East Lothian men at Waterloo (I)
A page to mark the Bi-centenary of The Battle of Waterloo and to record the service of East Lothian men at Waterloo.
On the 8th May 2015, the world celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. It was on 18th June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium (but then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands) that the Battle of Waterloo took place, bringing an end to Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign as Emperor of France.
We are well aware of the famous who took part in this battle which was to change the history of Europe: the Duke of Wellington (The Iron Duke), Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the person who is attributed to saving the day, Gebhard von Blücher, the commander of the Prussian army. Whilst these are people who will never be forgotten, there are those who played an equally important part in the battle. This page commemorates three East Lothian men who served in the ranks of the 1st Foot Guards.
The 1st Foot Guards, who defeated the Chasseurs of the Guard at Waterloo, were also thought to have defeated the Grenadiers, for which the regiment was awarded the title of Grenadier Guards and adopted bearskins in the style of the French Grenadiers. Once the smoke of battle cleared and the inquests, reports and histories were written, it was realised that they had only faced Chasseurs of the newly raised Middle Guard; nevertheless, their new title stuck and is retained to the present day.
James Denham was born in Thorntonloch on 11th August 1785. His father was James Denholm and his mother was Isabel Purves. We don’t know why James was in Dundee at the time but, on 6th September 1804 at the age of 19, he enlisted there with the 1st Foot Guards. This young man stood 5’ 8¾” tall with light hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He was a first-rate soldier, whose conduct was described as “very good”, serving in Lt/Col Higginson’s company.
During the Peninsular War he was involved in the Battle of Corunna, an event which took place after the British army, under Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, were involved in a lengthy retreat, and doggedly pursued by the French under Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu. James was also part of the 3rd battalion, Lt/Col Fead’s company, at Waterloo.
On 30th August 1826 Private James Denholm received an honourable discharge from 1st Foot Guards whilst in London, eventually moving down to Rochester where he died, 27th October 1850, 75 years old.
Alexander Ramsay, born 27th December 1794 in Haddington, was a gardener when he enlisted on 14th January 1814 in Edinburgh, aged 20. Alexander was 5’ 10½” with dark hair, brown eyes, fair complexion and of good character and was a Corporal in the 3rd battalion, Lt/Col Saltoun’s company, in Belgium. He also saw conflict in France and Portugal.
In 1838, 14 January Alexander Ramsay was discharged in Edinburgh and took up residence at 5 St. Vincent’s Street, Edinburgh. Mr. Ramsay may have been of good character whilst in the army but, he was struck off the pension for “Felony” on 3rd December 1845. However, on 1st April he was re-instated at a lower rate. Eventually, he was restored to the original rate 24th April 1849 at Stirling. It was while living at 2 Canon Street, Edinburgh that Alexander was involved in a fatal accident. He drowned in the mill lade of Water of Leith near Cannon Mills and was buried at Warriston cemetery on 15th July 1856.
David Wilson, a resident of Gladsmuir whose father was a mason at Winton, was born 17th September 1788 and enlisted with the 1st Foot Guards on 17th June 1803, in Edinburgh, when he was 25 years old. David, a stonemason like his father, was married in Paris on 16th October 1815.
David was a particularly dedicated soldier and spent almost twenty three years of his life as a serving soldier. He was a Private for almost eleven years and on 16th March 1814 Private Wilson became a Corporal. However, David was a Corporal for only two years before he was promoted to Sergeant on 7th October 1816.
On 18th June 1815, Corporal Wilson was wounded in the chest while taking part in the battle of Waterloo as part of the 3rd battalion Lt/Col Thomas’s company, before being transferred to 1st battalion. David was eventually discharged from the army 18th June 1803 and took up residence in Canterbury where he died on 29th November 1846.
Waterloo decisively saw the end of 26 years of fighting between the European powers and France. On the Continent, the French star was eclipsed and the German began its ascendancy; Britain ruled the seas and Empire. The three men highlighted here are only a few of the many from East Lothian who must have served in the Napoleonic Wars. If you had a serving ancestor – please let us know!