IN 1815 it will be the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which Wellington’s Army, aided by the Prussians, defeated Napoleon’s Army. Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, chairman of Waterloo 200, has researched the extraordinary life of a Kendal man who fought for Wellington in the Napoleonic wars.
The Waterloo Medal of Colour awarded to Sergeant John Gibson has come into my possession recently and it has been illuminating to research his life and times.
He was born in Kendal on May 25, 1788, and trained as an engineer but in 1809, at the age of 21, joined the militia.
In 1810, during the Burdett Riots, he was sent to Ireland and, in December 1812, he attested in Galway into the famous 33rd Regiment of Foot, which later became the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.
In July 1813, a force under Sir Thomas Graham embarked from Harwich for the Netherlands to fight the French.
After a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing, the 33rd found themselves among 4,000 British troops ordered to assault the fortess of Bergen op Zoom on March 9, 1814.
It was not a success and the force was forced to withdraw. John Gibson’s obituary, published in The Westmorland Gazette, states that it was bitterly cold and a river, which intersected their line of retreat, was frozen over.
It states: ‘They made the best of their way across the ice, but found themselves hard pressed by the French guns.’
The ice was broken up in many places and the regiment suffered considerable losses, with two sergeants and 26 rank and file killed, 58 men wounded and 56 taken prisoner.
John Gibson was one of those wounded but he was promoted to Sergeant, no doubt filling one of the vacancies.
In June 1815, events caused the 33d to be in action again — this time at the Battle of Quatre Bras in Belgium, just two days before the Battle of Waterloo.
It was a decidedly tricky time for the battalion. They lost some 100 men and officers and it was here that John Gibson was badly wounded in the head and fell ‘helplessly wounded by the roadside’.
His obituary states: “... here he lay for hours under the feet of the horses of the French cavalry who were charging around him.”
He was, however, rescued and sent with other wounded men to Antwerp.
Subsequently he took part in the march of 21 days to Paris, where he received further promotion to Colour Sergeant.
In 1822 he embarked with the 33rd from Cork to Jamaica, where he served for four years.
It is likely he returned to Ireland in 1826, to be employed outside the regiment, as he married Ann Cochrane of Glasgow on July 13 in Boyle, in County Roscommon.
In 1832 he left the King’s Service with a pension of one shilling and eight pence per day.
It is interesting to note that on his discharge papers he gained an extra two years for being at Waterloo, which, for pensionable service, was worth a great deal.
In later life he returned to Kendal, where he became a warder in the Kendal House of Correction for 18 years.
He died on July 13, 1878, which made him 90 – a remarkable age at that time.
His obituary records: “He was the last Waterloo veteran left in the country of Westmorland and with him dies many a stirring tale of field and flood.”
His grave is in Kendal cemetery.