THE BATTLE OF ALMANZA 1707

 

Almanza Day is not The Regimental Day of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, which is Minden Day on the 1st August, nor is it an approved Battle honour, nor is it shared by any other Regiment in the Army as so many others are. Although any special parade or festivities do not now customarily mark the day, as it used to be in the Royal Norfolk Regiment, the honourable tradition of this long past battle, fought over 300 years ago, should not be forgotten.

The tradition of Almanza dates back to the very earliest years of the former Royal Norfolk Regiment’s existence. The Regiment became the Ninth of the Regiments of the Infantry of the Line only from the year 1751 onwards. Before that date Regiments were numbered in order of precedence but titled by their Colonel’s name. Thus the Ninth on their foundation in 1685 were formed as Colonel Henry Cornwall’s Regiment of Foot. From then on the Regiment served for five years in Ireland, among other stations, until 1694, and from 1701 were on six years of almost continuous active service during the war of the Spanish Succession. They served two tours in Spain, starting the second as Stewart’s Regiment in 1704, the year of the Battle of Blenheim.

In the third year of the campaign in 1707, the Ninth formed part of a very mixed allied force of 15,000 – half British, Dutch and French Huguenots, and half Portuguese, under the command of the Earl of Galway. This force was campaigning in Velencia (the south eastern part of Spain) against the 28,000 strong French Army under the Earl of Berwick, one of Louis XIV’s Marshals. On 25th April 1707 Galway’s small force took the bold initiative of attacking Berwick’s much larger army in front of the town of Almanza. The main attack by the English and Dutch Regiments very nearly succeeded. However the Portuguese half of the force, who were to have exploited this success, refused to follow it up, did nothing and melted away as soon as they came under assault from the French cavalry. Berwick then counter attacked and during this stage of the battle Wade’s Brigade, reinforced by the 9th, – a total of only four Battalions – were assaulted by no less than nine Battalions of French Infantry and a large force of cavalry. They held on, fought the greatly superior French force to a standstill and covered the withdrawal of their commander Lord Galway, his guns and supply train.

At the end of the day only 3,500 of Galway’s force of 15,000 got away intact, and many allied Regiments either ran away like the Portuguese or were forced by overwhelming numbers to surrender their colours. The Ninth, despite being practically destroyed, refused to lay down their arms. Aremnant of them, together with all that remained of the allied force, eventually successfully withdrew with Galway the 22 miles to Orteniente.

Little is known about the conduct of the battle in detail since all Regimental records of the Ninth were lost in the shipwreck of the Ariadne in 1805; however, the Regimental history lists the casualty figures to demonstrate how well the Regiment fought against the desperate odds, Out of 26 Officers, 20 were killed or wounded or captured and only two of the surviving officers were unwounded. An unknown number of soldiers must have suffered a similar fate, even after reinforcement a year later the Ninth numbered only 386 out of an established strength of approximately 800.

The Battle of Almanza makes a sombre story, and nowadays we do not consider a long casualty list to be such a mark of distinction on the battlefield as it was two centuries ago. What should be remembered, by present members of the Vikings, is that the Ninth fought to the last and covered the withdrawal of the their force commander and the rest of the force. The first of many such actions during our Regimental history. Almanza was a defeat for Britain and her allies and is therefore not counted as an official British Army Battle Honour but Regimental honour was asserted on that occasion nevertheless and that is why we preserve the memory of the 25th April to the present day.

It is noteworthy that the name Almanza is not carried on the current Colours nor on the former Colours of the 1st Battalion The East Anglian Regiment or the Royal Norfolk Regiment since it was never an approved British Army Battle Honour. However ‘Almanza’ is still emblazoned on the Drums and Drum Major’s sash of the 1st Battalion, as these as not subject to the same regulations as the Colours. This is an important point and hopefully one, which will always be upheld.

The Battle of Almanza

Down by a crystal river side,
I fell a weeping;
To see my brother soldier dear,
Upon the ground lie bleeding.

It was from the Castle of Vino,
We marched on Easter Sunday;
And the battle of Almanza,
Was fought on Easter Monday.

Full twenty miles we marched that day
Without one drop of water;
Till we poor souls were almost spent,
Before the bloody slaughter.

Over the plain we marched along,
All in the line of battle;
To the beat of drums and colours fly
And thundering cannons’ rattle.

Brave Gallaway, our General,
Cried, ‘ Fight on ! while you may;
Fight on! brave-hearted Englishmen,
You’re one to five this day.’

‘Hold back ! nor make the first attack
‘Tis what they do desire:
But when you see my sword I draw,
Let each platoon give fire.’

We had not marched some paces three,
Before the small shot flew like thunder
Hoping that we should get the day,
And likewise all the plunder.

But the Dutch fell on with sword in hand
And that was their desire;
Thirty-five squadrons of Portuguese,
They ran and never gave fire.

The Duke of Berwick, as I have been told
He gave it out in orders,
That if the army should be broke,
To give the English quarters.

‘Be kind unto my countrymen,
For that is my desire;
With the Portuguese do as you please,
For they will soon retire.’

Now to conclude and make an end
Of this my dismal story
One hundred thousand fighting men
Have died for England’s glory.

Let no brave soldier be dismayed
For losing of a battle;
We have more forces coming on
Will make Jack Frenchman rattle.

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