Fire & Retire !
First hand accounts from
the Napoleonic Wars.
Hythe, 21st May 1809.My dear Parents — The long-wished-for day has come at last. I am this morning marching, with as fine a body of men as ever left England, for Dover, where we embark. I believe a very great army will accompany us. Our destination is a profound secret, and as I am not inquisitive, it gives me little concern; I daresay I shall soon enough see some diversion. The rumour goes, Austria or Portugal. Our men are in very high spirits, and we have a most excellent band of music and thirty bugle-horns, which through every country village strikes up the old tune, " Over the hills and far away," This, my dear parents, is the happiest moment of my life; and I hope, if I come where there is an opportunity of showing courage, your son will not disgrace the name of a British soldier.
Col. Sibthorp arrived here the other day, and directly sent to speak to me. I waited upon him, and told him it was impossible for me to recall what I had stated to the men who had done me the honour of preferring to be with me and the regiment I was pleased to sanction, to any others. When he found me inflexible, he then felt extremely hurt at frustrating my views; and, to make up for putting a stop to me being gazetted, he immediately wrote to the Commander-in-Chief and begged to recommend me as a very deserving young man, and stated exactly the reasons which induced him to endeavour to stop me entering the Line; he also hoped he would take into consideration the manner I had acted in procuring, entirely through my own exertions, the number of men for His Majesty's service, and have my commission antedated. He said I deserved great credit for my resolution in not being dissuaded from my project, as I had determined to follow the profession of a soldier; and my conduct in his regiment hurt him exceedingly to lose me, but he hoped I should meet with friends wherever I went, and his friendship he should always be proud of showing me at all times. He sent for me to breakfast with him, and before I came away presented me with twenty-five guineas, which just came at a time when I should have been obliged to borrow to equip myself for service. The Colonel recommended me very strongly to the notice of Colonel Beckwith, whom I now have the honour to serve under, and from whom I have received every mark of esteem, with a promise to do me every kindness in his power. I felt some anxiety at leaving my brother officers, who vied with each other in showing their friendship and kindness on all occasions. My Captain gave me an elegant sabre, and another gave me a large cloak - Rifle Men being generally obliged to sleep in the fields (on service), and their cloaks are their beds upon all occasions. I never shall experience more friendship from any set of men. Some will say, pray why do you leave them when you can be so happy (this was my late Colonel's observation), but my reasons I cannot explain to every one. I am confident there would have been little chance of promoting the interests of my family as I was situated; and as a soldier, with perseverance, I must in time have promotion, which will soon enable me to be of use to my family; and at all times it will be my greatest pleasure and pride to take care that the boys go regularly to a good school, and I have no doubt of seeing them one day men of some experience through my interposition.
I have left two large boxes in the stores of the 1st Battalion 95th Regiment at Hythe Barracks. One, which I brought out of Yorkshire with me, is filled with clothes and linen; the other with my bed and bedstead. If I should not return to England again, I think it would be worth your while to have them home, as they would pay the carriage and they could come by sea.
You would see by the newspapers, if you did not hear from me, you may always know where the Regiment was stationed. I deem it necessary to give this notice for fear of mistakes, as, if I happened to be popped off, in my last moments it would be a comfort to me to think I had left you all I was in possession of. Should you not procure my boxes by that means, write to Captain Piatt of the Royal South Lincoln Regiment of Militia, there stationed, and you will at all times be enabled to find out; he will soon forward them to you. Do not laugh at my giving such strict injunctions, as I like to do everything concerning myself methodically, and then I have nothing to fear, Maud,‡ I daresay, will be in this Expedition; if not it may be some time before we meet. As most likely you will have his address, write and tell him I am gone. As soon as I arrive at our destination I shall take the earliest opportunity of letting you have the particular occurrences which may befall me. Until then, farewell.
‡ George Simmons' second brother in 34th Regiment. - Ed.
I have in the Navy a friend who, I expect, will soon be made Captain; and have, if that takes place, a chance to procure a berth for my brothers. Make them good scholars, I have not the least doubt of soon taking them off your hands. I hope you will obey this command, and read this part to Joseph and John, which, if they wish one day to shine in the world, they will now strive to pay every attention.
I have left in my box some letters from Colonel Sibthorp, which I shall feel pleasure another day to read to you, as it is impossible to express the fatherly and friendly manner he has at all times condescended to address me with. Being in such a hurry to embark, it is with some difficulty I have time to address you at all, and I had almost forgotten to mention my dear Ann, who, I hope, will forgive me, and not attribute it to my neglect. My blessing to the children; and, if it pleases God to spare my life, I hope on my return to see you all. My best wishes to uncle, aunt, and friends. — I am affectionately yours,George Simmons.Dover. May 25th.Do not mention my letters, I beg of you. It was a most beautiful sight to see us embark, and the lovely creatures cheering the men as they passed.