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The History of the First West India Regiment

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The History of the First West India Regiment
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Author(s): A. B. Ellis
Date Published: 2010/04
Page Count: 240
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-113-3
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-114-0

An elite regiment from the Caribbean

This is an excellent regiment history of a British colonial force raised in the West Indies among the coloured population whose ancestors had in former times been brought against their will to the islands as slaves. This would be an understandable reason why such troops would not necessarily be of the highest order. However, the fact remains this regiment has been highly regarded and received the warmest praise from every commander who served with them—including the legendary Sir John Moore of Peninsular War fame, who believed them to be invaluable. The regiments has a long career dating to the middle of the eighteenth century and the War of American Independence. Its service continued through many actions in the Indies themselves including service on Martinique, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Dominica, Barbados and many others islands. It saw service away from its familiar shores including the War of 1812 during the Napoleonic period and on the African continent in action against the Ashanti.
This fascinating book reveals the exploits of an unusual regiment undertaking exemplary service in unusual theatres of operation. Essential for all those interested in the British Army and its colonial forces. Available in soft cover or hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

The advanced guard of thirty men, with whom were Lieutenant-Commander Nicolas and Mr. Dillet, who had landed to point out which houses it was most important to thoroughly destroy, had only advanced some two hundred yards from the bank of the creek, when they were received with a murderous discharge of musketry from the enemy concealed in the bush. Almost the whole of the advanced party were shot down in this one volley, twenty men being killed on the spot, and Lieutenant-Commander Nicolas and Mr. Dillet severely wounded. The main body, seventy-five in number, under Captain Fletcher, at once hurried up to prevent the wounded falling into the hands of the barbarous natives, and behaved with great gallantry, for though falling thick and fast under the tremendous fire which the concealed enemy—to the number of several hundreds—poured into them from a distance of ten or twelve yards, they held their ground until the wounded had been safely conveyed to the boats.
Scarcely had this been accomplished than the rear-guard of thirty men, under Lieut. Keir, 3rd West India Regiment, was attacked by a large number of natives who had moved through the bush, and actually succeeded in cutting off our men from the boats. The enemy advanced with great determination into the open, thinking to overwhelm this small party, and they were only driven back into the bush by repeated volleys and a final charge with the bayonet.<br>
By this time fully one-third of the men who had landed having been killed, and a great number wounded, the order was given to retire, which was done steadily, the ground being contested inch by inch. At this time Company Sergeant-Major Scanlan, of the 3rd West India Regiment, and six men who were covering the retreat, fell, the former mortally wounded; and some of the bolder of the natives, rushing out of their concealment, seized Deputy-Assistant-Commissary Frith, and dragged him away into the bush, where he was barbarously murdered in cold blood. Scanlan was lying in the narrow path, his chest riddled with bullets, when the chief fetish priest of the place, to encourage the natives to make further efforts, sprang upon a ruined wall in front of him, and began dancing an uncouth dance, accompanying it with savage yells and significant gestures to the dying man. He paid dearly for his rashness, however, for Scanlan, collecting his strength for a last supreme effort, seized his loaded rifle, which was fortunately lying within reach, and discharged it at the gesticulating savage, who threw up his arms and fell dead. The next moment Scanlan was surrounded by a horde of infuriated barbarians, and his body hacked into an undistinguishable mass.<br>
The troops, sadly diminished in number, at last reached that portion of the mangrove creek where they had left the boats. Of these there had been originally but two, and one having at the commencement of the action been used to convey Lieutenant-Commander Nicolas and Mr. Dillet, under the charge of Surgeon Bradshaw, to the ship, one only remained for the men to embark in. The tide having fallen, this was lying out near the entrance of the creek, separated by an expanse of reeking mud from the shore. The men, seeing their last chance of safety cut off, threw themselves into the mud, in which many sank and were no more seen. Some few, however, succeeded in floundering along, half wading and half swimming, until they reached her, and climbed in. She was, however, so riddled with bullets, that she filled and sank almost immediately.<br>
Captain Fletcher, Lieutenant Wylie, Lieutenant Strachan, and Lieutenant Vincent, with some thirty men, endeavoured to make a last stand upon a small islet of mud and sand, near the left bank of the creek; but Lieutenant Wylie was shot dead almost at once, and Lieutenant Vincent, being shot through the body, jumped into the water, to endeavour to swim to the ship. In a few seconds seventeen men had fallen out of this devoted band, and the survivors, plunging into the creek, swam down towards the river. The natives lined the banks in crowds, keeping up a heavy fire upon the men in the water; and Captain Fletcher and Lieutenant Strachan, who were the last to leave the shore, only reached the Teazer by a miracle, they having to swim more than half a mile to reach her. <br>
As the last of the survivors gained the vessel, the natives, between two and three thousand in number, lined the banks of the river, brandishing their weapons and uttering shouts of defiance; and the heads of several of the killed, horribly mutilated, were held out towards the ship on spears, amidst cries of exultation. All the ammunition for the Teazer’s guns having already been expended in shelling the town and clearing the bush, it was impossible to reply to the enemy, and the vessel proceeded slowly down the river, returning to Sierra Leone next day.