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Daniel James - 96th Regiment of Foot - The Story of a Defaced Medal by Bob Barltrop

We are all well aware that medal collectors are not as interested in the condition of the medals in their collections as are coin collectors with their coins, where condition is all important. Indeed some collectors can see a certain attraction in a medal which has some wear on it, as this may indicate that the medal has been worn proudly by the recipient. However there must come a time when the condition of a medal is so bad, or it has been defaced to such a degree, that it ceases to be of interest to collectors. But where is this line drawn?

Some time ago I noticed on a well-known dealer’s list a Military General Service Medal 1793-1814 (MGS) with clasp ‘GUADALOUPE’ to the 96th Regiment of Foot. Being a collector of medals to the 63rd and 96th Regiments of Foot, I was well aware that medals, and particularly MGSs, to the 96th Regiment are very few and far between. Only 19 MGSs, all with the single clasp ‘GUADALOUPE’, were awarded to the 96th Regiment and, in over 30 years of collecting, I have only noted four such medals as still being in existence.Medal of Daniel James

The medal was described as having ‘Brooch marks on obverse; Reverse removed and engraved with the initials ‘EJ’ (which we presume are his wife’s) surrounded by an attractive leaf design’ but it was priced accordingly and so I decided to buy it. When the medal arrived, I noted that it was impressed correctly to ‘DANL JAMES. CORPL 96TH FOOT.’ but initially I was somewhat disappointed by its condition, particularly by the brooch marks on the obverse, but nonetheless I decided to find out what I could about Daniel James and his time in the 96th.

The 96th Regiment of Foot was formed in February 1803 when the 2nd Battalion 52nd Regiment was renumbered the 96th. At this time Major General Sir John Moore was colonel of the 52nd and in a letter to General Brownrigg concerning these changes he said:

The service of Light Infantry does not so much require men of stature as it requires them to be intelligent, handy and active, and they should in the first instance be young, or they will neither take to the service nor be easily instructed by it.1

As a result of Major General Sir John Moore’s views the grenadiers and the taller soldiers of the 52nd were transferred to the newly formed 96th Regiment. After a short time at Chatham the 96th moved to Ireland where it remained until January 1805 when it was sent to the West Indies. However, demand for troops was such that a second battalion was soon required and this was formed before the end of 1803. Initially the 2nd Battalion was stationed at Llandovery before it moved to Haverfordwest and then on to Gloucester. From Gloucester the 2nd Battalion moved back to Hungerford in January 1808, then to Bexhill and on to Jersey in July 1809, where it appears to have remained until it was disbanded in 1815.

Daniel James was born in Newport, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire around 1783. After working as a labourer, he enlisted for ‘unlimited service’ in the 2nd Battalion 96th Regiment of Foot at Bristol on 21 August 1807. One can only speculate as to why he decided to join the 96th; perhaps it was because some of his friends had joined the regiment two years earlier when it also had been stationed in Haverfordwest. He was given the rank of private and his pay was 1/- a day. On 25 October 1807 he joined the rest of the battalion at Hungerford and was assigned to Capt Donald McGregor’s company. Pte James remained in Hungerford until 2nd March 1808 when he and a large group of others were transferred from the 2nd Battalion to the 1st Battalion of the 96th.

At this time the 1st Battalion of the 96th Regiment was in the West Indies where it had been posted in order to protect British colonies there, following the outbreak of the Napoleonic War. After landing in Barbados in 1805, the 96th had moved to Antigua in June 1805 and then to St Croix in June 1808. It was here that Pte James joined his new battalion on 16 June 1808. He was assigned to Capt Lavricourt’s company and his pay was 6d a day. Pte James moved to Capt George Cooke’s company at the end of 1808 and to No 3 Company from the end of 1809.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French colonies provided protected harbours for French privateers and warships which would prey on the numerous British trade routes in the Caribbean and then return to their safe harbours before British warships could react. In response, the Royal Navy instigated a blockade of the French islands, stationing ships off many ports and seizing any vessel that tried to enter or leave. With trade and communication made very difficult by the British blockade, the economies and the morale of the French colonies began to collapse and, in the summer of 1808, desperate messages were sent to France requesting aid. However, despite repeated efforts, the French navy failed to reinforce and adequately resupply their garrisons as their ships were intercepted and defeated, either in European waters or in the Caribbean itself. Also the British had launched a series of successful invasions during 1809, until Guadeloupe was the only French colony remaining in the Americas.

Whilst stationed on St Croix, Pte James and the 96th were made ready to take part in the capture of Guadaloupe in 1810. A British expeditionary force, including the 96th landed on Guadaloupe on 28 January 1810 and found that much of the island's militia garrison had deserted. Advancing from two landing beaches on opposite sides of the island, the British were able to rapidly push inland. It was not until they were outside the capital, Basse-Terre that the expeditionary force faced strong opposition. In a battle lasting for most of 3 February, the French were defeated and driven back. The island's commander surrendered the following day. Pte James and the 96th soon returned to St Croix where they remained until the middle of 1815.

Pte James was promoted to corporal on 17 June 1811 and his pay was increased from 6d to 10d a day but he was reduced to private again on 26 September 1811 and his pay was cut. However he was returned to the rank of corporal on 28 November. Cpl James had his pay increased by 1d a day on the completion of ‘7 years of service’ on 25 July 1812 (despite only having served for five years at this stage). Cpl James was again reduced to the rank of private on 3 February 1813 but he was returned to corporal on 19 June 1813. He was promoted to sergeant on 1/4d a day on 13 November but was demoted to private again and his pay cut to 7d a day on 13 March 1814.

Martinique, having been captured by the British during the war, was handed back to the French under the Treaty of Paris in April 1814. However, following Napoleon’s escape from Elba, there was considerable unrest in the West Indies and at the end of May 1815 Pte James and the 96th were part of the force under Lt General Sir J. Leith sent to re-occupy the island, as the majority of French officers there had shown themselves loyal to Napoleon. While in Martinique Pte James was again promoted to the rank of corporal on 11 October 1815 and to sergeant again on 11 April 1816. With the reduction in the size of the army following the end of the Napoleonic War after Waterloo, the 96th Regiment of Foot was renumbered the 95th on 2 February 1816 when the 95th Rifles became part of the Rifle Brigade.

Sgt James and the 95th Foot returned to Portsmouth from Martinique towards the end of July 1816. From there they had a seven day march to Chatham, between 12 and 18 September. Whilst at Chatham Sgt James was again reduced to private on 29 October. Soon Pte James and the 95th were on the move again with a 12 day march to Nottingham in November 1816. Whilst the main body of the regiment remained at Nottingham, Pte James marched to Dudley ‘on command’ where he remained until March 1817 when he moved to Wolverhampton, then to Shrewsbury in June, to Wenlock in July and back to Shrewsbury in August. Whilst here Pte James’s pay was increased by 1d a day, as he had ‘completed 14 years servitude’ (despite only having served for ten years at this time). Then, following a six day march back to Nottingham, Pte James re-joined the rest of his regiment in September.

In January 1818 Pte James and the regiment marched to Chester where Pte James was promoted to corporal on 11th March and his pay increased to 1/6d a day. Although the rest of the regiment moved to Sunderland in the summer, Cpl James remained in Chester but with a week in Warrington in September. It was not until October that Cpl James made the 12 day, 170 miles, march to Sunderland arriving there on 22 October 1818.

It was here on 10th December 1818 that the regiment was disbanded. Many men were transferred to other regiments but Cpl Daniel James was ‘invalided’ out of the army on 2 December but paid until 20 December 1818. On 17 March 1819 he was finally discharged as a Chelsea Out Pensioner ‘in consequence of the disbandment of the regiment and a diseased enlargement of both testicles contracted in the service’. His general conduct as a soldier was described as ‘good’ despite his repeated reductions to private from corporal and sergeant. He was described as being about 36 years old, 5’8” tall, with fair hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion. Cpl James signed his discharge papers with his mark – an ‘X’. He had served with ‘the Colours’ for 11 years and 209 days; as a sergeant for one year 73 days, a corporal for five years and 134 days and a private for five years and two days. Of this total, eight years and 57 days had been served in the West Indies, which appears to have counted as double and a half time towards his pension which was based on total service of 24 years and was paid at 1/1½d per day in 1819.

It would appear that Daniel James returned to his home town of Haverfordwest in South Wales because in the last quarter of 1838 he married Elizabeth Williams in Haverfordwest and in the 1841 census they are shown as living at Uzmaston, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. He is shown as being 58 years old and a labourer and army pensioner. She is shown as being 60 years old.

In 1847 Daniel James would have applied for, and was awarded, his Military General Service Medal 1793-1814 with clasp ‘GUADALOUPE’. He would have received his medal the following year but he had little time to enjoy it because on 11 December 1849 Daniel James died of ‘natural decay’. Whether just before his death, because he probably had very few occasions on which to wear his medal, Daniel James had it converted into a brooch for his wife, with the obverse being completelyReverse of Daniels James medal erased and her initials ‘EJ’ (Elizabeth James) ornately engraved or whether Elizabeth James had it so engraved after his death to keep as a memento of her dear departed husband, we shall never know. However what we do know is that Daniel James’s medal was hard won by him and, no doubt, greatly appreciated by his wife.

In hindsight I think it is a shame that Daniel James’s MGS has been defaced to such a degree but it is still the medal that he was awarded and it still has a story to tell. We are always interested in what leads up to the award of a particular medal but often what happened to a medal after its award can also have its own separate story.

Military General Service Medals 1793-1814 awarded to the 96th Regiment of Foot – all with clasp ‘GUADALOUPE’2

Adams H.B.B. Capt
Bromage, Joseph Pte
Collins, John Pte
Davies, Henry Pte
Edwards, Robert3
Evans, Lewis Pte
Evans, William Cpl Museum of the Manchester Regiment
Gilbert, James Pte
James, Daniel Cpl Author’s collection
Lewellyn, John Pte
Longlands, John Sgt Museum of the Manchester Regiment
Lott, William Drummer
Parker, James Pte DNW 2007. Known in a private collection
Pickles, James
Porter, James Pte
Raftree, Michael Pte
Rees, David Pte
Rope, Joseph Pte
Sealy, William Drummer

The author of this article would be interested to hear of any other MGSs to the 96th which may still be in existence.

Notes:

  1. Colonel H.C. Wylly CB. History of The Manchester Regiment (Late The 63rd and 96th Foot), 1923
  2. WO100/8 & 9
  3. Appears in WO100/8 but not in WO100/9

Sources:

  • WO97/1033 Soldiers’ Discharge Papers
  • WO12/9652 & 9595-9598 Muster Rolls 96th and 95th Foot
  • WO120/29 Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Regimental Registers of Pensioners
  • WO121/202 Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners
  • Census 1841

This article is reproduced here by kind permission of Mr Bob Barltrop and the Orders and Medals Research Society (It appeared in the September 2012 edition of the OMRS Journal).