Monday, 22 June 2015

Howden Waterloo hero

Last Thursday,  June 18th, saw the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. Locally a small ceremony in the Howden churchyard was held to remember Howden's own Waterloo hero, Charles Ledsham

I wrote a brief piece about him which appeared in the Goole Times newspaper and reproduce it below.

Howden’s hero of Waterloo

On  Wednesday 25th January 1837 Charles Ledsham, the landlord of the London Tavern in Hailgate (later number 55 Hailgate and, until very recently, solicitors’ offices) died at the age of 48. He had previously been the landlord of the Waterloo Inn at number 12 Bridgegate.

Charles was buried a few days later in Howden churchyard and his gravestone, although much eroded, tells us that he was ‘one of the immortal heroes’ of the battle of Waterloo.

So,  as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle on June 18th, I wondered what part had Charles played all those years ago. Had he really been a hero? What was his story?

He was born in 1787, the son of John and Susannah Ledsham, and was baptised in the village church at Birkin on 13th May. On 29th September 1805, aged 18, he enlisted at Camblesforth in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards. Camblesforth seems an unlikely place to enlist and I suspect this was as a result of a recruiting drive.

The Horse Guards were a cavalry regiment and wore a blue uniform, hence their nickname of ‘The Blues’. After a battle in 1794 in which they defeated the French with very few losses they were often referred to as ‘the Immortals’ – as on Charles’ gravestone.  The regiment was based at Windsor.

Charles served for the following 13 years and 90 days, rising through the ranks to sergeant. We know he was 5 feet  nine inches tall, had brown hair, hazel eyes and a brown complexion.

He later received an army pension and appears as a Chelsea pensioner listed as one of those who served in Canada, presumably in the war of 1812.

But then in 1815 came Napoleon’s last battle when he was defeated by the Duke of Wellington.

Charles was then 28 years old. From the muster roll of those who took part in the battle of Waterloo, we know he was in Captain John Thoyts’ Company in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, of which the Duke of Wellington was the colonel.

The Blues were part of The First or Household Brigade of Heavy Cavalry and during the battle were commanded by  Lord Edward Somerset.  There were about 2,000 members of the heavy cavalry, all mounted on superb horses who charged the enemy. Charles Ledsham was one of these.

But Sgt Ledsham was probably not aware of the final victory for some time, as he was severely wounded and left for dead on the battlefield.

According to his obituary published in 1837, ‘he was engaged in personal conflict with the bearer of an Imperial Eagle whom he slew and seized the trophy, but his enjoyment was momentary as he was overwhelmed by a host of the enemy, his horse was killed annd he himself left for dead, pierced by seven severe wounds and thus deprived of  the honour of presenting it to his commander’.

The capture of an Eagle, the equivalent of regimental colours, was a great achievement and in fact only two were captured during the battle of Waterloo.

Captain John Thoyts’ troop was heavily involved in the fighting near the farm of La Haye Sainte.  It was here that he and his men charged the French and so it was most likely there that  Charles Ledsham seized the Eagle from a French officer and was then himself attacked.

There is no doubt that Charles  was severely wounded during the battle, as this is noted on his army record.

It states that he was officially discharged from the army on 27th December 1818 at Windsor ‘in consequence of being disabled by nine sword and lance wounds received from the enemy at the battle of Waterloo’.
There seems to be some discrepancy about how many wounds he received but whether it was seven or nine he was lucky to survive.

In the conduct part of the record it states that ‘he distinguished himself particularly at the battle of Waterloo’.

Charles was one of 50 soldiers of the Blues who were wounded (44 were killed).
He was, like all who served during the battle,  later awarded the Waterloo medal.

He came to Howden in late 1822 and had renamed the Black Horse Inn the Waterloo by 1823. Howden must have been a patriotic town as around the same time The White Hart Inn was renamed the Wellington, the name of course that it bears today.

By 1834 the Waterloo was no more and had reverted to the name Black Horse. Charles Ledsham was by then landlord of the London Tavern in Hailgate.

He died some three years later and on his gravestone, which is not very far from the chapter house, it is just possible to make out that he suffered from the effects of his wounds to the end of his life.

So on this 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, never mind the fictional Sharpe but remember Howden’s own hero who so nearly went down in history as the man who captured an Imperial Eagle at Waterloo.

He must have been able to tell some amazing stories as he served Howden people their mugs of ale

Charles Ledsham's gravestone in Howden churchyard

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