Vol 2 – No. 16 – June 1888 – An Old Soldier

CHARLES McINTOSH, who has long been a familiar figure in Sunderland, was born on 22nd of March, 1793, at Meerut, in India, where the 71st Highland Light Infantry was at that time quartered. He was “a child of the regiment”, for his father was a private in the ranks, having been drafted from the Inverness Militia into the 71st at its embodiment on Glasgow Green. This waif and stray of the barrack yard was often packed away with his mother on the baggage waggon. So soon as he was able he became a drummer-boy in the regiment. He was with his father’s regiment in India up to the settlement of the Mahratta difficulty. At the age of 13 years, he landed with the 71st at the Cape of Good Hope, which was captured by the expedition under Baird and Popham. No sooner had the 71st arrived home than it was placed under orders to join the expedition which Wellington led to the Peninsula in 1806. This now famous regiment, incorporated with the historical Light Brigade, took part in the first brush with the enemy after landing at Mondego— called the battle of Roleia. During the terrific conflict at Vimiera the regiment was closely engaged in a hand-to-hand fight. Wellington was afterwards superseded, much to the regret of the soldiers. The Light Brigade was then incorporated with Sir John Moore’s force. A memorable episode of its career was that disastrous of the British army over the snow-covered mountains of Galicia to Corunna. The remnants of the army were severely handled in the hot and sanguinary battle which was fought close to the walls of the sea port. In this engagement, the drummer-boy (McIntosh) was wounded on the inside of his left thigh by a spent ball. Through loss of blood, he fell among the dead and wounded which thickly strewed the ground. After recovering his senses, he found himself face to face with a wounded French officer, who levelled a horse pistol at him; but the agile drummer-boy quietly drew his dirk from his stocking, and thus saved his life. Wellington again resumed command, and then followed that glorious list of engagements that ended at Toulouse. Happily the “little peace”, as it was termed, gave Europe a welcome rest from the toils of warfare. Charles McIntosh, with his father, had served with the 7lst Regiment throughout the five years of incessant campaigning which preceded it. On the re-organization of the regiment, his father left the service, and claimed also his son’s discharge, he being then 21 years of age. The family settled in Glasgow, where Charlie learned the trade of a hatter, working as a journeyman both in that city and at Perth. The military instinct was, however, not extinguished, so in 1828 be took “the king’s shilling,” and enlisted in the 79th Highlanders. With this corps he embarked for British North America. Whilst serving in Canada in 1851, he was struck by lightning, and suffered severely from the shock. After quitting the regimental hospital, he was sent home to the depot, and as the result of an examination he was discharged with a pension of 6d. per day to continue for eighteen months, on the understanding that he would submit himself to the medical officer of the garrison at the expiration of that period. At the second examination he was found unfit for further service, and his pension of 6d. per day was continued. McIntosh became once more a civilian, and followed his former trade as a journeyman hatter with Mr. Samuel Turner, Hyde Lane, Cheshire. In 1848, the Chartist movement was in full swing, and McIntosh joined it. Many Chartists, accused of seditious practices, were brought before the magistrates, McIntosh among the rest. Finding on the Bench his former master, he appealed to him for a good word, requesting also that the magistrates should write to the officers of the 79th Regiment touching his character and pension. An excellent record was returned from the 79th Regiment, and McIntosh was discharged from custody. But from that day to this, he says, he has never received his pension. Major Sladden, of Sunderland, has kindly endeavoured to get the pension restored, but the loss of McIntosh’s regimental pocket ledger, containing his discharge, which he left at the Military Hospital, Forepit, near Stroud, has, with other discrepancies, prevented him from succeeding. Familiar to every inhabitant of Sunderland is the fine military figure of “Old Charley,” who for many years past has perambulated the streets with his little satchel of fancy wares. Calling at the principal public and private offices and banks of the town, he has become a general favourite through his pleasant manners and clean and tidy appearance. Up to last October, he was out daily, winter and summer, wet or dry. Having missed him from the streets, I felt there must be some urgent reason for his absence. I found he was ill, and confined to bed, without any means of livelihood. An appeal was, therefore, made to the public, through the kindness of the Editor of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle the result being the establishment of a fund from which he has received sums varying from ten to twenty shillings per week, which fund has been largely supplemented from other sources. It is sincerely hoped that the “old soldier” will still be kindly remembered, until he answers the last call.

Charles McIntosh

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