My Ancestor Fought With Wellington

By John Lerwill. Last Updated 11 Oct 2012

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Acknowledgments

Apart from some research I have done to discover my ancestor's involvement in Wellington's Wars, this page has been constructed from many different pieces of data and anecdotes from a variety of other websites which are too numerous to list. I give my thanks to them all, and recommend you look at these sites for fuller information about Wellington, The Peninsular Wars, Waterloo and the individual histories of regiments. You can find these sites by using a good search engine and searching on "40th regiment", "40th foot", "2nd Somersetshire", "Waterloo" and by a variety of other search texts. The stories about Sergeant Lawrence were found by searching on "Lawrence" + "40th".
 
For more news about the site of the Battle of Waterloo please visit the Association of Friends of The Waterloo Committee site, and in particular note the reference to David Milner (on that site), whose database proved to be of great use to me. David is "always happy to hear from researchers with an interest in Waterloo" and his e-mail address is available on the website just quoted.

Preface

Four old regiments - the 30th, 40th, 47th and the 59th of Foot - eventually (following renaming as battalions of Lancashire Regiments in 1873) came to form part of the modern Queen's Lancashire Regiment in 1970. It was on the 31st August 1782 these four already old and founding regiments were first given county titles "Which may at all times be useful towards recruiting". These titles were:

All these regiments fought in the American War of Independence of the 1780s. These regiments also served with distinction in THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WAR 1793-1802, in Europe, the Mediterranean, Egypt and the West Indies, and then in THE NAPOLEONIC WARS 1803-15.

A Waterloo Soldier

My Ancestor

The ancestor concerned was one George WHYBURN (or WHYBORN) - a family name derived from the Anglo-Saxon 'Wigbjorn', meaning (appropriately enough!) "brave in battle".
 
My ancestor joined the 40th (2nd Somersetshire Regiment) in April 1808, a regiment known as the "Fighting Fortieth", a very famous regiment that had its birth in Nova Scotia in 1717 and served under Wolfe at Quebec. I pick up the story of his particular regiment from the start of The Peninsula War, which lasted from 1808 to 1814. My ancestor enlisted with the 40th in 1808 and with the second battalion and, thus, was not at Talavera (1809) and the 1810 campaigns. He was transferred to the first battalion that was already in Portugal in 1811 and was in receipt of the Military General Service Medal for this War, with bars for Cuidad Rodrigo, 19 Jan 1812; Vittoria, 21 Jun 1813; Pyrenees, 28 Jul to 8 Aug 1813: Orthes 27 Feb 1814; Toulouse, 10 Apr 1814 (this medal wasn't issued until 1848). He then saw action at Waterloo and received the Waterloo Medal.
 

I have produced a PDF extract of the official history of the 40th Foot covering the period 1808 to 1823. There are some fascinating first-hand accounts in this, including many from Sgt. Lawrence's autobiography.
 
To see the preliminary pages to this 64-page document, please click here. If you would like a copy of the entire 64-pages for the price of only £3, please simply pay via PayPal by this button:
PayPal will notify me and I will send the PDF to your stated e-mail address.

The BBC's Who Do You Think You Are magazine ran an article on George Whyborn in their August, 2010 edition: See a PDF copy of this article.
 
Click here to see a listing of marriages of members of the 40th Foot. Please inform me of details of your family member to be included on this page.

My Ancestor's Experience

Waterloo Medal

The 1/40th and the 1/82nd landed at Mondego Bay on 1 August 1808 under Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. Four days later Wellesley had 13,000 troops ashore. The British were re-inforced with 2,000 Portuguese troops who were placed under the command of a British Officer, Colonel Nicholas Trant. After a week spent organizing his commissary, Wellesley began his march on Lisbon.
 
The opening encounter with the French took place in the battle of Roliça. The 40th, together with the 36th Foot and 71st Highland Light Infantry, made up the 2nd Brigade under General Ferguson. The battle of Roliça was insignificant in terms of number of troops involved or results. General Delaborde (the French commander) fought a brillant delaying action against a force that outnumbered him almost 4 to 1. The French lost about 600 men and three guns, but escaped in good fighting order and would fight again at Vimiero 4 days later. The British lost about 500 men, of which 190 were from the 29th Foot.
 
The 40th remained in Spain and were one of only three regiments to serve thoughout the campaign, and in 1809 they earned fresh laurels at the battle of Talavera. In 1810 they took part in the battle of Busaco and in the withdrawal to the Lines of Torres Vedras.
 
Before he could advance into Spain (in 1812) Wellington had to capture the frontier fortress. The 40th took part in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and both the 30th and 40th displayed great gallantry and sustained severe casualties in the assualt on the grim fortress of Badajoz, one the fiercest fights in the history of the Army. Later that year both Regiments distinguished themselves again in the course of Wellington's brilliant victory at Salamanca. Private James Dilley of the 1st battalion, 40th foot wrote to his parents at Southill (Beds.):

The following spring Wellington advanced to drive the French out of Spain, and with him marched the 1/40th, 2/59th and 1/82nd. All four Regiments were heavily engaged in the decisive battle of Vittoria. The 40th and 82nd then fought in a number of desperate defensive actions for which they were awarded the battle honour Pyreness.
 
In 1814 the 40th and 82nd fought at Orthes and the 40th were in action at Toulouse, the last battle of the Peninsula War, while the 47th and 59th were besieging Beayonne when news came of Napoleans's abdication. For their services in this campaign the regiments were awarded the additional battle honour of Peninsula.
 
Napoleon was not long in exile, and returned to reach his zenith at Waterloo on June 18th, 1815. The 2/30th, 1/40th, 2/59th and 2/81st joined Wellington's army for the Waterloo campaign. The 30th took part in the initial engagement at Quatre Bras, where they steadily formed a square to repulse French cavalry charges, and were with the rearguard when Wellington fell back to his chosen ground at Waterloo. The 40th joined the army at Waterloo shortly before the battle commenced on 18th June 1815. The 59th were with a brigade detached to cover Wellington's right flank while the 81st, despite their entreaties, could not be spared from duties in Brussels.
 
The Allies' Order of Battle included a 23,000-strong General Reserve under the command of the Duke of Wellington himself. They included:

The scene at the opening of battle, showing Lambert's (and the 40th's) position at Mont St. Jean: Before the Battle
 
The 27th and 40th under Lambert were later moved into the centre of the allied line, near the farm of La Haye Sainte, just before the French had taken La Haye Sainte. Harry Smith (attached to the 6th Division) reported: "I had hardly got back to Lambert, after reconnoitring the country and preparing myself to conduct the troops, when the Battle of Waterloo commenced. We soon saw that where we should be moved to, the weight of the attack on Picton would be resisted by none but British soldiers. For a few seconds, while every regiment was forming square, and the charge of Ponsonby's Brigade going on (which the rising ground in our front prevented us seeing), it looked as if the formation was preparatory to a retreat. Many of the rabble of Dutch troops were flying towards us, and, to add to the confusion, soon after came a party of dragoons, bringing with them three eagles and some prisoners. I said to General Lambert, 'We shall have a proper brush immediately, for it looks as if our left will be immediately turned, and the brunt of the charge will fall on us.' At this moment we were ordered to move to the very spot where the Duke, early in the morning, had expected we should be required. Picton had been killed, Sir James Kempt commanded on the left of the road to Genappe, near La Haye Sainte; his Division had been already severely handled, and we took their position, my old Battalion of Riflemen remaining with us."
 
The French conquest was turned to the best possible advantage. Smart red-braided Horse Artillery galloped down the causeway, dragging their guns to the knoll above the sandpit, from which our 95th had been driven, and, unlimbering, opened fire at sixty yards range on to our line. Skirmishers filled the hedgerows and the farm buildings. The Great Battery renewed its work of death, and in a few moments there was a serious gap in the centre of our position.
 
The 27th, which had lain down and slept soundly behind Mont St. Jean until after three o'clock, lost 478 out of 698 in its new quarters; and the 40th more than 200 rank and file, one round shot taking off the head of Captain Fisher and killing twenty-five men. They withstood repeated attacks by cavalry and infantry and were pounded by cannon, but they stood firm. Towards evening they drove back Napoleon's final attack by massed infantry. John Keegan, in his book on the 40th at Waterloo, stated: "They had arrived at Waterloo dead tired after a march of fifty-one miles in forty-eight hours; three weeks before that they had disembarked from America [the New Orleans campaign], having been six weeks at sea. During the day of Waterloo, they lost nearly two hundred soldiers dead and wounded out of seven hundred, and fourteen out of thirty-nine officers. 'The men in their tired state,' wrote Sergeant Lawrence (who fought in the ranks of the 40th - see more below), 'began to despair during the afternoon, but the officers cheered them on continuously.' When the French cavalry encircled them 'with fierce gesticulations and angry scowls, in which a display of incisors became very apparent' the officers would call out, 'Now men, make faces!' and at the very end of the day, when the men 'were dreading another charge', the officers kept up the cry they had been making throughout the afternoon, 'Keep your ground, my men,' adding the promise, 'Reinforcements are coming.'
 
Shortly afterwards the Duke of Wellington personally ordered the central Regiments to advance. Harry Smith reported: "Late in the day, when the enemy had made his last great effort on our centre, the field was so enveloped in smoke that nothing was discernible. The firing ceased on both sides, and we on the left knew that one party or the other was beaten. This was the most anxious moment of my life. In a few seconds we saw the red-coats in the centre, as stiff as rocks, and the French columns retiring rapidly, and there was such a British shout as rent the air. We all felt then to whom the day belonged. It was time the "Crisis" should arrive, for we had been at work some hours, and the band of death had been most unsparing. One Regiment, the 27th had only two officers Ieft ~ Major Hume, who commanded from the beginning of the battle, and another - and they were both wounded, and only a hundred and twenty soldiers were left with them. ... At this moment I saw the Duke, with only one Staff officer remaining, galloping furiously to the left. I rode on to meet him. "Who commands here?" "Generals Kempt and Lambert, my lord." "Desire them to get into a column of companies of Battalions, and move on immediately." I said, "In which direction, my lord ? " " Right ahead, to be sure." I never saw his Grace so animated. The Crisis was general, from one end of the line to the other."
 
The charge took place, the 40th centrally included, and swept away the French infantry to their front and took part in the recapture of La Haye Sainte. The 40th's commander, Major Heyland, was killed in the battle. My ancestor was wounded and was subsequently hospitalised in Brussels. For their steadfastness and discipline at Waterloo, the 30th and 40th (and other regiments) were permitted to encircle their badge with a Laurel Wreath. Immediately after Waterloo, the 59th took part in the storming of Cambrai and, with the 30th, 40th, 81st and 82nd, the occupation of Paris. All those regiments went on to chequered careers in further campaigns in distant parts of the globe (even to recent times, including 'D-Day'), but not before the 40th retired from Paris to Glasgow, Lanark, in the winter of 1817. It was at Glasgow in May of 1818, after 10 extremely active and dangerous years' service as a trooper, that George Whyborn married a local lassie, Janet Thompson. He was eventually discharged with a 'gammy' leg in 1823, just prior to the regiment departing for Australia. Their elder son later moved to Birmingham where my maternal grandmother's family also moved (from Somerset!), and hence how my maternal grandparents came to know one another and were eventually married. It was ironic that one of their sons - Philip Whyborn - was obliged to fight in the same hemisphere at the Battle of Arnhem (and was killed) in 1944.
 
Harry Smith summed up the aftermath at Waterloo as follows: "I had been over many a field of battle, but with the exception of one spot at New Orleans, and the breach of Badajos, I had never seen ariything to be compared with what I saw. At Waterloo the whole field from right to left was a mass of dead bodies. In one spot, to the right of La Haye Sainte, the French Cuirassiers were literally piled on each other; many soldiers not wounded lying under their horses; others, fearfully wounded, occasionally with their horses struggling upon their wounded bodies. The sight was sickening, and I had no means or power to assist them. Imperative duty compelled me to the field of my comrades, where I had plenty to do to assist many who had been left out all night; some had been believed to be dead, but the spark of life had returned. All over the field you saw officers, and as many soldiers as were permitted to leave the ranks, leaning and weeping over some dead or dying brother or comrade. The battle was fought on a Sunday, the 18th June, and I repeated to myself a verse from the Psalms of that day - 91st Psalm, 7th verse: "A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee." I blessed Almighty God our Duke was spared, and galloped to my General, whom I found with some breakfast awaiting my arrival."
 
Sergeant William Lawrence described a brush with death :-

In 1805, Lawrence was in South America fighting Spaniards; in the Peninsular Wars he fought in most of Wellington's battles. A volunteer for the storming of Badajos, he was severely wounded but recovered to fight again at Waterloo. It was on the subsequent march to Paris that he fell in love with Clotilde Clairet at Germain-en-Laye. They settled in Studland (Dorset) and kept an inn. When he died 54 years after Waterloo, volunteers fired a volley over his grave.
 
The following is a more detailed account of his life, which does not include the telling of a flogging he once received whilst in the army:

The following account includes an action by an unknown member of the 40th: On the night of the 17th it rained continually, turning the battle ground into a quagmire. The morning of Sunday 18th was clear and found the 12th Light Dragoons of Vandeleur's Brigade on the far left of the British line. In the early afternoon Napoleon's main attack came with four massive columns belonging to D'Erlon's Division, the columns rolling forward towards the centre left of the British line. The columns began to push the line back, but were held by the charge of the Household and Union Brigades of heavy cavalry. The Household Brigade checked and withdrew after defeating two Cuirassier regiments. However, the Union Brigade did not. After smashing its way through two of D'Erlon's columns, it attacked the massed French Battery of guns opposite. Their horses blown and the men scattered, they were caught and set upon by two fresh regiments of Jaquinot's lancers. Realising the only way to extract what remained of the heavy dragoons, the 11th Light Dragoons were ordered to stay in reserve and the 12th and 16th to charge, the 12th leading. The charge Wellington later called "beautiful". The two regiments tore through the rear of the only remaining French column and fell upon the flank of the French, but were in turn charged by a regiment of lancers. This action although 'beautiful' was costly. During the attack by French lancers, Ponsonby (the Dragoons' commander, the dashing and extremely popular, Lt. Colonel - The Honourable - Frederick Ponsonby) was lost on the field. Desperately wounded having been run through at least three times by lance and sword he was left for dead. Despite being robbed and used as firing cover by a French tirailleur, Ponsonby survived until he was made more comfortable by a major of the Imperatrice Dragoons of the Imperial Guard. Having being ridden over by the advancing Prussians late in the day he was eventually found by a private in the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) who stood guard over him all night...
 
An account of the story of SEMPRONIUS STRETTON, eldest son of William Stretton, who was born at Nottingham 1781:

Lastly, an account of the story of Lieutenant (later Captain) Henry Miller contained in a longer article in the Queensland Courier Mail, about 1928: