'A Battle of Waterloo Survivor' by Barry EBDON
How strange the way a story unfolds! I had gone to Christ Church, in Burntwood one Tuesday evening in May order to conduct the 7.00 pm service of Compline, but before I had a chance to go into the church to start my preparations, I was summoned to the oldest part of the churchyard by the Vicar, who was surrounded by Brownies being supervised by Brown Owl, Akela etc. One young Brownie said, “Look what I’ve just uncovered!” The ‘discovery’ was a headstone which had been laid flat, and which had been covered by grass. When I read the inscription, I was intrigued by what I read –
LOVING MEMORY OF
A WATERLOO VETERAN,
WHO DIED DEC 24TH 1878,
AGED 88 YEARS
Needless to say, the word ‘Waterloo’ jumped out at me, and I vowed to make some enquiries regarding this old soldier, and so my quest began. The Internet is an excellent way of beginning research, and I had recently taken advantage of a cut price offer to join the ‘findmypast’ website. I firstly accessed the births, marriages and deaths section on this site and, having found the only entry for a death of a James ROBINSON whose age fitted my particular search, I applied to the General Register Office for a copy of his death certificate. This duly arrived some four days later and described James as ‘Pensioner, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards’ and that he had indeed passed away on Christmas Eve 1878 in Chase Terrace, Burntwood, the cause of death being given as chronic bronchitis. James had been 24 or 25 when the Battle of Waterloo took place in June 1815. I then set about accessing the census records in order to gather more information regarding this local man, and to construct a family tree to see how much I could discover. In the 1841 census, he was living at Woodhouses (then described as being in the Parish of St. Michael, Lichfield) with his wife Mary and six children, and was described as an ‘agricultural labourer’. In the 1861 census he was living with Mary at School Green in the Parish of Burntwood Edgall (sic!) Edial and Woodhouses, still described as an ‘agricultural labourer’. He was then aged 69 and his wife 65. The children had obviously flown the nest between 1841 and 1861.
In the 1871 census, James was at Oaks Villa, Stapenhill, Burton upon Trent, then aged 79 and described as ‘Assistant, Waterloo’. The head of the household is William GLOVER, whose wife was Elizabeth GLOVER (née ROBINSON), aged 43. There is an interesting note in the enumerator’s record to the effect that James was ‘blind left eye from battle’. I did write to the commanding officer of the Coldstream Guards at Knightsbridge Barracks, London, asking whether the regiment could supply any further information, but as yet I have not received a reply. Invaluable assistance also was provided from the Parish Registers Transcription and Index of Christ Church which covers baptisms 1820–1905, marriages 1845–1905 and burials 1820–1905, compiled by members of the Burntwood Family History Group, to whom I am indebted.
If any reader is going to The National Archives at Kew in the not too distant future, I wonder if they’d do me a favour and access the Regimental Records there? One other point springs to mind. There are presumably relatives of James ROBINSON still living in the area and I am sure that, given sufficient time, I could trace them. However, perhaps one of our readers can provide a short cut – it would certainly be interesting to find out more about this veteran. Any further information gleaned will be reported in due course. However, after this article was published in the Spring 2008 edition of the magazine for Christ Church, Burntwood, I was contacted by Paul ADAMS, a podiatrist who advertises with us, who tells me that he has a keen interest in Napoleonic memorabilia and was able to provide the following additional information:
‘James ROBINSON was a member of the Light Company, 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, who would all have been fit young men. There were ten companies in each battalion and the strength of the 2nd Battalion at the Battle of Waterloo was 1003 officers and men, of whom 55 were killed in action and 249 wounded. Each soldier who fought in the battle would have been awarded two years’ additional pension and would also have been awarded the Waterloo Medal’.
Barry EBDON asked the question "Where is James medal, and where are his descendants?
Gail FYNES is descended from James and he is her 3 x great grandfather. She says James joined the army on 6th December 1813 and was discharged on 21st February 1816. He fought at Waterloo and was shot through the eye with a musket ball. However, he went back to his home near Lichfield and lived with his family. His discharge paper shows he was allowed an extra 2 years' service pay for fighting at Waterloo, but nothing else(theonlinebookcompany.com/OnlineBooks/Waterloo/Celebrations/DescendantsStories/610)
After reading this article, Jennifer BATES contacted the BFHG to tell us she was descended from James and he was her 3 x great grandfather.
Also after reading this article, Linda BRENNAN contacted the BFHG to tell us she was descended form James, and he was her 4 x great grandfather. Linda was able to furnish us with a little bit more history on James, which we were able to expand on.
James married Mary SWINDALL on the 28th October 1819 at Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield. James and Mary had 8 Children, Caroline (B1821), Lucy (B1825 Burntwood), Elizabeth (B1827), Sarah (B1828), James (B1831), William (B1832), Thomas (B1835) & Mary Ann (B1838).
Their daughter Lucy ROBINSON was baptised at Christ Church, Burntwood on 27th March 1825. In late 1842, Lucy married Joseph HACKETT of Orgreave near Alrewas at Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield. After their marriage, Lucy and Joseph moved to Chesterfield, near Shenstone, and then to Lynn Lane, Shenstone where they spent their lives until she died on the 28th December 1897 of bronchitis. She died aged 73 and was buried in Shenstone church yard, but there is no headstone. Joseph lived on until 1902 when he died aged 81.
During their marriage, Joseph and Lucy had eleven children. Their 5th son Arthur HACKETT was born at home in Lynn Lane in 1860. Arthur married Alice TRICKETT in 1866. Alice was born on the 1st February 1862 in Bolas, Shropshire. Arthur and Alice also lived in Shenstone and also went on to have eleven children. Their 7th child was Percy HACKETT born on the 31st December 1897 in Shenstone.
Percy married Elsie ENSOR in Lichfield in June 1924. Percy and Elsie are Linda’s grandparents. Linda is in possession of James’s discharge documents which has the following information:
James enlisted on the 6th December 1813 at the age of 21, and was discharged on the 21st February 1816 having served 2 years and 78 days. The reason given was 'Having lost his left eye by means of a musket ball in the battle of Waterloo’.
It also gives a description of his appearance when he was discharged. It says he was about 23 years of age, five feet eight inches in height, brown hair, light grey eyes, fresh complexion and by trade a Labourer.
Transcript of an article which appeared in the Lichfield Mercury on 3rd January 1879
Death of a Waterloo Veteran – The Vicar of Chasetown (The Rev J. Montague SEATON) in a letter which appeared in the Birmingham Post of Saturday, writes the following “honourable record” of a Waterloo Veteran: - A fine old fellow, a parishioner of mine, has just passed away, and his name is not unworthy, with your kind permission of a brief notice.
James ROBINSON was a private in the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, and was present at the storming of Bergen-op-Zoom, where, whilst assisting one of his officers up a scaling ladder, he was wounded in the neck. At Waterloo, he stood his ground in the famous attack on the Farm of Hougoumont, which, it will be remembered, was garrisoned by the light companies of the Coldstream and 1st and 3rd Guards. It was in the desperate defence of this post that he was again wounded – a post at which, such was the fury of the fight, 1,500 men were killed in less than half an hour. But the attack on Hougoumont, which was the key of Wellington’s position, lasted for nearly nine hours, the French alone losing 10,000 killed and wounded before it. ROBINSON, supposed to be among the slain, was found next morning, with his face buried in his hands, under an oak tree, to which, in his agony, he had crept for shelter, after receiving a bullet in his left eye. This bullet found a lodgement in his jawbone, where it has remained to this day, and it now goes with him, undisturbed, to his honoured grave. The only inconvenience, besides the loss of his eye, which seems to have resulted from his wound was, as he used to say “a perpetual noise in his head, as of a watermill”. He never tired of dwelling on the incidents of the battlefield, the whole of which to the very last were pictured before his mind in vivid outline. Such a true and noble specimen was he of a British soldier that his proud boast of never having an extra drill, of never being in the “awkward squad”, or of having a black mark against his name could not be countervailed; nay, rather, it was reciprocated by feelings of warmth and admiration in the hearts of all who knew him. For many years, in the enjoyment of excellent health, he kept to his own corner by the fireside, till, the other day, on this bleak Cannock Chase, he took his last cold, and died as a good and weather beaten old soldier should die, to use his own words “in the simple faith of a little child”. His mortal remains were interred with military honours at Burntwood, on Monday afternoon, in the presence of a large assembly of spectators.