THE FRENCH INVASION.
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just towards the close of the last century that one of the most interesting and
mysterious occurrences that ever disturbed the people of this county, and
especially of Haverfordwest, took place - I mean "the French landing at
Fishguard," as we have been accustomed to hear it called. The event has
long since passed into the region of history; but some of the scenes in the
immediate vicinity - as I have gathered them from the lips, of the
folks who well remember them I should like if I were able it describe, as
they deserve to be. It was in the month of February 1797, which country people
used to say was the hottest weather ever known at that season of the year
farmers sowing corn being obliged to suspend work at mid-day, on account of the
extreme heat - that the event happened. None now survive who were old enough at
the time to notice all the surroundings: but, say forty years ago, there were
many people with whom one could converse about it. Without any previous warning
of impending peril, the tidings shot through the county "The French have
landed at Fishguard!" As the event turned out, there was little to be
frightened at; but this was not discovered till afterwards. But the amazing
heroism of the peasantry, and their patriotism, were some of the grand things in
connection with it. One incident I just remember, and I had it from the mouth of
a bystander. A woman rushed out into the little garden, where her husband was
busily preparing the ground for potatoes, and exclaimed in a voice of terror,
"John Bowen, John Bowen, the French have landed at Fishguard!"
Throwing down his spade, declaring he was not going to do work for the French,
he went into his house, and, reaching down an old fowlingpiece he happened to
have, then and there he started out without any more ado to meet the invaders.
Nolton a village about six miles from Haverfordwest, where there lived an aged
clergyman, the Rev. Moses Great grandfather of the late Lord Milford, I read the
record in the parish register there, and I assure my readers, with a thrill of
interest, all the able-bodied men immediately left their homes for the scene of
the expected conflict; and the parson writes: "I assembled all the women
and children in the church, and we commended ourselves to the protection of
Almighty God." When the alarm subsided, the enemy, who proved to he a
miserable and contemptible force, were speedily disarmed, and marched as
prisoners to Haverfordwest, where nothing but pity and compassion was displayed.
Poor, starving wretches, as they were, the townspeople outvied each other in
ministering to their necessities. They were, of course, imprisoned; but in the
parish church of St. Mary, most of them. So much for this marvel, a matter which
became the central epoch of a couple of generations - I mean in the way of a
local calendar - just, as the Norman Conquest still stands in English history.
The date when a marriage or birth or death took place in a family would be fixed
very commonly by its chronological relation to the landing of the French at
a while the captured foreigners were released on their parole; and a lady told
me the other day she had heard her father talk of one of them with whom he had
often had a game of bowls at the bowling-green in front of our castle. He was
here known as M. Bertrand, but became the attached and faithful companion of
Napoleon Bonaparte in his exile, and was with him at his death in St. Helena. As
is always the case after such an occurrence, numberless stories were circulated
in reference to the affair.
report was, that when the commander of the French force discovered the want of
strategy displayed by the officer in command of the forces who disputed his
advance inland, in afterwards placing his troops between the naked cliffs and
the foe, whence they might have been easily swept, he gnashed his teeth, and
declared, had he known his incapacity, he never would have surrendered.
story was, that when the French saw what appeared to be the immense number of
troops on the heights, where the Welsh women, clad in bright scarlet
"whittles' (a local name for shawls), showed up, they were seized with
panic, and called on their officers to surrender. The only forces available on
the spot were the Castle Martin Yeomanry led by Lord (afterwards Earl) Cawdor,
and to them was granted the distinction of having the word "Fishguard"
inscribed on their standard and on their uniform, as the troops which were
engaged at Waterloo have that never forgotten name inscribed on theirs.
interesting evidence of the patriotic part Haverfordwest men played when the
French landed at Fishguard was discovered in recent years amongst some papers in
the offices of Messrs Eaton Evans and Williams, Solicitors of Haverfordwest, in
the form of an old Moore's Diary for 1797. The diary has endorsed on it,
"James Jones of the parish of St Martins in the Town and County of'
Haverfordwest Gent." Among the entries are the following:
Feby. 22nd "1400 French landed at Pencare,"
23rd. "Went with Lord Cawdor's Cavalry, part of the Cardigan Militia,
Fishguard and Pembroke Fencibles, and about 300 Haverfordwest Volontiers, in the
whole about 800 armed men to attack the French, but did not come to battle.
Night coming on, rendavoused at Fishguard that night at nine."
24th "At about 2 p.m. the French surrendered prisoners of war and laid down
their arm- on Goodick sand, and marched into Haverfordwest that night by 12
25th "A few prisoners with 5 officers brot in and 36 officers marched off
26th "5 officers sent off for England."
27th "658 prisoners embark at Milford for England."
J. Thomas taken up and imprisoned for High Treason.
he'll be shot if guilty."
24th (an additional note)
the time of the surrendor of the French, on a moderate calculation, there were
43000 men women and children in and near Fishguard, among which there were at
least 8000 armed, viz 2000 with fire arms, the others with Pikes, Picks,
Scythes, and other weapons."
foregoing is a literal copy of Mr Jones' entries with the quaint spelling
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