Joseph Dyas

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Joseph Dyas (died 3 May 1850, Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland) was an Ensign (later Captain) in the British 51st Light Infantry, serving in the Napoleonic Wars.

He is famous for his actions at the storming of the San Christobal fort, Badajoz; one of the bloodiest actions of the Peninsular War. He twice volunteered to be part of the Forlorn Hope, on the second occasion he led the party after its commander, Major McGreachy, and all the other officers were killed.

Dyas was immediately offered a promotion in another regiment by Wellington, but declined and stayed with the 51st. He subsequently served at Waterloo.

He reached the rank of Captain, later serving in the 2nd Ceylon Regiment, before taking 'half-pay' (pension). He retired to Ballymena, County Antrim and served as the local Stipendiary Magistrate. He died there on 3 May 1850, and is buried in St. Patrick's Church.

His son Joseph Henry Dyas served in the Royal Engineers, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Dyas is still celebrated by The Light Infantry for his actions at Badajoz, with a toast to "Ensign Dyas and the Stormers!".

Description of Badajoz[edit]

An unpublished eyewitness account, from the diary of another subaltern in the party, is quoted in the Waterloo Roll Call. More general comments are also documented in General Wellesley's dispatches.

At ten o'clock at night, 200 men moved forward to the assault, Dyas leading the advance. He made a circuit until he came exactly opposite to the breach instead of entering the ditch as before; a sheep-path, which he remembered in the evening while he and Major MacGeechy made their observations, served to guide them to the part of the glacis in front of the breach. Arrived at this spot, the detachment descended the ditch, and found themselves at the foot of the breach ; but here an unlooked-for event stopped their further progress, and would have been in itself sufficient to have caused the failure of the attack. The ladders were entrusted to a party composed of a foreign corps in our pay, called 'the Chasseurs Britanniques'; these men, the moment they reached the glacis, glad to rid themselves of their load, flung the ladders into the ditch, instead of sliding them between the palisadoes; they fell across them, and so stuck fast, and being made of heavy green wood, it was next to impossible to more, much less place them upright against the breach, and almost all the storming party were massacred in the attempt. Placed in a situation so frightful, it required a man of the most determined character to continue the attack. Every officer of the detachment had fallen, Major MacGeechy one of the first; and at this moment Dyas and about five-and-twenty men were all that remained of the 200. Undismayed by these circumstances, the soldiers persevered, and Dyas, although wounded and bleeding, succeeded in disentangling one ladder, and placing it against what was considered to be the breach, it was speedily mounted, but upon arriving at the top of the ladder, instead of the breach, it was found to be a stone wall that had been constructed in the night, and which completely cut off all communication between the ditch and the bastion, so that when the men reached the top of this wall, they were, in effect, as far from the breach as if they had been in their own batteries. From this faithful detail it is evident that the soldiers did as much as possible to ensure success, and that failure was owing to a combination of untoward circumstances over which the troops had no control. Nineteen men were all that escaped.[1]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Charles Dalton, The Waterloo Roll Call: with biographical notes and anecdotes, 2nd rev. and enlarged ed., (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1904), pp. 166–67.

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