The 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment : outline 1755-1881
The History of the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment
Raised in 1755, it amalgamated with the 85th (King's) Light Infantry in 1881 to become the first battalion of the new King's Shropshire Light Infantry.
Col. William Whitmore of Apley : an officer in the 3rd Foot Guards, who was given the commission to raise the regiment in 1755.
The 53rd Regiment of Foot was raised in 1755 by Colonel William Whitmore of Apley, Bridgnorth, an officer of the 3rd Foot Guards. It was part of an expansion of the British army in anticipation of war with France, which actually began in 1756.
Originally designated as the 55th Regiment, it became the 53rd in 1757 following reductions in the army.
During the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) the regiment served on Gibraltar, with occasional service at sea as marines. Recent research has identified officers and men of the 53rd aboard warships operating out of Gibraltar (e.g. aboard HMS Monmouth, on which a detachment of the 53rd was present in her epic ship-to-ship action with the French flagship Foudroyant.)
Involvement in the American Revolutionary War (1776-83)
Fort Ticonderoga on Lake George : restored.
After garrison duty in Ireland, the 53rd sailed from Cork to take part in military operations in Canada at the outset of the American Revolutionary War. Sailing for Canada in 1776, it served in operations for the relief of Quebec and then joined General John Burgoyne’s army advancing into New England via the Hudson Valley.
This was part of a projected three-prong attack on Albany from Oswiego, New York and Canada, but only Burgoyne's army actually progressed into New England, proceeding down the Hudson Valley.
Taking part in the initial capture Fort Ticonderoga, the 53rd escaped most of "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne’s disastrous campaign further south, all but two companies being left behind to defend the fort and its outlying defences.
The Light and Grenadier companies of the 53rd were, however, heavily engaged in Burgoyne's advance on Albany and subsequent defeat.
With Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in October 1777, the 53rd burned Fort Ticonderoga and its outlying defences on Mount Independence and retired to the Canadian frontier, where it remained until 1789.
Whilst there, in 1782, the 53rd was designated “the Shropshire Regiment” and henceforth recruited in the county.
In the French Wars (1793-1815)
2-53rd at the battle of Talavera, Spain, 1809. A spirited depiction of the 2nd 53rd in action at Talavera in 1809. Watercolour by Richard Simkin (c. 1890)
The 53rd played a distinguished part in the long French Wars (1793-1815).
One of the first regiments to be ordered overseas, it served under the Duke of York in the Flanders campaign of 1793-95, earning its first battle honour “Nieuport” (which is unique to an infantry regiment) for the defence of the town.
The 53rd left for the West Indies in 1796 and took part in the capture of St. Lucia and served on St.Vincent and in Trinidad.
After a brief spell in England, the regiment sailed in 1805 for India where it served until 1823. Here it saw active service around Allahabad against rebels in the fortress of Kalingar and, more seriously, against the Gurkhas of Nepal in an arduous campaign between 1815-17.
In the meantime, a war-raised 2nd Battalion of the 53rd served through the major stages of the Peninsular War in Portugal, Spain and France, including the battle of Talavera in 1809, the Salamanca campaign in 1812, the major victory at Vittoria in 1813 and the severe fighting in the passes of the Pyrenees.
Pursuing the French army into France itself, the 2-53rd was present in the last great action of the war at Toulouse in 1814.
At the end of the war in 1815, the 2-53rd was appointed to be Napoleon’s guard on St. Helena, a duty it carried out until its return home in 1817 and disbandment on the reduction of the army. Many of its men, however, volunteered for service in the 53rd and joined the regiment in India.
Service around the world (1815-1881)
53rd in Rawalpindi, Indian frontier, c. 1852.
Having spent the period 1805-23 in India, the 53rd was posted to Ireland, Gibraltar, Malta, the Ionian Islands and the UK between 1826-44 before it was ordered back to the Indian sub-continent. On its tour of duty there between 1844-60 it saw almost continuous active service.
The regiment fought in both the Sikh Wars of 1845-46 and 1848-49, being present in the major victories of Aliwal and Sobraon (1st Sikh War) and in the final crushing defeat of the Sikhs at Gujerat (2nd Sikh War) in 1849.
In 1851-52, the 53rd was engaged in tribal operations on the North West Frontier of India and in 1857 was pitched into the ferocious Indian Mutiny campaign.
Based at Calcutta when the revolt began, the 53rd took part in the disarmamant of Indian regiments around Calcutta and was then ordered up-country to take part in operations under Sir Colin Campbell in the main area of the rebellion
Over the next two years, the 53rd played a leading role in the suppression of the mutiny, being involved in the Relief of Lucknow in November 1857, the battle of Cawnpore in December and the final recapture of Lucknow in March 1858.
It earned no fewer than four VCs in the later operations at Lucknow (in the capture of the Secundrabagh) out of the five it eventually received for the campaign.
Further active service followed in Rohilkand and Oudh.
[see separate section on VCs earned in India]
Officers of the 53rd at Devonport, 1861: after their return from India.
Between 1860 and 1881, the 53rd served on routine imperial garrison duty in Canada and in the West Indies, returning from Bermuda to Ireland in 1875 and to England in 1878.
It was amalgamated with the 85th (King's) Light Infantry in 1881 to form the new county regiment, the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, based in new depot and barracks (completed 1877-80) at Copthorne, Shrewbsury.