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Why are we known as the steelbacks?

The Northamptonshire Regiment was formed in 1881, amalgamating two very much older regiments of foot – the 48th founded in 1741, and the 58th dating from 1755. Their battle honours include many of the British army’s most notable engagements, from Quebec with General Wolfe via Egypt, South Africa and India, right through to this century’s two World Wars.

The Siege of Gibraltar between 1779 to 1783 gave the Regiment its badge showing the colony’s castle and key. But the engagement that cemented their fighting reputation was the Battle of Talavera during the Peninsular War in July 1809. Wellington himself declared that “the battle was certainly saved by the advance, position and steady conduct of the 48th regiment”.

It is likely that very few of the motorists who daily hurtle along Talavera Way in Northampton are aware of the gallant story behind the road sign. The nickname is also believed to date from around the time, supposedly a tribute to the soldiers’ apparent indifference to the harsh discipline imposed by their officers.

The Regiment’s official history records a comment made by a veteran of the fighting in Spain and Portugal: “don’t you know why we are called Steelbacks?” Surely the whole army admits that we care as little for flogging as for the Frenchman’s steel!”

In time, however, the name came to signify the sort of grit and resolution all Northamptonshire supporters look for in the County’s cricketers. Let’s hope that spirit is much in evidence this season and beyond.

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