George Simmons, the writer of the following letters
George Simmons, the writer of the following letters
and journals, was born on 2nd May 1785. His
parents resided at Beverley, in Yorkshire. The
family consisted of nine sons and three daughters.
Since some of their names constantly recur in
Simmons's letters, a brief account of them will be useful.
Maud, the second son, obtained a commission in the 34th Foot in 1809. The third,
Joseph, after beginning life as an attorney's clerk,
joined his eldest brother's corps, the 95th Rifles,
as a Volunteer in 1812, and shortly afterwards was
granted a commission in it. All three brothers
served in the Peninsular War. The fourth brother,
John, appears to have been a source of some trouble
to his parents, and eventually ran away from home
and entered the Mercantile Marine. His career
at sea was a brief one. His ship was very soon
attacked and captured by a French privateer, and he was killed in the engagement.
The daughters, especially the second, Ann, "My dear Ann
many a letter, were the object of constant solicitude
to George, and of much good advice and many anxious forebodings.
These details of the family are rendered necessary by the fact that for some cause or
other the eldest brother appears to have constituted
himself as the adviser and protector, and to some
extent the supporter, of his parents. His father
seems to have been in extremely straitened
circumstances, and to have lacked the capability of looking after his family.
George was evidently a very steady young fellow, and, realising that his
father was unable to fight the battle of life, he set to
work and studied medicine with a view to being able
to support his parents. In 1805, when Napoleon's
threatened invasion had caused all the manhood of
England to enrol themselves for the defence of
the country, George was given a commission as
Assistant-Surgeon in the Royal South Lincolnshire
Militia, commanded by Colonel Waldo-Sibthorp,
M.P. In this corps he served for nearly four
years, and during that time gained the friendship
of his Colonel, who subsequently assisted him in various ways.
The Lincoln Militia were quartered in Hythe
Barracks in the spring of 1809, as were both
Battalions of the 95th Rifles. The latter were in
a very shattered condition, having only recently
returned from the disastrous campaign of Coruña.
In order to fill up their depleted ranks, volunteers
were called for from the Militia, and every Militia
officer who could induce a hundred men to join the service was granted a commission.
No difficulty, however, was experienced in obtaining recruits for
" as they were styled. Although
a very "young
" regiment, having been raised only
nine years previously, the peculiar nature of their
arm - the rifle - and their exceptionally active employment, coupled with the fact that they had
ab-eady made their name at Copenhagen under
Lord Nelson, at Monte Video, and only recently at
Roliça, Vimeiro, and Corufia, caused many more to
volunteer for service in their ranks than could be taken.
In the words of Sir William Cope, the historian
of the Rifle Brigade: -
The regiment had already became so famous and
popular, that not only were the deficiencies filled up in a
very short time, but more than a thousand volunteers
presented themselves beyond the numbers required. It was
therefore resolved by the Authorities to add a 3rd Battalion to the regiment.
George Simmons, partly for reasons already given,
but no doubt also owing to strong military instincts
and a true British desire to "fight the French,
easily induced a number of his Militiamen to
volunteer for the Rifles, and thereby became entitled
to a second-lieutenant's commission himself -
there were no "ensigns
" in the Rifles in those days.
It was at this juncture that his friend and benefactor,
Colonel Sibthorp, unwilling to lose his Assistant-Surgeon,
and doubting the wisdom of his going out
to Portugal amid the circumstances, made use of
influence at the Horse Guards to cause the issue of
the commission to be delayed, trusting that, with
time for reflection, George might be induced to abandon his project.
Our history opens with a letter from George in
May 1809 to his parents at Beverley, announcing
that he is about to embark at Dover for Portugal with
the 1st Battalion 95th Rifles, and recounting Colonel
Sibthorp's well-meant but inopportune efforts to
retain his services in the Militia.
It will be seen that one of his chief reasons for
quitting the Militia and joining the Army was "the
interests of his family,
" to whom he hoped to be of
use; he wished "to assist the boys to go to school.
There is something very touching, albeit at the
same time painfully incongruous, in worthy George
Simmons's unceasing efforts thus to assist his family
with small remittances from his hardly-won pay as a
subaltern. To us soldiers of the end of the century
the idea of a young man seeking a commission with
a view to supporting his parents and assisting in the
education of his brothers and sisters is so supremely
absurd that at first one is inclined to look upon
George as a well-meaning visionary.
Facts, however, disprove the suspicion. Readers of these letters will
learn how throughout the six campaigns in the Peninsula
between 1809 and 1814, and also during and
after the Waterloo campaign, Lieutenant Simmons,
although thrice very severely wounded and put to
much expense, managed constantly to remit a portion
of his pay, and no inconsiderable portion of good
advice as well, to his parents, who were sadly in need of both.
The letters in this volume are truthful accounts,
written from many a bivouac and battlefield in
Portugal, Spain, France, and Belgium, of the daily
experiences of a young British officer taking his part
in the great wars which were the main cause of
Napoleon's downfall. Only now and then, where
George Simmons has alluded to family matters of an
entirely private nature, has it been considered desirable to excise the latter.
But his views, correct or the reverse, of the military situation of the moment, his
opinions of his chiefs and contemporaries, his anxieties
about the welfare of his parents, brothers, and sisters,
and his unceasing efforts to aid them, all forming as
they do an integral part of his daily work, thoughts,
and aspirations, have been left absolutely untouched.
To readers unacquainted with military matters
it may be explained that these letters and journals
claim to possess additional interest, since they are
written by an officer who happened to belong to
a regiment which saw more fighting in the Peninsula
than any other in the British Army.
Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.