Tale of Two Peninsulas
When an Anglo-Russian army left North Holland in the late autumn of 1799, under an armistice granted to them by the Franco-Dutch forces they had failed to defeat, there would seem to have been little to celebrate. Granted, the Dutch navy was now in British hands. But the exploits of the Duke of York’s army in the Helder Peninsula won little respect. Five actions, thousands of men dead – yet again, a continental campaign had cost much and achieved little.
Fast forward nine years and a British army was preparing for another European campaign, this time to the much larger Iberian Peninsula. The achievements of that army have led to it being described as one of the very best Britain has ever put into the field.
There might seem to be no connection between two peninsulas, two campaigns; between defeat and victory. Yet, many of the men who had suffered the wasted effort and ultimate disappointment of the Helder campaign would take what they had learnt to Spain and Portugal. Men like John Moore, Lord Paget, John Hope, James Kempt, Richard Hussey Vivian, and some of Wellington’s best regiments, who had begun to prove their worth amongst the dykes and dunes of Holland, would subsequently win battle honours from Lisbon to Toulouse.
Why did Wellington have a light brigade? Because both Sir Ralph Abercromby and John Moore urged the need for light infantry, a lesson they had learnt in 1799. Indeed, Abercromby also assured the government that even in the midst of failure they had at long last the makings of a good army, an army that would prove itself in Egypt, at Maida, and finally in the string of victories that drove the French our of Iberia.
It is no exaggeration to say Den Helder was the nursery that nurtured the army that gave Napoleon his Spanish ulcer.
Our tour, the Napoleonic wars in the Netherlands is available to book here http://www.theculturalexperience.com/tour10010/battlefield-tours/napoleonic-wars-in-the-netherlands-battlefield-tour.html
Added: 28th March 2017