If asked when the last invasion of Britain was, many people in Britain will remember 1066 when the Normans successfully invaded the south coast of England and defeated the army of King Harold and became the rulers of Britain for centuries. But that is simply not true…and the truth is that of a Welsh heroine who almost single-handedly saved the day for Britain.
The last invasion of Britain was in west Wales near to the town of Fishguard. The original plan of the French was to land at Bristol, but weather conditions and probably other mistakes meant that they actually landed in west Wales. On February 18th, 1797, the French invasion force set sail from Camaret. After landing on 22nd February between Fishguard and Goodwick at Carreg Wastad bay near to Strumble Head (Pen Caer) the French army of some 1,500 men marched inland and occupied higher ground Garnwnda and Garngelli.
The French army was under the command of 70 year-old Irish American Colonel Tate. The French 'army' consisted of some 600 army regulars but also 800 to 900 convicts and prisoners pressed into service and who had been offered their freedom if they joined the invasion. Rather than advancing on Fishguard with military precision, they decided to overrun a farmhouse one mile inland, called Tre-Howel and they made this their headquarters.
When the invasion occurred, Colonel Thomas Knox, commanding officer of the Fishguard Volunteers, was at a ball at a prosperous farmhouse Tregwynt, located between Fishguard and St David's and some four miles from where the landing took place. The local British army was heavily outnumbered, but reinforcements were gathering at Fishguard where the officers were stationed overnight in what is now called the Royal Oak Inn.
Local Heroin, Jemima Nicholas, Wins the Day
The invasion started and finished within 2 days. A local heroine, Jemima Nicholas, is said to have captured soldiers single-handedly and secured them in St Mary’s Church with nothing more than a pitchfork. On 24th February, the French army marched down from their higher ground positions to Goodwick Beach, where they laid down their weapons and gave an unconditional surrender. The surrender was completed in the Royal Oak pub in Fishguard and this is noted on a plaque above the front door.
It is recorded that Jemima was rewarded with an annual pension of £50 by the Government for her achievements in defeating the French invasion force. Jemima died in 1832 and is buried in St Mary's church where her gravestone inscription says, 'the Welsh heroine who boldly marched to meet the French invaders who landed on our shores in February 1797'.
French Surrender at Royal Oak Pub
The landmarks of this failed invasion are still to be seen today. Firstly in Fishguard there is a 100 feet long tapestry recording of this event made in 1997 to commemorate the, 200 year anniversary of the invasion. There is also a memorial at Carreg Wastad Point where the French landed. And whilst you’re in Fishguard, you can visit the Royal Oak pub, still serving food and drink today and witness a wall plaque recording the surrender and also see the relics from the battle including weapons and the table where the surrender was signed by both armies.
Things you may not know about Fishguard
Abergwaun (estuary of the River Gwaun) is the Welsh name of Fishguard, a small town on the west Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales. Fishguard has a population of approx. 3,500 and with it's close neighbouring town of Goodwick, approx 5,500. Modern Fishguard consists of two parts, Lower Fishguard and the "Main Town".
Lower Fishguard (Cwm Abergwaun) is a delightfully picturesque fishing village. In 1971, it was used as 'Llareggub' and the film backdrop to the Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. It was also used in the 1956 film Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck.
Pen Caer is the Welsh name for the peninsular near to Goodwick and where the Strumble Head lighthouse is situated. The lighthouse is actually situated on a very small island off Pen Caer known as Ynys Meicel.
At Fishguard Harbour in the town of Goodwick is the location of the ferry port to Dublin and also the terminus of the London to Fishguard railway.
Cerys Mathews of Catatonia fame, went to school in Fishguard at Ysgol Bro Gwaun
The English name of Fishguard derives from the Old Norse language Fiskigaror meaning "fish catching enclosure", indicating that there may have been a Scandinavian trading post, although no evidence has been found.