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Posts Tagged ‘Duchess of Cornwall’


… that man being the Duke of Wellington of course!

 

The Battle of Waterloo. William Sadler II (1762-1839). Oil on canvas. Source.

 

I have an ancestor called Thomas James Drinkwater, sometime Assistant Surgeon in the 2nd Life Guards. His name appears on the Waterloo medal rolls. He was my great (x4) grandfather.

 

Thomas was born around 1787 in Farnham, Surrey. The youngest son of a surgeon and great great grandson of a Baptist Minister who was imprisoned for preaching in 1677. He joined the 2nd Life Guards on 22 September 1812 and served in Iberia and was at Vitória and Waterloo.  He served for a total of 6 years until 1818. He married and settled in Ledbury, Herefordshire, where he continued to work as a surgeon. He had 4 children but sadly died in 1823 aged just 36 years old.

 

I registered Thomas’ details some time ago on a website that was collecting information from descendants of men who had been at Waterloo. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and there have been all sorts of commemorations taking place both here in the United Kingdom and in Belgium.

 

Completely out of the blue I received a rather smart-looking letter in the post. Enclosed in the envelope was this:

Invitation. My image.

 

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. (Not sure why they think I’m married!) I was thrilled but concerned that I might be unable to attend because the service was on a weekday in term time and I would be working. Anyway, to cut a long story short I was given permission to take the day off work and I accepted the invitation.

 

On the 18th June 2015, exactly 200 years to the day since the battle, I travelled to London, wearing my interview suit (it would have to do) and arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral at about 9.10am. The security gates opened at 9.30am and I had to show my ticket, passport and have my bag searched by a very polite young soldier who appeared unperturbed by the Birkenstocks hiding in the bottom of my smart handbag – I can wear heels but I can’t walk in them!

 

I joined a queue waiting for the doors of the cathedral to open at 10.00am and had a bit of time to take in my surroundings. I was now in the environs of St Paul’s Cathedral having entered through a gateway in Paternoster Square. There were metal fences surrounding the area and people were gathering on the other side to watch. I’ve never been on the inside looking out before – it’s a bit weird! While we waited in the rather hot sunshine we were serenaded by a Scot’s Guards pipe band which sounded wonderful.

 

Upon entering St Paul’s Cathedral which is already an awe-inspiring sight I had to walk past this line up of Standards, Guidons and Colours of the regiments in succession to those that fought at Waterloo:

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo
At first glance they could easily have been mistaken for mannequins because they stood so still. And they seemed so tall! It truly was a memorable sight and one I wasn’t expecting which made it seem all the more surreal. It’s something I will probably never see again and I only wish I could have lingered but we were being ushered to our seats.

 

Because I had arrived so early I was very near the front of the queue entering St Paul’s. This meant that when I reached the area in which I was to be seated I found myself in the 2nd row. I was sitting just under the edge of the famous dome in the south transept. When I looked up this was my view:

Looking up into the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. My photo.

 

The service was attended by a lot of very well-known people. I didn’t know a lot of them would be there so I failed to spot any of them except those mentioned in the Order of Service. In attendance were their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (Charles and Camilla to us plebs), the Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Prime Minister (David Cameron), the President of the European Parliament and the present Duke of Wellington. I saw the Royals arrive and spotted the Duke of Wellington but I saw no politicians or anyone else. I only glimpsed Charles and Camilla because when they came in and left it was in procession and we all had to stand. I could see the tops of their heads when we were all seated though! They were sitting just in front of the congregation on the right-hand side of the aisle as is traditional – royalty on the right, politicians on the left. They can be seen in this photo, as can I:

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

 

Here is a print screen version to which I’ve added a handy little red circle so you can see where I was sitting (click to enlarge):

 

In addition to the above, amongst the congregation were senior representatives of the Armed Services, representatives and ambassadors of all combatant countries involved in the Battle, and descendants of men who fought in the Battle (including me!), 200 children and 200 teachers together with members of the public who entered a ballot for tickets.

 

To quote the order of service, “during the service an anthologicon is delivered, drawn from extracts from contemporary accounts of events before, during and after the Battle of Waterloo by British, French and German readers under-laid by the sound of the organ.” So, the story of the Battle of Waterloo was told through the voices of those who were actually there read by their descendants or current serving members of the armed forces. It was incredibly moving and very thought-provoking.

 

To have been a surgeon on such a battlefield is something I don’t think any of us can truly imagine and I feel immensely proud to be descended from someone who served his country in such a way.

 

The horror of battle was summed up by the Duke of Wellington in a conversation recalled by his friend Lady Shelley:

I hope to God that I have fought my last battle. It is a bad thing to be always fighting. While in the thick of it, I am much too occupied to feel anything; but it is wretched just after. It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. Not only do you lose those dear friends with whom you have been living, but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you. To be sure one tries to do the best for them, but how little that is! At such moments every feeling in your breast is deadened. I am now just beginning to regain my natural spirits, but I never wish for any more fighting.

 

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Chartres, KCVO, gave the address. The main thing I took away from what he said was this:

The past cannot be changed but we are responsible for how we remember it.

His address can be read in full here and I strongly recommend reading it.

 

The service was not a mourning of loss nor a glorification of war but a commemoration of all those who fought at Waterloo and a salute to their courage and resolution.

 

I am so honoured and privileged to have been there. I don’t imagine for one moment that my ancestor, Thomas James Drinkwater, ever dreamt that his great great great great grand-daughter would be thinking about him and honouring him in such a way so many years later.

 

After the service and once the great and the good had exited the building I made my way outside into the sunshine. As I walked down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral I noticed that there were many more people watching from behind the barriers, undoubtedly come to see the Royals and other dignitaries. It is very bizarre to be watched by so many people waving cameras and phones – not that they were looking at me of course.

 
200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

 

As the bells of St Paul’s rang out across London I made my way back to Paternoster Square, removed my jacket, packed away my heels, replaced them with my trusty Birkenstocks whilst sighing in blissful relief and joined the crowds in London – just another tourist once more.

 

I still can’t quite believe I was there!

 


 

All photos that are not labelled as mine are embedded courtesy of St Paul’s Cathedral’s Flickr account.

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