The Battle of Waterloo – 17th June Old Cemetery

On Saturday afternoon, in the cemetery, there was, in the presence of Southampton’s Lord Mayor, Cllr. Valerie Laurent, a commemoration for the 208th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, fought on 18 June 1815. This was organised by Dr. Zack White of the Napoleonic & Revolutionary War Graves Charity ( that aims to restore the graves of veterans of those conflicts and which is already working in Southampton’s Old Cemetery. FoSOC was very kindly invited to participate and those attending gathered before, and after, at the former non-Conformist chapel where Secretary Val Ferguson had organised a display and refreshments were available, by courtesy of FoSOC, after the ceremony.

We began, with an introduction by Zack, at the grave of John Russell, that had recently been restored and cleaned by NRWGC. John, as a member of the Scots Guards, had been involved in defending the Chateau/farm of Hougoument against relentless French attacks throughout the day of battle.  Hougoumont was a key point in the allied defences in front of the right flank of their line and had to be held. Colin Russell, a great-great-grandson, was at the commemoration with 15 of his family members. Colin spoke about John’s service and how, in later life, he had come to Southampton, set up in business in the town and had been buried in the cemetery.

Zack then read from a memorial record of The Defence of Hougoumont that told those attending exactly what the Guards had faced that day. Wreaths were then laid by the Russell family, the NRWGC, by FoSOC and the Scots Guards Association. The NRWGC wreath was of laurel leaves and a friend of Bruce Larner had very kindly fashioned a lovely wreath for FoSOC. This lady had also made the wreaths for the commemoration held by FoSOC in 2021.  Members of the Scots Guards Association were present at the 2023 ceremony and the Regimental Collect and Exhortation was given by Bill Anderson-Ward of the Berks & Bucks (Oxon), Scots Guards. The first 11 pictures, and the last, show scenes at John Russell’s grave and the wreaths that were laid there.

The Commemoration then moved to the grave of Lt. Col. William Hewett whose grave had been cleaned a few years ago by FoSOC. The other pictures were taken there. On 18 June 1815, William had been a junior Captain in the 3rd Bn of the 14th Regiment of Foot (Buckinghamshire) and was, like many of his comrades in the 3rd, under 20 years of age at that time. After an introduction by Luke Reynolds, NRWGC Secretary, FoSOC’s Geoff Watts related William’s background, how he came to be at the battle and survived unwounded. The 3rd had been in rear of Hougoumont so, afterwards, they would have seen the terrible toll exacted from the French for their attacks on the strategic position. Geoff covered the return to England at Christmas 1815 when precious little interest was shown in the men coming back months after many others would have told their stories that much earlier. It was said that the funeral of William Hewett, who held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel when he died, was attended outside his home, on the way to the cemetery, and at the cemetery itself, by a total estimated to be 5000 people. Tribute was paid at the funeral with a laurel wreath, upon the streamers of which was the name ‘Waterloo’.

Luke then read from a memoir, of the day of battle, written by the daughter of the Colonel commanding the 3rd at Waterloo. Wreaths were laid by the Lord Mayor, and Billy Ferguson, Chairman of FoSOC, honouring the last of the British Officers from the battle, though the headstone refers to ‘English’. This was followed by the Regimental collect, exhortation and a minute’s silence.

The Lord Mayor, addressing everyone, said how important it was to keep these memories and maintain the graves. She recalled school visits to Paris, when the French lady hosting her always made a point of taking her to the Hôtel National des Invalides to see the tomb of the Emperor Napoleon!

Many did stay after the event for refreshments at the Non-Conformist Chapel.

Words: Geoff Watts (FoSOC). Photos taken by Bruce Larner