General George Whichcote (1794-1891)

General George Whichcote, one of the last two surviving English officers who had seen active service at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815, died at his home, Meriden House, Church Lane, Meriden, on 26th August 1891, aged 96.

He was born on 21st December 1794 and was the fourth son of Sir Thomas Whichcote, (5th Bt)., of Aswarby Park, Lincolnshire. From the age of eight until 16, he was educated at Rugby School. In December 1810 he volunteered for service in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Light Infantry and was gazetted ensign on 10th January 1811.

Military career

His regiment immediately embarked for the Peninsula, on board the Pompee, 74 guns, an old French line-of-battle ship which had been captured. Her captain was Sir Athol Wood. The regiment, together with the 43rd and 95th, formed the famous “Light Division.”

Whilst a private soldier, he was in action at Sabugal (3rd April 1811) and was also present at El Bodon (25th September 1811) although his regiment was not engaged. He assisted at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo (19th January 1812) and Badajoz (6th April 1812). He was also involved in the battle of Salamanca (22nd July 1812), the strategic retreat from Madrid, and the decisive battle of Vittoria (21st June 1813).

He was the first man in the English Army to enter Toulouse (12th April 1814), pressing on and taking the town after observing the French retreat.

He had served with such distinction that he was gazetted Lieutenant in July 1812.

The 52nd was ordered to Ireland but foul weather meant that they were detained all winter outside Cork Harbour in the troopship Atlas. Having finally made a fair start, they were overtaken by a fast-sailing cutter with news that Napoleon had broken out of Elba, and the Atlas was to change her course at once and make all good speed to Ostend.

Lieutenant Whichcote was present at the famous ball given by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels on 15th June 1815, the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.

According to the Shields Daily News of 28th August 1891, the regiment played a “conspicuous and glorious” role at Waterloo, which was the last that General Whichcote saw of active service.

He wore the Peninsular medal with nine clasps and he had now earned the Waterloo medal. After the defeat of Napoleon, he marched with his regiment to Paris, where they camped on the Champs-Elysées, close to the Duke of Wellington’s abode. George Whichcote was on guard at the Louvre whilst various artistic treasures gathered by Napoleon were being removed.

On returning to England, he was promoted to a Captaincy in January 1818 and the same year exchanged into the Buffs.

Four years later he purchased a troop in the 4th Dragoon Guards from Colonel Sibthorpe. He was made Major in 1825, and put onto half-pay. His promotion continued and he was gazetted Lieutenant-Colonel in 1838, Colonel in 1851, Major-General in 1857, Lieutenant-General in 1864, and General in December 1871.

He retired in 1881.

Residence at Meriden

George Whichcote married Charlotte Sophia Monckton (1814-1880), daughter of Philip Monckton (1787-1820), at Brewood, Staffordshire on 24th February 1842, giving his address as Aswarby. Her family home was Somerford Hall, Brewood.

According to Spratton Local History Society the couple lived as tenants at Spratton Hall, Northants in the 1840s where George Whichcote was apparently well known for his kindness to the poor.

The couple moved to Meriden around 1848 and remained there for over 40 years, although the 1861 census shows them at Stretton Hall, Brewood with some of Mrs Whichcote’s maternal relatives. We don’t know why they settled in Meriden so, if you have any further information, please let us know.

Charlotte Sophia Whichcote died in London on 8th November 1880, aged 67, and is buried at Meriden. The Coventry Herald 19th November 1880 lamented her loss, describing her as:

endowed with no ordinary gifts, of quick and keen intelligence, she also possessed the most tender and sympathetic nature. To those in sorrow or suffering her benevolence was unbounded, and to know that distress existed was sufficient at once to enlist her ever-ready aid.

Coventry Herald, 19th November 1880

The newspaper went on to note that she felt deep compassion for orphans and had taken into her household several girls from the workhouse, bringing them up with “loving care” and ensuring that they were trained in domestic service. She was also a notable supporter of Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital.

The Birmingham Mail, 27th August 1891 noted that General Whichcote took little part in the public affairs of the Meriden district, preferring to spend his years of repose in comparative seclusion. In the 1860s he was for a few years a guardian of the poor, but apparently “he did not care to continue in that office, a somewhat distressing one for a man of lively sympathies.”

His “tall and portly figure” was, however, familiar to the people of Meriden who would see him during his daily walk to the post office as well as during his regular attendance at the parish church. He was also known for his charitable works, providing Christmas cheer to many poor people, and carrying on his wife’s benefactions after her death. He contributed also some £600 towards various funds which were raised from time to time for the restoration and rebuilding of the church, and was a constant subscriber to the Coventry hospital, and to one or more of the Birmingham hospitals as well.

Death of General Whichcote

General George Whichcote died at Meriden House on 26th August 1891, aged 96. His funeral took place on 31st August 1891, with a procession leaving his home at 3pm. As a widower with no children, the chief mourners were his nephews, Major John H. Monckton and George Whichcote.

The 100-yard route between Meriden House at St Laurence’s parish church was lined with residents who uncovered their heads as the flower-laden coffin passed. Three officers and four men from the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment followed directly after the coffin. A number of servants were also named as following: Mrs Favill, Louise Aspinall, Anne Taverner, Lucy Willerton, Fred Anderton, and Bertie Shuttleworth.

The coffin was made by the village carpenter, in line with General Whichcote’s instructions and was borne on the shoulders of eight labouring men. They were named as:

  • Joseph Masters (farm labourer)
  • Abraham Anderton, Fred Wall, and William Newcombe (jobbing gardeners),
  • Frederick Anderton (coachman)
  • Isaac Taylor (ex-policeman)
  • Tom Kimberley (road-mender)
  • Warren Hodgkins (sweep)

The funeral party arrived at the church at 3.15pm and was met at the churchyard gates by the Vicar, Rev. A. L. Willett who read the opening words of the burial service as the mourners slowly walked into the church. Inside, the coffin was rested upon a bier in the aisle, and the congregation chanted the 89th Psalm.

In accordance with the deceased’s wishes, the service took place with quiet simplicity. The Coleshill Chronicle, 5th September 1891 described it as being “in the simple but feeling old village style without note or music throughout, save that which fell in measured evidence from the tolling bell.”

Senders of floral tributes included servants of the household and the children of the Meriden National School who dropped onto the coffin their simple wreaths and wild flowers. Nurse Margaret McLellan, who had cared for the General during the last eight months of his life, also deposited in the grave the wreaths “composed of the most exquisite flowers.”

The inscription on his gravestone (pictured above) is now much weathered, but it was transcribed by the Birmingham & Midland Family History Society and reads:

Sacred to the memory of General George Whichcote born 21st December 1794 at Aswarby, Lincolnshiure, died at Meriden 26th August 1891 served with the 52nd Regt. in the Peninsula and France in the campaign, and at the Battle of Waterloo. Thanks be to God which gaveth us the victory. Cor.XV:57.

“Waterloo Men”

“Waterloo Men,” as veterans of the battle were known, often became local celebrities as the decades passed and there were fewer and fewer survivors of the campaign. A number of contemporary reports described General Whichcote as the last surviving British officer to have fought at Waterloo, but this would seem to be incorrect.

As far as we can tell, it seems he was the last-but-one surviving officer although, by 1890, he was the oldest of the last three survivors.

By the 70th anniversary of Waterloo Day in 1885, newspapers were reporting that there were only 12 surviving officers who were engaged in the Battle of Waterloo. However, our research suggests that at least six of those 12 named had actually died before 1885.

By the 75th anniversary in 1890, it was reported that there were only three surviving officers. These were:

  • General George Thomas Keppel, 6th Earl of Albermarle (born 13th June 1799, died 21st February 1891)
  • General George Whichcote (born 21st December 1794, died 26th August 1891)
  • Lieutenant-Colonel William Hewett (born 2nd July 1795, died 25th October 1891)

Reporting General Whichcote’s death, however, the Illustrated London News commented:

By the way, it is an error to suppose that General Whichcote was the only surviving Waterloo officer. The Army List also contains the names of Lieutenant-Colonel Hewitt, late of the 53rd Foot, Lieutenant-Colonel Webster, late of the 18th Foot, and Major Brady, late 36th Foot. Captain Fenton, though considerably over the nineties is, we believe, still alive. His name was recently brought to the notice of the late Earl of Albermarle, the most famous of the Waterloo veterans, and a friendly correspondence was exchanged between the two soldiers.

Illustrated London News, 5th September 1891

In fact, Captain Thomas Charles Fenton had died in 1841, Major William Stewart Richardson Brady had died in 1864, and Lieutenant-Colonel James Carnegie Webster had died in 1877.

Some rank and file soldiers undoubtedly survived longer than the officers, but there is no overall agreement as to the last Waterloo veteran to have served with the British Army. The New Statesman in 2015 carried an article about Louis-Victor Baillot, France’s last Waterloo veteran, who died in 1898, aged 104.

General Whichcote was also one of the last two surviving officers to have fought in the Peninsular War. The last surviving officer was Major James Gammell, Rifle Brigade, who died on 23rd September 1893.

A telegraph from Balmoral was received by Lord Burghley (later the 4th Marquess of Exeter), who was Parliamentary Secretary, and was married to Isabella Whichcote, General Whichcote’s great-niece (daughter of his brother, Sir Thomas Whichcote, 7th Bt). The telegraph said: “The Queen very sorry to hear of the death of this distinguished Waterloo man – PONSONBY.”

The Commander-in-Chief of the Army, H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge also wired to Sir Thomas Whichcote: “Accept my sincere sympathy for your family at loss of such a gallant old officer.

If you have any further information, please let us know.

Tracey
Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies

tel: 0121 704 6977

email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

© Solihull Council, 2021.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: