The Battle of Almanza visit

By Peter Ferrary

Earlier this year Mike Meredith and I visited Almansa * in South East Spain, at the invitation of the town, to participate in its 315th anniversary celebrations of the battle. Our aim was to explain our Regiment’s participation in the battle and our continuing commemoration of an event which most Spaniards, until very recently, had long forgotten.

These celebrations in Almansa are a relatively recent innovation, instigated and driven forward, in particular for the 300th anniversary, by a keen local historian, one Herminio Gomez, who has been tireless in promoting this long forgotten battle among historians, academics, his local townspeople and, importantly, the municipality. The battle had wide ranging geopolitical consequences in so far Spain was concerned. Herminio has succeeded in having a small local museum established dedicated to the battle and in organising guided battlefield tours, annual re-enactments of the battle, as well as a seminar over the course of a long weekend close to the 25th April. These re-enactments now attract about 400 appropriately costumed participants from far and wide and the whole event has now become a major regional attraction. As Herminio confesses, what had started as a hobby has now become his full time job and vocation.

The idea for the visit arose as a result of the late Michael Goldschmidt’s initiative in early 2017 to organise a Wessex Vikings Almanza Luncheon. This proved very successful and 16 of us gathered to enjoy the event. Many contacts were re-established and in my case I re-connected with Mike whom I hadn’t seen in some years.

Mike’s wife Pilar is Spanish and they often holiday near Alicante not that far from Almansa. So on their next visit following the 2017 luncheon, Mike and Pilar visited Almansa expressly to visit the Battle of Almansa Museum which Mike had researched.  Herminio, on learning that a former Royal Anglian, with links to the 9th of Foot, was at the Museum’s doors, greeted him with the words, “Hola, Holy Boy!” (the much later nickname of the 9th of Foot) and proceeded to tell him about Steuart’s Regiment (the forbear regiment of the 9th) and show him where its place was in the Order of Battle on a large plan of the battlefield!

A friendship was struck and subsequently, in 2019, Mike returned to Almansa and presented a delighted Herminio with a photograph of “Almanza 1707” embroidered on the 1st Battalion’s Drum Major’s sash for display in his museum; tangible evidence of our Regiment’s association with Almansa which Herminio had asked about. The idea then developed as to the possibility of finding a willing person who could present a talk in Spanish about the Regiment and its connection with this significant event in Spanish history, the Battle of Almansa, at the following year’s commemorative events. Mike thought of myself and rather too enthusiastically I agreed! The idea for a future visit was born.

But giving a presentation in Spanish was easier said than done. Whilst my Spanish is fluent it is unpractised beyond a domestic level. So having completed the relatively easy part of preparing a presentation in English, a significant effort in translation was required! It was, after all, 40 years since I had attended the Spanish Army Staff College.

On Sunday morning, before the second re-enactment and in brighter, warmer weather, we were invited to partake in the Battle of Almansa remembrance proclamation involving speeches by the Mayor and other local dignitaries including the Italian Mayor. Following this and after the departure of the re-enactors to prepare for battle, Mike and I were surprised to find ourselves, escorting an elegant lady in period dress carrying our poppy wreath (on behalf the Regiment), at the head of the procession of dignitaries and including a band, through the streets of Almansa clapped enthusiastically by the locals.

On arrival at the ground where the re-enactment was taking place, Mike and I were the first to lay our wreath before the other dignitaries laid their own floral tributes. The original monument marking the site of the battle had been destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed several times over the years so what we had was a faithful reproduction of the original memorial which gets displayed every year during the celebrations and is then stored away. Vandals exist everywhere.

In sum, this was a very successful visit and has established our Regiment’s continued commemoration of the Battle of Almansa firmly in the locals’ minds and is now recorded in their museum. Mike had also brought along a copy of the regimental history, From Aden to Afghanistan, a gift from RHQ on behalf of the Regiment, to be displayed in the Battle of Almansa museum.

Anyone visiting sunny Alicante may wish to visit Almansa. It is an interesting little place with a castle, dating from the period of the Muslim occupation of Spain, perched on a crag above the town and very beautifully restored. Almansa also produces an excellent wine though sadly this is not widely available in the UK.

As indicated earlier, the genesis for the Almansa trip stemmed from the Wessex Vikings Almanza lunches which were held in 2017-19. On this note it is hoped that an Almanza lunch will be held in 2023 – whether in Wessex or not – not only to continue this ‘tradition’ but as a tribute to Michael Goldschmidt’s memory also.

Finally, a word of thanks to Mike for his enthusiasm and doggedness in pursuing this Almansa project; for his helpful liaison with Herminio and for his suggestions and advice with regards this article.

* The Regiment has always spelt Almanza with a Z. But the battle in 1707 took place just outside the town of Almansa with an S – which lies between Alicante and Albacete in the South East of Spain. The trouble is there’s a separate Almanza with a Z in Spain but this is near Leon in the North of the country and some six hundreds kilometres away. It would make a difference to one’s Satnav!

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