For anyone carrying out research into their family or local history, there are many pitfalls along the way which can lead to frustration in being unable to find that last piece of the jigsaw that will finally piece together that long lost story eager to be told over nearly two centuries before. As the old saying goes “local knowledge” is by far the most important tool in the toolbox to begin with and none more so than when researching military burials during the mid Victorian era.
Wales and Carmarthen in particular became a place unique in British military history when a large swathe of the British Army ended up being posted here between 1842 until the mid 1850’s resulting from the social upheaval and unrest caused by the Rebecca Riots. Carmarthen for instance was swamped with over two thousand additional personnel together with their horses and equipment, all of which had to be housed as there was initially no barracks in which to place them.
However, as a result of this influx a barracks was eventually built in Picton Terrace (where it still remains and now forms part of the Royal Logistic Corps) which was originally planned for a location in Johnstown where it was originally located in 1842.
Many soldiers that came to be billeted in Carmarthen in the early 1840’s were housed at the local Workhouse as a temporary measure.
Illness and disease was prevalent at this time in the general population in particular Cholera which wiped out entire families in days and the soldiers were equally at risk from such illnesses.
It is likely that the overall number of serving soldiers buried in St Davids Cemetery during this period, that died from illness and disease runs into the hundreds and what makes it especially difficult to ascertain is the fact that many of the burial entries do not contain any reference to their Regimental connection or rank, merely their name and where they died, and it is “local knowledge” in this instance that enables us to understand exactly who are, and who are not serving soldiers. The “secret” is in the location of where the person died, for instance, many burial entries refer to “HOSPITAL” as the place of death, and this is a particular reference to the military hospital at the time set up in Johnstown. In some entries however there is reference to the persons regiment and rank which makes it all the easier for carrying out research. Also you will see that in one week alone, three members of the same Regiment died (all from Pulmonary disease) at an address called Union Street. This is infact a street still very much in existence that lies adjacent to the Cemetery and opposite the present barracks, but what is not generally known is that it also was also the location of the military hospital at the time.
Cross referencing names that appear in the burial register with Regimental records and Army Service Records are another source of research but is very time consuming. Also researching the local newspapers of the day is another avenue to explore. I dare say that we shall never know the true number of military burials at St Davids performed during this period but they are all none the less remembered.
The following articles that appeared in the local press refer to some of those soldiers buried here. None have any memorial to their name.
SUDDEN DEATH OF A SOLDIER.
On Tuesday last, a soldier named James Reed belonging to the 41st regiment of foot, stationed at the Carmarthen Barracks, suddenly dropped down dead. Without the slightest sign of illness previously, he was attacked and expired before assistance was available. He was a good soldier and had served under General Nott throughout the Afghanistan campaign. The inquest was held on his body the same evening that he died, before George Thomas, junior, Esq., when a verdict of “Natural death” was recorded. The poor fellow’s funeral took place on the next day, when he was buried in St. David’s Church yard with full military honours, three rounds being fired over his grave. We understand that Reed was held in great estimation by the officers of his regiment.
The Welshman. 13th June 1845 page 2.
Major General Sir William Nott GCB, Commander of the Army in the First Afghan war also had strong connections with Carmarthen and in particular the 41st Regiment of Foot – A Welsh Regiment with a large recruitment from Carmarthen. His elder brother George is buried here in St Davids Cemetery, whilst Sir William himself was buried alongside his parents in a nearby church called St Peters in January 1841.
A military funeral took place in this town yesterday week, and elicited considerable attention from the fact that several novel circumstances occurred to vary the order of the melancholy procession from many of its predecessors. The deceased soldier as a Corporal in the 14th Regiment of foot stationed in this town, named Allen Whittlam, aged 29 years, and much esteemed in the Regiment. The funeral took place in Saint David’s Church, the impressive service being read by the Rev. D. A. Williams. The whole detachment followed the body of their deceased comrade to its last resting place, and each man wore on his left arm a band of black crape tied up with white riband. The muskets of the firing party were in like manner trimmed with black crape. After the body had been lowered the usual rounds of musketry were discharged, and the party marched back to the Barracks.
THE WELSHMAN 14TH JULY 1848
In about ten days the wing of the 87th regiment of foot stationed in Carmarthen under the command of Major Kidd, and also the various detachments of that regiment in Wales, will take their departure for Weedon Barracks in Northamptonshire, and will be replaced by the 43rd regiment, or Monmouthshire Fusiliers. In speaking of the approaching departure of the 87th foot, it is but bare justice to eulogize the conduct of the men since their sojourn in this town and to speak in high terms of the courtesy and urbanity of their officers. During a stay of nearly 12 months, there has been but one trifling disturbance, which was occasioned by the assault of a civilian upon the military, and speedily suppressed by Colour-Sergeant Lyons. With that single exception, the men of this fine regiment, probably the finest corps in the service have behaved in so orderly and decorous a manner and evinced so high a state of discipline that their departure will be regretted.
THE WELSHMAN SEPTEMBER 17TH 1847.
Thomas Lyons died four months previous to this publication in May 1847. See burial register for details.
John Brazil (below) was a Private in the 37th Regiment of foot and was buried in 1846, and Private John Windsor 41st Foot in 1845