Reviews: Books

Seven Years on the Peninsula: the Memoirs of Private Adam Reed, 47th (Lancashire) Foot 1806-1817

Glover, Gareth (ed.) Seven Years on the Peninsula: the Memoirs of Private Adam Reed, 47th (Lancashire) Foot 1806-1817. Godmanchester, UK: Ken Trotman, 2012. 111 pages.  Hardback.  ISBN: 9781907417344.  £20

Despite having a rather distinguished record of service during the Napoleonic Wars, the British 47th oot Regiment has had only one set of memoirs written by a soldier who served in the regiment.  In 1838 the memoirs of John Harley were privately published.  With only 400 copies printed, these may be the rarest of the Peninsular memoirs.[1] 

A few years ago, Gareth Glover  was able to obtain a set of  unpublished memoirs from a soldier who served in the 47th Foot.  They were written by Adam Reed and are very candid.    He was a military brat, his father having served with in the 4th Foot during the British Expedition to Holland in 1799.  The author enlisted in the Corps of Artillery Drivers at the age of 16 and finding that he was not “. . . able to manage a pair of horses in action”,[2] he deserted.    Six months later he enlisted in the 47th Foot.

Private Reed would serve with the 2nd Battalion on the island of Jersey until 1808, when his battalion was sent to Gibraltar.  In 1810 he would be in Cadiz during the French siege and in 1811 fight at the battle of Barossa.  Sieges seem to be his specialty, for in 1811 he was sent to Tarragona to help the defenders, but his battalion was not able to land before the city fell to the French.  From there he went to Tarifa and was part of the force that defended the city against the French assault.  In 1812 he was part of the force that liberated Seville, fought at Salamanca, and then took part in the epic retreat to Ciudad Rodrigo. He would be at Vitoria in 1813 and at the siege of San Sebastian, where he took part in his fourth siege in three years; although this time he was part of the force that was besieging the city.  He was at the battles of Nivelle and Nive in late 1813 and would return to England after the abdication of Napoleon. 

Seven Years on the Peninsula is highly entertaining and a quick read.  It is filled with anecdotes about the daily life of a soldier in garrison, on campaign, and of course what it was like to be both a defender and an attacker during a siege.  The book is also a rarity because it is one of the few memoirs written by a soldier who was an officer’s batman.  During 1813 and 1814, Private Reed was the servant of his battalion’s surgeon.  Throughout the book he comes across as a loveable rogue who was always looking out for his comrades (one who was his brother), and was an ardent forager. 

It is also the only memoir I know of where the author deserted twice!  The second time was after the battalion returned to England.  He was apprehended a few months later, sat in jail for a month, and was eventually tried by a court-martial, ordered to receive 300 lashes.  He was flogged, but after 100 lashes, he commander commuted sentence.  By 1816, he was in poor health and was mustered out and given a pension of £10 per year.

Seven Years on the Peninsula is not just for the collector of British memoirs.  It is one of the best written enlisted memoirs of the period and will leave the reader with a vivid memory of what life was like for a common soldier in the British Army of the time.

Notes:

[1] Harley, John.  The Veteran, or Forty Years in the British Service, by Captain John Harley, late Paymaster 47th Regiment.  London, 1838.

[2] Reed; page 10

 

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2014

 

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