Date added: 14 Jun 2015
Thomas Chapman grew up around Cambridgeshire and at the age of 19, in 1809, travelled to Yarmouth where he enlisted in the army. It would be impossible to say why Chapman enlisted, his motivations are lost to time, but it is likely that he experienced the same hardships many young men faced in this period. Rumours surround his enlistment, with suggestions that he was possibly paid to take another man's place, and that lured with the promise of money and the chance to travel from his impoverished village to see the world, Chapman took this opportunity. The truth of this rumour died with Chapman himself. Regardless, with work difficult to secure, but an army that was willing to recruit as many men as it could find, enlistment would have been an understandable choice for many at the time, and indeed for many was no choice at all: press gangs and civilian courts making the decision for them.
Upon joining his new regiment, the 95th Regiment of Foot, also known as the 95th Rifles, Chapman became Private Thomas Chapman and was given training, his uniform and his equipment. Riflemen at this time carried kit that weighed about 80lbs. In his knapsack Private Chapman would have carried a spare uniform, including extra soles for his shoes, a blanket, Greatcoat and shaving kit as well as his mess tin. About his person he would have carried all he needed to use his rifle. Whilst today we think of guns as easily portable and requiring little additional equipment, Private Chapman would have needed to carry crucial items such as his powder flask, a bag containing ammunition (approximately 30 loose rifle balls), a belt and ammo pouch which held 50 rounds of ammunition and a small mallet used to force the balls into the rifle. He would also, of course, have carried the rifle itself.
His training would have been fairly basic, as Private Chapman joined up when Britain was both at war and desperately in need of fresh troops. Once he had been schooled in the art of warfare and British military manoeuvres, and drilled with the rifle enough that he would have become practiced if not efficient, Chapman would have been sent to war.
Date added: 14 Jun 2015
We know little of Private Chapman’s experiences of life in the British army. He is absent from the rolls and records from his enlistment until he appears in the medal roll after the end of the Peninsular Campaign. What we do know is that Private Chapman was already a battled-hardened soldier by the time he fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Far from avoiding combat prior to his participation in Waterloo, Chapman had been decorated for his service in Wellington’s army during the Peninsular War, receiving the Military General Service Medal for seeing action in a number of the War’s campaigns. He fought at Ciudad Rodrigo, Vittoria and Badajoz, but also fought in the Battle of Salamanca, the battle which helped cement Wellington’s reputation as an excellent offensive commander, and not only the master of defensive battles.