In 1915, during the ravages of the Great War and the unfolding tragedies taking place in Europe and elsewhere at that time, the centenary of the battle of Waterloo one hundred years earlier was far from the minds of most people in the country. However, possibly to underline the importance of “fighting for ones country and recruitment of much needed young men” a new slate memorial headstone was erected on the grave of John Samuel on June 18th 1915 and unveiled by local hero Lieutenant General Sir James Hills Johnes VC, GCB. Sir James winning his Victoria Cross in the Indian Mutiny of 1857, some 58 years previously. In 1977 this headstone together with many others was removed to the perimeter wall where it now rests. However, because a detailed map of memorials was made before their removal we do know in this instance the actual burial spot of Mr Samuel should anyone visitor be interested. John Samuel served initially with the Carmarthenshire Fusiliers which he joined in 1807 before enlisting in the Scottish 1st Regiment of Foot in Northumberland in 1811 aged 19. He served as a Private from 1811 to 1825 –almost fourteen years, before being promoted to Corporal, a rank he held for 4 years and 242 days before finally being promoted to Sergeant in 1829, a post he held until his retirement in 1833. John ended his army service in St Lucia having served a total of 25 years and 115 days. Having been wounded on many occasions during his career, being shot in the chest with two musket balls in 1813, having his right knee nearly blown off with another musket ball in 1815 and to continue his military career for a further 18 years until forced to retire in 1833 whist stationed at St Lucia is an unbelievable feat of human endeavour. In 2015, a further bicentenary commemoration took place at his graveside and memorial to re-enact that of 100 years before. The following story then is but a small part of his long life. In his latter years he served as a sidesman at St David’s church wearing his medals with pride on special occasions. May he rest in peace.
In piecing together this story, which has taken many months to prepare I felt that there was one piece of the jigsaw still remaining……an image of John Samuel himself and what he would have looked like in old age, and so I set about producing an oil sketch of how I think he would have looked like. I have no qualifications as an artist but I hope I have done justice to his name and memory by producing such an image – with all it’s faults!
95th Anniversary of the battle of Waterloo and a local man’s reminiscences of the battle.
Wednesday last, being the 95th anniversary of the “glorious Battle of Waterloo, our readers may be interested in the following recollections of the battle of Waterloo and Quatre Bras, taken from the notes of a Carmarthen man, who was present at the battle. Many of the older inhabitants will recall a sturdy, broad shouldered old veteran, of middle height, who, when four score years of age, might often have been seen trundling a barrow of manure to his cottage garden on Waundew.
John Samuel by name, he and his wife (who had been with him through the wars) lived happily for many years, the latter being known locally as “Mrs. Samuel, the nurse,” being one who assisted in many local families when interesting events came about. John Samuel died some 36 years ago. The account is somewhat meagre, but was taken down verbatim by a local gentleman (of little experience as an interviewer) from the old man’s statement on a visit to him on the 5th of July, 1870. The interviewer was about going off on a trip to Belgium, and thought he would like to hear some news at first hand of the great Waterloo fight; as some of the Edwardes of Rhydygorse and Philipps of Cwmgwili fought at Waterloo, apart from the great General Picton, it is a matter of regret that Samuel was not asked about these other Carmarthen heroes who shared in the glories of the campaign. The following is the extract from the diary of the 5th July 1870.
“I went this day to see an old pensioner named John Samuel, living at Waundew, and who is, although 84 years of age, with all his mental powers and very vigorous. He was present at Badajoz and was wounded, and what he called Waterloo, but which, I fancy must have been Quatre Bras. From his statement it appears he belonged to the 1st Royals under Col. Campbell, and was orderly to the Quartermaster of his division at Brussels. He said that they were all very well treated at Brussels, and he “himself was billeted at a butchers’ shop. This shop, the old man said, was kept by a stout, good man, and was not far from a square built church, and that a baker’s shop was near. “We were not permitted to cook our own food by the Belgians,” and yet in the Spanish campaign, and at Badajoz he said they were for five or six days together without rations. On Thursday night, the 15th June, 1815, there was, he continued a ball at Brussels but when the letters came to the Quartermaster the bugle sounded and about three in the morning they reached Waterloo. There was some fighting, the Royals being kept in a wood, on what he called the second day, but by which I think he means the second day of fighting. He was wounded in the afternoon about three o’clock and lay all night a very wet part of the churchyard of Waterloo, and had to get back to the village of Waterloo by the help of two firelocks as crutches. He staunched the wound with a quid of tobacco which, he said, got to stink when he got back to the butcher’s shop in Brussels. In later year’s he was attended at the County Infirmary for the same injury. “Boney,” as he always termed Napoleon was not expected so early, and that was the reason they hurried from Brussels. The old man further said that their Colonel, with other officers, together with Lord Wellington, passed them near Waterloo, addressed the men, and told them they were to be led to glory, and asked the officers to encourage the men. One officer, fainting about this time, was carried back by his servant, but on his recovery and return got shot two hours later. He said further that they were ordered to throw away all extra trappings. Samuel said he threw away his shaving- box, razor, and a pair of boots. Extra ammunition was served out and three days rations and the officers had to inspect the flints of the fire locks very carefully. He said the peasants whom they passed were full of joy at seeing them and offered them something to drink in small cups. This old man, John Samuel, died aged 89, and his funeral was attended by many respectable inhabitants of the town.”
The above article was printed in 1910
The 1st Regiment of Foot (Royal Scots) at Waterloo
In the Waterloo campaign, the Royal Scots formed part of the 9th Infantry Brigade under Major-General Sir Dennis Pack, itself part of the 5th Division of Sir Thomas Picton. The division arrived at Quatre Bras on 16 June at about 3 o’clock, having covered 21 miles at a rapid pace, and practically without food. After a short rest the division took up an alignment along the Namur- Nivelle road, Pack’s brigade being on the right, and nearer to the cross roads.
It was immediately found necessary to send forward the light companies of the division, to resist the swarms of French skirmishers which were advanced as the prelude to an attack in force. Whilst this musketry fight was in progress, the division suffered terribly from the French artillery on the opposing heights against which the Allies had but few guns to oppose, and upon seeing the heads of the attacking columns emerge into the open, Wellington decided to attack in turn rather than await their advance. The division, with the exception of the 92nd, advanced, and though suffering severely from the fire of both artillery and infantry, pressed forward steadily till their opponents, overawed by their demeanour and the bristling line of levelled bayonets, broke and fled.
The division now formed a series of battalion squares which were fiercely assaulted by large bodies of French Cuirassiers and Lancers, which they repulsed with loss. To support the 42nd and 44th, which were occupying a more exposed position, and were surrounded by cavalry, Picton decided to unite The Royals and 28th, and led them boldly forward in quarter columns into the midst of the French troops. On reaching a favourable position a square was formed. A contemporary account by W. Siborne describes what followed:
“The repeated and furious charges which ensued were invariably repulsed by The Royals and the 28th, with the utmost steadiness and consummate bravery, and although the Lancers individually dashed forward and frequently wounded the men in the ranks, yet all endeavours to effect an opening of which the succeeding squadron of attack might take advantage, completely failed. The ground on which the square stood was such that the surrounding remarkably tall rye concealed it in a great measure in the first attacks, from the view of the French cavalry until the latter came quite close upon it, but to remedy this inconvenience, and to preserve the impetus of their charge, the Lancers had frequently to recourse to sending forward a daring individual to plant a lance in the earth at a very short distance from the bayonets, and then they charged upon the lance flag as a mark of direction.”
In this way, the battalion, in common with the others forming the division, sustained repeated charges from an overwhelming force of French cavalry, and notwithstanding heavy losses from artillery fire, presented an undaunted front to all opponents, even though towards the end of the day, shortness of ammunition rendered it impossible to sustain an adequate fire to keep down that of the ever present French tirailleurs.
Siborne concludes: “Along the whole front of the central position of the Anglo-Allied army, the French cavalry was expending its force in repeated but unavailing charge against the indomitable squares. The gallant, the brilliant, the heroic manner in which the remnants of Kempt’s and Pack’s brigades held their ground, of which they surrendered not an inch throughout the terrific struggle of that day, must ever stand prominent in the records of the triumphs and prowess of British infantry.”
The 3/1st Foot lost 6 Officers and 20 men killed, and 12 Officers and 180 men wounded in this engagement. Captain William Buckley of the 1st Foot was one of the officers killed and the most senior officer in the regiment to be killed either at Quatre Bras or at Waterloo, itself, on the 18th. On the recommendation of the Duke of Kent, and approved by King George, his wife was granted a Royal Bounty of Sixty pounds a year, in addition to her usual pension.
Sergeant Samuel and the Storming of St Sebastian (Known as the Peninsular Wars -fought in Spain between 1808 & 1814)
‘On 17 July [1813, at St Sebastian], the important post of the Ridge of St Bartholomew after having been bombarded, was carried with great dash by three companies of The Royals, and one of the 9th Foot, under Colonel Cameron.
A further redoubt was unsuccessfully stormed, but was taken a couple of nights later. On the 20th, the breaching batteries opened from the Chofres Hills, and directed their fire on the weakest part of the wall, namely the eastern face. On the 22nd, the wall was breached. A second breach, further to the right, was commenced on the 23rd, and the assault was fixed for the next day, even though the defences which covered the breach had not been mastered. This was, indeed, tempting providence, but owing to a fire which broke out in the town, the attack was postponed. This postponement is said to have affected the troops, and the conditions under which they had to work, unfavourably. In addition, it gave General Ray, a most indefatigable soldier, time to prepare a warm reception for the storming party.
The troops detailed for the assault of the great breach, were the battalion under Major Frazer, supported by the 9th Foot. The Forlorn Hope consisted of the light company of The Royals, and 20 men of the light company of the 9th, with a ladder party. Lieutenant Clarke was in command of The Royals, and Lieutenant Colin Campbell [afterwards Lord Clyde], of the 9th, in command of the whole. The 38th Foot were to assail the lesser breach.
The signal was given at 5 a.m. while it was still dark, and the troops filed out of the trenches and crossed the open ground which lay between them and the walls, as quickly as its slippery and broken condition would allow. All might have gone well, but the British batteries, not having heard the signal for the advance, continued to fire, so that the stormers were soon under fire from both friend and foe, which caused considerable confusion in the ranks.
Major Frazer, closely followed by some of his men, was the first to reach the breach, but the difficulties of the advance and the confusion caused by two-thirds of the storming party having lost their direction, and becoming engaged in a musketry contest with the defenders of the walls they had halted in the dark to fire on a gap in the wall which they mistook for the breach) denied to this party the immediate support which was essential to success.
Major Peter Frazer was killed whilst gallantly encouraging the few men that were with him. He leaped down the farther side of the breach, had reached the burning houses, and died almost in the ranks of the enemy. The command then fell upon Captain Mullen, which duty he performed with much credit. But the moment for success had passed, the stormers were dispirited by their awful losses, and the confusion which had been experienced; and the defenders, flushed with the success of their first endeavours, redoubled their efforts, and a frightful fire of grape, musketry, and hand grenades from every gun, musket, and hand, smote the confused and pent-up mass of the stormers. Success being hopeless, the troops were ordered to retire, burning with rage and shame at the want of success which they could not but recognise was largely due to circumstances outside their control.’
Casualties amongst the 1st Foot (Royals) on this occasion were substantial. In addition to Major Frazer, one Captain, four Lieutenants, six Sergeants, and 75 rank and file were killed; nine Officers, including Captain Buckley (severely), 7 Sergeants and 230 rank and file were wounded, and a further two Officers, 7 Sergeants and 126 men became prisoners of war.
Pulverised by the rain of shot and shell the head of the column ceased to exist and over 600 men perished in a matter of minutes.
Speech by Lieutenant General Sir James Hills Johnes VC.GCB at the graveside of John Samuel on 18th June 1915.
“In this churchyard lies buried a soldier who bravely fought for his country in the Waterloo campaign. He was Sergeant John Samuel. He fought in the battle & was wounded and lay out in Waterloo churchyard all night in the rain and so he played his part. He recovered and returned to Carmarthen where he lived for many years. He died on 16th Oct 1874 and was buried with every mark of respect short of a military funeral which it was found impossible to give as he was not a soldier at the time of his death he having left the army long before. I have been asked by the boys and girls of the Model school who I am very pleased, to see here today to deposit this wreath here to the memory of Sergeant John Samuel.
I am glad to have the great honour of placing this wreath on his grave. It is a proof that the good services of men serving in the ranks are as much appreciated by their countrymen as those of the officers. The placing of this wreath today on the centenary day of Waterloo shows the honour in which Sergeant John Samuels good services are still held by his countrymen. May the honour thus paid be an incentive to young men who are able to join the army to come forward to help their King and Country and their sorely tried countrymen fighting so gallantly against terrible odds in an awful battlefield”
The following is the inscription engraved on the headstone.
Sergeant JOHN SAMUEL
of the 1st, Batt, 1st Royal Regiment of
Foot who was born at Llangunnor in
1788, and died at Carmarthen, on
October 16th 1874
He served in the Army 25 years, was
wounded at San Sebastian on July 25th
1813 and at Waterloo on June 15th 1815
On the centenary of Waterloo, a wreath
was laid on this grave by
General Sir James Hills Johnes VC
And this stone was erected by the
Vicar, Rev Griffith Thomas, and
D Davies, Sculptor.