June 1813 – VITTORIA – 71st and 74th
Just as the capture of Badajoz secured entry into Spain, so the Battle of Vittoria secured entry into France via the Pyrenees, the mountain barrier between France and Spain. The battle was fought for this purpose and to complete the liberation of Spain.
Both the 71st and the 74th took part.
The French were defending and the British attacking. The battle opened on the British right flank, where the 71st was ordered to secure the key to the entire position – the hills known as the Heights of Puebla, which were strongly held.
Led by the Commanding Officer, Colonel the Hon. Henry Cadogan, the 71st achieved this feat, although suffered a great loss in doing so, including losing Cadogan who was killed on the heights.‘God bless my brave countrymen’, he said as he died, watching the end of the successful assault.
However, unfortunately the attack in the centre – which should have secured victory for the British – did not materialise, since the troops who had been ordered to undertake it had been delayed. The French recovered and the fate of the battle hung in the balance. Final success was achieved in the centre by Picton’s 3rd Division, including the 74th, which although intended to be support, made an unorthodox and determined attack which drove the French back after heavy fighting, and led to victory.
At the battle of Vittoria, Piper McLaughlin of the 71st had both his legs shot off by a cannon ball. At his request, his pipes were handed to him and he continued playing to encourage his comrades, until he died.To this gallant man, to Cadogan, and to many other officers and men of the 71st and 74th who fell in battle, Piper John McLelland of the Regiment composed and dedicated the March, ‘The heroes of Vittoria’. It is still played every evening in the Regiment as the officers mess call.
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