George Arnold

200 years ago this June saw one of the most important battles in British history take place in the rolling countryside just outside the small village of Waterloo in Belgium. On that day the combined forces of the British under the Duke of Wellington, and General Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher's Prussian troops decisively defeated the might of Napoleon Bonaparte's French Army, bringing to a close years of conflict that had cost tens of thousands of lives.

Today the battle of Waterloo is well known, even to those who have no real interest in military history, although perhaps the one aspect that has been forgotten over the following two centuries is the story of the men that marched and rode in Wellington's rank and file all those years ago.

George Arnold is just one such example of the battle hardened veterans that took the King's shilling and fought not only at Waterloo but throughout the entire Peninsular War from 1809 to 1815. 

George was born in the quaint village of Shillington, Bedfordshire in 1779 and little is known of his early life until he appears in surviving military records as having joined the 16th Light Dragoons as a 'Bedford Recruit' on 1st March 1800. Serving with the 'Scarlet Lancers', George spent time in Ireland and in various different postings around the empire up to 1809 when his unit was part of a small Army sent to the Iberian Peninsular to take on the numerically superior French forces carving their way through Portugese and Spanish armies desperately defending their homeland.

Over the next four years George, a Private in Captain King's troop of the 16th Light Dragoons was in action at every major battle of the Peninsular War. In support of the famous Light Division under 'Black Bob' Crauford, the 16th were at Talavera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Fuentes D'Onoro, Badajoz and countless skirmishes and small engagements against French troops unders Marshals Ney, Soult and Massena.

Throughout the entire Peninsular campaign the 16th Light Dragoons lost 309 men and 1416 mounts. At the conclusion of hostilities in the Peninsular, marked by Napoleon's abdication and imprisonment on Elba, George retrurned to the UK, a hardened veteran, doubtless with many stories to tell and looking forward to a peaceful future.

Alas, this new found peace was not to last. Within 6 months the 'Corsican Ogre' had escaped captivity and each time French King Louis XVIII sent troops to re-capture the former Emperor, those men instead joined his ranks. Within a few months Napoleon was back on the throne of France and threatening Europe's stability once more. Uniquely, for the first (and only) time in history, the nations of Britain, Prussia and Russia declared war, not on France, but on Napoleon himself. 

Back home in Britain George Arnold and the men of the Scarlet Lancers were again called to Arms, and proceeded within the month to Belgium as part of a large Anglo-Prussian force designed to stop Bonaparte once and for all. After a period of inactivity and uncertainty as to what each side planned, Bonaparte made his move in June 1815, a series of fast marches aimed as driving a wedge between the British and Prussian forces outside Bruselles. On learning of Napoleon's movement the Duke of Wellington remarked ""Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours' march on me. … I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras; but we shall not stop him there, and if so I must fight him there" (indicating Waterloo on a map).

As a highly mobile part of Wellington's Order of Battle, the Light Dragoons, including George were sent to Quatre Bras to help repel the enemy advance, somthing which they achieved for long enough for Wellington to assemble his main body of troops near Waterloo. On the evening of the 17th June as George and his comrades retired to Waterloo a huge downpour soaked every man to the skin and made for a very uncomfortable evening.

The following morning saw a marked change in the weather and as Napoleon and Wellington's armies lined up against each other and waited for the ground to dry sufficiently, the Scarlet Lancers took their place in the line, forming a Cavalry reserve with other light horse units.

The battle that was to follow was quite simply 'the closets run thing you ever saw in your life' as Wellington himself described it later on. During that day the 16th Light Dragoons were involved in two pivotal phases of the Battle. Firsty, in the middle of day when the Union Brigade (Britain's heavy Cavalry) charged and broke a French infantry column threatening Wellington's 'thin red line' of intantry. The Heavy Brigade crashed into the advancing infantry, putting them to flight before pressing their charge on towards the enemy gun lines. Pushing to far from their own positions, the heavies soon tired their mounts and were in turn charged by thousands of French Lancers on fresh horses. In a desperate flight back to the safety of their own lines they were saved from total destruction only by a timely charge of the Light Dragoons, led by the Scarlet Lancers who drove off the enemy Cavalry, thus saving their comrades in the Union Brigade. 

By late afternoon Napoleon was increasingly aware of the approaching Prussians and so unleashed his finest troops, the 'Old Guard', on Wellington's line. In a touch and go affair the British line repelled the famous Old Guard and it was at this crucial moment that again the Scarlet Lancers charged the shaken guard, putting them to flight, ending Napoleon's last chance of victory that day. Throughout this whole action Private George Arnold of Pirton, Herts was not only a witness but an active participant.

Following the battle, which would be George's (and Napoleon's) last, George and the rest of the British Army returned home triumphant
. Little more is known of the part of Arnold's life other than he was registered as a Chelsea Pensioner in 1822 where he was awarded a pension of a shilling a day for his twenty four years service, his discharge record citing 'old age and subject to rheumatism' as his reason for discharge.

From this point on nothing more was heard of the old soldier for 46 years until November 1868 when the follow article appeared in The Times, written by the vicar of Pirton, Herts:

Following the publication of this moving article generous donations came in from far and wide, and a letter published two weeks later from the same vicar highlights that generosity:

Sadly George Arnold died just a few months after the publication of these articles, aged 90. Doubtless he was incredibly grateful for the support he received in his final days. A proportion of the donations received for the old man's comfort went to purchase a headstone which otherwise he could never afford. That headstone proudly bore the names of the battles that George saw some 60 years earlier:

Notable here is that George's headstone incorrectly states his unit as the 17th Lancers, not the 16th Light Dragoons.

Today George's headstone no longer shows his proud achievements, the name and detail lost to years exposed to the elements. 200 years we feel strongly that this old warrior who saw so much and whose story has been all but forgotten, deserves to be remembered and his headstone to be restored to how it once was.

Our aim is to raise the £600 necessary to correct George's headstone and restore it in time for 18th June 2015, two hundred years to the day that George rode on to the field of Battle at Waterloo.

*We are delighted to announce that as of 21st April 2015 we have met our target! Thanks to all of you who have contributed! Watch this space for further information*