Thursday, 27 July 2017

Defender of the Realm

Day 17 - our heroine takes inspiration from local heroine Jemima

I was surprised to learn that in 1797, the last invasion of Britain took place near where I am staying in Pembrokeshire. The event is commemorated in the impressive ‘Last Invasion Embroidered Tapestry’, designed by Elizabeth Cramp and embroidered over a 4 year period by 77 local women and men.

Some 220 years ago Britain was at war with France. The military was on high alert along the east coast and the English Channel ready to repulse Napoleon’s troops should they decide to attack. It was therefore with some surprise that the invasion when it came was not where expected, but rather in west Wales. 1,400 French troops came ashore near Fishguard. The few British soldiers stationed nearby had to send for reinforcements before attempting to fight off the invaders. 

But the local women had other plans.
The French invaders had spread out along the coast, pillaging as they went. Some of them interrupted preparations for a wedding feast at Trehowel Farm. Tempted by the copious amounts of wine which the locals had ‘rescued’ from a recent shipwreck, they also helped themselves to the food which was still in the process of being prepared. Unfortunately they were too soon and ate undercooked chicken. 

Twelve of the drunken and by now somewhat queasy soldiers were captured by local woman Jemima Nicholas. Armed only with a pitchfork she singlehandedly marched them off to Fishguard where they were locked up.

Then, while the local British troops still waited for military support, the formidable Jemima continued with her plans. She led a group of women in a continuous walk around the Bigney Hill. From afar, the French soldiers mistook the ongoing  stream of local womenfolk, wearing their traditional outfits of red cloaks and black bonnets, for red-coated British soldiers. Assuming they were outnumbered, the French promptly surrendered.

Maybe the story has become a little embellished by local folklore, but I rather like the tale of Jemima - a woman not to be messed with!

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