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"The Fighting Fortieth"

The Fighting Fortieth is a very famous regiment that had its birth here in Nova Scotia, in 1717. Upon his arrival, Governor Philipps was finally to take up an "on hands control" of his regiment. The very first name of a number of names which the "40th" had over the years, was, the "Philipps's." "On July 1, 1751 the British regiments were first officially designated by numbers, and that which had been known as Cornwallis's, late Phillipp's, became the Fortieth Regiment of Foot, a name held for a hundred and thirty years until territorial designations were introduced in 1881. It was at this time, 1751, that it received its official regimental colours.1 The "40th" earned its first battle honours under Amherst at Louisbourg and carried on the next year with Wolfe in the taking of Quebec. In 1760, they were to see action at Montreal. And, in 1761, they went through New York and on down to the Caribbean and took certain of the French islands (Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada). After which, in 1761, they participated in the siege of Havana (Spain). In 1764, they came "home" to Halifax, but not to stay; they were shipped off to Ireland where it was to be stationed until 1775. In 1775, the "40th" was sent back to America to deal with the rebellion; arriving at Boston just after the Battle of Bunker Hill. In March of 1776, the "40th" now under Howe's orders, deserting Boston, sailed for Halifax. No sooner did the troops arrive in Halifax (April) then they were transported (June) to Staten Island were "The Fighting Fortieth" became involved in the battles at Brooklyn, Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown. In 1778, the "40th" was off again to the West Indies (Antigua); but, by June of 1781, they were back at Staten Island. In 1782, it should be noted, Britain determined to get rid of the colourless numbers by which it kept tract of its army regiments and go to county names; the "40th" was to become known as "2nd Somersetshire Regiment of Foot." Their business in America being over with, the "40th" returned to Europe (some of their number via Halifax) in October of 1783. After a short stint in Holland, the "40th" was off to the West Indies, once again, where it was to remain until 1798. In 1801, it was in Egypt; in 1806, Montevideo, Argentina; and after that two years in the "Peninsular Wars". The "40th" was part of the British force at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, that was in January. After the upset at New Orleans it was sent back to England, just in time to be sent to Waterloo.2 In the 19th century the "Fighting Fortieth" was to see action in Australia, India, Afghanistan, New Zealand, and South Africa. In the 20th century the successor of the "Fighting Fortieth" was involved in, at least, WWI. More research needs be conducted in respect to the movements of this famous regiment during the 20th century. I should conclude by telling you that the name was changed in 1881, in joining up with others, it was to be called, "First Battalion the Prince of Wales' Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment).3


[1] Described by Piers in NSHS, vol. #21, at p. 132.

[2] I can not resist setting forth a quote from John Keegan's book on the 40th at Waterloo: "They had arrived at Waterloo dead tired after a march of fifty-one miles in forty-eight hours; three weeks before that they had disembarked from America, having been six weeks at sea. During the day of Waterloo, they lost nearly two hundred soldiers dead and wounded out of seven hundred, and fourteen out of thirty-nine officers. 'The men in their tired state,' Sergeant Lawrence wrote, began to despair during the afternoon, 'but the officers cheered them on continuously.' When the French cavalry encircled them 'with fierce gesticulations and angry scowls, in which a display of incisors became very apparent' the officers would call out, 'Now men, make faces!' and at the very end of the day, when the men 'were dreading another charge', the offeres kept up the cry they had been making throughout the afternoon, 'Keep your ground, my men,' adding the promise, 'Reinforcements are coming.'

[3] For an authoritative and interesting piece of research, see the work of Harry Piers, "Regiments Raised in Nova Scotia," NSHS#21 (1927) consisting of 69 pp. See, further, under Cornwallis, Lawrence, & Handfield.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)