Blidworth soldier was a hero at Battle of Waterloo

NMAC11-2496-5''Blidworth soldier, Sgt Major Matthew Clay who fought in the Battle of Waterloo.''Distant relative Christine Dabbs of Blidworth has  been researching his past.
NMAC11-2496-5''Blidworth soldier, Sgt Major Matthew Clay who fought in the Battle of Waterloo.''Distant relative Christine Dabbs of Blidworth has been researching his past.

A BLIDWORTH soldier who fought with distinction at the epic Battle of Waterloo is finally to be honoured in the village where he was born.

Matthew Clay was a 19-year-old private with the Scots Guards when he took part in the heroic defence of Hougoumont Farm against an onslaught by French forces during the battle on 18th June 1815.

The famous rearguard action saved the flank of the Duke of Wellington’s troops and helped ensure the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte - placing Matthew at the centre of one of the key moments in military and European history.

Much of what we know about Matthew’s part in the battle has been researched by his great, great, great, great niece, Christine Dabbs, who still lives in Blidworth.

Many who begin to look into their family tree wonder what they might find, and Christine (59) was understandably amazed when she discovered her ancestor had fought at Waterloo.

“I am very proud and have found out so much about him and what a caring man he was,” she said. “There are all kinds of stories about him, like him looking after a French drummer boy during the battle.”

Grandmother Christine was determined to ‘bring him back home’ and with the help of Blidworth Parish Council has arranged for a plaque to be installed honouring Matthew close to the village’s war memorial.

Most details are being kept secret for now but the plaque will be unveiled on Remembrance Day, 13th November, and Coun Peter Brooks hopes it will become an attraction for Blidworth.

“I think people in the village will appreciate the fact he served in the battle of Waterloo and was born and bred in Blidworth,” Coun Brooks said.

Christine has also secured the services of the First Foot Guards, the Grenadier Guards, who will be marching in full Waterloo uniform from St Mary’s Church to the memorial ahead of the plaque’s dedication.

“They should be a wonderful sight heading through the village in their uniforms and we are hoping they will be able to fire a salute,” she said.

It was this same red and white uniform which Pte Clay was wearing when he faced Napoleon’s troops at the Emperor’s final battle at Waterloo in Belgium 196 years ago.

He was still a teenager, having been born in 1796 in Blidworth and christened at St Mary’s Church.

At the age of 11, Matthew, one of nine children, went to work as an apprentice framework knitter following the death of his mother.

He first enlisted with the Nottinghamshire Militia in 1813 but joined the regular Army soon after and was in the Scots Guards by the time of the Waterloo campaign.

“He kept a handbook which is one of the best accounts of what happened at the battle,” Christine said. “Some of the stories are incredible. The day before the battle he says it had been raining and the soldiers were all wet through.

“Then the following day when he went to the stream to get some water it was blood-red from the start of the battle and there were French bodies everywhere.”

Greater horrors were to follow for the young private when, as Wellington described it, Napoleon ‘commenced a furious attack’ on the farmhouse at Hougoumont.

French troops burst through the doors of the building but were repulsed by the British.

L/Sgt Kevin Gorman, of the Scots Guards Archives, has described Matthew’s account of Waterloo as among the ‘most vivid’ to have survived.

After the battle, Matthew returned home with his battalion and was later promoted to Corporal and then First Pay and Drill Sergeant of the Scots Fusilier Guards. He did serve abroad again during the Carlist Wars, when the battalion was sent to Portugal, but sadly died in poverty at the age of 77.

“He continued to wear a laurel leaf with his medal from Waterloo,” Christine said. The medal, together with his sword, whistle and other belongings are still kept at the Scots Museum in London.