Forest of Galtres Society

Battle of Talavera

July 20, 2009

Forest of Galtres Society members took to the motorway in the last week of July 2009, to visit the Royal Armouries in Leeds. A real treat awaited us. Simon Riches, Education Officer was true to his job, and he enlightened us about the events of the Peninsular Wars which led up to the Battle of Talavera. We saw re-enactment photographs of the thin red line of British troups in their battle lines, and held the replica Brown Bess musket, and wielded the (well balanced) curved sword for the light infantryman, and the horribly balanced, straight, heavy sword of the heavy infantryman. We saw thick cloth coats made from West Riding fabric – some people at least were able to make money out of clothing the army through their factory-produced thick woollen cloth.

It was not all ancient battles, for, following questions, Simon brought out a Bren gun, and also a Mk 4 Lea Enfield rifle for us to handle.

The Battle of Talavera took place in central Spain. The British and allied army had some 54,000 men. The French army, some 46,000 men, was commanded by Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain (the brother of Napoleon). On 27th July 1809, British forces, led by Sir Arthur Wellesley, lined up on rising ground in front of Talavera, and they and the Spanish jointly stood, facing the French lines. Attacks were mounted, and the French opened fire. Holes in the lines were plugged by deployed brigades. Retreating soldiers were in confusion. The dry grass of the plain caught fire, and many wounded were burned alive. The French did not attack again. British reinforcements arrived at camp. The British had achieved success in the battle, and Sir Arthur Wellesley as their commander, was elevated to the peerage and took the title of Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington, and Baron Douro of Wellesley, in the county of Somerset. Wellington had won a significant battle in the Peninsular Wars.

Easingwold has two stone plaques commemorating the Battle of Talavera, but do any memories remain of who from our town fought in that campaign, be it as officers or infantrymen or cavalry, or in the British Navy?

We enjoyed our education session, and fortified by lunch, then sallied forth to see the displays in the museum itself. The setting is imaginative, and the quality of the materials most attractive. Even if war and battles are not your scene, there is so much to admire in the static displays, and also for those who know Leeds, the rejuvenation of the city’s waterside is remarkable. Many are promising themselves a return visit to Leeds Armouries.

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