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Fusiliers by Mark Urban

By Mark Urban

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Many young officers lately acquired the rank of major by purchase,’ the old captains complained, adding that others who had only recently become captains ‘are likely soon to succeed to the same preferments’. Could not the general do something about their claims for promotion after such long service? Another hard-done-by captain who had written to the general complained that ‘nothing is more mortifying to an old soldier, than to be commanded by a number of inexperienced young boys (which is often the case on our service)’.

The Fusiliers’ allegiance was symbolised by these two flags – to their monarch naturally, and to the army in which their place was precisely fixed by the number, colour and badges on the Colonel’s Colour. The men following those flags understood that they were being asked to uphold the fine reputation that the 23rd had garnered during its first eighty-five years of service. Captain Lieutenant Thomas Mecan marched with the colonel’s or senior company. An Irishman (these days his name would be usually written McCann), he was, like Mackenzie, a veteran of the Seven Years War that produced epic battles in Europe where the 23rd had burnished its reputation thirteen years earlier.

Certainly, I found myself frustrated during years of searching for a book that addressed the redcoats’ experience of the war, telling me about the fortunes of a single group of men or the effect of this long painful fight on the army’s development. As for the distortions in British telling of this history, these tend to emerge from political and class dynamics. Since the war was a cause supported enthusiastically only by ultra-Tories it has often been portrayed by the Whig or liberal school of history as a gigantic act of folly.

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