Hearts of Oak by Mark Churms.
In January 1793 the 1st Battalion of the 29th Foot leaves Windsor for Hilsea to board Royal Navy fighting ships as there is a shortage of marines. Their new roll is to counter enemy musket fire from the upper decks, to lead boarding parties and to maintain discipline of the crew. They are specially equipped with a new working rig but still retain their full dress red coats and powdered hair (curled locks above the ear are removed) for combat. The regiment joins The British Channel Fleet under Admiral Earl Howe, and detachments are allocated to the following ships of the line; H.M.S. Glory, Thunderer, Alfred, Pegasus and Ramilles. 78 soldiers under the command of Cpt. Alexander Saunders are also placed aboard Captain Harveys 74 gun H.M.S. Brunswick. Howes ships are sent to intercept a fleet, of similar size that has put out from Brest to escort a large convoy of food from America, destined for Revolutionary France. The two fleets make contact but fog prevents an engagement until 1 Oarn on the first day of June 1794. Now, in bright sunshine, the order is given to attack! Brunswick is directly astern of Howes flag ship as the French line is broken. She quickly engages Le Vengeur with which she becomes dangerously entangled. Broadsides are exchanged at point blank range! Sails are shot to ribbons, masts and rigging fall. Grenades, carronades and musketry find their targets and casualties mount. Nevertheless, the ships band, joined by a negro regimental drummer on the quarter deck, keep up moral by playing the new and popular air Hearts Of Oak. The two ships drift helplessly as another French man-of-war, Achille, comes in for the kill but the British gunners deliver such a devastating broadside into this new assailant that she is completely demasted and strikes her colours! In the firefight the figure head, an effigy of the Duke of Brunswick, has its carved wooden hat blown clean away. So, Captain Harvey calmly replaces the loss with his own cocked hat! The captain himself receives a blow to the hand and is subsequently mortally wounded with a section of chain-shot. Cpt. Saunders is killed by a snipers bullet and Lt. Harcourt Vernon (wearing short, non regulation boots to facilitate amputation) is soon wounded as well. The decks are cleared of downed masts and rigging, the dead also go over the side. cl At about one oclock the two interlocked ships are separated by a swell and Harveys brothers ship Ramilles cornes to the Brunsivicks assistance. The crippled Vengeur cannot compete with the skill of English gunnery and the ship is raked from end to end by galling fire. Cheers ring out as she surrenders and hoists the Union Jack. The rest of the French fleet breaks off the engagement. Six of their ships are out of action and Le Vengeur is so very badly holed that she eventually sinks (many of her crew refusing to abandon her. Singing the Marseillaise they re-hoist her battle flag as they slip to their watery grave) This British fleet returns in triumph to Spithead. However, the scene on the Brunswicks splintered poop deck is one of utter devastation. The regiment has 13 officers and men killed, another 18 are wounded and nearly quarter of the ships company is lost. This hard won victory is commemorated by the regiment with Naval Crown (awarded to the regiment in 1909, an honour shared only by the Queens Regiment) and by the adoption of the tune played throughout the height of battle, Hearts of Oak.
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