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Miscellaneous Notes Regarding The Kings German Legion in Bexhill and The Barracks
Bexhill and the Light Infantry
In August 1803 King George III appealed to ‘all honest, upstanding Germans’ for the formation of a corps of light infantry to serve the British Crown. The depot of the legion was situated at Lymington, Hampshire and that of the light battalion was in Bexhill.
George III’s appeal followed the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens. The peace treaty had been made with France in March 1802, but by 1803 it became obvious that Napoleon was making preparations to invade England. He seized Hanover, which belonged to George III. The Duke of Cambridge, the king’s youngest son who later visited Bexhill was Viceroy in Hanover at the time. As a member state of the German Federation, the duke was entitled to call on the Federation for military aid to resist invasion. The duke’s calls were unanswered and he had no choice but to surrender. The Hanoverian army had to give up their arms and disband.
A call for recruits from the disbanded Hanoverian army was abysmal. By 8 August only seven men had enlisted (probably because few had yet arrived in Britain), but following the king’s rallying call for a corps to be known as the King’s German Legion (KGL) under the command of the Duke of Cambridge, recruits were streaming in. Lymington was their place of rendezvous and by October at least 450 had responded to the call. The recruiting success was so great that in December a corps not exceeding 5,000 men was authorised. There were infantry, artillery and cavalry. In July 1804 the infantry were formed into a light brigade under Col von Alten and a line brigade under Col von Langwerth and they were garrisoned in Bexhill.
On the Down and the fields then surrounding the hill top village of Bexhill, earthen huts with straw roofs were built for the soldiers accommodation.
The formation was completed by 1806 and consisted of various units: Engineers, artillery, cavalry, infantry and ‘Veterans unfit for field service’ (see below).
From Bexhill Hanoverian Study Group News Sheet No. 2 October 1989 quoting ‘Cassell’s History of England’ vol IV p489, Osprey Men at Arms’ series by Otto von Pivka and ‘History of the King’s German Legion’ by N L Beamish vol 11832, vol II 1837
Due to the invasion scare, in 1803 the decision was taken to build 103 Martello Towers along the east and south coast, twelve of them being along the foreshore between Galley Hill and Normans Bay.
See also extensive notes and photographs on Local History Folder ‘Coastal Matters’ and Exhibition Folder ‘From Prehistoric to Present” at Bexhill Museum.
Arrival of the KGL
“September 24 1804 Last Thursday about 640 Hanoverian soldiers marched into Horsham, on their route from Hilsey [Hilsea, Portsmouth] barracks to Bexhill to join the division from the King’s German Legion, there stationed. They are all young men and conducted themselves in their quarters with so much regularity and propriety that the publicans felt a pleasure in providing for them….”
From the “Sussex Weekly Advertiser”, as reported in the BHSG’s (Bexhill Hanoverian Study Group) Newsletter no. 32 November 1999
“10 June 1805 ….On this day a division of the King’s German Legion marched into Lewes, from Shoreham, on their route to Bexhill….”
And from the “Sussex Weekly Advertiser”, as reported in their Newsletter no. 33 April 2000
Early Barrack Buildings
“December 3 1804 ….In addition to the works thrown up along our Eastern coast, for its defence against invasion, Government has within the last six weeks, contracted for the erection of huts at Bexhill sufficient to contain 3,000 troops. Those for privates, which accommodate 32 men each, are nearly fulfilled and the whole, when completed, will cover about 30 acres. The quantity of straw used in thatching them was so great that the Contractors would have experienced some difficulty in obtaining it had they not been assisted by the Earl of Ashburnham and other considerable landowners of the neighbourhood…. The above huts are in part occupied by four battalions of the King’s German Legion; it is expected the 5th Battalion, now stationed at Horsham, will shortly remove..”
“December 17 1804 ….A General Court Martial was held at Bexhill on Monday last, for the trial of Surgeon Weber of the 2nd Light Battalion of the KGL, on charges for fraudulent accounts and other instances of irregularity in his professional situation.”
“December 24 1804 ….The snow so drifted on Wednesday night by the high wind at Bexhill, that a number of the newly-erected huts there were literally buried and the men imprisoned…. “
“January 21 1805 ….Regarding the new huts erecting for the accommodation of troops at Bexhill, those that are now inhabited are found to contain every advantage of health and convenience; when the mess-rooms, guard houses etc are completed, they will form a very handsome town; the parade, or officers’ street, is nearly 200 ft wide and 1000 ft in length. “
“….On Friday evening, the 11th instant., the Officers of the KGL gave an elegant ball to their Commanding Officer, Major-General Don and family and a few of the neighbouring gentry and military, in two of the new huts not yet occupied which were united by a passage. The ball commenced soon after 8 and the but for dancing was decorated so as to represent an orange grove – hung with real fruit which, together with ivy, formed two arched colonnades, supported by fluted pillars on each side of the grove, to accommodate such company as were not dancing. G R and a crown in ivy over the fireplace ornamented the upper end of the room and the whole being well illuminated, produced a very beautiful effect. An excellent band of music enlivened the Waltzes, Quadrilles and other German and English dances. The supper room was opened at 1 o’clock; [it] was equally handsome, both in respect of the delicacies of the table and the ornaments of the hut….After supper the cheerful dance was kept up until 5am. “
From the “Sussex Weekly Advertiser” in BHSG Newsletter no. 33 April 2000
“Visit by Duke of Cambridge to KGL in Bexhill”
“22 June 1805 `….On Saturday the 15th inst., his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, reviewed the King’s German Legion at Bexhill and dined and spent the evening with Lieut. General Don; and on Sunday his Royal Highness attended divine service on the parade. The sermon was in the German language, as were several hymns sung by the whole corps, accompanied by upwards of fifty musicians. The duke afterwards rode on horseback to the Martello Towers, now building for the defence of Pevensey Bay, dined with the officers of the whole line in one of the mess huts, and in the evening the General’s family and officers, and all the ladies of the legion, assembled to meet his Royal Highness…. from whence the company retired about twelve o’clock.”
From the Sussex Weekly Advertiser in BHSG Newsletter no. 35 April 2001
“Fredrich Holle at Bexhill”
“Excerpt from ‘The Story of the Life of my 64 year old father….written down on December 28th 1850 by G Holle’. “
“In 1808 we marched from Portchester to Bexhill passing several towns, whose names I have forgotten. I only wanted to note one major village, which was called Brighton, where the English crown prince was lodging. In English he is called Prince of Wales. There was also a great castle, which was made entirely of mirror-glass.
From Brighton we came safe to Bexhill. In Bexhill there were a lot of huts. In every hut there were 40 men but only both of the Troops Horse Artillery were there. Nearby were also great barracks for the wives and children of the German Infantry were staying. The other regiments were in Spain and Portugal. Half an hour away was a big inn that was called Sidley Green. There, a German bowling alley was constructed, where we trumpeters were going twice a week to play. In 1809 we had a great parade of the royal palace. This palace [Crowhurst Park?] was 5 miles away from Bexhill. All royal princes were present. Our current King Ernst August von Hannover was there too, in those days he was Duke of Cumberland.
As Bexhill lay near to the sea, we had to bath in the sea twice a week. In 1810 we were in Brighton, making a big parade, where the Prince of Wales was lodging. Every year on the 14th June England was celebrating the King’s birthday. They were saving candles all the year for this day, to make the King’s birthday more dignified. The celebration lasted for eight days. Every year we got new uniforms from head to toe, which were put on for the first time on the king’s birthday. When the parade was over there was dancing and merriment. On the 14th of June in 1813 we were just beginning with the celebration, as orders arrived, that both Troops Horse Artillery had to march to Germany. That spoiled the whole celebration. Everyone was collecting his belongings, because we were in England such a long time. Because I was the youngest trumpeter, I should have stayed with the reserve. The staff trumpeter Lange should have also stayed behind. With us was on old trumpeter named Lindemann, who was married and wanted to stay with his wife. I was now happy that I had not to stay behind. On the 7th June we marched across several villages and a major village, which was a fortress called Dover and was close to the French border. We marched also across a chalk cliff, under this cliff were casemates and the military hid in them. We made a stop on the mountain and could see a French city gleaming from there, which was called Calais. On the 12th of June we came to the seaport of Deal or Ramsgate, where we boarded a ship.”
From the BHSG Newsletter no. 30 November 1998
“Bexhill and the Veterans”
“The Veteran unit was formed in February 1813 and in the Memorandum in the proposal there is the sub-heading: Concerning the Veteran battalion to be formed to receive the worn out men of the King’s German Legion….It appears that Bexhill will be a proper place for the formation of the Veteran Units.”
From Bexhill Hanoverian Study Group News Sheet No. 2 October 1989
(quoting ‘History of the Kings German Legion’ by N L Beamish vol ii p432 Sale of Barrack Buildings 1822)
“22 July 1822 `Barrack Materials for SALE on the Barrack Ground at Bexhill. A large Quantity of good MA1ERIALS consisting of Oak and Fir Timbers in Scantlings, Weather Boarding, % inch and 1/2 inch Boards, Sashes and Frames, Window Shutter, Doors and Door Cases, Dressers, Closet Fronts and Shelves, Stone Hearths, Jambs and Mantles, Window Sills and a variety of other useful Articles.”
“Also several ENTIRE BUILDINGS, such as a substantial well-framed Timber Building, 130 feet 3 inches long by 21 feet 4 inches wide with two timber and boarded floors throughout, 7 feet 9 inches between lower floor and ceiling. “
“One other Timber Building, with two floors as above, 74 feet 4 inches long by 29 feet 3 inches wide and 9 feet 1 inch lower floor and ceiling.”
“Three Timber Buildings 25 feet 4 inches long each by 13 feet wide; height including sill and plate, 7 foot 2 inches. “
“One ditto 34 feet 3 inches long by 21 feet wide; height including sill and plate 10 feet 10 inches. “
“One ditto with folding doors, 14 feet 6 inches front by 16 feet 11 inches. height, including sill and plate 10 feet. The above are all covered with plain tiles. Several other Brick and Timber Buildings and a great quantity of good Bricks and Tiles. “
“Apply to THOMAS CATLEY, on the Ground, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (If by letter, post-paid)”
From the Sussex Weekly Advertiser in BHSG Newsletter no. 34 November 2000
Report of a Court Martial in “THE TIMES” Dated 4th September 1809 – Page 4 Column b “A general court martial has been held at Bexhill on Lt. LEWIS HELMOLD of the 2nd Light Infant?), Battalion of the King’s German Legion upon the following charges, viz:
“For abuse of authority and improper interference with an officer’s guard at La Sarca, in Spain, in cruelly and repeatedly striking without provocation, private Abraham and the acting Sergeant, Corporal Hoffman, of the 2nd Light Battalion of the King’s German Legion, both on guard, and threatening to put Ensign Denake, the officer on guard, under arrest; “
“2nd, for behaviour unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman towards Ensign Hedernan of the 1st Battalion King’s German Legion on board a transport returning from Spain, and in making use of scandalous language to the said Ensign Hedernan, without any provocation, repeatedly striking him and afterwards endeavouring to provoke him to fight a duel.”
“The Court found the prisoner guilty of the crimes laid to his charge, and adjudged him to be CASHIERED; but considered it incumbent upon them to recommend to his Majesty’s notice the long service of the prisoner, and his apparent distracted state of mind when he committed the last crime charged against him; which sentence his Majesty has been pleased to confirm, whereby Lt. LEWIS HELMOLD is adjudged to be cashiered. The Commander in Chief has therefore directed that the charge above mentioned, together with the sentence of the Court, and his Majesty’s confirmation thereon, shall be read at the heads of every regiment.”