In Ladywell Cemetery there lies a tombstone and upon it is written the words:
‘Elizabeth Watkins, 1810 – 1904, Waterloo Veteran’
Elizabeth was present at The Battle of Waterloo on June 18th 1815. It was a ferocious and bloody battle that took place between Napoleon Bonaparte with his French troops and the allied forces led by The Duke of Wellington. The battle took place outside the village of Waterloo in present day Belgium.
But Elizabeth could only have been five years old at the time of the battle. What on earth was a child doing on a battlefield?
A local historian called John Luke set out to find out. He had to do a great deal of detective work finding out Elizabeth’s maiden name and who her father was. Then he stumbled across this piece of information in a book:
‘Elizabeth Watkins, of Norwich, born 31st January 1810 at Beaminister, near Bridport. Her father, one Daniel Gale, was pressed into the King’s service just before Waterloo. Gale’s wife and child followed him to Brussels and were in the women’s camp near the field of Waterloo. The child remembers cutting up lint – saw many dead and some stirring incidents of the battle.’
That experience remained with Elizabeth all her life and must have made such an impact on her life – it was the final defining phrase on her gravestone. Elizabeth’s experience made me want to find out more about the battle.
Then in Julia Tugendhat’s book ‘Children at the Battle of Waterloo,’ I discovered another child, six year old Mary Adwicke, who was a camp follower. Her mother was married to a soldier and they had permission to attach themselves to the regiment. In return for washing, cooking and mending they were given half rations.
So on Thursday, when all the brouhaha is happening around the two hundredth anniversary of the battle, I will spare a thought for Mary and Elizabeth and all the children who still find themselves caught up in conflict.