Reminiscences of a Hundred Years Ago

The following article appeared in the “Sussex Chronicle” on 2nd August 1913.

Royalty at Bexhill

Reminiscences of a Hundred Years Ago

In June 1805, H. R. H. The Duke of Cambridge, seventh son of King George III, and father of the Duke of Cambridge who for so many years was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, was the guest of General Don, then in command of the large body of troops stationed at Bexhill. He had previously visited Battle Abbey and inspected on the grounds thereat the First Battalion of the German Legion. The following day, being Sunday, His Royal Highness attended Divine service at Bexhill, the service on that occasion the in German. The hymns were sung by an immense vocal throng, aided by fifty instruments.

Another visit of the Duke of Cambridge to Bexhill was on the 17th of June, when the German Legion will again called to arms from Bexhill and Battle to Crowhurst, and they once more engaged in mimic warfare.

The Duke afterwards inspected the Martello Towers, then in progress of erection. He returned to Bexhill after the inspection and dined with Major-General Don, who was in command of the troops.

On the 29th of September in the same year a review was held, first in Crowhurst Park, next at Bexhill, and lastly at Eastbourne. This triple review of troops took place in the presence and under the nominal command of H. R. H. The Duke of York, H. R. H. The Duke of Cambridge, and H. R. H. The Duke of Clarence, and, also, the Prince of Wales (afterwards King George IV). A fortnight passed and then (October 11th, 1805) the German Legion at Bexhill received orders to march to Dover en route for the Continent, where it took part in the war them proceeding.

On the 14th of January, 1805, it was reported that the new barracks at Bexhill was giving great satisfaction, and that the sick list, in consequence of the healthiness of the situation, was the smallest proportion to the number of troops in the kingdom. It was a great contrast between the condition of the troops at Bexhill to that of those at Winchelsea and other places on the South Coast.

It is further stated that when the mess room and guard houses were completed the said barracks will form a good-looking town. The parade or officers’ street was nearly 200 feet wide and thousand feet long.

By the 25th of January, the buildings were sufficiently finished as to enable the officers of the Kings German Legion to give an elegant ball in complement to their commanding officer, Major-General Don, and his family. Invitations were also sent to the neighbouring gentry, yeoman and others.

Two of the new huts, united by an improvised covered passage and handsomely decorated were used for the occasion. The corridor was made to look like an orange grove, hung with real fruit, there being also two colonnades supported by pillars on its side, thus exhibiting a display of exquisite taste. The whole of the interior was brilliantly lighted and their excellent band of music was employed. English dances and waltzes, and the newly adopted French quadrilles, were engaged in with the greatest zest.

Also, that the privates who had assisted might have some enjoyment, the officers treated them with 1000 quarts of the best beer and a few other indulgences. The gay festival was held professedly in honour of the birthday anniversary of Queen Charlotte.

On the 4th June, 1805, in celebration of the King’s birthday, there was a grand review of pseudo-battle. It was planned and carried out under the supreme command of Major-General Don, of the King’s German Legion, then at Bexhill. Two miles of troops reached across from Pelham’s Tent to Bulverhythe Bay, flanked by four troops of the Prince of Wales Light Dragoons.

The batteries were manned by about 300 of the Hastings Fencibles, under the direction of Capt. Isaac Schomberg, R.N., and from these batteries the mimic war commenced at noon by the belching of Canon and a running fire of musketry. This was thrice performed for scenic effect. Then commenced the sham fight in earnest, a portion of the troops attacking an invading force.

The entire force under arms at Bexhill, Bulverhythe and the district was fifteen thousand men.

On the 28th October the same year the news of Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar was received to Bexhill. Then the government hoped that the Martello Towers would not be required and although they were in a forward state, the work for a time was stopped.

Another noteworthy fact in or about 1805 was the presence of the Duke of Wellington (then Marquis Wellesley) at Hastings, he being in command of the brigade. He periodically visit the officers and troops and kept herself in touch with the military arrangements at Bexhill.

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