Remembering our heroes on 200th anniversary of Battle of Waterloo

British 10th Hussars attacking French troops during the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
British 10th Hussars attacking French troops during the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
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The 200th anniversary today of the Battle of Waterloo - when Emperor Napoleon I of France finally met his downfall - holds special meaning for one Wearside woman.

Denise Lovell’s great-great-great-great-uncle Andrew Knox fought with the 32nd Foot at the battle that changed history, and was there to witness the Duke of Wellington help defeat Bonaparte.

Waterloo veteran William Beckwith, of Silksworth Hall.

Waterloo veteran William Beckwith, of Silksworth Hall.

“Andrew was grievously wounded after a musket ball was shot through his right leg, but recovered well enough after Waterloo to serve a further six years in the army,” she said.

“I was very proud to discover that someone in my family fought at Waterloo. Like many of the other soldiers, he came from a humble background - yet he played a part in history.”

Andrew, son of labourer Andrew Knox senior and his wife Elizabeth Brown, was born in 1777 at Iveston, in Durham’s Lanchester parish, and was one of seven children.

His youngest brother, Thomas, would become Denise’s great-great-great-grandfather.

I was very proud to discover that someone in my family fought at Waterloo. Like many of the other soldiers, he came from a humble background - yet he played a part in history.

Denise Lovell, assistant secretary of Sunderland Antiquarian Society

“My uncle Andrew was an agricultural labourer when he joined the Durham Fencibles regiment in 1799,” said Denise, assistant secretary of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“While he was with them he served in Ireland where, in 1801, he joined the 32nd (Cornwall) Regiment of Foot, signing on for unlimited service.”

Andrew’s regiment took part in Nelson’s successful campaign to capture the Danish fleet in 1807 and, from 1808 to 1814, he served with the 32nd in Spain and Portugal.

The Durham man saw action in eight battles of the Peninsular War during this time; Roliea, Vimiera, Salamancs, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes and Talavera.
“Andrew married at some point, but sadly his wife Elizabeth died just weeks after they were reunited in Sussex in 1809, when Andrew returned from fighting in Spain,” said Denise.

As Andrew struggled to come to terms with his grief, so Emperor Napoleon was conquering much of western and central Europe after seizing control of the French government in 1799.

A disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, as well as other defeats, led to exile in 1814, but he returned to lead France in 1815 - only to be crushed by the British and Prussians at Waterloo.

“The defeat finally signalled the end of his reign, and the end of France’s domination in Europe. Napoleon abdicated after Waterloo and later died in exile,” said Denise.

The lead up to Waterloo saw the men of 32nd Foot take part in the Battle of Quatre Bras on June 16, 1815 - when they arrived just in time to halt the French advance.

Two days later - at Waterloo - the 32nd were stationed opposite the French main attacks, stoically standing their ground before attacking Napoleon’s assaulting troops.

“When the French came to within 40 paces of the British soldiers the men of 32nd Foot set up a frenzied death howl - something they were apparently famous for,” said Denise.

“There were 647 men of all ranks at the start of June 16 and, two days later, there were only 131 men left standing; they suffered the greatest loss of any regiment on that day.”

Andrew was shot through the leg during the battle, but went on to serve a further six years with his regiment after the Battle of Waterloo - before finally being discharged in 1821.

“After leaving the army he moved to Cassop and went back to working on the land. He received the Peninsular Medal with eight bars - each of the eight representing a battle,” said Denise.

“Census returns show him working as a labourer and, later, as a Chelsea Pensioner. I’d love to think he attended the Durham Regatta and claimed his free ale as a veteran of Waterloo!”

* General William Beckwith - the man behind the building of St Matthew’s Church at Silksworth - also fought at Waterloo. In 1821 he married heiress Priscilla Hopper, of Silksworth Hall, and in 1828 he became an army major.