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44th Essex Regiment - Victorian Vexillological Relic
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44th Essex Regiment - Victorian Vexillological Relic

Measurements: 12.5cm (5in) x 9cm (3.75)



A silk fragment from the Union Jack canton of the Regimental Colour of the 44th (Essex) Regiment set in a gilt metal mount and overlaid with the regimental number in gilt metal Roman numerals, beneath mica, and contained in an ebonised frame surmounted with hanging loop adapted from an officer’s collar badge in the form of the French Imperial Eagle the captured by the 2/44th from the French 62nd Regiment at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The precise history of the present relic will never be known. However its preservation brings to mind William Barnes Wollen’s painting of 1898 depicting the last stand of the 44th Foot during the retreat and massacre of General Elphinstone’s 16,000-strong army from Kabul in January 1842.  At the centre of the group of survivors depicted by Woollen stands Captain Souter defiantly wearing the Regimental Colour beneath his Afghan coat.

After six days’ of constant sniping and attacks by followers of Dost Mohammed Khan, Elphinstone’s command had been reduced to 200 soldiers and 2,000 camp followers. Finding the way blocked by Afghan tribesmen, a desperate attack was mounted but only two groups of soldiers broke through. The first, a mounted group galloped off towards Jalalabad,  while the other, comprising of twenty officers and 45 men mostly from the 44th Foot, found themselves surrounded on a snowy hillock near the village of Gandamak. With only 20 working muskets and two shots per weapon, they spurned Afghan calls to surrender with a sergeant’s retort of “Not bloody likely!" In the final struggle Souter was taken by the Afgha s for a high-ranking officer because they thought he was wearing a  eneral's yellow waistcoat, that was in fact the field colour of the Regimental Colour. He was dragged into captivity along with a sergeant named Fair and seven privates. The remaining troops were killed.