned to England. In March 1760 around 600 men of the regiment were drafted to make up the British Regiment in the West Indies. The regiment marched to Leeds, receiving orders on 10 May to march to Newcastle and billet at Tynemouth Barracks. At this point, it mustered 9 companies consisting of 41 officers and 239 men only.

There the 68th would remain through 1761, with detachments sent to Durham to aid Civil power and providing drafts to fill up other regiments. In May, the regiment was based at Hexham with its headquarters at Morpeth. It mustered a strength of 42 officers and 289 men. In January 1762, the 68th had grown to 415 men and was ordered to march to Berwick, where it transferred to the command of Lord George Beauclerk, commanding in Scotland or North Britain as it was referred to since the 1745 rebellion. It was quartered at the newly built Fort George and remained throughout 1762 through to 1763 and the end of the war.

1764-1806[edit]

In 1764 and following years, it was on active service in the West Indies engaged in the capture on one or other of those islands from the French or Spaniards. Between 1764 and 1806 the regiment endured 4 postings to the West Indies where the battalion earned a high reputation and was granted the motto "Faithful" for its conduct in the campaign against the natives of St. Vincent.

In 1779, the regiment was in the news when one of its former officers, James Hackman, was hanged for the notorious murder of Martha Ray, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich.[1]

The 68th Light Infantry and the Peninsular War[edit]

In September 1808 the 68th - 436 rank and file - were ordered to convert to Light Infantry, after the fashion of the 43rd and 52nd. Marched to Brabourne Lees, Ashford, Kent to train with the 85th under the master of light infantry training, Lt. Col. Franz Von Rothenburg.

Salamanca[edit]

In 1811 the 68th went to Spain to share the fame of Wellington's army in The Peninsula, joining the newly formed 7th Division (The 'Mongrels').

After being present at the sieges of Badajoz and Cuidad Rodrigo the battalion advanced on Salamanca in June 1812. It took part in a vicious street-fight with the French at Moriscos is described byPrivate John Green. One Lt. Mackay received 22 bayonet wounds and survived.

On 22 July 7 Division was attacked by Foy's Division from Marmont's Army. The 68th and 2nd Cacadores were ordered-out to repel the French Voltigeures.Early in the afternoon the 68th were relieved by the 95th. By 4 o'clock it was back with the 1st Brigade of the 7th Division; under the command of Bernewitz, when Wellington came to the front, pulled off his hat and they advanced against then broke three French Divisions.

Darkness brought the fighting to an end. The French suffered an overwhelming defeat where their losses of killed, wounded and taken prisoner totalled 20,000, compared with British losses of slightly over 5,000.

In August the 51st and the 68th were the first Regiments to march into Madrid, to great excitement. One 13 August they assaulted a defended Fort, The Buen Retiro.

Vittoria[edit]

The battalion took a significant part in the splendid victory of Vitroria on 21 June 1813, when within a few hours a French army of 70,000 men was irretrievably beaten, and Joseph Bonaparte, whom Napoleon had made King of Spain, was forced to flee.

Pyrenees[edit]

In July 1813 the British advance continued into the Pyrenees, pushing onward and upward. On 30 July, above Ostiz,'attacked 2 battalions of Clausel's flank guard, driving them by bayonet down into the valley'. It took over a month of constant fighting in terrible conditions to push the French back over the Pyrenees.

In November Wellington attacked the formidable position taken up by Marshal Soult on the Nivelle, and the skilful tactics of the English commander, combined with the determined bravery of our troops captured, in 24 hours, the position which the French Marshal had been three months fortifying. Col. Inglis wrote 'The 68th made the attack with its usual vivacity!' The Regiment numbered only 197 men.

Orthez[edit]

With the same spirit the battalion fought at Orthez. The 1st Brigade, including the 68th charged where the 4th Division had been stopped earlier and carried the position. One Brigade of approximately 1000 men had defeated a whole French Division. Orthes was the last action of the 68th in the Peninsular War, since while at the capture of Bordeaux the abdication of Napoleon brought an end to the Peninsular War for the 68th.

Victoria Cross[edit]

The following men of the 68th Regiment won the Victoria Cross.

Pte John Byrne[edit]

On 5 November 1854 during the Battle of Inkerman, brought in a wounded soldier, under fire. "On 11 May 1855 he bravely engaged in a hand-to-hand contest with one of the enemy on the parapet of the work he was defending, prevented the entrance of the enemy, killed his antagonist, and captured his arms."

Captain Thomas de Courcy Hamilton[edit]

He was 27 years old, and a captain in the 68th Regiment of Foot during the Crimean War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

On 11 May 1855 at Sebastopol, the Crimea, in a most determined sortie, Captain Hamilton boldly charged great numbers of the enemy with a small force, driving them from a battery of which they had taken possession. He was conspicuous for his gallantry on this occasion and his action saved the works from falling into enemy hands.

Sgt John Murray[edit]

Born in Birr, County Offaly,he was approximately 27 years old, and a sergeant in the 68th Regiment of Foot, British Army during the Waikato-Hauhau Maori War, New Zealand when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

On 21 June 1864 at Tauranga, New Zealand, when the enemy's position was being stormed, Sergeant Murray ran up to a rifle-pit containing eight to ten of the enemy and, without any assistance, killed or wounded all of them. He then went on up the works, fighting with his bayonet.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Rawlings, Philip, Hackman, James (bap. 1752, d. 1779), in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) and online at Hackman, James (subscription required), accessed 16 March 2008

External links[edit]