A Peninsula War Battle of Orthes and possible Battle of Waterloo 1815 pair awarded to Troop Sergeant Major John Walker, 7th Light Dragoons, later the 7th Regiment of Hussars, who is confirmed as having been present in the senior Non Commissioned Officer r
A Peninsula War Battle of Orthes and possible Battle of Waterloo 1815 pair awarded to Troop Sergeant Major John Walker, 7th Light Dragoons, later the 7th Regiment of Hussars, who is confirmed as having been present in the senior Non Commissioned Officer rank of Troop Sergeant Major at the Battle of Orthes on 27th February 1814, and would have been involved in Stapleton Cotton’s charge in the neighbourhood of Sault de Navailles when the 7th Hussars distinguished themselves and took many prisoners.
Military General Service Medal 1793-1814, clasp: Orthes, named to J. Walker, Troop Sergeant Major, 7th Light Dragoons. Waterloo Medal 1815, fitted with straight bar suspension named to John Walker, 7th Regiment of Hussars. Both medals with original old ribbons.
John Walker was born in Lowredown, Lanarkshire, Scotland, and saw service as a Troop Sergeant Major with the 7th Light Dragoons, which in 1805 became the 7th Regiment of Hussars. Having seen extensive service during the earlier part of the Peninsula War, the 7th Regiment of Hussars returned to Britain in May 1810 and went into barracks in Weymouth. It would appear that Walker, who by 1814 held the fairly senior Non Commissioned Officer rank of Troop Sergeant Major and indicating a fair period of previous service, either did not see service out in the Peninsula during the earlier fighting, possibly remaining behind on recruiting duties, or else, managed to avoid any of the major actions which were later commemorated on the Military General Service Medal. Whatever the case, his regiment was then sent in 1810 to Ireland, being based at Athy and Carlow, then Dundalk. A detachment went to Spain in 1811 to join the newly formed Cavalry Staff Corps. The rest of the regiment sailed for England in 1813 and on 13th Aug they embarked for Spain at Portsmouth. Their strength was 8 Troops of 100 men per Troop. Half the regiment under Colonel Vivian arrived at Bilbao on 29th Aug and the other half under Lieut-Col Kerrison arrived later at the natural harbour of Los Passages near San Sebastian. On 2nd Oct they began the long trek through northeast Spain, over the Pyrenees and into France. The journey became more difficult between Olite and Estevan. Col Vivian wrote: "No description that I can give you, nor can the worst roads that you ever heard of or saw, at all enable you to form an idea of the mountain paths we climbed yesterday. The worst goat path in all Wales is a garden walk compared to it; and they tell me that we have 8 leagues more into France of still worse roads!"The regiment were not seriously in action until they reached Orthes, but before that they suffered great hardship and starvation. At Hasparren, in France, they had been 3 days without food and two men were reported to have shot themselves. They spent a 7 weeks there, over the new year while the weather was bad and many of the officers were sick. It wasn't until mid February that they advanced to the river Gave d'Oleron.On 24th Feb, Wellington took the army over the river Gave d'Oleron near Sauveterre and advanced to attack Soult's forces at Orthes. The 7th were in Lord Edward Somerset's brigade which covered the Sixth Divison and the guns. When the French retired they charged and pursued them taking many prisoners. According to Colonel Vivian the ground was unfavourable for cavalry and they were kept waiting until evening to play their part. Three Troops were involved with Kerrison and Thornhill leading and the whole brigade commanded by Stapleton Cotton. One account says that the 7th trapped the enemy in an enclosed field. Captain Thornhill charged an officer with a Colour of a French Provisional Regiment but received a wound in the stomach when he was jabbed with the pointed end. However he managed to seize the trophy and as he walked painfully back with it was seen by Wellington. Within 2 months Thornhill had been promoted to Major. The Duke was pleased with the performance of the regiment and said as much in his despatch: "Lieutenant-General Sir Stapleton Cotton took advantage of the only opportunity which occurred, to charge, with Major-General Lord Edward Somerset's Brigade in the neighbourhood of Sault de Navailles, where the enemy had been driven from the high road by Lieutenant-General Sir Rowland Hill. The Seventh Hussars distinguished themselves upon this occasion and made many prisoners." The regiment lost 4 men killed, and 5 horses. Nine men were wounded along with Captains Thornhill and Heyliger, and Lt. Robert Douglas. These officers also fought and were wounded at Waterloo. After Orthes the regiment were busy in operations near Villeneuve de Marsan, Roquefort and Captieux, protecting the rear of the army from brigands. These brigands managed to surprise Captain Thornhill at Villeneuve, and capture him, but he escaped. The route to Captieux caused them much suffering as the area is mostly sandy desert. They went on to Toulouse where they were present at the battle on 10th April but their actions were not so notable. Troop Sergeant Major Walker was present at the Battle of Orthes on 27th February 1814, but would appear to have not present in the Battle of Toulouse on 10th April 1814. The regiment sailed back to England from Boulogne in the summer of 1814 and went to Romford. In early March Parliament introduced a Bill to prohibit the importation of grain, except when it had reached a price considered to be exhorbitant which prompted assemblies of discontented people who became agitated and troublesome. Mobs roamed the streets of London shouting 'No Corn Bill!'. Private houses of politicians were attacked and wrecked, starting with Lord Eldon's home in Bedford Square. The 7th Hussars were in Brighton so were called into the capital to help quell the trouble. Various private houses came under attack, broken into and the furniture destroyed. When men of the 7th, or the Household troops, appeared the mobs would flee. These disturbances lasted only a few days from the 6th to the 10th March. The country was soon focused on another problem: Napoleon was back.With the return of Bonaparte from Elba in March 1815, the war was resumed and 3 squadrons of the 7th Hussars under Colonel Kerrison embarked at Dover on 25th Mar to sail to Ostend. The whole of the British cavalry was under the command of the 7th's Colonel, Lord Uxbridge. The officers attended the Duchess of Richmond's Ball in Brussels on 15th June but the regiment was mobilised that night. They arrived too late for the battle at Quatre Bras on 16th and were ordered to cover the British retreat. The following day the 7th were at Genappe waiting for the approach of the French cavalry. They were formed up 200 yards from one end of the town when the enemy came down the street. The Polish Lancers were at the front 'commanded by a fine-looking and a very brave man' according to Lt Standish O'Grady. The flanks of the enemy cavalry were protected by the houses of Genappe and the main street was crammed with cuirassiers and dragoons. Suddenly there was a very heavy downpour of rain and Lord Uxbridge ordered the 7th to charge the lancers. They dashed forward led by Major Hodge who was killed in the battle. The regiment could make no inroads into the ranks of the lancers although their brave commander was cut down. There was a counter-charge by the lancers and they in turn were driven back. This happened two or three times until the Life Guards made a determined charge which forced the retreat of the French. The heavy rain rendered firearms useless so the fighting was all done with sword and lance. As well as Major Hodge being killed there was also Captain Elphinstone and Adjutant Myers. An officer of the 23rd Light Dragoons, Lieut John Banner wrote of this battle: '..the 7th Hussars being animated by the presence of their Colonel [Uxbridge] rushed on the enemy with the greatest spirit and intrepidity, and drove the French advanced divisions back into the street of Genappe upon the main body of their cavalry which occupied the town, where the most obstinate conflict commenced, each party fighting with the utmost desperation....The conduct of this Corps on this occasion was heroic in the extreme; their spirit and ardour was universally admired and acknowledged by all who witnessed the gallant affair.' The army spent a miserable night in pouring rain but it stopped at about 8am on the morning of the 18th June. The 7th Hussars were in the 5th Cavalry Brigade (7th & 15th Hussars and 13th Light Dragoons) commanded by Major-General Sir Colquhoun Grant. They were positioned on the right of the line behind a ridge half a mile north of Hougoumont. At one point they were moved to a place that proved too dangerous and several men and horses were lost to artillery fire. At around 4pm the regiment were used to cover the infantry and defend them from French cavalry attack. The main cause for concern were the cuirassiers but the French lancers made diversionary attacks to draw the hussars away from their infantry. General Grant directed them back to the infantry squares where they were most needed. They made repeated charges and at one point defeated and killed a squadron of cuirassiers and captured their officers. At around 7pm Wellington ordered the General Advance and the army moved forward under heavy artillery and musket fire. The 7th, although depleted from the battle at Genappe and the fighting earlier in the day, charged at infantry, artillery and cavalry. They stopped at the rear of the French lines now, according to Lt O'Grady, with only 35 men, four officers and Colonel Kerrison. They were separated from their brigade so attached themselves to Vivian's for the rest of the evening. The 7th started the Waterloo campaign with 380 men and sustained 201 casualties: 63 killed, 121 wounded and 17 missing. There were 21 cavalry regiments in Wellington's army, out of these the 7th Hussars had the 4th highest casualty figures. The top three for dead and wounded were the three Dragoon Regiments in the Union Brigade. The Waterloo Medal in John Walker’s pair is however renamed over the recipient’s details, and on checking the medal roll, there is no man by the name of John Walker shown as a Troop Sergeant Major at the battle, nor as a Non Commissioned Officer, however there is one man shown as a Private John Walker, the only man by this name or surname on the roll for the 7th Hussars at Waterloo. However the case for considering that the recipient had been unhappy with his rank or spelling of his name on the medal, a common case for re-engraving, can be partially omitted by the fact that Waterloo Medal’s to other ranks did not carry the man’s rank, so a misspelling of the name can be the only reason - if this was the issue. On checking the medal roll for the Military General Service Medal 1793-1814, three men appear for the name of John Walker, 7th Light Dragoons. Two, one our Troop Sergeant Major, the other a Corporal, appear as entitled to the medal with single clasp for Orthes. The other man, a Private, interestingly appears as entitled to the medal with single clasp for Sahagun and Benevente, indicating his participation in the famous cavalry battle of Sahagun on 20th December 1808, and the battle of Benevente on 29th December 1808. This latter recipient’s medal has provenance to the Macdougall Sale in 1917, and an auction at Glendinnings in November 1986. The question of who of these men, if any, went on to be present at Waterloo is unanswered, but clearly the recipient of our Military General Service Medal 1793-1814 with single clasp for Orthes, Troop Sergeant Major John Walker, certainly felt entitled to have the Waterloo Medal, and went out of his way to have it named to him. Sadly his service paper’s do not appear to be available and this answer cannot be verified or not.After the battle of Waterloo, the remnants of the 7th Hussars were billeted in villages near Paris, and were part of the army of occupation. They stayed in various locations in northern France and were finally sent home in 1818. the name of the recipient re-engraved on the second medal, otherwise correct naming as issued, overall slight edge bruising to both, Very fine