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ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

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ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby Mark » December 29th, 2011, 1:04 pm

The following article is intended to be a brief introduction to the Military General Service Medal that was awarded to British soldiers in recognition of their service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It is not comprehensive but should give the reader, who is new to the subject, a basic understanding of the medal. However, if you feel anything should be added or corrected please do so by replying to this thread with the information below.

British Military General Service Medal

The British Military General Service Medal (often referred to as the MGS or MGSM in medal collecting circles) was instituted on the 1st June 1847 to recognise service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1793 to 1814 (service in the Hundred Days campaign of 1815 was covered by the Waterloo Medal) as well as the War of 1812. It was intended for issue to the veterans of British Army since the Royal Navy had the Naval General Service Medal instituted in the same year (although a handful of Royal Navy and Royal Marines did in fact receive it.) Service in India for the period 1803 to 1826 was later recognised by the Army of India Medal instituted in 1851. The Military General Service Medal was, therefore, restricted to those who served on land during the period of 1793 to 1814 with the exception of India.

The obverse of the medal bears the head of Queen Victorian designed by Wyon while the reverse depicts the Queen placing victor’s laurels on to the head of a kneeling Duke of Wellington. The reverse also bears the description “TO THE BRITISH ARMY” at the top and the dates “1793-1814” in the exergue below. The medal was made of silver with the disc having a diameter of 36mm. The ribbon followed the same pattern as previously used for the Waterloo Medal, being crimson with dark blue edges, but of a narrower width of 31mm.

Some twenty-nine battle clasps were authorised for this medal and multi-clasp medals are commonly encountered. The maximum number of clasps authorised for any one medal was fifteen with the minimum being one – the medal was never issued without a clasp! The clasps were (in chronological order):

Egypt
Maida
Roleia
Vimiera
Sahagun
Benevente
Sahagun and Benevente
Corunna
Martinique
Talavera
Guadaloupe
Busaco
Barrosa
Fuentes D'Onor
Albuhera
Java
Ciudad Rodrigo
Badajoz
Salamanca
Fort Detroit
Chateauguay
Chrysler's Farm
Vittoria
Pyrenees
St Sebastien
Nivelle
Nive
Orthes
Toulouse

Interestingly the earliest clasp awarded was Egypt for Abercromby’s expedition in 1801 despite the reverse of the medal bearing the date 1793.

After the Hundred Days campaign, and Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, the British instituted the Waterloo medal in 1815 which was awarded to both officers and enlisted men alike for the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. Despite this no similar medal was instituted to recognise the service of junior officers and enlisted men (senior officers received the Army Gold Cross and Medal) who had fought in the Peninsular War or the War of 1812 and elsewhere during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars prior to 1815. As such many veterans of these wars felt they were unjustly left unrecognised for their part in the defeat of Napoleon. It was not until the late 1840s that it was finally decided to institute a medal to remedy this thanks to the efforts of the 5th Duke of Richmond, who led a campaign in Parliament, and the Queen’s attempts at persuading a rather reluctant Duke of Wellington to create the medal. However, because the medal had to be claimed by surviving veterans (next of kin of the deceased were not allowed to apply except where the claimant had died after submitting the application but before the medal was issued), between 32 to 46 years after the events for which it recognised, many had since died due to the passage of time. In addition the institution and the application process of this medal were published in written form with many of the veterans being illiterate. As a result of these factors this medal is relatively scarce in relation to the number of men who fought during the period. It is believed around 25,650 applications were made.

Military_General_Service_Medal_Pagett_38th_Foot_Obverse.jpg
Military_General_Service_Medal_Pagett_38th_Foot_Obverse.jpg (41.41 KiB) Viewed 5104 times


Military_General_Service_Medal_Pagett_38th_Foot_Reverse.jpg
Military_General_Service_Medal_Pagett_38th_Foot_Reverse.jpg (37.55 KiB) Viewed 5104 times


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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby paulb » September 8th, 2013, 11:39 am

Hi

Read your article found it very interesting. my 3rd great grandfather did not receive a medal,
as he died in 1816, and none of has family could claim his medal, (as none could read or write or entitled )

Henry Boldison was my 3rd great grandfather ( was 2nd Regiment Life Guards )


Military
1813 21 Jun Age: 22
Northern Spain to the South of Bilbao, Battle of Vitoria
The Battle of Vitoria, Peninsular War Date: 21st June 1813,
in Northern Spain to the South of Bilbao, Combatants: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French


Add Media


Military
1813 1 Jul Age: 22
Northern Spain to the South of Bilbao, Battle of Vitoria
Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents. WO97 Henry Boldison lost use of his limbs by cold occasioned by cold"

He 10 Jan 1816 Age: 24 Killinghall Ripley Yorkshire England



Found this very useful, its a shame that family could not claim the medal.

PaulB
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby Mark » September 9th, 2013, 7:59 pm

Hi Paul

Glad you like the article. The photos above are of an example to a soldier in the 38th Foot of which less than 250 veterans of the Regiment claimed the MGSM. This is in contrast to almost 3,000 that fought with the two battalions of the 38th in the Peninsular War. Like your ancestor many were either long since deceased or couldn't read the advert for claiming the medal.

An updated version of this article can be found on my blog: http://marksimner.me.uk/the-military-ge ... 1793-1814/

Mark
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby paulb » September 10th, 2013, 6:05 pm

Thanks very much Mark.

Its a shame that the family could not have claimed the medal on Henry Boldison behalf, such as his daughter or grand daughter which was my mother grand mother. Do you know were replica could be purchase, i have not seen any full size replicas of this medal (only photos ). My kids would have loved to have seen the Medal Henry could have received, if he'd have lived to claim it.

Thanks again for you reply

Regards

Paul
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby Mark » September 10th, 2013, 7:00 pm

I think Worcestershire Medal Services (http://www.worcmedals.com/) stock replicas of this medal. They also frame medals if you want to make a nice display.

Mark
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby paulb » September 10th, 2013, 7:51 pm

Thanks Mark.

I have Henry Boldison (or Boltison ) Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents. WO97 Henry Boldison

Could i ask you a couple of question's on this two page record.

Paul
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby Mark » September 10th, 2013, 7:57 pm

Paul

Always feel free to ask questions on the forum.

Mark :)
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby paulb » September 10th, 2013, 8:10 pm

Thanks Mark

I only have two questions

I only have two pages of his Royal Hospital Chelsea record : Soldiers Service Documents. WO97

do you think it worth applying to the household cavalry museum to see if they have more info in-terms of a full service record ?


What do you think this could mean ( Henry was wounded at Battle of Vittoria )

Henry Boldison lost use of his limbs by cold ( Bilboa Spain) ? this was on his Royal Hospital Chelsea record,
he was in Captain Jackson troop.

Paul
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby Banker » September 11th, 2013, 5:25 am

Hi Paul, The Battle of Vittoria:

At the Battle of Vittoria (21 June 1813) an allied British, Portuguese, and Spanish army under General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain, leading to eventual victory in the Peninsular War.

In July 1812, after the Battle of Salamanca, the French had evacuated Madrid, which Wellington's army entered on 12 August 1812. Deploying three divisions to guard the capital's southern approaches, Wellington then marched north with the rest of his army to lay siege to the fortress of Burgos, 140 miles (230 km) away, but he had underestimated the enemy's strength, and on 21 October he had to abandon the Siege of Burgos and retreat. By 31 October he had abandoned Madrid too, and retreated first to Salamanca then finally to Ciudad Rodrigo, near the Portuguese frontier,to avoid encirclement by French armies from the north-east and south-east.

Wellington spent the winter reorganising and strengthening his forces. By contrast, Napoleon withdrew many French soldiers to rebuild his main army after his disastrous invasion of Russia. The following year, Wellington marched 121,000 troops (53,749 British, 39,608 Spanish, and 27,569 Portuguese) from northern Portugal across the mountains of northern Spain and the Esla River, by 20 May 1813, to outflank Marshal Jourdan's army of 68,000 who were strung out between the Douro and the Tagus. The French retreated to Burgos, with Wellington's forces marching hard to cut them off from the road to France. Wellington himself commanded the small central force in a strategic feint, while Sir Thomas Graham conducted the bulk of the army around the French right flank over landscape considered impassable.

Wellington launched his attack at Vitoria on 21 June, in four columns. After hard fighting, Thomas Picton's 3rd Division broke the enemy's centre and soon the French defence crumbled. About 5,000 French soldiers were killed or wounded and 3,000 were taken prisoner, while Wellington's forces suffered about 5,000 killed or wounded. 152 cannons were captured, but King Joseph Bonaparte narrowly escaped. The battle led to the collapse of Napoleonic rule in Spain.
The battlefield centres on the Zadorra River, which runs from east to west. As the Zadorra runs west, the river loops into a hairpin bend, finally swinging generally to the southwest. On the south of the battlefield are the Heights of La Puebla. To the northwest is the mass of Monte Arrato. Vitoria stands to the east, two miles (3 km) south of the Zadorra. Five roads radiate from Vitoria as follows, north to Bilbao, northeast to Salinas and Bayonne, east to Salvatierra, south to Logroño and west to Burgos on the south side of the Zadorra.

Plans
Jourdan was ill with a fever all day on 20 June. Because of this, few orders were issued and the French forces stood idle. An enormous wagon train of booty clogged the streets of Vitoria. A convoy left Vitoria during the night, but it had to leave the siege artillery behind because there were not enough draft animals to pull the cannons.
Gazan's divisions guarded the narrow western end of the Zadorra valley, deployed south of the river. Maransin's brigade was posted in advance, at the village of Subijana. The divisions were disposed with Leval on the right, Daricau in the center, Conroux on the left and Villate in reserve. Only a picket guarded the western extremity of the Heights of La Puebla.
Further back, D'Erlon's force stood in a second line, also south of the river. D'Armagnac's division deployed on the right and Cassagne's on the left. D'Erlon failed to destroy three bridges near the river's hairpin curve and posted Avy's weak cavalry division to guard them. Reille's men originally formed a third line, but Sarrut's division was sent north of the river to guard the Bilbao road while Lamartinière's division and the Spanish Royal Guard units held the river bank.
Wellington directed Hill's 20,000-man Right Column to drive the French from the Zadorra defile on the south side of the river. While the French were preoccupied with Hill, Wellington's Right Centre column would move along the north bank of the river and cross the river near the hairpin bend behind the French right flank.

Graham's 20,000-man Left Column was sent around the north side of Monte Arrato. This force would drive down the Bilbao road, cutting off the bulk of the French army. Dalhousie's Left Centre column would cut across Monte Arrato and strike the river east of the hairpin, providing a link between Graham and Wellington.

Battle
Coming up the Burgos road, Hill sent Morillo's Division to the right on a climb up the Heights of La Puebla. Stewart's 2nd Division began deploying to the left in the narrow plain just south of the river. Seeing these moves, Gazan sent Maransin forward to drive Morillo off the heights. Hill moved Col. Henry Cadogan's brigade of the 2nd Division to assist Morillo. Gazan responded by committing Villatte's reserve division to the battle on the heights.
About this time, Gazan first spotted Wellington's column moving north of the Zadorra to turn his right flank. He asked Jourdan, now recovered from his fever, for reinforcements. Having become obsessed with the safety of his left flank, the marshal refused to help Gazan. Instead, he ordered some of D'Erlon's troops to guard the Logroño road.
Wellington thrust James Kempt's brigade of the Light Division across the Zadorra at the hairpin. At the same time, Stewart took Subijana and was counterattacked by two of Gazan's divisions. On the heights, Cadogan was killed, but the Anglo-Spanish force managed to hang on to their foothold. Wellington suspended his attacks to allow Graham's column time to make an impression and a lull descended on the battlefield.

At noon, Graham's column appeared on the Bilbao road. Jourdan immediately realised he was in danger of envelopment and ordered Gazan to pull back toward Vitoria. Graham drove Sarrut's division back across the river, but could not force his way across the Zadorra despite bitter fighting. Farther east, Longa's Spanish troops defeated the Spanish Royal Guards and cut the road to Bayonne.
With some help from Kempt's brigade, Picton's 3rd Division from Dalhousie's column crossed to the south side of the river. According to Picton, the enemy responded by pummeling the 3rd with 40 to 50 cannon and a counter-attack on their right flank (which was still open because they had captured the bridge so quickly) causing the 3rd to lose 1,800 men (over one third of all Allied losses at the battle) as they held their ground. Cole's 4th Division crossed farther west. With Gazan on the left and D'Erlon on the right, the French attempted a stand at the village of Arinez. Formed in a menacing line, the 4th, Light, 3rd and 7th Divisions soon captured this position. The French fell back to the Zuazo ridge, covered by their well-handled and numerous field artillery. This position also fell to Wellington's attack when Gazan refused to cooperate with his colleague D'Erlon.

Soon, French morale collapsed and the soldiers of Gazan and D'Erlon ran for it. Artillerists left their guns behind as they fled on the trace horses. Soon the road was jammed with a mass of wagons and carriages. The efforts of Reille's two divisions, holding off Graham, allowed tens of thousands of French troops to escape by the Salvatierra road.

Aftermath
The Allied army lost about 5,000 men. By nationality, there were 3,675 British, 921 Portuguese and 562 Spanish casualties. French losses totaled at least 5,200 killed and wounded, plus 2,800 men and 151 cannon captured. By army, the losses were South 4,300, Centre 2,100 and Portugal 1,600. There were no casualty returns from the Royal Guard or the artillery
French losses were not higher for several reasons. First, the Allied army had already marched 20 miles (32 km) that morning and was in no condition to pursue. Second, Reille's men valiantly held off Graham's column. Third, the valley by which the French retreated was narrow and well-covered by the 3rd Hussar and the 15th Dragoon Regiments acting as rearguard. Last, the French left their booty behind.

Many British soldiers turned aside to plunder the abandoned French wagons, containing "the loot of a kingdom". It is estimated that over one million pounds of booty (perhaps £100 million in modern equivalence) was seized, but the gross abandonment of discipline caused an enraged Wellington to write in a dispatch to Earl Bathurst, "We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers". The British general also vented his fury on a new cavalry regiment, writing, "The 18th Hussars are a disgrace to the name of soldier, in action as well as elsewhere; and I propose to draft their horses from them and send the men to England if I cannot get the better of them in any other manner."(On 8 April 1814, the 18th redeemed their reputation in a gallant charge at Croix d'Orade, shortly before the Battle of Toulouse.)
Order was soon restored, and by December, after detachments had seized San Sebastián and Pamplona, Wellington's army was encamped in France.

Regards Steve
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Re: ARTICLE | British Military General Service Medal

Postby Mark » September 11th, 2013, 4:39 pm

paulb wrote:Thanks Mark

I only have two questions

I only have two pages of his Royal Hospital Chelsea record : Soldiers Service Documents. WO97

do you think it worth applying to the household cavalry museum to see if they have more info in-terms of a full service record ?


What do you think this could mean ( Henry was wounded at Battle of Vittoria )

Henry Boldison lost use of his limbs by cold ( Bilboa Spain) ? this was on his Royal Hospital Chelsea record,
he was in Captain Jackson troop.

Paul


Hi Paul

I doubt the museum has any additional service records for him. These are kept at the National Archives and many are available online on Find My Past. It may well be only the two pages have survived. That said the museum may have other material that mentions or is linked to your man which might be of use. It can be a long and fruitless search but sometimes a gem or two turn up. I am a believer in research never ends so I would ask them.

As to his wounds I am guessing he was wounded in action at the Battle of Vittoria (see Steve's fantastic post above). Exactly how he was wounded is unknown - maybe shot by a musket ball or hit by shot from a cannon etc. His loss of use of limbs by the cold will most likely not have occurred during battle but in a more routine part of life as a soldier on campaign.

Mark
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