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The extract below is taken from a book published in 1869. It outlines the life of a man who served his country loyally for many years in the army and received a medal but no pension - a situation which, sadly, may strike a chord with some readers 150 years later.


When John Barry died in Bideford Workhouse in the March Quarter of 1875, his age was given as 101 - a quite remarkable age for his times - but then, he was a remarkable man and his story reveals  him to be a survivor, strong in spirit and will. The facts of his life can be confirmed through parish records, census returns, regimental histories etc., and further testimony was provided by the then Rector of Bideford, the Rev. Francis L. Bazeley, who wrote:


"This statement of John Barry may be relied on as being, I believe, perfectly true."


Taken from "Devonshire Celebrities"

By T' L. Pridham - published 1869


The following incidents in the history of John Barry, an old military veteran, now a pauper in the Bideford Union, aged 94, will be read with interest. It will be seen that he has fought in several engagements, and that after fighting in the service of his country for many years, being only a "seven years' soldier", he was discharged without a pension, subsequently becoming a labourer on the parish roads in the Bideford district, and ultimately a pauper in the Workhouse.


"I was born in the parish of Washfield, Tiverton, in the year 1775 so that I am now in my 93rd year. Early in life, when a farmer's servant, I joined the North Devon Militia, from which I volunteered and joined the Third Regiment of the Line - the Buffs, commanded by Colonel Muter, on the 3rd of April 1809, who was afterwards killed in the battler of Talavera.


In May, 1809, I was in my first engagement, the Battle of Oporto, under the command of General Tindal, in General Hill's second division; General Wellesley commanded the first division. On the 29th July 1809, I fought in the Battle of Talavera*; my third engagement was in the Battle of Busacoa in 1810; my fourth engagement was in the battle of Albuera, May 16th 1811, on which occasion we were overpowered by the superior force of the French soldiers. This was a most desperate fight. The French thought they had taken the colours of our regiment from us, but it was not so; the brave officers who carried our colours were Lieutenant Walsh and Lieutenant Ferguson; the former was desperately wounded and the latter was killed. They had both, however, concealed the colours inside the breasts of their military great coats, having torn them from the staffs in their struggle with the enemy.


I then fought in the Battle of Almarez; I was afterwards engaged in the Battle of Burgos in 1813, and I then crossed the Ebro with my regiment and marched over the Pyrenees, fighting all the way. On the 22nd of June, I was engaged in the Battle of Vittoria in 1813, and at Talavera in 1814; after which my regiment marched against the forces of Marshal Soult and we fought our way into France, under the command of General Colburn, afterwards Lord Seaton. Soon after this, my regiment was ordered off to America under the command of General Sir George Prevost, where I had more fighting. **


In 1815, I sailed for Ostend, from thence we marched to Paris, and joined the Allied Forces there when peace was proclaimed, the war being over. My regiment at that time was commanded by Major General Clinton.


In the year 1816 I was discharged with a medal but without a pension, having entered the army as a "seven years' soldier" only. On my coming to England, I resided at Northam, North Devon, as a labourer, where I remained until I came into the Workhouse at Bideford, keeping myself free from Parish Relief until I was in my eighty-fourth year, at which time I was employed by the parish in breaking stone on the highway, and h ad to walk four miles twice a day to and from my place of labour - namely from Appledore to Northam Ridge on the Torrington Road. I have been twice wounded by sabre cuts on my head and face."


On being asked if, at the age of ninety-four, he could handle a musket again, he said: "If my Queen and country required it, I could bring down one of the traitors (meaning a Fenian), for my eyesight and memory still remain; but I am rather stiff in my arms."


Before concluding what he had to say of himself, he informed the writer that a General Officer (General Frazer R.A) a few years ago came to see and talk with him, and after giving him half-a-crown to drink the health of a General Officer, he said: "I tell you what, old veteran, you are so like the great Duke, that if you had on a Field Marshal's dress, and were mounted on the Duke's old charger, and were to ride down Pall Mall, the Londoners would say the Duke of Wellington was come to life again."


Thomas Lawrence Pridham concludes his article by saying:


"This is the plain unvarnished tale of John Barry, in his 94th year, who takes charge by day of the gates at the entrance of the Union Workhouse at Bideford. His face has ever a smile on it; his person is erect and of military bearing, and when he opens the gates to the gentry, as he calls them, he gives a kind of military salute. Should the person who enters cast his eyes into the porter's room, he will generally see the old man's spectacles beside the best of books, the Bible, which he  has just left to attend the duties of his calling. The signature to the statement was written without the aid of spectacles."


And as a footnote, he adds:


"The above was sent to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, who has been pleased to direct £5 to be forwarded to Mr. Pridham, to procure any little comfort for the old soldier, John Barry; and through the generosity of his royal benefactor, he now takes a glass of port wine daily at eleven o'clock, in which he does not fail to drink health and long life to Queen Victoria."


* The Peninsular War. For fuller information about this and other battles mentioned by John Barry, visit http://www.britishbattles.com/peninsula/peninsula-talavera.htm

The account of the Battle of Albuera on this website includes a painting of the Buffs (John Barry's Regiment) in action.

** For more  information about this expedition, visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Prevost. The following quotation (which further corroborates John Barry's story)  is taken  from "The Buffs" by Gregory Blaxland, published by Osprey

"Arrived in Canada, the Buffs joined an invasion of New York State. They advanced to Plattsburg and were in process of mounting an attack on this fortress town when they were ordered to return all because the make-shift fleet supporting them had been sunk. In this fiasco they lost some good officers and men. Six months later, Napoleon escaped the Elba, and when the shipping was available, the Buffs were brought back to Europe. They arrived in July 1815, to hear how Waterloo had been won, and were sent to Paris on occupational duty."


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