1 May 1793 - 16 Jun 1887
Date added: 30 May 2015
Private John Jeremiah volunteered into the 2nd battalion 23rd Foot at Bristol in April 1813 aged 19, having transferred from the Monmouthshire and Brecon Militia. Like many other militiamen of the era he had taken up the option of a “short” 7-year enlistment. Arguably this was part of the first mass volunteering movement into the previously shunned British Army. As a “Royal” Regiment making an illustrious name for itself in the Peninsular War,the Welch Fusiliers would have been an especially attractive proposition for volunteers; and a relative one Thomas Jeremiah was already serving in theregiment’s ranks. An alternative interpretation is that since the local militia were about to be packed off to Ireland for garrison duty, John perhaps saw the advantage of collecting a bounty from instead enlisting in the regulars!
Born in 1793 in Goytre South Wales John is described as alabourer, 5ft 7 inches and with grey eyes. By October 1814 he had transferred to the elite 1st Battalion in York Barracks in Chelsea, London. He later moved to Gosport. Receiving the news of the “Hundred” Days the Regiment shipped quickly to Belgium on the 23rd-30th March. Wellington was glad to receive such an experienced Peninsular unit of over 700 officers and men. After an inspection the Duke said to the veteran General Lowry Cole: “I saw the 23rd the other day and I never saw a regiment in such order. They are not strong in numbers, but it was the most complete and handsome military body I ever looked at.” That was quite an endorsement coming from a general not known for giving lavish praise.
Waterloo was John’s first and last battle. Trusted with guarding the vulnerable extreme right of Wellington’s army, the regiment later moved into the first line behind Hougoumont. They spent much of the battle in square alternately fighting off massed French Cuirassiers and Carabiniers, or under galling fire from the powerful French artillery and skirmishers. They suffered “only” about 100 casualties, including the death of their 32-year old Colonel Henry Ellis. Their losses were therefore lighter than most units of their size and they joined in the general advance at 7.30pm.
After further duty in the Paris garrison and (ironically) in Ireland John was honourably discharged in 1820, and returned to South Wales. His daughter Rachel married my Great Great Great Grandfather James Carey. Living until 1887 aged 94 years, John was one of the last survivors of the battle, and I greatly treasure the photograph below of him near the end of his life. Hundreds including military representatives attended his funeral. His story is remembered in a display this year at the Pontypool Museum, Gwent.