Thomas Morris Soldier of the Battle of Waterloo
On 23 March, 1865, The Llanelly Guardian published the brief obituary... Mar.19, Mr Thomas Morris, Bres, Llanelly, a Waterloo Veteran, aged 77. A most humble obituary compared with some of the obituaries that were published in the Guardian in those days.Thomas Morris was born c1790, in or near Llannon, a small village about 6 miles from the town of Llanelli in the county of Carmarthenshire. At the beginning of the 19 century the village boasted a Parish Church and a few inns and public houses that included The Red Lion, The King's Head and The Greyhound. It was primarily a small agricultural hamlet close to a few coal workings and lying on the main coach-road between the towns of Swansea and Carmarthen. [a]
The contemporary traveller and author B H Malkin wrote of the place in 1807 that...
The situation of Lannon (sic) is elevated, and the view from the churchyard is extensive; but there is nothing to repay the labour of passing over it. [b]In 1801 a public notice was published, advertising a meeting of the subscribers to the Intended Rail Road or Tram Way from the Flats near Llanelly to Castel-y-garreg. The meeting was to be held at The King's Head, Llannon on 5th November 1801 [c].
It is quite probable that the industrial revolution that Merthyr was experiencing at the beginning of the 19 century attracted many people such as Thomas Morris from Llannon to seek employment in this booming town, as it was a major iron manufacturing place in Great Britain and the Klondyke of its day. So important was Merthyr, that Admiral Lord Nelson visited the place in 1802, to witness cannons being cast in the ironworks there.
Mr. Crawshay's iron works of Cyfartha are now by far the largest in the kingdom; probably, indeed, the largest in Europe; and in that case, as far as we know, the largest in the world. He employs constantly fifteen hundred men, at an average of thirty shillings a week per man, which will make the weekly wages paid by him two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds, and the monthly expenditure, including other items about ten thousand pounds. [f]We do not know why or how Thomas Morris signed up with the British Army at Merthyr, but according to his attestation papers, he was eighteen years old and described as being five foot seven inches in height, having brown hair and hazel eyes with a fresh complexion. His occupation was recorded as being ‘labourer’. [e]
Seven years later Thomas Morris was listed as a Private serving in 'Lord Soultron's Company, the 3rd Battalion of 1st of Foot Guards at the Battle of Waterloo.
The 1st Foot Guards at Quatre Bras and Waterloo
The 1st Guards had three battalions, two of which – the 2/1st and the 3/1st – took part in the Waterloo campaign. Both these battalions were part of Major General Peregrine Maitland’s 1st Guards Brigade which was the senior brigade in Major General George Cooke’s 1st Division, which in its turn was part of Lieutenant General The Prince of Orange’s 1st Corps.
Before Waterloo the 1st Corps was deployed on the Belgian border over a wide area with its front inclusive of the Mons/Quatre Bras Roman Road; its left flank inclusive of the Charleroy/Brussels road from Quatre Bras to La Belle Alliance and its right flank inclusive of the Mons/Tournai road. Thus it was that their extreme left flank was immediately involved in fierce fighting when Ney’s leading division attacked along the Charleroi/Brussels road on the morning of 16th June.
When the Allied army under Wellington withdrew to the defensive position on Mont St Jean ridge on the late afternoon and evening of 17th June, Cooke’s Guards Division took up a position on the right flank about three hundred yards to the rear of Hougoumont Château which provided the vital lynch pin of the Allied right flank. During the night of 17th/18th June, Wellington sent the light companies of the 2/1st, 3/1st, 2nd Coldstream and 2/3rd Guards to defend Hougoumont Château, leaving the remaining companies of these battalions back on the ridge. The light companies of the 2/1st and 3/1st Guards were initially deployed in the kitchen garden of the Château, immediately along its west wall, from which they were driven out by one of the several French attacks, re-forming in the sunken road which runs to the north of the Château. They may have been able to regain the comparative safety of the Château walls later.
Meanwhile the remaining companies stood firm on Mont St Jean ridge for the remainder of the battle. It was on their front that the final attack by the French Imperial Guard struck home. The 1st Guards Brigade was lying down in open order just short of the crest of the ridge in a reverse slope position which gave maximum protection from cannon fire. When the Imperial Guard were just about to breast the ridge, Wellington who was watching beside Maitland called to him, “Now Maitland, now’s your chance sir”, to which Maitland gave the order “Stand up Guards”. The two battalions reformed their line and fired volley after volley into the Imperial Guard at point blank range, and then charged with bayonets driving all before them. The terrible words, La Garde reçule echoed round the devastated French army. The sight of the formerly unvanquished Imperial Guard being driven ignominiously back could only mean defeat; the whole French army crumbled as each man fled for his life.
After Waterloo, the defeat of the Imperial Guard by the 1st Guards was commemorated by re-naming the Regiment the 1st or Grenadier Regiment of Guards (still their full title today), and conferring them the honour of swapping their shacos for bearskin caps similar to those worn by the Imperial Guard.
Lieutenant H. Davis, an officer of the 1st Foot Guards at Waterloo, recounted his memory of the battle in a letter written 20 years later...
The Brigade of Guards to which I belonged, consisting of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Regiment, were posted above and to the left of Hougoumont, a little behind the crest of the position, so that they were nearly out of sight of the Enemy until close to them. The Infantry in that part of the line were formed in hollow squares by the express order of the Duke of Wellington at the commencement of the Action.In 1829 Private Thomas Morris was medically discharged from the army after 23 years service as a consequence of diseased lungs contracted while in the service his conduct was recorded as Very good. [e]
About the middle of the day, after the attacks of the Enemy's Cavalry had been repelled, a strong force of French Infantry was pushed forward, who kept up a galling fire on the part of the line where the Battalion to which I belonged was posted. In order to drive them back the Battalion, not waiting to deploy into line (which in the consequence of large masses of the Enemy's Cavalry still hovering about would have been unsafe), opened from the centre of the rear face of the Square, that face and the two flank faces bringing their right and left shoulders forward until in line with the front face, thus forming an irregular line of four deep. They then advanced, drove back the French Infantry, and in the midst of murderous fire of the Enemy's Artillery, reforming square with much coolness as on parade, returned to their former position. When the French Imperial guards advanced to the attack, the same manoeuvre was repeated by the British Guards, and the French Guards, whose attack was made in column, were broken and driven back with great slaughter, the field being literally covered with their dead [g]
By the year of 1841 Thomas Morris along with his wife Ann, was living in the Bres district of Llanelli, which was the industrial heart of the town. His home was at Mill Street, an old thoroughfare that once linked Anne Street to the metal founding works on the Wern, the present day Old Lodge. In the census returns of Llanelli he is listed as either an Army Pensioner or a Chelsea Pensioner.
It is likely that Thomas Morris worshipped in the nearby St Paul's Church, Llanelli, given the building's close proximity to his home. It was probably the reason why he was interred in the graveyard there on 21 March 1865. The burial records of the same church also mention the interment of Ann Morris of Columbia Street, Llanelli on 14th March 1868 age 74. This was probably his wife. [h]
Although St Paul's Church was demolished c1988 its graveyard remains, overgrown and unkempt, making the location of the last resting place of the Waterloo Soldier, Guardsman Thomas Morris almost impossible to find.
In the sunset of his life the veteran was plagued by his neighbour, Mary Bassett. She was the wife of John Bassett, a master tailor. Thomas Morris twice took her to the magistrates' court for assault as she had been throwing stones at him. The magistrates, C.W. & W.Y. Nevill recommended the parties to arrange differences, especially as they were neighbours. [I] On another occasion he took her to court for striking him with a dirty broom, and calling him an old scamp and a murderer of people. This time the bench, consisting of J. H. Rees and Colonel Stepney were not so lenient as the magistrates stated that they would commit Mrs Bassett to prison unless her son agreed to be bound for her good behaviour for 12 months towards the Waterloo Veteran, of the Grenadier Guards, whose character Colonel Stepney read, as given by Major Woodford as being “very good”. Richard Bassett was bound in £5. [j]
[i] The Welshman 11June. 1858 p5 c1
[j] Llanelly Guardian 19th May. 1864 p1 c2
Notes and Citations
Our thanks to Hugo White of Cornwall's Regimental Museum and to Caru James and Staff of Llanelli Reference Library.
Also to Brian Bamford - Officer Commanding 1st Foot Guards (1815) The First Foot Guards Living History and Re-enactment Unit
[a] LC12063 The History of the Parish of Llannon Gibbard/Griffiths trans
[b] The Scenery, Antiquities, and biography of South Wales, by Benjamin Heath Malkin Esq. (1807) Vol. 2 p 439.
[c] Llanelli Library LC2956.
Coalmining in the Llanelli Area by M.V Symons Vol. 1 p212.
[d] Carm Ant XIX page 57
[e] GBM WO97 0194 049 001
[f]The Scenery, Antiquities, and biography of South Wales, by Benjamin Heath Malkin Esq (1807) Vol I p 266.
[g]Waterloo Letters. H. T. Siborne. (1891); Lieutenant Colonel H Davis letter March, 1835. (Lieutenant Colonel H Davis was a Lieutenant of the 1st Foot Guards at The Battle of Waterloo)
[h] Columbia Street, later Columbia Row was located in the Bres/Wern district of Llanelli and was the next street to Mill Street.
St Paul's Church.(1988) Llanelli Lib. Ill4284
Mill Street. (c1920) Llanelli Lib. Ill2661
Click here for further reading: Llanelli and the Battle of Waterloo