Gunner William Henry
Recently, an interesting article appeared in The Courier (28 August, 2023: pages 24 & 25), the daily paper in Dundee, concerning the erection of a headstone on a common unmarked grave of a Battle of Waterloo veteran, William Henry.
William Henry and his wife, Christian, were laid to rest in 1853 in the historic Howff cemetery in Dundee; and William’s fascinating story had been discovered during lockdown by Mr. David Henry, William’s descendant.
William, born in 1776 in Peterculter, in rural Aberdeenshire, left home as a young man to seek work and found employment as a heckler in a Dundee flax mill – a boom industry at the time. A heckler was a manual worker who combed out the flax fibres ready to be spun. As an aside, hecklers were notoriously belligerent and not shy to make their opinions known – hence the usage of the term even today.
William left his job, responding to the call to arms to fight the French. He became a gunner in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, serving at home and abroad, including fighting in the Low Countries, culminating in serving his gun on the field of Waterloo.
William was wounded in the hip, but was able to make it off the battlefield, and returned to England, where he was awarded the Waterloo Medal. His army career was now over and he was discharged from the Royal Artillery in April 1816 due to his injury, which entitled him to a regular allowance.
William returned to his wife and old job in Dundee, where the couple had a total of eleven children. William died in Dundee in February 1853, aged 76, due to inflammation in his lungs – a common occupational hazard for textile workers.
Remarkably, just a few yards from William’s grave, near the Meadowside entrance to the graveyard, is the tomb of Jules Legendre, Lieutenant in the French Imperial Guard that fought with Napoleon.
William Henry and his wife were some of the last of around 80,000 burials to take place in the Howff graveyard. William and his wife had bought their burial plot before they died for the equivalent of 4 week’s wages. A headstone cost extra, and was often beyond the means of ordinary working people.
And so, William’s grave remained unmarked and unlamented for 170 years at Lair 488, until a moving ceremony with veterans from the Royal Artillery Association on Saturday, 26 August 2023. One wonders how many other Napoleonic veterans lie in unmarked graves up and down the country?
Further details of Jules Legendre’s grave are available here