On March 21st 1801 a battle was fought outside Alexandria, Egypt, which would see the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s military expedition to Egypt and result in the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment adopting a unique distinction.
A British Army led by General Sir Ralph Abercrombie had landed in Egypt to remove a French , who had been in occupation there since 1798. The 28th were part of the Reserve Division under the command of Major General Sir John Moore, occupying an unfinished redoubt in advance of a key position on the British right flank.
Exposed on low sand hills by the sea shore, when battle commenced, the 28th were subject to the full brunt of the French attacks. At one point they were simultaneously attacked in the front by Infantry and the rear by Cavalry. With no time or space to form square the Commanding Officer ordered his rear rank to about face to meet the new threat, and the 28th fought on back to back. Due to their steadiness and their devastating volleys they managed to turn the battle at a crucial time and inflict a significant defeat on the French, the first time for 30 years and a turning point in the campaigns against Napoleon.
The gallant action of the 28th fighting back to back, holding against the odds, the right flank, was henceforth commemorated by the wearing of an emblem of the Egyptian Sphinx on the back of the headdress.
To find out more about this story and other great tales of The Gloucestershire Regiment, why not visit The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, part of The Rifles Museums Network.
This honour is continued by The Rifles, successors to the 28th and the Gloucestershire Regiment, and is worn in barrack and ceremonial dress. The 21st March remains Back Badge Day and is celebrated by former ‘Glosters’ and Riflemen alike. This year a Back Badge Parade will be held in Gloucester City on the 22nd March.