Custom revived: Badajov Day, Nottingham

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imageApart from the Tapas Bar in the city centre there might not be many people who would see a connection between Spain and Nottingham, but for the members of the defunct Sherwood Foresters there is a very important link – Badajoz – a small city on the western edge of the country. Why? This is because the regiment commemorate the brave act of Lieutenant James MacPherson of 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment, later to become the Foresters with a simple but important act.

A Day to remember

The 6th April 1812 is a date firmly embedded in the calendar of the Foresters, now amalgamated into the Worcestershire regiment. The day called Badajoz Day. It is a day where the regiment remembers whether away or home by the raising of a red jacket upon a flag pole. Why? The day marks a turning point in the Peninsular War, where after four years of conflict, The Duke of Wellington’s resources and forces were perhaps at a low ebb – Badajoz an important citadel and castle, called the Keys to Spain, but weather and lack of experience amongst the force were stumbling blocks. The Napoleonic forces had the upper hand. The British forces had been there since 16th April but had been thwarted by the might of the French with bombing and constant rounds of fire. Then at 10pm on the 6th, then Easter Sunday, a group of the 45th in Picton’s 3rd division led by the aforementioned James Macpherson placed ladders against the castle to attempt to scale over. However, these were far too short so Macpherson called upon the men to lift him higher upon it. He managed it but was ‘rewarded’ by a musket ball hitting him in the ribs. He fell and landed unconscious in a ditch. Where he failed, a Corporal Kelly was more successful and hearing that the defences had been breached, Arthur Wellesley encouraged the force to fight on. Macpherson, himself recovered and following the men over into the castle captured the Tricolour and raised his own red tunic, as no union flag was available, to show the castle had fallen and that the siege was successful.

Details concerning the enacting of the custom are difficult to trace, but it is thought to have been undertaken every year from that date, certainly the earliest recorded in 1814.  Reports appear of the custom in 1932, and 1947 in the media. The Guardian Journal report on April 8th 1963 ‘The last Sherwood Forester’s Badajoz Day celebrations at Normanton Barracks. It reports:

“On the Sunday a tunic was raised by Sgt Bill Bates who was escorted by two soldiers wearing uniforms of 1812. And while the ceremony took place a bugler sounded the Forester’s Regimental Call.”

I was informed that the custom moved to the Army Recruitment office on Maid Mario Way at some point. The custom apparently ceased in 1970 when the Sherwood Foresters were amalgamated with the Worcestershire regiment. It appears to have been revived in 1999 when it moved to the castle but I am unsure if that is correct.

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Send it up the flag pole and see who salutes it

On the 6th I arrived at the gates at 10 o clock in the morning. A small group of old soldiers were there waiting and after being admitted with the Mayor and a local commanding officer they enter. The event started with a parade of nine old soldiers assembled at the bottom of hills and slowly processed up the hill behind their rolled up banner to the Castle Green where the flag pole had been erected….difficulty that day because of a prevailing wind.

Before the raising of the tunic the citation was read:

“Badajoz Day – 6th April 1812

Badajoz Day marks the successful storming of the Spanish city and castle of Badajoz on 6 April 1812.

On this day, Lieutenant James MacPherson of 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment ran his scarlet jacket up the flagpole when the castle was captured, in the absence of a Union flag.

During the battle Lieutenant James MacPherson was one of the first men to break through onto the castle ramparts. Whilst climbing a ladder up the castle wall he found himself face-to-face with a French soldier. Before MacPherson could offer any resistance he was shot, but the musket ball struck a silver button on his waistcoat and glanced off. MacPherson and his colleagues pressed on and he made his way to the Keep. Once there he tore down the French flag and raised his jacket to let his superiors know that the walls had been scaled.

In 1812, England was at war with France and Badajoz was a fortress town in western Spain, three miles from the Portuguese border.

The capture of this town was said to be vital to both the British and the French as it guarded the vital route to Madrid, central to French control of the Iberian Peninsula.

The 45th Regiment was one of only three Regiments to serve for the duration of the campaign between 1808 and 1814.

The British victory at Badajoz and the part played by Lt MacPherson and the 45th Regiment was crucial to the ultimate victory in the Peninsula War.”

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Then as bugler called the last post the tunic was raised and saluted and a two minute silence undertaken. The soldiers then marched past the post and saluted it. A poignant, little known and unique Nottinghamshire custom..long may these old soldiers remember their regiment and this heroic act.

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