Waterloo 200

Commemorating the Battle of Waterloo 1815 – 2015

As part of the 200 year commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18 2015, Millthorpe School was invited to take part in an international service and research project.

Rachel Walmsley and Maia Rollinson from Year 9 volunteered to research into the life of a local soldier who had fought at the battle of Waterloo. This information was then saved into to an on-line book which the Waterloo 200 committee have organised.

We were given the task of finding out about James Asquith who we were told was probably from Tadcaster. It was a slow process finding out more information about him as we didn’t have his exact date of birth and the only information we had was that he was probably born within Tadcaster. It turned out that he was born in the Parish of Tadcaster. This area covered many small towns and villages at the end of the 1700’s, making his exact birth place hard to pinpoint.

We signed up to the ‘Find my past’ and the ‘Ancestry.co.uk’ websites and began to uncover information about James Asquith. The most useful document that we found was his army discharge papers. This gave us lots of information about his approximate age, where he served, which battalion and regiment he served in and even how much he got paid. As he would have to use this document to get his pension it also contained a very useful written description of James so that he could be identified by officials as being the right man. We also looked at census materials and found him on both the 1851 and 1861 census as well as a death certificate from 1861. To improve our knowledge of the Battle of Waterloo we used history books, search engines and attended a talk on the battle by a local historian.

Paul Brunyee was the local historian who visited Millthorpe just before half term. He gave a presentation to a group of Year 9 students about the Battle of Waterloo and then spoke to us in more detail at lunchtime. He brought with him muskets, French cavalry swords, medals and letters, all from the Battle of Waterloo. He was even able to show us exactly where James Asquith would have been positioned at the start of the battle; it was a very interesting account.

We used all of the information from our research to put together a picture about the life of James Asquith and then we included the information in the commemorative e-book.

I was lucky enough to be chosen to represent Millthorpe School at the commemoration service that was held at 11am on the 18 June, exactly 200 years to the day since the battle took place. The ceremony took place in St Paul’s Cathedral and was a really prestigious event. Poor Maia had to stay in school.

The service was very interesting. A particularly moving part of the service was when accounts were read by descendants of soldiers or by present day soldiers from the same companies as those who had written the original accounts and letters from Waterloo. It presented the Battle from the soldiers’ perspective, including contributions from the English, Scottish, German and French. Count Blucher and the Duke of Wellington were there (the latest in the line of descendants as opposed to the originals!) to contribute. The part I was most impressed with was when two Privates from the army read accounts. These were just young men, not much older than me, from normal back-grounds reading to an audience of over a 1000 people, including Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Edward, David Cameron and Nigel Portillo. Plus the service was broadcast on the TV to millions more.

Overall it was a really interesting service and a nice day out in London. We didn’t get to meet Dan Snow who had helped with the research but Mrs Bowland and I did get to have our photo taken outside St Paul’s Cathedral with all the other school students who had taken part in the research. It has been a real honour to be part of such an important event.

Rachel Walmsley 9HPA

Who was James Asquith

James Asquith was a drummer in the 2nd battalion, 30th Foot. He was born in the Parish of Tadcaster, possibly in 1799 but maybe a little later in June 1800. If he was indeed born in June 1800 then his parents were probably called Ann Powell and Benjamin Asquith. However this is not conclusive. The only James Asquith that we have found who was born in 1799 was registered as being born in Bradford to a father with the fine name of Septimus.

James Asquith’s army records describe him as five foot six and a half inches tall, brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. Waterloo was the last major battle fought before the arrival of the photograph and so this is the only image we have of him.

James enlisted in the British Army in Wakefield on the 24 June 1811 in the East Lancashire Regiment 39th and 59th foot. He was only 12. There is no explanation as to why he enlisted in the army so young. The early 1800’s saw the glamorisation of the role of the drummer boy and paintings depicted them as young boys, although in reality their average age was 26. Perhaps James was enticed by the thought of foreign travel and heroic deeds. Some of the drummer boys had fathers who were already serving in a regiment and the boys were taken on in order to get more pay for the family. There was an age limit but this was often ignored meaning some could have been as young as 10. The younger boys tended to be used as a sort of mascot for the army; the role of the drummer boys was also a very important method of communication.

The boys would drum various drum rolls which were recognised by the soldiers as different commands that then instructed the troops. At Quatre Bras and Waterloo there were 304 drummer boys in the British front line. Between 1814 and 1817 James was stationed in Paris and earned £2 19 s & 5d. At Waterloo, he was part of the 2/30th in Halkett’s British Brigade in Alten’s division which placed them in the middle of the allied line, to the right of La Haye Sainte. They were one of Halkett’s four battalions which had fought under Wellington in the Peninsula and during the day they faced heavy fighting and suffered high losses, including Alten.

James survived Waterloo and was awarded the Waterloo Medal. In 1818 he went to serve in India. Due to a thigh injury he was discharged in 1828 with a pension, having been described as a good soldier.

He settled back in Tadcaster and at some point married Mary Ann. He lived there as a Chelsea Pensioner. He appears in the 1851 census as living with his wife Mary Ann on Vicarage Lane and again in 1861 at the age of 60, living in Backleft Yard. His army records show him as a millwright and he probably learnt this trade in the army as they were specialised carpenters who had a working knowledge of driveshafts, bearings, gearing and mechanical belts. He died on 20 September in 1861 at the age of 61.