John Doyle. Courtesy of Guernsey Museum
General Sir John Doyle
Find out about the soldier turned administrator who radically improved the island's defences, which permanently altered the island's infrastructure.
Born in Dublin in 1756 after graduating from Trinity College John Doyle joined the army, distinguishing himself in the American War of Independence, before entering the world of Irish politics rising to the post of Secretary of War.
After the start of war with France in 1793 he raised his own regiment, the 87th Regiment of Foot, and served in Holland, Gibraltar and Egypt ahead of his appointment as Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales.
Already commanding the troops in the islands he was made Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey in 1803, and a Baronet in 1805 and embarked on an ambitious programme of reclamation and rebuilding as part of his defensive strategy against the French.
He was responsible for the draining of the Braye du Valle, which joined the north of Guernsey to the rest of the island for the first time, he constructed roads to enable efficient troop movements and built new fortifications and artillery emplacements around the coast.
During his first year as Lieutenant-Governor Doyle declared a state of emergency in the islands which lasted until Napoleon's defeat in 1815.
He petitioned the States at length and won over their support as they gave £30,000 to build new forts and batteries.
This Guernsey fort is named after Doyle
Filling the Braye
In the Middle Ages the sea burst inland over the low-lying land in the north of the island cutting the island in two and creating the Braye du Valle.
Many people attempting to cross the area were lost and there was only one fixed crossing point beside what became St Sampson's Marina - The Bridge.
Doyle was concerned that if the French invaded the Clos du Valle the one crossing point would make it very difficult to reinforce the northern garrisons and to dislodge any invaders that gained a foothold.
By damming the Braye at The Bridge and Grande Havre, 300 acres of land were drained and changed from march to pasture and farm land. The Vale Pond is the last reminder of the area as it was.
The land was sold to raise funds for Doyle's next project, the building of two roads in 1812 both starting in St Peter Port and leading to L'Eree and Vazon.
This project was not without its opposition though and a huge public meeting was held in the Town Church, the only building big enough, where Doyle used his experience speaking in the Irish Parliament to charm the crowd who voted in favour of building the roads with a three to one ratio.
The pond is all that remains of the Braye du Valle
He also brought his nephew Colonel John Doyle over as inspector of the militia who worked to improve the Guernsey Militia with better training and equipment.
With the end of the Napoleonic War he was recalled to England despite protests from the islanders and States who wanted him to stay.
The massive building programme had a knock on effect of helping the granite and quarrying industry to expand.
John Doyle joined the army in March 1771 with the 48th (Northampton) Regiment, gaining promotion to Lieutenant in 1773.
He transferred to the 40th (2nd Somerset) Regiment and served with that Regiment during the American War of Independence, greatly distinguishing himself at the battle of Brooklyn, where he rescued the body of his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, from the enemy.
Doyle was also present at the battles of Harlem, Springfield, Brandywine, and Germantown, where he was wounded.
The Doyle Memorial at Jerbourg
He assisted Lord Rawdon in raising his Loyal American Legion - later the 105th (Volunteers of Ireland) Regiment - in which he was promoted to Captain in 1778, and served with them at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse and the siege of Charleston.
After the war Doyle was put on half pay, a method that allowed the army to recall officers in times of war but pay them little in times of peace. He returned to Ireland where he was elected MP for Mullingar in the Irish House of Commons in 1783.
He was noted as an eloquent speaker and appointed Secretary of War in 1790, holding that post until 1799 and resumed his military career in September 1793 raising the 87th (Prince of Wales's Irish) Regiment.
Doyle commanded a Brigade during the campaign in Egypt, 1801, distinguishing himself during the operations in the desert leading to promotion to Major-General in 1802. Doyle was appointed Knight Bachelor in 1813 and made General in 1819.
last updated: 13/08/2009 at 16:28
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87th Regiment of Foot
The Prince of Wales Irish Heroes or 87th Regiment of Foot was raised in September 1793.
In 1794 the regiment was marched into France as prisoners-of-war after being betrayed by their Dutch allies, being released in 1796.
Sergeant Patrick Masterson of the 2nd Battalion captured the first French Eagle of the Peninsular War at Barrosa.
In celebration they were renamed The Prince of Wales's Own Irish Regiment and given the eagle as a badge of honour.
A member of the 87th also captured the elaborately decorated baton of French Marshal Jourdan at the battle of Vittoria, which was used as the model for the first British version of the field marshal's baton.
The 87th and 89th were later combined with some militia units to become The Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1827.