Friday, 8 April 2011

The Northumberland Fusiliers

   This regiment was formed in 1674 to help the Dutch fight the French and given  a succession of names through the years. Originally known as the 'Irish Regiment' under Lord Clare, command was later taken over by a Northumbrian, Sir John Fenwick, a fervent Jacobite who was eventually executed for treason during the reign of William 111. Sir John introduced so many  North Country officers to his new command that the character of  The Fifth Regiment of Foot, 'The Fighting Fifth' or 'The Old and Bold', ceased to be Irish and later asked to be known informally as 'The Northumberland Regiment',  after its Colonel the 2nd Duke of Northumberland. This was some years before all regiments lost their numbers and became geographically oriented. The Fifth was sent to Boston in 1774 and fired some of the first shots at Lexington. The men took part in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown and General Bourgoyne said of them that they "behaved the best and suffered the most."
   The Regiment saw service in India and took part in the Relief of Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-59, when Sergeant Grant and Privates McHale and McManus (the last two names strangely reminiscent of the long-gone Irish Brigade) were awarded Victoria Crosses. Doctor Watson's assertion, in A Study in Scarlet,  that he joined The Northumberland Fusiliers in 1878 (the name given to the Regiment after it was issued with muskets) by travelling up from India to Kandahar is highly unlikely.  The Fusiliers fought on the North West Frontier so he obvously meant to write 'Kabul'. Which meant, of course, an enforced removal to another regiment (The 66th Foot, later known as The Berkshires) if he was to be at The Battle of Maiwand. H.M. Walker in her book The History of the  Northumberland Fusiliers 1674-1902, published by John Murray in 1919, says that instead of taking part in an organised military engagement in Afghanistan the 5th was split up into companies "to hold the forts, guard the road, and bear with cheerfulness the trials of hill warfare with none of the compensations of a good fight."
   During the 20th Century, after serving in Kenya, Borneo, Aden and Suez, the Regiment was merged with two others and became The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. The muskets had long since gone, to be replaced by more modern weapons of war. But the name lives on.

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