Modern-day soldiers have been following in their regimental ancestors’ footsteps to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca.
Some 100 personnel from the Rifles, the Royal Dragoon Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Royal Anglian Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment travelled to the Spanish city for a battlefield tour and freedom parade.
All forebear regiments of the Rifles, who led the anniversary celebrations, were represented at the Battle of Salamanca.
Organised by Peninsular War 200 (PW200), the visit gave the troops an insight into the pivotal encounter between the Duke of Wellington’s allied forces and the French Army, commanded by Marshal Marmont, on 22 July 1812.
Wellington’s greatest victory
Considered Wellington’s greatest victory, the battle proved that Napoleon’s Army could be beaten and was the turning point in the six-year Peninsular campaign.
“For a campaign that was only 200 years ago we know so little about it,” said Capt Simon Walker of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
“You can learn so many lessons and so many tactics that were employed back then apply today. It’s a brilliant opportunity for the soldiers to come and see it and learn about it in person.”
The battlefield tour was part of a series of events to commemorate the bicentennial. A plaque dedicated to the memory of those that fell was unveiled on a hill overlooking the battlefield at Arapiles, before a colourful re-enactment of the clash by more than 100 actors in early 19th century uniforms brought history to life.
The day culminated in the Rifles being awarded the freedom of the city of Salamanca. Attended by Gen Sir Nick Parker, Commander Land Forces, the event saw the British soldiers parade alongside Spanish troops from the 11th Engineer Regiment as well as the battle re-enactors.
"threads of history"
Gen Parker presented the city with a silver bugle, the emblem of the Rifles and said the freedom was an “extraordinarily significant honour” for the regiment.
“We take Salamanca very seriously because it’s such a key part of our regimental culture,” he added.
“Visits like this provoke thoughts about the people who preceded us and their acts of bravery and you can relate directly to that in the way that people behave on the battlefield today.
“Coming to places like this links you back into the past, to the threads of history that are so important to us.”
The visit to Salamanca was one of a series of annual events coordinated by PW200 to commemorate the bicentennial of the whole Peninsular War. It followed previous successful trips to Vimeiro in 2008, La Coruña and Talavera in 2009, Buçaco in 2010 and Barrosa and La Albuera in 2011.
“There are three major events left to commemorate,” said Col Nick Lipscombe, Chairman of PW200. “There is Vitoria in June 2013, Nivelle in November 2013 and Toulouse, marking the end of the War in April 1814. We are keen to establish sponsor units for these events.”