Napoleon’s Imperial Old Guard were set to be pitted against seasoned cider-drinkers of Torbay

Portrait of Napoleon by David Jacques Louis

Portrait of Napoleon by David Jacques Louis - Credit: Getty Images

In 1803 the small villages that made up Torbay prepared to be invaded.

Evacuation plans were drawn up and the militia assembled to meet a massive French flotilla expected to appear on the horizon.

France had long had envious eyes on Britain but this time it was more serious under the determined Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Preparations for an invasion had begun soon after the outbreak of war and an army of 200,000 men was gathered and trained.

The British Regular army stood at 132,000 men, with only 50,000 at home - the rest serving abroad - so the situation was perilous.

A French 'National Flotilla' of invasion barges was built in Channel ports.

The Boulogne encampment was clearly visible from the south coast of England, so we knew what was being planned.

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In response we had plenty of opportunity to prepare for the coming assault – Martello towers were built along the coast, militias were raised, and Dover Castle was improved.

So the south east was heavily defended and prepared. This suggested that Napoleon would land his invasion army further along the coast, and the prime contender was relatively undefended Torbay.

Indeed, we had seen an 'invasion' before - in 1688 which started the Glorious Revolution.

Torbay began to prepare for the expected onslaught.

We were vastly outnumbered by those 200,000 seasoned French troops that had already defeated the best armies in Europe, but we were prepared to fight.

This was the original Dad's Army. And whether Boney's Imperial Old Guard would have stood much of a chance pitted against the seasoned cider-drinkers of Torre, Cockington, Upton and Fleete is debateable.

In Torquay, orders were given by the town's magistrates to make every preparation. Local Volunteers, then called the Fencibles, were held in readiness and plans were put in place for a large scale evacuation. It was planned to remove the inhabitants of Torbay, along with their goods, to Dartmoor.

In November of 1803 a notice was issued: 'Tormoham, 9th November 1803. At a very respectable and numerous meeting of the inhabitants, held at the Crown and Anchor (in Swan Street) on Tuesday it was unanimously resolved - That the infirm, and children under the age of eight years, who are incapable of walking ten miles in one day, shall, in the case of an alarm of the enemy, be assembled in three divisions: Torquay; Tor; and Upton, at the following places of rendezvous- Baldson at the head of Abbey Road, Small Hill, and top of Stantaway Hill.'

Each owner was then instructed to send a horse or cart to these meeting points.

'Those persons who are not employed in any particular service should, immediately on an alarm, meet the Rev. W Kitson at the church (St Saviours off Lucius Street), to consult in what manner they can render the greatest assistance to their neighbours and country'.

Before the flotilla could cross, however – as Hitler realised in a later invasion plan – Napoleon had to gain naval control of the Channel. He wrote: 'Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours and we are masters of the world.'

He envisaged doing this by having French fleet sail across the Atlantic to threaten the West Indies,

This, it was intended, would draw off the Royal Navy. The French could then double back and transport the invasion force.

This bold ploy was typical of Napoleon and relied on fast manoeuvres and surprise- yet it was more suited to marching armies than to sea warfare, and the plan failed.

In August 1805, Napoleon finally accepted that his invasion wasn't going to happen.

Of course, we eventually would see Napoleon in Torbay.

Following his 1815 defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the Emperor surrendered to the British and had the opportunity to view our fair shores from the deck of HMS Bellerophon on his journey to his St. Helena exile.