Wellington’s Light Division: The Birth of the Modern Infantryman

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Wellington’s Light DivisionThe 31 August 2013 marks the bicentenary anniversary of the Action at Vera, one of many skirmishes fought between the Duke of Wellington's army and the French forces of Marshal Soult, which would be instrumental in finally driving Napoleon's troops from Spain for good. During the battle, an understrength company of the 95th Rifles successfully held off a French division for an entire night. This battle, during which seventy men faced as many as 10,000 and sustained less than twenty casualties, is a textbook example of the tactical superiority of British Light Infantry, and its anniversary allows us a perfect opportunity to engage in discussion about what made these men so remarkable, and how they shaped the course of British military evolution in the following centuries.

The development of the 95th Rifles at Shorncliffe Barracks in 1800 marks the first step in the conversion of British infantry tactics from "red line" to "green swarm". Rather than bright red uniforms and white crossbelts, the Rifles wore deep forest green and black. They were trained in individual marksmanship and recruits and officers were selected for resilience, physical hardiness and the ability to think on their feet. For the first time, training was designed to accentuate and encourage all aspects of their personality. Officers were subjected to the same gruelling physical regimen as the men, in a deliberate attempt to weed out the unfit and unwilling. These are among the core principles of modern soldiering, and they were first implemented in a conscious, structured manner at Shorncliffe in the build-up to the Napoleonic Wars.

Confirmed Speakers/Panelists Include:

  • Dr Huw Davies, Senior Lecturer at King’s College, London’s, Defence Studies Department and RIFLES Regimental Historian
  • Brigadier John Taylor (ret’d), Co-author of The Sharpest Fight: The 95th Rifles at Tarbes, 20th March 1814 and Former Officer of the Rifle Brigade, having held battalion command in Hong Kong, England and Northern Ireland.
  • Mr Mark Urban, BBC correspondent, Military Historian and author of Rifles: Six Years with Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters.
  • Dr Peter Caddick-Adams, Military Historian and Lecturer in Military and Security Studies at the UK Defence Academy, Shrivenham

Members' Workshop, 16:00-18:00

In this discussion, speakers will examine the experience of battle for the Napoleonic infantryman, as well as the crucial role of the Rifles, the elite of Wellington's Light Division, as the drivers of tactical military innovation. They will also discuss how this tradition of innovation ties into the Rifles' role in today's British Army, and looking back to the past, what we may expect for their future.

Drinks Reception, 18:00 - 19:00

If you have any queries please contact Tommaso Lagana at tommasol@rusi.org or call +44(0)2079305854.


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