Family Lessons 13: The Old Soldier

On 22nd June, 1844, my 5x great grandfather, William Moxon, and others marched through Preston, wearing a sprig of laurel and accompanied by bands. He was a relatively old man, and the stiff walking might not have been easy. The bells of the parish church were ringing, and a ‘union jack’ was raised on the steeple. A dinner followed at the Bull Inn, and the Rev. Gilmour Robinson, minister of Tockholes, presided. The Preston Chronicle reported:

The warriors themselves appeared also much delighted in marching again to the sound of the “spirit stirring drum”, and, though some of the men are very old and infirm, the remembrance of the victory which they had won, kindled up in their souls the glowing fire of martial ardour.

Grandfather Moxon was one of the living survivors of the great 1815 battle of Waterloo. Although he started off as a Blackburn weaver and ended as a postman, he had served King George and the Duke of Wellington in the Royal Artillery. He became a Chelsea Pensioner, presumably on account of some injuries he had sustained.

Waterloo changed human history. It was Napoleon’s final defeat; 73,000 Frenchmen fought 25,000 Britons and 90,000 allies. By the day’s end, there were 48,000 casualties; Grandfather Moxon was fortunate to be not counted among them. How proud he must have felt at the Preston event 29 years later, to be cheered through the streets as he marched once more to the drum. Had he remained a Blackburn weaver, his life might have been safer, but unworthy of commemoration. Had he just been a postman, he would have performed a vital service, become a well-known face, gained a reputation for punctuality and reliability- but no more. It was because of his soldiering days that the great and the good of Preston came out to see him march by. We Christians are soldiers in a war. We are scraped and bruised, wounded and weary. Yet it is for this we shall be commended in heaven. We will not be rewarded for the easy times, the lovely Christian songs we enjoyed, the pleasant fellowship we shared, the comfortable faith we had. It is our conduct in the heat and noise of battle which draws praise from the Commander, not our antics in the mess room or snoring in the barrack block.

The Chronicle continued:

The soldier-like appearance and the gentlemanly deportment of these guests, were the theme of general admiration and praise. From five o’clock to eleven in the evening, all the mirth and hilarity: old men of seventy, “fought their battles o’er again” and showed how fields were won, tales of flood and field were followed by songs, toasts and sentiment; and the “heroes of Waterloo” separated in the hope that those among them who survived, would, next year, be invited to partake of the liberal entertainment of the gentlemen of Preston. Toasts were proposed and drunk with due honour.

'The role of the Royal Artilleryman is, as it has ever been, to fight his gun, forgetful of self, to the last round in support of other arms.' Royal Artillery Regiment's insructions to new recruits, 1939. 

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