Towards the end of 1808 the regiment disembarked at Corunna. They were slow to get themselves ready to take the field and before they could march, Lieutenant General David Baird had gone off with the main contingent to meet Sir John Moore on his way from the south. While on the march there were several changes of orders that came down from the main force which had them going back and forth but by mid-December they were on the road to Astorga. Having already lost 97 men by the wayside they finally met up with the army at Lugo. Here they stood to arms and the next day faced the enemy, mounting a bayonet charge at General Merle's men.
The weather deteriorated rapidly and two days later the retreat to Corunna was resumed. With the British now in retreat Napoleon considered his work done and he left Marshal Nicholas Soult to continue the pursuit. It is worth remembering that the British army had been sent into Spain to aid in expelling the French, but they had been forced into a humiliating retreat that wrought havoc with their health and morale and resulted in the army degenerating into a rabble. The final battle before Corunna began on the 16th of January 1809 with the British fighting desperate rearguard actions while the bulk of the army was evacuated. During the fighting, the 51st Regiment was lucky enough to be assigned a position which brought them no casualties and they were able to load their walking wounded and sick onto the naval transports and leave Corunna for England relatively unscathed.
The evacuation itself was completed on the 18th and was considered a success although vast amounts of weapons, ammunition, equipment and horses had to be abandoned. Despite losing his life at Corunna there was a storm of criticism over Sir John Moore’s handling of the campaign, meanwhile back in Corunna his adversary Marshal Soult took care of Moore's grave and ordered a monument to be raised in his memory.
In May 1809 the 51st Regiment was granted the title ‘Light Infantry’ in Moore’s memory.
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Illustration by David Higham