Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Captain Clement Poole 52nd Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

 

Clement Poole was from the Quantock Hills area of Somerset.  He was commission an ensign without purchase in the 52nd Foot in June 1803.[1]  In 1803, Ensign Poole was promoted to lieutenant without purchase with a date of rank of 25 October  1803.[2]  In 1806, he was promoted to captain without purchase with a date of rank of 29 May 1806.[3]

In August 1808, Captain Poole deployed with the 2nd Battalion 52nd Foot to Portugal .  He would fight with the regiment at Vimeiro, but when they marched into Spain in November he stayed behind with those too sick to for an active service.  In February 1809, he was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments.  He commanded the 52nd Company, which consisted of four officers and 125 rank and file from the 52nd Foot.  The battalion would be part of General Stewart’s Brigade, which also had the 29th Foot and 48th Foot assigned to it.  He would command them at the crossing of the Douro, where the company was mentioned specifically by Wellington after the battle when he stated

“. . . the Commander of the Forces has had repeated opportunities of witnessing and applauding the gallantry of the officers and the troops, the activity and conduct of the 95th, and of the Light Infantry of the 29th the 43rd and 52nd."[4]

Captain Poole also commanded them during the Talavera Campaign, but with much less distinction.  He was listed as missing on the 1st day of the battle, when the 1st Battalion of Detachments was so heavily engaged.[5] This information reached Lieutenant Charles Kinloch who was with the 2nd Battalion, which was serving in the Walcheren Expedition by 17 August – less than three weeks after the battle!  (Captain Poole was Kinloch’s company commander.)[6]

Captain Poole apparently lost his nerve and disappeared when Stewart’s Brigade was ordered to attack the French on the summit of the Medellin, a high hill that overlooked the British left flank.  Lieutenant Leslie of the 29th Foot, who was seriously wounded, saw him later that day.

“When I went to the rear after being wounded and found Dr. Guthrie, our surgeon, he examined my wound and pronounced it to be very severe, but he trusted that it would not prove dangerous. He could not extract the ball, which seemed to have taken an oblique direction downwards. He dressed and then bound up my wound, and recommended me to go to the rear where the baggage had been ordered to rendezvous, and not to go into the town, as everyone seemed to doubt if the Spaniards would stand their ground, and prevent the enemy from forcing its way into it. So leaving him we fell in with a stray horse, which had either broken loose or whose owner had fallen. So I was lifted upon it, but my blood was now getting cool, my leg very stiff, and the pain occasioned by the motion intolerable. I therefore got off, and hobbled along with my two supporters. On my way I came up to Captain Poole of the 52nd Regiment, who belonged to the first battalion of detachments, and our Brigade Commissary, Mr. Brook. . . ” 

“The Captain accompanied me in search of our baggage. We at length found it at a single house on the high road from Talavera to Oropeza, about two miles from the field. I made my way into this empty house. The batman of the company and some women of the regiment got me some straw, and a blanket being spread upon it, I was laid down. The pain of the wound became very acute, but there was no remedy but to grin and bear it. The poor women were in great distress. All came in to visit me, and made many anxious inquiries about the fate of their husbands. I had the satisfaction of assuring four or five of them that their husbands were safe when I left them, or only slightly wounded, but many others were forlorn widows. They most kindly made some tea for me. But the absurd part was their sympathy with the Captain. They all asked him where he was hit, and trusted that he was not badly wounded. He seemed sadly worried and perplexed what answer to give. He replied in a faint voice that he was extremely ill with fever. In about an hour afterwards, perhaps nine o'clock a.m., Lieutenant Stanus of our Regiment was brought in also severely wounded.”

“Various reports began to spread; some that the enemy had made another attack, and had succeeded in forcing a part of our line; others that the enemy had sent troops into the mountains on our left, and had succeeded in turning that flank. Cowardly runaways from the Spanish army continued to pass to the rear in increased numbers, two or three of these fellows frequently on one horse. From seeing this we began to surmise that the enemy might really have defeated part of the Spanish force; and as the baggage began to move off farther to the rear, we determined to get on to a bullock car, and to make the best of our way back to Oropeza, the nearest town in our rear. Our friend the Captain, on the first rumours of adverse reports, without waiting to inquire whether they were likely to prove true or false, started up very nimbly, mounted his pony, and set off in all haste out of harm's way to the rear.”[7]

Captain Poole turned up the next morning in Oropesa about 50 kilometers to the west of Talavera, supposedly sick.[8]

Captain Poole returned to England in September 1809, where he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 52nd Foot.  He would spend the next fourteen months at Lewes in East Sussex.  On 26 January 1811, the 2nd Battalion boarded transports at Portsmouth for the Peninsula.  Captain Poole would fight with the 2nd Battalion at Sabugal and Fuentes d’Onoro.  In August 1811, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, which was also in the Peninsula.  He would serve with them at the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in January 1812.  In April, before the assault on the breach at Badajoz, Captain Poole had a premonition that he was going to “certain death”. [9]  He was buried in the ditch at the base of the breach with four other officers from his regiment.[10]

Notes:

[1] London Gazette: 28 June 1803.

[2] London Gazette: 9 November 1803

[3] London Gazette: 3 June 1806; Army List: January 1809

[4] Verner: vol. ii;  p. 55

[5] London Gazette: 15 August 1809

[6] Glover; p. 23

[7] Leslie, Charles;  pp. 154 - 156

[8] Oman ; vol ii. p. 649

[9] Dobbs; p. 38

[10] Glover; p. 95


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2009

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 ]



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