Tucked away in the storeroom in Henfield Museum is a box containing a brass regimental belt badge with the number 57, a laurel wreath and the name “Albuhera”. Being interested in regimental cap badges I did a bit of research and uncovered a very interesting story of one of the most brutal battles in the war against Napoleon, and a connection with Henfield!
The badge belonged to a Daniel Caplin who was born in Woodmancote in 1786 and signed up to join the army in 1808. He was illiterate and his name was misspelt as Kepland or sometimes Keply. His army pay would have been 6d per day or 3d if sick. In 1810 he travelled to Jersey in the Channel Islands and then on to Portugal where he spent 2 days in hospital, and then marched to join Wellington’s Peninsular campaign. 35,000 British, Spanish and Portuguese soldiers under Field Marshal Sir William Beresford converged on the Spanish village of Albuhera. Facing them were 25,000 French soldiers under the renowned Marshal Soult, who was intent on relieving the besieged fortress of Badajos about 15 miles distant. Fierce and bloody, the pendulum of battle hung in the balance. The French feigned a frontal attack on the village and held the Allied army there, with their main force moving under cover of the high ground to assault the right flank of the Allied army. The Spanish fought with bravery, but began to falter under the onslaught of French musketry.
Seeing what was happening an Allied division was sent to help the Spanish. A sudden torrential downpour rendered all the infantry muskets useless. Napoleon sent in the French/Polish Lancers who created their trademark chaos in the British lines; the battalions were decimated and the Regimental colours were captured. The 57th (with Daniel Caplin) moved up to support the faltering right flank. A lucky break in the weather allowed the redcoats to use their muskets again and they began raking the loose formations of rampaging enemy Lancers.
In the panic and confusion some of the British unknowingly started to fire into the backs of the main British and Portuguese battalions, obscured by thick smoke. Colonel Inglis stood in front of his men commanding them to “order arms”. This act of courage saved many people’s lives that day.
The 57th advanced to the front line and towards the mass of French infantry moving in their famed column of attack. Both sides fought to a standstill and the 57th were amongst the hardest hit. Colonel Inglis was hit in the neck and chest by French canister shot (a canister packed with lead shot that when fired from a canon burst in mid-flight scattering lead shot over a large area); he stayed on the battlefield and was heard to cry “Die hard, the 57th. Die hard!”
The glory belonged to the 57th, but at a terrible price. Slightly varying figures are cited, but one example; of the 647 officers and men, 428 were reported as killed or wounded, a 66% casualty rate. Private Daniel Caplin was badly wounded in the left hip and arm and was taken from the battlefield to a hospital in Chamusca, Portugal where he stayed from 25th May 1811 until 10th January 1812. He was discharged and sent to England and rejoined the 6th Company 2nd Battalion from his bed in Hillsea Hospital. From that time on, the 57th was known as the ‘Die Hards’.
Daniel married Anne Holder at Woodmancote on the 7th July 1813, his address was given as Chichester barracks. He was honourably discharged from the army on the 24th June 1814 and received the sum of 9d. He lived in Henfield with Anne and was classed as a labourer; he died in 1824 at the age of 38.
I cannot imagine the horror that Daniel went through and only hope he was treated as a hero when he came home, and had 10 years of peace and happiness. Did he die at an early age because of the wounds sustained in the Peninsular War? It would be nice to commemorate him in some way.
The 57th changed its name several times as regiments merged. It started as the 57th West Middlesex Regiment of Foot. In 1881 it became the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own), then became the Queens Royal Surrey Regiment. It then became the Queens Own Buffs (The Royal Kent Regiment) and then the Royal Sussex Regiment, which is now part of the Princess of Wales’s Regiment.
Steve Robotham (Assistant Curator, Henfield Museum).
A version of this article was first published in the Parish Magazine, July 2021. Daniel's Albuhera belt plate is on display as of this article's publication.
From the Henfield Museum collection:
- 57th Infantry Regiment of Foot cross belt buckle (2008/11)
- Framed water colour painting of Pte. Daniel Caplin of the 57th West Middlx Regiment of Foot, in uniform of c. 1811, painted by Ray Kirkpatrick of Epsom Surrey in 2003 (2008/11/P1)
- Maps (2008/11/P7, 2008/11/P6)
- Brief typed history of Daniel Caplin (unpublished, 2008/11/P2)
- Copy of 1814 discharge papers of Daniel Caplin (2008/11/P5)
- MilitaryHistory.org, The Diehards - Regiment Profile, 2010 (accessed June 2021)
- International Military Antiques, Original British Early 19th Century Cross Belt Plate from the 57th Regiment of Foot (accessed June 2021)
We hope you enjoy the variety of blog articles on the people and places of Henfield past!
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