A plaque was inaugurated in Mendoza’s Sarmiento square on August 17 to remember 47 British Mendoza residents who created a Company of Light Infantry to fight for Argentina. The plaque was placed where the British volunteers used to carry out military training and drills.
The Light Infantry Company was formed in 1815 to help defend our country against a possible Spanish invasion from Chile. They went on to join San Martín’s liberation army, known as the Ejército de los Andes (Army of the Andes).
The event, organized by Mendoza City Council and the local branch of the Argentine-British Community Council, was part of the commemorations for the 173rd anniversary of General José de San Martín’s passing.
Mendoza City Council President Horacio Migliozzi and myself, as Vice Chairman of the Argentine-British Community Council, unveiled the plaque, which will be incorporated from now on to Mendoza’s San Martín history tour. A QR code incorporated into the plaque will allow the public to learn more about the history of the volunteers.
The event was attended by local authorities, members of cultural and folkloric associations and descendants of those who created the Compañía de Cazadores Ingleses (Company of English Hunters), as the military unit was known in Spanish.
A special mention must go out to Carlos Campana, District Representative of the Argentine-British Community Council, for his historic investigations on this specific subject. As one of the most knowledgeable researchers, his activities include lectures and articles on the subject of San Martín and his link with Great Britain.
Who were the British Volunteers?
Between 1806 and 1807, more than 250 prisoners from the failed British invasion of the River Plate arrived in Mendoza after traveling for almost two months from Buenos Aires.
In 1807, Napoleon’s troops entered the Iberian Peninsula. Initially, Spain was an ally of France, and Napoleon sought Spain’s cooperation in the invasion of Portugal. The Spanish monarchy cooperated because of the British blockade of Buenos Aires. However, Napoleon betrayed Spain and the French troops moved into Spanish territory.
During the alliance that followed between Spain and the United Kingdom after the French invasion, most of the prisoners in Argentina returned to Europe. Others, on the other hand, decided to stay in Mendoza.
In 1815, when San Martín organized the civic militias in the Cuyo region, Juan Young proposed the creation of a military company with 47 of his compatriots who lived in Mendoza. Many of them had formed part of the 71st Highland Regiment from Scotland.
The cost of the company would be borne by its members. Command was given to Captain Juan Young, and First Lieutenant Thomas Appleby, was second in command. Appleby was a merchant who arrived in Mendoza in 1813.
In January 1817, the company crossed the Andes, and after the liberation campaign in Chile and Peru, many of them returned to Mendoza.
The story of the volunteers has been until now quite unknown, although references to their feat have been mentioned in some famous books. In 1925, Argentina’s first woman doctor, Cecilia Grierson, wrote a book on the story of the Monte Grande Scottish Colony that presents a background of the British presence in Argentina. Grierson gives further information on the origin of the Compañía de Cazadores Ingleses and supplies the names of all the volunteers.
“Lest we forget” is a phrase commonly used in war remembrance services and commemorative occasions in English-speaking countries. It could also be a deserved phrase for these brave Brits, who contributed with their efforts to the independence of Argentina, Chile and Peru.