|Military General Service Medal with clasp for “Corunna” issued to
Private John Alexander 3rd Battalion 1st Foot Guards
John Alexander was born at Tickencote, Rutland in 1778. He worked as a labourer until enlisting in the 1st Foot Guards on
the 26th August 1799. He was described as being 5’ 8 ¼” tall, with dark hair, grey eyes and a dark complexion. He was
illiterate and made his mark on papers.
By the time he joined the 3rd battalion, it had just returned from Holland in November 1799. In 1800 he would serve at
Hounslow, Swinley and Colchester. In 1801 he was at Chelmsford and Chatham. In 1802 the battalion went to London and
served at the Tower of London. In 1803 it then moved to Windsor and then Chatham. 1804 saw the battalion stationed at
Barham Downs and Deal and then move again to Chatham in 1805. In 1806 it visited London again before once again moving
to Chatham, Ramsgate and Plymouth. By December the battalion performed overseas service at Sicily and in October
1807 at Gibraltar, before returning home in December. In 1808 the battalion was at Deal before moving to Cork.
In September 1808, the British Government decided to re-enforce the troops fighting in Spain, from the home
garrisons. A brigade of guards, consisting of the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Foot Guards under the command of
Major General Henry Warde, began to assemble at Falmouth. This was the first Brigade of Guards organised in Great
Britain since 1803. John Alexander’s 3rd Battalion was commanded by Brevet Colonel William Wheatley.
On the 13th October, the Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Sir David Baird, arrived off Corunna and began to land
on the 26th. As Baird began to advance to meet Lieutenant General Sir John Moore, he organised his troops between the
19th to the 23rd November. Warde’s Division included the 1st/ 1st Foot Guards commanded by Colonel William Anson,
3rd/1st Foot Guards and six companies of the Guards flank Battalion.
On the 20th December 1808 Baird’s corps united with Moor’s army at Mayorga. The Brigade of Guards became part of
the 1st Division, commanded by Baird. Napoleon learnt of Moore’s presence at Sahagun and on the 27th sent his army
forward to meet him. By the 28th it became evident that with the British now being at Benavente, Moore was withdrawing
his troops to the coast. Once the headlong retreat began many British regiments morale cracked. The roads were
littered with wagons, supplies and equipment. Moore wrote that:-
“I have been obliged to destroy great part of the ammunition and military stores. For the same reason I am obliged to
leave the sick. In short, my whole object is to save the Army”
Except for the rear guard and a few more orderly regiments, including the Guards, discipline no longer existed. When
the British troops finally reached Corunna in the evening of the 11th January 1809, they were in a very poor state:
“The people of Corunna, however, were inspired with nothing but pity at the sight of Moore’s army. In fact, so shocked
and appalled were they at this procession of spectres-men hollowed out by hardships, that they made the sign of the
cross as the soldiers passed”
The French arrived outside Corunna on the following day and as the transport shipping had not arrived for the
embarkation, the town of Corunna would have to be defended until they did. The 15th January saw the arrival of
100 transports and 12 warships from Vigo. Strong French pressure on the British outposts commenced in an attempt to
break through into Corunna. It was hoped that the French would not continue with their attacks and the 1st Division
was ordered down to the port to begin trying to embark. However, on the 16th January, the French launched a strong
assault against the vulnerable British right flank at Elvina and possession of the village changed hands several times.
Moore ordered the Guards to be sent for immediately to strengthen the British position. As the Guards approached
Elvina, the 42nd and 50th regiments thought that they were being relieved and started to withdraw, which could have
been disastrous. Moore dashed forward to stop their retirement and was mortally wounded.
The final French assault commenced at 5.15p.m. but was soon repulsed and the fighting died down as dusk gathered. The
British troops evacuated their positions about 10p.m. and withdrew to Corunna. From the harbour they were ferried out
to the waiting transports. Embarkation was nearly completed by the morning when the French opened a cannonade upon
the shipping in the harbour, which caused great confusion. Some ships ran foul of each other while others cut their cables
and left harbour.
The expedition reached England between the 21st and the 23rd January. About 26,000 men had been saved by the Royal
Navy but some 8,800 had been lost.
“The people of Portsmouth looked on in horror at the spectacle that was emerging from the harbour. The British
expeditionary force had returned home, but there was no grand parade through the streets, no pomp or colour, no tale of
victory. What appeared seemed rather to be the mere wreckage of an army”
John Alexander returned to Chatham and then, in July 1809 went overseas on the disastrous Walcheren expedition. He
served in Brigadier General Disney’s brigade, being part of the reserve division of Lieutenant General John Hope. The
wretched conditions on this venture, including Typhoid fever and Malaria, wrecked the health of many of the troops
involved, as eventually a fifth of the men were hospitalised. He probably returned to England in September. In 1810
his duties were centred between London and Windsor.
In April 1811 the battalion was ordered to embark at Portsmouth for a return to Spain. It is not possible to ascertain if
John Alexander went overseas with his regiment or remained in England. If he did go to Spain he certainly did not take
part in any of the major battles which culminated in driving the French out of Spain and back into France.
The Duke of Wellington had even asked that regiments who had served on the Walcheren expedition should not be sent
to the Peninsula as they were considered as unfit for further service. The final battle involving the 1st Guards took
place at Bayonne in April 1814 and then the battalion prepared to return to England, eventually arriving in August.
After serving for 14 years and 337 days, John Alexander was considered unfit for further duty. It is very likely that he
never really recovered from the Walcheren campaign. He was discharged on the 29th July 1814, described as suffering
from Rheumatism. His discharge and pension papers were signed by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Thomas, who would be
killed at Waterloo the following year. John Alexander was admitted as an out-pensioner of the Royal Chelsea hospital
on the 10th August 1814. This meant that he did not live at the hospital but just received his pension via Chelsea.
In 1815 he met and married Rosamond Austin in Middlesex. She came from Costessey, Norfolk. They moved to the small
village of Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire and in 1816 they had a daughter called Susannah and in 1821 a son called James. In 1832
a daughter called Elizabeth was born and four years later a son called William. The 1841 census records the family still
living in Ingoldsby, with a population of just 402 people, and with John Alexander working as an agricultural labourer.
His son James was a shoe maker.
By 1851 the family lived at the post office in Ingoldsby, in a late 17th century building comprising of a cottage and shop.
Just Elizabeth and William now lived with them, as James had married and moved a few houses down the Main Street.
John described himself as a Chelsea pensioner and was also now a grandfather, as his son James had 5 children. They also
had a lodger called John Mallard, who was the post master and a retired sailor. The post office had opened in Ingoldsby
in 1846 and John Mallard had acted as receiver for mail going via Falkingham since 1849.
In the Summer of 1854 John Alexander’s wife Rosamond died.
The mail delivery office of Falkingham was replaced by Grantham in 1855 and by then John Alexander had also replaced
John Mallard as postmaster. He must have become literate since leaving the army to carry out this particular appointment.
1861 saw John still living at 2, Main Street East, Ingoldsby in the post office cottage, together with his daughter
Elizabeth and son-in-law Thomas Richardson. Due to John’s advanced years he must have been assisted by Thomas in his
duties. After John’s death, Thomas Richardson acted as postmaster until 1868.
John Alexander continued to live at the Post office in Ingoldsby until dying on the 20th March 1862. The doctor
recorded him as dying from “decay of nature”. His daughter was with him when he died and she also registered his death.
He was buried in the grounds of St. Bartholomew’s church on the 23rd March. Unfortunately, his grave stone no longer
On the 1st June 1847, the Queen agreed to the issue of a Military General Service medal to all of the troops involved in
the various battles in Egypt, the Peninsula campaign and American wars. Each battle would be represented by a clasp on
the ribbon and a total of 29 were sanctioned. No medal could be issued without a clasp. It was only issued to men who
were still alive and could put a claim in for the medal. Next of kin were not eligible to claim, although men, who had died
between claiming and issue, still received the medal. Eventually 25,650 claims were submitted.
The long delay from when the medal was earned and finally issued in 1848 had caused great resentment amongst the
survivors, some of whom who had waited for nearly 50 years to receive it. John Alexander was himself 70 years old when
the medal was finally presented. The clasp “Corunna” was only given to 348 men of the Grenadier Guards.
Provenance for John Alexander Military General Service medal is as follows :-
Sold at Glendining auction in February 1903
Sold at Glendining auction in June 1916
Sold at D.N.W. auction in September 2003
Sold by Liverpool Medal company in January 2010.
Main Street, Ingoldsby – St. Bartholomew’s church tower just visible in the centre
|The Military General Service Medal with clasp for |
“Corunna” issued to John Alexander
|St. Bartholomew’s |