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Regimental History

Lieutenant Colonel John Piper CB of the King's Own Royal Regiment

John Piper was born in 1783, one of six children to John and Francis Piper who lived in Devon. At the age of only twelve years he was commissioned as an Ensign in the King’s Own on 6th February 1795 and on 6th September of that year was promoted Lieutenant.

In 1796 Piper joined the Regiment which at the time was serving in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Canada. In September 1797 he returned, with the Regiment, to England. In August 1799, as a result of the transfer of men from the Militia, the Regiment expanded to three battalions and Piper became a Captain-Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion. This was the rank held by the most senior Lieutenant.

In September 1799 he was posted to Holland and saw active service against the French at Hoorn, Egmont-op-Zee and Alkmaar. During the return voyage the ships were held up for some weeks by contrary winds and fever broke out among those crowded on board. It is recorded that Piper was struck down by fever which nearly cost him his life.

Overseas Service

October 1805    Hanover
July 1807          Copenhagen
April 1808         Sweden with Sir John Moore
January 1809     Retreat to Corunna
July 1809          Walcheren Expedition

Piper was seized with illness during the Walcheren Expedition and “lay for some time at the point of death” being saved by the skilful treatment of Surgeon Hill of the regiment. Shortly after being promoted Major on 16th August 1810 Piper was sufficiently recovered from his illness to be able to volunteer to accompany the 1st Battalion on their return to the Peninsula, where they landed on 4th November.

The Storming of Badajoz
The assault party on the bastion of St. Vincente at the fortress town of Badajoz comprised the light companies of the 4th King’s Own along with 30th, 38th and 44th Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Brooke of the King’s Own. Major John Piper commanded the Support Column, consisting of the battalion and grenadier companies of the King’s Own.

As the British attacked the French forces in Badajoz Piper was knocked down by a musket ball which struck one of his arms. This was a fortunate circumstance and probably saved his life for, simultaneously, a magazine blew up killing or wounding many of his party. By this time Piper’s clothing was ‘pierced in several places’. Badajoz fell but at the cost of over 3,500 men .

At the Battle of Salamanca, on 22nd July 1812, when Lieutenant General Leith was wounded, Major General Pringle took command of the Division, Lieutenant Colonel Brooke of the Brigade and John Piper of the Fourth Regiment.

Piper was present at the Battles of Vittoria (21st June 1813) and the storming of St Sebastian (31st August 1813) when Lieutenant Colonel Brooke was again in command. When Brooke was wounded at the Battle of Nivelle on 10th November 1813, John Piper again took over command of the Fourth.

Battle of Nive 9th to 13th December 1813
On 10th December 1813 Major General Robinson was shot and relinquished command of the Brigade. As the next senior officer of the Brigade had been killed at the same time the command fell to Piper. During this engagement Piper received a dangerous and almost mortal wound in the vertebrae of the neck. Complete paralysis, which at first ensued, was, subsequently, only partly cured. He is then reported as “being now completely incapacitated for a long time from further service” and was invalided to England.

Piper went on to command the Recruiting Company and in August 1817 was tried by court-martial on seven charges relating to “drawing coal and allowances for the Depot Company”. He was acquitted of four of the charges, and on the remaining three was “recommended to be admonished”.

On 1st February 1819 the regiment embarked at Portsmouth for the West Indies, landing at Barbados on 5th April. Companies were sent to Trinidad and Tobago, and six companies sailed for Grenada to establish headquarters under Piper, who had now rejoined and purchased the commission of Lieutenant Colonel commanding the regiment from Lieutenant Colonel Brooke on 3rd August 1820. In March, 1821, the regiment was concentrated at Barbados. Losses from disease had already been heavy and in December 1821 an epidemic of yellow fever struck the regiment, causing many further deaths.

Piper died at Barbados on 12th December 1821.

Piper’s Medals
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Military Division. Companions breast badge, in gold and enamel.
Army Gold Cross for the Battles of Salamanca, St. Sebastian, Nive and Badajoz.
Army Small Gold Medal for Salamanca, with additional clasps for St. Sebastian and Nive.

Piper did not received an immediate medallic award for Badajoz. His first awarded was the Brevet Lieutenant Colonelcy for Badajoz. The Gold Medal is named for ‘Salamanca’ with clasps of ‘St. Sebastian’ and ‘Nive’.

The Army Lists for 1817 onwards show Piper as the holder of the gold cross. His personal receipt, dated 30th March, 1817, from Walker Hotel, Dean Street, Soho, acknowledges receipt of “a cross of gold” from the Commander-in-Chief’s Office, and is signed by Piper as Lieutenant Colonel, Major, 4th or King’s Own Regiment.

The Army Gold Cross is one of only two awarded to officers of the King’s Own and one of only 163 awarded in total to the British Army.

The King's Own Royal Regiment Museum acquired the medals at auction in October 2003 with support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

© 2005 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum