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The Regiments in the Seven Years War 1756-63

By John Downham

A Lancashire Infantry Museum Narrative History

© Lancs Inf Museum & Lt Col E J Downham MBE BA DL

The War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, but continuing rivalry with France led to a resumption of hostilities on 18 May 1756. The conflict that followed has with some justification been called the first world war, and our antecedent regiments the 30th, 40th and 47th Foot fought the French and their allies in Europe, North America and the West Indies.

 EUROPE

Breaking Windows with Guineas

Prime Minster William Pitt determined to take the offensive with raids on the French coast, both to destroy enemy naval bases and to draw off French troops from the main European theatre of war in Germany. These combined operations, similar in concept to the commando raids of World War II, ‘carried a warm alarm along the coast of France’ and kept the enemy on guard from Dunkirk to the Pyrenees, but Pitt’s critics contemptuously termed them ‘breaking windows with guineas’. The 30thFoot was engaged in all these operations.

Officer and Drummer 30th Foot 1755. The Regiment was the first in the Army to wear bearskin caps, black for the Grenadiers and white for drummers.

Coastal Raids

The first expedition, to Rochefort in 1757, was abandoned due to poor intelligence, but a raid on the port of St Malo in 1758 met with some success. Later that year, the capture and destruction of the harbour and shipping at Cherbourg was a resounding triumph, but a renewed attempt on St Malo ended in disaster when the British rearguard, including the Grenadiers of the 40th, suffered severely during re-embarkation at St Cast.

Belle-Isle

Finally, in 1761 the 30th played a major part in capturing the French fortified offshore island of Belle-Isle, just a mile or so off the coast of Brittany, climbing the cliffs to secure a beach-head and taking the citadel after ‘an obstinate dispute with the bayonet’.

The boats of Admiral Keppel's invasion fleet head for Belle Isle carrying the invading British troops, including the 30th Foot.

 

CANADA

Frontier Warfare

The conflict in North America was a continuation of the unofficial ‘French and Indian War’ which had been waged by proxy since the peace of 1748. In Nova Scotia, French agents armed and incited the local Indians and Acadians to raid English settlements, which were defended by the 40th Foot. The Regiment was stationed at Annapolis, in isolated frontier posts, and in the newly founded town Halifax.

Fort Beausejour

In 1750 the recently-arrived 47th were sent to occupy Beaubassin on the isthmus joining Nova Scotia to the Canadian mainland. They made an assault landing, routing a force of Indians and Acadians, and built Fort Lawrence. The French responded by erecting Fort Beausejour nearby, and on 4 June 1755 this was captured by a force including the 40th and 47th.

Fort Beausejour, sketched by Lieutenant John Hamilton, 40th Foot, in 1755. The French fort was captured later that year

Louisbourg

The outbreak of war in Europe brought hostilities in America to a head, and in 1758 the 40th and 47th Regiments were with Amherst’s army sent against the French fortress stronghold of Louisbourg. The operation began with a hazardous opposed landing through heavy surf, led by Major Scott of the 40th, while both Regiments were prominent in the 7-week siege before Louisbourg capitulated, earning for the 40th and 47th their first Battle Honour and for the 47th the nickname ‘Wolfe’s Own’.

Up the St Lawrence

The following year the 47th and the Grenadier Company 40th (in the composite ‘Louisbourg Grenadiers’) joined General Wolfe’s army directed against Quebec.  The expedition sailed up the River St Lawrence but was at first unable either to entice the French commander, Montcalm, out of his strong defensive positions or to approach the fortress. A gallant frontal assault at Montmorency by the Grenadiers, including those of the 40th and 47th, failed bloodily, among those killed being Sergeant Ned Botwood of the 47th, a Regimental ‘character’ known throughout the Army for his ballad ‘Hot Stuff’. 

The Plains of Abraham

Finally Wolfe decided on an indirect approach. Slipping past the French shore batteries by night disguised as a supply convoy, the British force disembarked at a small cove above Quebec, scrambled up the steep cliffs, and by daybreak 13 September 1759 was drawn up in line of battle on the Plains of Abraham, behind the French defenders and within a mile of the walls of Quebec. The 47thwere in the centre of Wolfe’s line and the Louisbourg Grenadiers were on the right when Montcalm’s French regiments advanced covered by Indian and Canadian irregulars. The British Infantry held their fire until the French were within 40 paces, and then delivered a devastating volley which shattered Montcalm’s regiments. The battle ended with a bayonet charge which swept the French from the field. Quebec surrendered a few days later.

This contemporary composition compresses time to illustrate all the main events of the Quebec campaign. The British troops are shown being taken ashore by the boats of the Fleet, scaling the cliffs, and formed in line of battle to face the oncoming French on the Heights of Abraham

Black in Memory of Wolfe

General Wolfe was mortally wounded as the battle was won, and in his memory a thin line of black is included in the officers’ gold lace of The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment to this day. At the dying request of Wolfe, Lieutenant Colonel John Hale of the 47thhad the honour of being sent home with the despatches describing the victory.

A factually accurate depiction of the death of Wolfe at Quebec. The more well-known painting by Benjamin West is entirely fictitious, including people who were not present but were willing to pay the artist for inclusion.

Captain John Hale, 47th Foot, in undress uniform. Hale joined the Regiment aged 14, fought in Scotland, won distinction at Beausejour, and, as Lieutenant Colonel, commanded the 47th in the Louisbourg and Quebec campaigns. At the dying request of Wolfe, Hale was honoured by being sent home with the victory despatches. He was then commissioned to raise the 17th Light Dragoons, whose white uniform facings and death’s head badge referred to the 47th and to his friend Wolfe’s death at Quebec

Sainte Foy

This was not the end of the campaign, for after a severe winter besieged in Quebec on short rations the 47th were involved in a second battle on the Plains of Abraham, 28 April 1760, when after a fierce infantry action the British were forced back into the town.

Capture of Montreal

A relief force arrived the following month, and the 40th the 47th served with the expedition against Montreal where, on 8 September 1760, the French capitulated and half a continent changed hands. No Regiments had done more to bring about this outcome.

THE WEST INDIES

Martinique 1762

In 1761 the 40thFoot left Canada for the first time, but not for home. They joined an expedition assembled near New York to attack French colonies in the West Indies. In 1762 the force sailed from Barbados to Martinique, which was soon captured in a well-executed campaign.

In 1762 the 40th took part in an expedition to the French West Indies which captured Martinique and other islands.

Havana

Later that year, when war broke out between England and Spain, the 40th took part in a further expedition, mounted against Havana, the rich centre of the Spanish West Indies. Havana, and the whole island of Cuba, surrendered after a two month siege, and the following year the 40th sailed for England – only to be intercepted in mid-Atlantic and ordered back to their old garrisons in Nova Scotia. It was not until 1764 that the 40thFoot were at last ordered home.

The immensely strong fortress of El Morro, guarding the entrance to Havana harbour, was besieged by a British force including the 40th Foot. It was carried by storm on 30 July 1762, and the surrender of the city and island soon followed.