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Private Robert Iron

Waterloo 200


Captain James Campbell's Company

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Submitted by: Margaret Irons

Date added: 10 Feb 2015

Born in January, 1793 and named after his father and grandfather, Robert was the eldest of seven children. They lived in Haverhill on the Suffolk/Essex border, and Robert took up weaving like the rest of his family. However, he soon became restless and in October, 1811 enlisted as a Private in the 51st Regiment of Light Infantry, with a pay of 6d per day.

Having missed the first two battles of the Peninsular Wars, he joined the rest of the Regiment in June, 1812, and fought in the Battle of Salamanca on 22nd July. Although wounded, he was back with the Regiment by December and in June, 1813 fought in the Battle of Vittoria. In July/August he took part in the Battle of the Pyrenees, and in August/September fought at St. Sebastian, before fighting in the Battles of Nivelle on 13th November and Orthez on 27th February 1814.

Robert returned to England with the Regiment in the Spring of 1814, and in June his pay was increased to a shilling a day. After marching from Plymouth to Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight during July, they were back in Portsmouth by September, and sailed in 1815 to join the allied army near Brussels. Seven thousand of Wellington’s 50,000 infantrymen were, like Robert, Peninsular War veterans (he had fought in six of the eight Battles), and only half of them were British. The Duke admitted that he had an “infamous army, very weak and ill equipped with a very inexperienced staff”.

On 18th June 1815, Robert was in Captain James Campbell’s Company, part of the 4th Brigade commanded by Colonel Mitchell. Early in the battle, when the French were attacking Hougoument Farm, they were on the extreme right of the Line, responsible for preventing 100 French cuirassiers from escaping the field along the Nivelles Road. Of the 2,000 men defending Hougoument, 500 were killed or wounded.
According to a French military writer at the time, one of the principal causes of Napoleon’sdefeat at Waterloo was “the admirable firmness of the British infantry, joined to the sangfroid and aplomb of its chief”.

Having served his seven years’ service, Robert returned to Haverhill in October, 1818 and went back to earning his living as a weaver. He married twice, had 16 children(!) and died at the age of 72 – his death certificate stated that the cause of death was “Disease of the heart. Sudden fluctuations probably produced by smoking and chewing tobacco,the stomach having but little food for it”. He was my husband’s Great Great Grandfather and we’re proud of him.

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