Welcome to our online exhibition about the Battle of Waterloo.
On 18 June 1815, The Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo brought to an end the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The Duke is one of Britain’s most famous generals, and Waterloo one of the most famous battles of all time.
This year is the 205th anniversary of the battle, and to commemorate we’re sharing this online exhibition with stories and objects from Calderdale Museums and The Duke of Wellingtons’ Regimental Museum. In 2015 we hosted a large exhibition at Bankfield Museum in conjunction with the National Army Museum.
The 205th Anniversary of the Waterloo Campaign
On 18 June 1815, The Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo brought to an end the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The Duke is one of Britain’s most famous generals, and Waterloo one of the most famous battles of all time.
The scale of the battle was vast and has been written about many times. This online exhibition seeks to show the experiences of one small part of Wellington’s army, the 33rd (or 1st Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment. We are fortunate to have eye-witness accounts from its soldiers, including a rare letter home by an ordinary soldier from Halifax, Private George Hemingway. A few items carried on the battlefield have survived, as have early photographs of some of the combatants.
In 1853, the 33rd became unique in being granted the title ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment’, the only one to be named after a person not of royal blood. Until its amalgamation with the Yorkshire Regiment in 2006, it remained The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding), proudly bearing the names of its most famous soldier and the area in which it recruited its men.
Waterloo Day, 18 June 2020 is also the 75th anniversary of the Regiment being given the freedom of Halifax, in recognition of the many links between the Regiment and the town in which it was based. This honour, gave the Regiment the privilege of marching through the town with Colours flying and bayonets fixed. The same day was combined with the official celebrations and commemorations for VE Day, the ending of the Second World War in Europe after the German surrender on 8 May 1945.
This bicorne hat (shown with its carry case) was worn by the Duke later in life, but still carries the cockades of the Allied armies of which he was Commander-in Chief at Waterloo.
The Waterloo Campaign: The Battle of Quatre Bras
In April 1814 Napoleon abdicated and it seemed that the wars which had raged since the French Revolution had come to an end. But Napoleon escaped from Exile and in March 1815 made a triumphant entry into Paris, forcing the Allies to invade France again. The Duke of Wellington was to attack from Belgium, supported by the Prussians under Field Marshal Blucher. Russian and Austrian Armies would invade from across the Rhine.
Heavily outnumbered, Napoleon decided to deal with his enemies piecemeal. On 15 June he marched into Belgium with 140,000 men, catching Wellington and Blucher off guard as Marshal Ney, one of Napoleon’s most dashing cavalry generals, neared the vital crossroads at the small village of Quatre Bras. The 33rd, part of Sir Colin Halkett’s 5th Brigade, marched 20 miles to relieve its defenders.
At 5.30 pm the 33rd engaged French infantry who were trying to turn their flank. Lieutenant William Thain described how: ‘We gave them a most beautiful volley and charged, but they ran faster than our troops (already fatigued) could do, and we did not touch them with the bayonet’,
But there was a greater threat. French Cuirassiers, armoured troopers on heavy horses, charged the Brigade from close range. Such men could ride through infantry in line, forcing them to adopt a defensive square for protection. Surprised by the onrush, the 69th Regiment alongside them was caught in line and cut down as the 33rd successfully formed square to repel the attack.
After reforming into line to continue the advance, the 33rd were again charged by cavalry, this time closely supported by artillery. Squares were vulnerable to artillery fire as the 33rd were to discover. Private George Hemingway, an 18 year old soldier from Halifax wrote home afterwards: ‘The enemy got a fair view of our Regiment at that time, and they sent cannon shot as thick as hailstones... we seen a large column of French cavalry advancing close upon us. We immediately tried to form square but all in vain as the cannon shot from the enemy broke down our square faster than we could form, it killed nine or ten men every shot, the balls bursting down amongst us and shells bursting in a hundred pieces’
The first Regimental officer killed, Captain John Haigh, fell bravely trying to steady the front face of the square in the face of this devastating fire. His brother, Lieutenant Thomas Haigh, saw him die and was himself mortally wounded at Waterloo.
Having seen the fate of the 69th when caught in the open, the 33rd fell back to the cover of the trees in the nearby woods. Here they reformed but were held in reserve until nightfall brought the fighting to an end. Ney had been held back, gaining valuable time for the Allies.
The 33rd went into action with 561 men and lost 96 who were killed, wounded or missing.
The maps shown were prepared for use by the modern army, so follow their convention of showing 'friendly' forces in blue and enemy forces in red.
The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815
On 17 June Wellington withdrew to his chosen defensive position covering the approach to Brussels, the Ridge of Mont St. Jean near the village of Waterloo. This high ground allowed his favourite tactic, use of the reverse slope to conceal his troops Wellington described a general’s greatest skill as the ability to guess ‘what was on the other side of the hill’. The aim was to hold Napoleon until the arrival of the Prussian army, when he would be outnumbered and surrounded.
By the time the 33rd had marched 10 miles to Mont St. Jean without rations or greatcoats during a thunderstorm, they were soaked to the skin and, exhausted, tried to grab a few hours sleep on the muddy ground. At 9.00am they were in position with Halkett’s Brigade in the right centre of the battlefield, behind the unpaved road connecting Hougomont Chateau and the farm of La Haye Sainte. These had been fortified as defensive outposts. The rain delayed Napoleon’s attack, the mud making it difficult to bring up his artillery, but about 11.15am the French barrage began.
The 33rd stood their ground protected by the reverse slope as the French pressed home their assault on Hougomont. An attack on the centre was beaten back by General Picton’s Division and the British cavalry. Realising he needed to take La Haye Sainte, Napoleon ordered another bombardment at 3.30pm. Soon afterwards, Marshal Ney and his cavalry moved forward, forcing the British infantry into square. Lieutenant Frederick Hope Pattison of the 33rd wrote: ‘…our Brigade was placed in the most trying position in which a soldier can find himself, held in reserve, except in resisting repeated charges from the French cavalry, which we inevitably repulsed, we were yet exposed to the destructive fire of artillery which occasioned many casualties.’
The painting is 'The 33rd (or 1st Yorkshire West Riding Regiment) at Waterloo' by David Rowlands.
Wellington himself rode up to the Brigade. The situation was desperate, and casualties were mounting. Halkett asked the Duke: ‘My Lord, we are dreadfully cut up; can you not relieve us for a little while?’ ‘Impossible!’ He replied. ‘Very well My Lord, we’ll stand until the last man falls.’
By 6.30pm the 33rd had withstood four charges and the French cavalry had been destroyed. But La Haye Sainte had fallen and the 33rd and 69th were now so weak they formed together as a single, under-strength Battalion. Wellington looked at his watch and was heard to say; ‘I wish it was night, or the Prussians would come.’
At 7.00pm Napoleon ordered his veteran Imperial Guard forwards. As the leading column closed in, Halkett took the 33rd’s colour from the dying hands of Lieutenant John Cameron and led his Brigade forward. Halkett himself fell wounded, and command passed to Lieutenant Colonel William Elphinstone of the 33rd. As the French drew closer, Wellington brought his own Guards Brigade into action. Hidden behind the ridge, their sudden appearance followed by a devastating volley made the French recoil, before breaking as the Guards charged home. At the same time, the other enemy columns were halted by fire from the flank and panicked by the arrival of the first Prussian troops. Seizing the moment, Wellington gave the order for a general advance. By 9.00pm Wellington and Blucher had met, the French army had collapsed and Napoleon was in flight.
The 33rd and 69th halted at Hougomont, where they prepared to bury their fallen. As the casualty returns – ‘the butcher’s bill’- were brought to him, Wellington was overcome with emotion. He later wrote: ‘Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.’
The 33rd lost a further 184 men killed, wounded or missing. The Battle Honour ‘Waterloo’ was awarded to the Regiment.
Image shown is a map of the Battle of Waterloo.
The Duke of Wellington and the Waterloo Campaign
Arthur Wesley was born in Ireland in 1769, the son of the Earl of Mornington. In 1798, the family name was changed to the more aristocratic-sounding Wellesley. He was educated at Eton but did not excel at his studies, having a preference for music. As the younger son, he followed the traditional path of entering the army, and by 1793 he was the Commanding Officer of the 33rd (or 1st Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment.
Wellesley first saw action in the wars which followed the French Revolution and raged from 1793 until 1815. After an unsuccessful British campaign in the Netherlands (where, as he later remarked, he ‘learnt how not to do it’), the 33rd was posted to India. Here, Wellesley proved himself to be a masterful military commander.
After his victories in Portugal and Spain led to the invasion of France and Napoleon’s surrender in 1814, Wellesley was rewarded with the title of the Duke of Wellington. In March 1815, Napoleon escaped from exile and during the ‘Hundred Days’ he returned to France, seizing power once more. On June 16, the Battle of Quatre Bras began the short but bloody Waterloo Campaign.
On campaign, Wellington disdained the elaborate uniforms of the period. These items of clothing in the museum collection were originally worn by the Duke, being given to his servant Christopher Collins as a memento after his death in 1852. They closely resemble those he wore in action, a simple dark blue frock coat worn with white trousers or breeches and a pair of the boots he designed himself, the iconic ‘Wellington’. The one concession to his military status is the bicorne hat, which originally carried a large feather plume.
The Havercake Lads, a Regiment at Waterloo
The 33rd (or 1st Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment had served in India under the Duke of Wellington since 1797.When it returned to England in 1812, most of its veterans were discharged and replacements were needed.
This print was first published in George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire in 1814 and shows a recruiting party from the 33rd. The original caption stated that: ‘…their recruiting serjeants always preceding the party with an oat cake upon their swords, the men have always been denominated the Havercake Lads. Til very lately the gallant Lord Wellington was their Colonel’.
Locally, oat cakes were known as havercakes. These were the staple diet in the West Riding and were carried as a sign the recruit would be well fed, with food he was familiar with. These recruiting parties travelled widely, and their poster, addressed to ‘All Brave and Aspiring Youths’, promised that:
‘The Road now being open to Glory, Honour and Fame, Captain Walker invites all High Spirited Heroes, to repair to him at his Quarters in Aked’s-Road, Halifax, where they will receive the highest Bounties, and the best of Treatment’.
Bounties were payments of around eight pounds, two or three of which were immediately taken back to pay for uniforms rations, and other ‘necessaries’. Still, this was a large sum for the time, when even a skilled man would earn less than ten pence a day. Nearly half of those recruits whose previous employment is known had worked in the textile trade, which was becoming increasingly mechanised as the new factory system took hold.
In 1815, the Regiment had over 700 soldiers, described as ‘very young’. Their average age was 21, with 63 men under 18. Their average height was 5 feet 7 inches, with 158 under five feet five inches. Nevertheless, the Inspection Return described it as one of the best-trained in the Army.
Most men did come from Yorkshire, or North of the Trent, but 77 were described as ‘foreigners’. These included Germans, Americans and at least one black soldier, Private John Lewis Friday, born in Massambassee on the West Coast of Africa.
Regimental Sergeant Major James Colbeck
Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Colbeck was the highest ranking Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the 33rd. Born in 1782 in Batley, Yorkshire, he had transferred from the 2nd West York Militia. The Militia were trained for home defence, but by the time the 33rd was recruiting back to strength in 1812, militiamen were being encouraged to enlist in the Regular Army to fight overseas. Many joined the 33rd, some as Commissioned Officers. He later maintained he was promised an officer’s commission because of the number of comrades he persuaded to enlist alongside him but had to content himself with the position of Regimental Sergeant Major.
This sash belonged to RSM Colbeck. According to the regulations, the 33rd sergeant’s sash was made of red wool, with a white stripe running through the centre. As a sign of his higher status, RSM Colbeck’s is made of red silk and more closely resembles an officer’s.
RSM Colbeck was wounded and captured at the Battle of Quatre Bras on June 16. He remained a prisoner until he was released from prison in Paris on July 7. There he bought this notebook, which contains a wealth of detail on the Regiment and its actions. It also includes drill instructions, in particular ‘The Mode of forming the Rallying Square’. This was probably in response to the fact that the 33rd had been forced to take cover in nearby woods when an attempt to form a full square at Quatre Bras had been unsuccessful due to enemy fire.
In 1821, the Regiment was posted to the West Indies. At this time European troops regularly suffered heavy losses from tropical diseases and the 33rd would prove no exception. Knowing this, RSM Colbeck was faced with a dilemma. Recently married and with a pregnant wife, he desperately wanted to stay at home, but to leave the Army would lose him his pay and his pension. Had he been an officer, as he’d originally hoped, he could have honourably retired and sold his commission, as many officers did. Reluctantly he sailed to the Indies, only to die of yellow fever, along with nearly 600 other men, women and children of the Regiment over the next 10 years.
Sergeant Major’s Jacket, 1815
There are very few surviving other ranks uniform jackets from the period, and none from the 33rd. This jacket was worn by a Sergeant Major of the 76th Regiment. The 76th were not at Waterloo as they were one of Wellington’s veteran regiments which had been sent to fight in America after Napoleon’s first defeat in 1814. The 33rd and the 76th wore very similar uniforms, one of the reasons they were linked together in 1881 to form the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (another being that the Duke himself had served with both). The only real difference is in the buttons, which are numbered ‘76’ rather than ‘33’.
Both Regiments had silver lace and were unusual in having had red facings, meaning the collar and cuffs were the same colour as the jacket. Almost all the others had these in different colours. This gave rise to frequent brawls as soldiers taunted them for having lost their facings due to cowardice-it was a common practice to disgrace soldiers by publicly tearing off their buttons, badges and facings. The Duke himself commented that this was a perennial problem. The final version of this taunt was to be: ‘The 33rd, that lousy crew, They lost their facings at Waterloo!’
It is made of high quality scarlet cloth, superior to the coarser, madder-dyed brick red of the ordinary soldiers’ coat and is trimmed with silver metal lace rather than the white woollen worsted worn by lower ranks. It was worn with a sword and sash.
Sergeant Major Colbeck would have presented a very smart appearance in a jacket very similar to this. When he was first captured at Quatre Bras, he was mistaken as an officer and offered parole. Parole meant that a man would be released on his word of honour that he would not fight again until exchanged someone of equal rank and was only granted to officers. Unfortunately for Colbeck, his true rank was pointed out and he was forced to remain a prisoner.
Lieutenant George Barrs
George Barrs joined the 33rd in 1807. He was commissioned as an Ensign, the most junior officer’s rank. As was the usual practice, George’s family paid four hundred and twenty pounds for his commission, in addition to paying for his uniforms and equipment. At a time when a skilled tradesman earned around twenty pounds a year, a wealthy family was needed if a young man who wished to become an officer. Poorer men from respectable families served as ‘Gentlemen Volunteers’, in the hope that they might gain promotion on the battlefield, and some ordinary soldiers managed to rise through the ranks as a reward for long service or heroism.
The 33rd was serving in India, so George endured the long passage out along with other reinforcements. Regulations allowed for a proportion of soldiers’ wives to accompany them overseas, usually six or eight per company of eighty to a hundred men. In his brief account of the voyage held in the museum, he describes how he had to preside over the burial at sea of Sergeant Flynn’s wife.
The early photograph on glass dates from the mid 1840s and shows Barrs in civilian clothing.
Barrs was promoted to Lieutenant in 1809, for which he had to pay another one hundred and sixty pounds. After its return from India, the 33rd saw active service in Northern Germany and the Netherlands, where it took part in the attack on the fortified city of Bergen-op-Zoom on 8 March 1814, one of the last battles fought before Napoleon’s first surrender. The attack was repulsed, and the 33rd lost over 150 men killed, wounded or missing. This was the first battle Lieutenant Barrs fought in before the Waterloo Campaign, which he was also fortunate to survive unscathed.
This small wooden box, with a ‘secret compartment’, held some of his personal effects and is said to have been used as a pillow on occasion. Its contents include his razor case, a boot hook and silver lace cut from his uniform as a souvenir. The shape of the square-ended loops which surrounded the buttonholes and decorated the front of the jacket can still be seen.
Ensign James Arnot Howard
Ensign Howard served with the Light Company of the 33rd. On July 8, 1815, he finally found time to write home to his mother. Whilst we now see the Battle of Waterloo as ending the campaign, this was not immediately obvious to those who had fought in it. Napoleon may have abandoned his troops and his baggage again, but he had escaped and there were still other French armies in the field. Not until the capture of Paris on 6 July was it clear that the victory had been won.
His letter describes how his company acted as skirmishers at The Battle of Quatre Bras on June 16, covering the left flank of the Regiment from French attack. Late in the day, he describes how; ‘I got a clink on the outside of my left thigh which knocked me down, and obliged me to quit the field. This was nine o’ clock. Although very seriously bruised, but finding nothing more than a little flesh disconcerted, I got the blood washed off and joined the company the same night…’
That night, and the following day, the Light Company helped to cover the retreat, having no rest until the army was established at Wellington’s favoured defensive position at Waterloo. As June 18 dawned and the French army approached, Ensign Howard ‘celebrated’ his 18th birthday. Once again, he was in the thick of the action, writing: ‘Thank God I am safe; I had a very narrow escape that day, a ball passed through my cap and must have been within the eighth of an inch of my head. I intend bringing the cap to England’.
And so he did. This 1812 Pattern ‘Belgic’ Shako, with its ‘33’ and Light Company badge is the one he wore, and the bullet hole can clearly be seen.
All armies wear items of uniform to identify themselves to friend and foe alike. This silk rosette is a French tricolour cockade, probably worn in a French officer’s hat. It was picked up as a souvenir on the battlefield of Waterloo by Captain Joshua Harty. He led the Light Company at Waterloo and was slightly wounded. In 1842, he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 33rd.
Captain Harty’s cap, or shako, would have carried the same Light Infantry distinction, the bugle horn badge, as Ensign Howard’s. The other companies of the Regiment wore this large brass ‘universal’ plate, stamped with the Regimental number and the royal cypher ‘G R’ for Georgius Rex (King George).
The oval plate was made of silver and was worn on the shoulder belt which carried a 33rd officer’s sword. It bears the Regimental number in the centre and its title in the encircling strap.
Regimental Forage Cap
The tall felt shako was worn for parades and even for battle, but soldiers were also issued with a more comfortable cap. This was worn when off duty or engaged in other work (‘foraging’ meant seeking out supplies).
It is knitted from heavy wool, which was then shrunk to give a felted, waterproof finish and fitted with a lining inside the headband. The Regimental number is embroidered on the front and a pompom covers the small finish left when the circular knitting was completed.
A soldier was expected to have his head covered at all times, as was the case in polite society generally, and the forage cap was usually carried rolled up inside the top of the shako. This was also intended to provide extra protection to the head from sword cuts and was much cheaper than other proposals suggested for this purpose, which included making the shako from leather or fitting it with a metal plate.
This is a rare survivor of an item in everyday wear by soldiers of the 33rd. It may have belonged to a soldier who was one of the men who transferred from the Staffordshire Militia to the 33rd after 1812.
Sergeant John Gibson
John Gibson was born in Kendal, North Yorkshire, and was another man who joined the 33rd from the Militia. In theory, all able-bodied men were liable to serve in this, but in practice only a certain number from each parish were required. These men were chosen by ballot, and it was a common practice for those selected to pay someone else to serve in their place. Gibson had volunteered as a substitute for such a man.
Like many other volunteers from the Militia, Gibson, with his previous military training and able to read and write, soon rose through the ranks. By 1814 he was a Sergeant and suffered a gun-shot wound to the head during the attack on the French-held fortress of Bergen-op-Zoom on 8 March, one of the last battles before Napoleon’s first surrender.
As a badge of his sergeant’s rank, he carried this 1803 Pattern Light Infantry Sword, with its curved sabre blade and lion’s head pommel. It would have been more normal for him to have carried the straight-bladed 1796 Pattern Sword. His silk sash, like Sergeant Gibson’s, also does not conform to the regulations. The wood block is his stencil, used to mark his personal kit with his name, number and company.
Sergeant Gibson fought bravely at Waterloo and was again shot in the head, being rewarded by promotion to Colour-Sergeant. He survived the 33rd’s posting to the West Indies but was badly injured during a storm on the voyage home. After leaving the army in 1832, Gibson received an army pension of two shillings (ten pence) per day, a generous amount when a private soldier’s pay at the time was one shilling a day.
Returning to his hometown, he became a Turnkey at the Kendal House of Correction. Twice married, he had 13 children and died at the age of 90 in 1878.
This photograph from around 1860 shows him in his Warder’s uniform, proudly wearing his Waterloo Medal.
Captain Frederick Hope Pattison
Frederick Hope Pattison came from a Scottish family and purchased his commission as an Ensign with the 33rd Regiment in 1810, joining them in India. By 1812, when the Regiment returned to England, he had been promoted to Lieutenant. During the Waterloo Campaign he commanded his Company as its senior Lieutenant, and he would reach the rank of Captain before leaving the army in 1830.
As a ‘Waterloo Man’, in 1842 he responded to the request of Captain Henry Siborne for veterans to send him letters detailing their experiences. Siborne used this information to write a history of the campaign and to make two scale models of the Battle of Waterloo, one of which can now be seen at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.
Many years later, and over 80 years of age, Captain Pattison wrote a further series of letters to his grandchildren. These were published in 1870 under the title ‘Horror Recollected in Tranquillity’. An officer himself, it is no surprise that his account mentions many of his fellow officers by name, and he is fairly unflinching in describing the terrible wounds they suffered. Of 37 officers who fought with the Regiment, 23 were killed or wounded.
He was also moved by the horrendous aftermath, describing the tragic fate endured by tens of thousands of men and horses: ‘…hosts of visitors and marauders from Waterloo and Brussels spread over the field of battle-the former to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded, the latter to destroy and rob them. Preparations were soon set on foot to bury the dead, by digging large trenches into which they were thrown promiscuously-friend and foe together…Solemn thought! Let us no longer linger on the field of blood-let us rather try to forget it-for me, alas! Impossible!’
Captain Pattison spoke for the many who were permanently scarred by their memories.
The Colours of the 33rd (or 1st Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment
Every Regiment carried two Colours, large flags nearly two metres square, each mounted on a spear-topped staff. In 1815, Colours were still carried into battle and represented the pride of the Regiment. They served as a guide in the advance and a rallying point in retreat. Victories were counted by the number of enemy flags taken and enemy guns captured. To lose a Colour was the ultimate disgrace.
Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Gore, a friend of the Duke of Wellington who commanded the 33rd on his behalf, described the Regimental Colours in an official letter in1808.
The King’s Colour was the Union Flag, identifying the unit as British; the second, the Regimental Colour, identified the individual Regiment. In the 33rd’s case, this took the form of the Saint George’s Cross with the Regimental number in a shield in the centre and a Union flag in the top corner by the spearhead.
When the Regiment returned from India they were in poor condition and a new ‘Stand of Colours’ was ordered. They were presented in 1813 and carried into action at the Battle of Bergen-op-Zoom on 8 March 1814. Amongst those killed was Lieutenant Colonel Gore.
His sons, Arthur and Ralph, continued to serve as officers with the Regiment and fought in the Waterloo Campaign. One was killed at the Battle of Quatre Bras. His comrade Lieutenant Frederick Hope Pattison described how: ‘At this juncture, Lieutenant Arthur Gore of the Grenadier Company, who was standing close by me (an exceedingly handsome young man…he was higher than any of his compatriots) was hit by a cannon ball, and his brains bespattered the shakos of the officers near him’.
At Waterloo, on 18 June, Lieutenant John Cameron was mortally wounded as he carried the Regimental Colour in the final advance. These are the spearheads and base ferrules from the flag staffs which flew the Colours. The Colours themselves can still be seen in the Regimental Chapel in Halifax Minster.
Lieutenant Samuel Alexander Pagan
The Army Field Post Office would deliver letters for one penny within the United Kingdom or for six pence overseas. This was a great saving, as postage for an overseas letter could be as much as two pounds. During 1815, these charges were waived, and letters could be sent for free.
Lieutenant Samuel Alexander Pagan wrote this letter, now held in the Regimental Archives, the day after the battle of Waterloo to reassure his mother after he had been wounded. She would have seen his name appearing in the official casualty list, but with no real information as to how badly he had been injured. His comrade Lieutenant Frederick Hope Pattison later described how he saw Pagan, Captain Trevor and Lieutenant John Hart: ‘…when a missile, supposed to be the fracture of a shell, hit Hart so severely on the shoulder as to cause instant death and, passing over Trevor, scooped out one of Pagan’s ears. He got up, staggering and bleeding profusely, when I, with other assistance, placed him on a bearer (stretcher) to carry him to the rear. The men had hardly left the centre of the square when a cannonball hit one of them, and carried off his leg.’
Lieutenant Pagan was one of many wounded soldiers to reached Brussels in search of assistance, along with stragglers and deserters who had spread rumours of a British defeat. In this letter he makes light of his wound, which was described in the official records as ‘severe’: ‘- a cannon ball having grazed the side of my head and left my ear hanging by a thread-there is not the slightest danger however-’
Pagan is correct in telling his mother that: ‘We have licked the French commanded by Bony himself most roundly’, but is mistaken in reporting that his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Elphinstone, had been killed by the French cavalry.
Many men brought back souvenirs from the battlefield; for reasons now forgotten, Pagan picked up this French clothes brush from amongst the carnage.
The Waterloo Campaign Medal
Awarded in 1816, this was the first medal to be presented to all soldiers who had fought in a campaign. It was proudly worn by all from the Duke of Wellington himself to the youngest private. Unlike later medals, it was only given to those who survived; no posthumous awards were made.
In addition to the medal itself, the recipients were given a cash bounty. Private soldiers received two pounds eleven shillings and four pence (around £2.62), a considerable amount when his daily pay was one shilling (5p). However, as a soldier’s rank rose so did his bounty. A captain in charge of a company was awarded £90.00 and the Duke received £61,000!
Equally welcome was the decision to grant veterans two years extra service, in recognition of the severity of the fight, one which many combatants had begun to feel might indeed be ‘The Last Battle’, which few would survive. This meant that soldiers could take up their pensions two years early.
The commander of the 33rd, Colonel Elphinstone, checked the actions of his men. He refused to issue 68 of the medals, which were returned to the Royal Mint where they had been made. Each was sent with a note explaining why he had done so. Some were easily justified: 15 soldiers were listed as having ‘quitted the field without leave’ or 'deserted in the face of the enemy'. Others he refused would have qualified in more recent times, such as those posted as guards on the ammunition and baggage trains, and in particular the Regimental hospital staff.
One soldier whose medal was returned was Private John Wheatcroft. He had enlisted at York in 1812, aged 15 and, like Ensign Howard, turned 18 on the day of Waterloo. Possibly due to his age, he was an officer’s servant and was listed as ‘not in action’. His army record shows that he served until 1840, reaching the rank of sergeant. It also shows that he did receive the benefit of the two years extra service, and one hopes he had also received his share of the bounty money.
The Waterloo Medal shown was awarded to Lieutenant George Barrs.
This online exhibition was crated by John Spencer, Military Curator for Calderdale Museums.
Find out more
You can find out more about the Duke of Wellington's Regiment on their website here and also in the Museum, within Bankfield Museum, Halifax.
The National Army Museum has an interesting website covering the Waterloo Campaign using paintings and objects from its collections. These include the surgical saw and bloody glove used by the surgeon who amputated the leg of the Earl of Uxbridge, Wellington's Cavalry General. https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/battle-waterloo
The Royal Armouries in Leeds houses one of the models made by Captain Siborne showing the climax of the Battle of Waterloo. It has a website describing many of the weapons and equipment used, together with information on the various Army Commanders. A nine-minute animated video gives a clear account of the Campaign and its battles. https://www.collections.royalarmouries.org/battle-of-waterloo
This website describes the Waterloo Museums and memorials for those who may wish to visit the Waterloo Battlefield. https://www.waterloo1815.be/en/the-site