Friday, 7 July 2017

Battle for Fort Belan!

Last week’s blog post was about Fort Belan. I was there to see a display by the Anglesey Hussars and friends – people who spend their weekends re-enacting the Napoleonic wars.

I've met re-enactors through my writing. If you want to describe a Napoleonic battle, you need to talk to a re-enactor. The historian will tell you what the general was planning and why the battle took place where it did, but it's a re-enactor who will give you the best idea of the experience of the man on the ground. (Contemporary accounts like The Recollections of Rifleman Harris are also invaluable.) So I was really excited at the prospect of seeing some of these guys in action.

Besides talking through their uniforms and equipment (I never realised that the braiding on cavalry uniforms could actually protect against a sabre), we were treated to a display of musket drill. Actually, as you can see, there was a range of weapons, including a rifle and a carbine, but the men (and women) performed creditably – though their rate of fire might not have had the French quaking in their boots.

We were shown rather bigger guns, too. Here they are ramming wadding down into one of the cannon that marked off the hours during the afternoon. Sadly, there was no actual cannonball – although ammunition was displayed in the Fort.


Even without an actual cannonball, the amount of wadding that can be discharged is quite impressive. When this 24-pounder was fired, it had to be pointed out to sea.

The muskets and cannon fire black powder. According to their supplier, these re-enactors use more black powder than anybody else in Wales except for quarrymen.

I really like horses, so the chance to get up close with these gorgeous animals and their beautifully turned out riders was a lot of fun.

The horses were not typical of the rather heavier animals that would have been used in Napoleonic warfare, but don't they look lovely? [Since I posted this, someone has picked me up on it, suggesting that they are by no means under-sized. I'm not an expert on horses and I'm not suggesting they're too small - they're probably rather on the big side, but they are unlikely to have the strength of horses back then. To take one example, you can't use even blunt (ball) spurs with them, because their skin damages much more easily than a Napoleonic mount. Horses like this are built for speed more than hard use. But it really isn't my area of expertise and I'd welcome comment from people who know more about it than me.]

I did enjoy watching the riders showing off their skill with sabres.

Take that, Monsieur Frog!

The climax of the day was a skirmish where our brave lads drove the French out of the fort. Artillery covered the infantry as they charged forward.

Presumably Wellington was in command. His views on the cavalry were less than favourable and the horses are being held well back here, while the Navy lead the way into the fort.

It was all great fun. If you are interested in Napoleonic warfare or just want a good afternoon out, I can really recommend a day with the re-enactors.

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