Today, June 18, is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo when Wellington, the ‘Iron Duke’, put an end to the spectacular reign of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
On days like this local historians all over the country like to grab a piece of the action if they can and we in Falkirk district are no different. Fortunately, there are several local connections that make this anniversary significant and not just the statue of Wellington with his horse Copenhagen which has stood in the town for 150 years – first below the Steeple and from 1905 in Newmarket Street.
The Duke had famously demanded that his field artillery consisted of “Carron manufacture” because he considered the products of the works to be the most reliable. The Napoleonic Wars brought good business to the works which explains a well known Carron anecdote from 1815.
Sitting in his office above the moulding shop the manager, Joseph Stainton, heard cheering from below. When he enquired why the moulders were throwing their caps in the air he was told: “Oh Mr Joe, Napoleon is defeated and the war is over”. “WHAT!!”, came the reply. “Bad news, bad news . . . I don’t think Bonny fought hard enough.”
He was right of course because peace brought wage reductions and unemployment for moulders and miners alike across the Falkirk district. However, the most important link we have with the battle is the famous ‘Fa’kirk Dizzen’, local men who fought in the 7th Cavalry regiment, later known as the Scots Greys, and took part in the Union Brigade’s famous charge in the heat of the battle. There were actually 13 of them, a baker’s dozen, which is quite appropriate for three of them were bakers in the town in civilian life.
For decades we only knew the names of two of the 13, James Masterton, later on a joiner and Thomas Nicol, a groom at Callendar House, probably because they lived into their 70s and were frequently honoured for their service. Now, thanks to great research work by Stuart Mellor, we can name them all. There was Ebeneezer Thompson, a stocking maker from Manor Street, Alexander McPherson a weaver, William Mackie, a shoemaker, Archibald Hutton, John Wyse from Canal Street in Grangemouth, and the three bakers John Livingson, Peter Miller and John Callander from Kirk Wynd. Two of the others were cousins of Thomas Nicol, probably Robert and John Miller, and the 13th was Corporal John Scott, a labourer from Muiravonside, who was the only one who died on the field at Waterloo.
The rest returned to Falkirk though at least half carried serious wounds. One can imagine that they earned many a pint in the Red Lion or the Crosskeys as they related their tales of glory and showed off their coveted Waterloo Medals.
One often repeated story has two of the ‘Dizzen’ riding together in the thick of battle with prancing horses everywhere and smoke, noise and utter confusion all round. “Whit does this pit ye in mind o’?” asked one. “The last day o’ the Fa’kirk tryst” came the obvious answer!
One other local man involved was Sir John Kincaid of Bothkennar whose horse was shot from under him but who survived to write an account of Waterloo which is often described as a great English victory.
However, like so many other engagements, the Scots were in the thick of it, not least those battling Bairns of Falkirk.