This week we celebrate the 215th anniversary of the Battle of Assaye (23 September 1803) and the Museum would like to send Assaye greetings to all members of The Royal Highland Fusiliers (RHF), The Highland Light Infantry (HLI), The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2SCOTS), successor units of The 78th Highlanders & The 19th Light Dragoons and all our readers.
The East India Company was so impressed with the bravery of the 74th & 78th Highlanders and 19th Light Dragoons that they awarded them the Assaye Colour – the 78th did carry their Colour lost the right to do so. The RHF, through their antecedent regiments (74th & HLI), were thus the only infantry regiment in the British Army to carry a third Colour – this proud tradition is continued through our successor Battalion, 2SCOTS. And, of course, the Museum’s mascot is Bugle the Assaye Elephant, who is featured on the Colour!
Five thousand British troops under command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, took on the Mahratta’s forty-two thousand-strong army at the Battle of Assaye. The 74th Highlanders defended the position alongside The 78th Highlanders, The 19th Light Dragoons and various battalions of Sepoys; holding the ground with heavy losses.
Towards the end of the battle, only 80 men of The 74th were accounted for – every Officer, other than the Quartermaster, James Grant, was either killed or wounded. In one company of 50 men, 48 were killed! Major Swinton, who had been wounded, and Quartermaster Grant, usually a non-combatant involved in distributing ammunition at the rear, rallied the remaining troops and saved the day. The Assaye Colour is always carried by a Quarter-Master.
Wellesley never forgot the battle or the casualties inflicted on his troops, particularly The 74th, which he called “My Fighting Regiment. Many years later, a friend asked him what was the best thing in which he had ever taken part, in the way of fighting. ‘Assaye’, replied the Duke of Wellington – he did not add a word!