Sunday, May 22, 2011

The bi-centenary of the battle of Albuera

May 16th, 2011, is the two hundredth anniversary of the battle of Albuera, one of the bloodiest of the Peninsular War. The small town of Albuera is immensely proud of its part on the battle and, each May, hosts a day of celebration, together with the Friends of the British Cemetery in nearby Elvas, to honour those who fought and died there.

The Friends of the British Cemetery was set up to restore both the abandoned cemetery and also the tiny chapel of S. Joao, which had been the military hospital in Wellington's time but which had fallen into serious disrepair. After long negotiations with the Archdiocese of Evora, the Friends were allowed right of usage and took on the responsibility for the chapel's restoration and maintenance. This was marked by a formal ceremony in which the bishop of Evora re-dedicated the chapel.

The picture below shows the Corps of Drums - Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, looking splendid in their scarlet uniforms, who were there to mark the occasion.

The seond picture (below) shows the Portuguese Infantry Regiment No 8. There are wearing original 1811 uniforms which were doscovered in an old cupboard in the now-disused barracks. Unfortunately, all the uniforms were too small for 21st century Portuguese soldiers, so the 'soldiers' on parade are, in fact, women!

Elizabeth Hawksley

Top photograph of the chapel of S. Joao was taken by the author, the other two are courtesy of


Jane Jackson said...

A fascinating post, Elizabeth. That the discovered uniforms are too small for today's soldiers is particularly interesting. We know that Napoleon and Nelson were short in stature. Some people believe this "short man syndrome" powered their ambition. But what if in the context of their times they were actually of average height?

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

That's an interesting point, Jane. I am sure that modern diet has made a huge difference to the average height.

What a pity the photos didn't show the English and Portuguese soldiers side by side so that we could see the height differential for ourselves.

Sarah Mallory said...

How interesting, Elizabeth - there are so many links with the Peninsula that are almost forgotten now.

This one is especially fascinating to me since I have just used news of the battle as the reason to hold a ball in my latest wip!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

It would be a very sober ball, Sarah. The death toll was horrific - over 6000 British and Portuguese killed and over 8000 French. The burial pits were dug too shallow to contain so many bodies and, the following spring, the battlefield was white with bones scavenged by wolves and birds of prey over the winter.

Still, I could understand one wanting to celebrate a loved one's survival.

sarah mallory said...

Yes, very sobering, Elizabeth, but back in England it was hailed as a "victory". At the end of the battle both sides thought they had been beaten, but when Wellington read Beresford's despatch he said "This won't do. It will drive the people in England mad. Write me down a victory." And the despatch was re-written accordingly.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Apparently, Albuera is also engraved as a French victory on the side of the Arc de Triomphe!

Louise Allen said...

Amazing that the fabric survived for so long in a wearable condition!