Monday, 27 June 2011

An ancestor who fought at Waterloo

Since my daughter married, two years ago, I have been tracing my son in law's ancestry. I recently discovered that his 4x great grandfather, George Stables, fought at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.

George Stables was born at Cairnie in Aberdeenshire in December 1782, the son of George Stables, a crofter, and Jean (or Jane) Minty. George junior originally worked as a weaver but on 9 February 1807, at the age of 24, he enlisted as a Gunner in the Royal Artillery.

Unfortunately, the only part of his military service record which survives is his discharge record, so it is impossible to piece together the details of his military service prior to Waterloo. It seems highly likely, however, that he saw service during the Peninsular War (1808 to 1814).




By 1815, George Stables was a Gunner in Captain Courtenay Ilbert's Company, 5th Battalion, Royal Artillery, which formed part of Wellington's Reserve and did not see action at Waterloo. Shortly before the battle, however, a detachment of 3 Officers, 3 Bombardiers and 33 Gunners were sent from Captain Ilbert's Company to join the 2nd Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Artillery, under the command of Brevet Major Thomas Rogers. George Stables was one of the Gunners and Lieutenant George Sylvester Maule was one of the Officers.

George Maule kept a journal which is now in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives. I was able to purchase a transcript and commentary by Mike Robinson at 1815 Limited. I also found online a detailed presentation on the history of Rogers' Company of the Royal Artillery. From these two sources, it is possible to know what George Maule and the men under his command experienced in the three days from 15 to 18 June 1815.

On the evening of Thursday, 15 June, they were quartered at the Chateau at Foret, two and a half miles south of Brussels. They were roused from their beds at 11 pm by a courier bringing orders to march. Between 1 and 2 am on the morning of Friday 16 June they left Foret and marched to Brussels, where they waited some time for the 5th Division, of which they were part, to form up. They then departed by the Namur Gate, marching to the tune of "The British Grenadiers".

About 8 o'clock on the morning of 16 June they arrived at Waterloo and rested on either side of the road outside the village, in the Forest of Soignes. During the course of the morning they passed several places from which the inhabitants had fled, apart from some terrified old women.


Quatre Bras


At 1pm they arrived at the strategic crossroads of Quatre Bras, where Dutch and Belgian troops were already engaged in fighting the French. Rogers' Company, who were equipped with six 9-pounder guns, formed a line and were soon in action. They took part in a furious artillery duel with the French, whose guns were well hidden in a wood 600 yards in front of them, and fought off a charge of Cuirassiers and a column of enemy infantry. The Company suffered heavy losses in men and horses but kept up their steady firing. The fighting carried on until dark (which at that time of year would have been late evening) when the two armies bivouacked where they had fought.

At daybreak on Saturday 17 June they buried the dead officers and the ordinary soldiers, such as George Stables, took the opportunity to fit themselves out with new kit at the expense of their dead comrades. At 11 am they marched back they way they had come towards Waterloo, with French troops harrying them from behind. They were also caught in a dreadful storm. By 6.30 pm the whole British army had taken up its positions at the hamlet of Mont St. Jean, with the French about three quarters of a mile away, with whom they exchanged artillery fire until nightfall. Heavy rain extinguished their fires as they bivouacked for the night.




They were up and under arms before daybreak on Sunday 18 June, although the battle did not start until later in the morning. Rogers' Company were positioned in front of the infantry and were under direct orders from Wellington only to open fire on an enemy advance. The Commander of the 5th Division, Sir Thomas Picton, stationed himself next to Rogers' artillery to direct their fire on the mass of French infantry.

A present day member of Rogers' Company has described the scene:

Calmly the gunners waited with lighted portfires until the head of the French column appeared over the crest in front of the guns. At the word “fire” a tremendous salvo of grape shattered the enemy and before they could recover the British infantry charged them. A melee ensued which the gunners joined in, armed only with rammers, until the French resolve weakened and they gave way in confusion. So critical was the situation at this time that one of Rogers's guns was spiked by its Number 1 to prevent it being used by the enemy who seemed bound to capture it.

Sir Thomas Picton was killed close by the Company at this time. They then changed position twice before, down to only three guns, they took part in the final decisive action of the battle, the repulse of Napoleon's famed Imperial Guard, cutting down whole ranks with their murderous artillery fire.


Waterloo Medal


Rogers' Company won a battle honour for their actions at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Like all those who had fought in either action, George Stables received the Waterloo Medal and had 2 years added to his reckonable service for pension purposes. By 1816 he was back in Britain and stationed at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. On 26 October 1816 George married a Suffolk girl, Rebecca Dawson, at St Nicholas, Plumstead.

George was discharged from the 5th Battalion of the Royal Artillery on 31 January 1819. The discharge papers contain a physical description. He was 5 foot 7.5 inches, with dark brown hair, blue eyes and a dark complexion. The official reason for his discharge was "ague and debility". Ague was the old term for malaria, a disease which devastated the British forces during the Peninsular War. This reinforces the likelihood that George Stables had seen service there.

George wasted no time in returning to Scotland after his discharge, settling at Cults, near Kennethmont in Aberdeenshire, about 12 miles from his birthplace. His first known child, also George, was baptised at Kennethmont on 11 March 1819, so poor Rebecca must have travelled nearly 600 miles whilst heavily pregnant. Despite his "debility", George went on to live for another 40 years, drawing a pension of 9d a day from the army (about £30 in today's money). He also fathered eight more children with Rebecca. He died at Cults, of dropsy, on 20 December 1859, aged 77, and was buried in the kirkyard at Kennethmont.


  1. Hi, I can tell you exactly where George Stables was stationed, year by year during his time with the artillery. Unfortunately, he never served in the Peninsular. Please email me at address below, for full explanation.
    Kind regards

    Russ Jones

  2. Thanks to the kindness of Russ Jones, I now have details of George Stables' military service from 1808 to 1819. As Russ says, George did not serve in the Pensinsular - his "ague" was the result of serving in the ill-fated Walcheren expedition in 1809: