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Paul remembers Shropshire's forgotten heroes of Waterloo

By Toby Neal | Features | Published:

As Francis Kinchant, the heir to the Park Hall estate near Oswestry, rode up to a wounded French officer following the famous charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, he acted with compassion.

Paul Ridgley has researched Shropshire's soldiers of Waterloo and the Peninsular War.

"The French officer was kneeling on the ground, and he shouted to his men to leave him as he was wounded," said Paul Ridgley, of Baschurch, a member of the Waterloo Association.

"As he passed by, the French officer shot him in the back and killed him."

Kinchant was buried on the battlefield. The French officer had his head chopped off in short order.

It is just one of the tales included in a major study by Paul of the Shropshire soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.

A famous painting depicting the charge of the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo

And he has now produced a book featuring the stories of them all – or at least those he has so far uncovered, as he's finding more all the time.

Another was Private John Parsons, of Shrewsbury, who was in the 73rd Foot at Waterloo, which was fought in 1815.

"He was very fond of drink and carried at all times, including in battle, a piece of bacon that his mother had given him when he left home, and was well known for it."

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While his bacon habit is well recorded, Paul does not know the reason for it.

While in Flanders Parsons became romantically involved with a local girl.

Ludlow's Private Sampson Webb, on the right, was wounded in the leg and shoulder at Waterloo. He was pictured with four other Waterloo survivors at Chelsea Hospital in June 1880, and was to die the following year aged 84.

"The regimental officers thought she was a good influence on him and she was allowed to stay with him.

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"On the night before the Battle of Waterloo he woke up, having had a dream that he would be killed. He went to an officer and made out his will. Subsequently he was killed by a gunshot during the battle."

As for how many Shropshire soldiers died at Waterloo, Paul does not know, as over time documents have disappeared.

"We are probably talking about between 20 and 30 that I can record, but there will be more."

And of those Shropshire soldiers who fought in the battle or the Peninsular War, there are known photographs – in old age, obviously – of just two, both of which appear in his book, which is called "Shropshire Soldiers of the Peninsular War and Waterloo."

One is of Ludlow-born Private Sampson Webb, of the 3rd Foot Guards, and comes from the Queen's collection – in 1880 pictures were taken of the five Waterloo survivors at the Chelsea Hospital, and Queen Victoria had asked for a copy.

The other soldier for which a photograph exists, Shrewsbury-born Corporal John Williams, had lost his leg at the Battle of Toulouse and went on to be Condover's parish clerk for over 50 years.

Paul is a retired Shropshire firefighter who has had a longstanding interest in the Napoleonic Wars, but this is his first book.

Corporal John Williams lost his left leg and thigh after being hit by a cannon ball at Toulouse – the same ball killed two other soldiers, one of them being from Condover. Williams was parish clerk for Condover for over 50 years and died in 1873.

"About 20 or so years ago the Waterloo Association decided to record all the graves and monuments of British soldiers who had fought in the Peninsular War and Waterloo.

"Along with every other member, I started to photograph and record the graves and monuments I was able to find in Shropshire and surrounding counties.

"Then I sat back and thought, what about the soldiers who haven't got graves and monuments, but still fought? I started to research a lot deeper."

In Shropshire he found around 20 graves.

"There are not many, because most of these soldiers died in paupers' graves so they have no headstone. Those that have, a lot of them have been damaged or need renovation, and I have renovated a few graves in the county.

"I have just finished one which was a Royal Welch Fusilier from Waterloo who passed away at Baschurch. I put a replacement stone there.

"Over a period of time I found over 200 soldiers from Shropshire, some of whom died in other counties, who had fought in the Peninsular War and, or, Waterloo.

"I thought they deserve recognition for what they did and compiled the book in their memory really, along with their stories.

"The First World War and Second World War are quite easy to research, as the documents are easily read, available, and indexed. One hundred years before then the documents were handwritten and as a result of the elapse of time they are either destroyed, unreadable, or indecipherable.

Shropshire Soldiers of the Peninsular War and Waterloo.

"It takes a long time to sit down with a document and get through. It's been a labour of love.

"I've always had an interest in Waterloo and the Napoleonic Wars. I felt that the soldiers who went out from here just need that recognition and need to be remembered for what they did."

Colour Sergeant John Owen, of the 74th Regiment, is just one example, and buried at Berrington.

"He was awarded a unique gold medal for bravery in battle during the Peninsular War. When he returned home the War Office wrote to the Shrewsbury Corporation to ensure that he was hailed a hero on his return.

"I couldn't find his gravestone, although I knew it was at Berrington. I found out that a number of gravestones had been buried against one of the churchyard walls. With some colleagues of mine, and with the permission of the vicar, we dug a number of gravestones up before finding the two halves, as the stone had broken.

"We were able to clean it and arranged for it to be refitted together. It now stands inside Berrington church with a superb inscription relating to his exploits during the war."

Paul's book costs £10 and he says it is available from the Castle Bookshop at Ludlow, the visitor information centre at Much Wenlock Museum, Shropshire Regimental Museum at Shrewsbury Castle, the visitor information centre at the Music Hall, Shrewsbury, Oswestry tourist information centre next to St Oswald's Church, Booka Books in Oswestry, and on the internet direct from the publishers, Chadgreen of Telford.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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