Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Friday, 11 June 2010 18:00 UK
Lord Rowland Hill: Shropshire's hero of Waterloo
Lord Rowland Hill: picture courtesy of Shropshire Regimental museum
This portrait of Lord Hill was painted by one of his sisters in about 1820

The Battle of Waterloo on 15 June 1815 ended in the defeat of the French Emperor Napoleon.

In the battle - described by Britain's military leader the Duke of Wellington as a "damned near-run thing" - Napoleon's army was routed.

While Napoleon was exiled to St Helena, the battle ensured the reputation of Wellington and one of his most trusted generals, Shropshire-born Rowland Hill.

The career soldier was nicknamed Daddy Hill - known for looking after his men.

The approach paid off, with Hill's troops claiming a number of important victories during the Peninsular Campaign, encouraging Wellington to give him several independent commands during key battles.

Military career

Rowland Hill was born in 1772 near Weston-under-Redcastle in North Shropshire, the second son of a gentleman.

He joined the army in 1790 and went on to become one of the county's most distinguished soldiers, holding the post of Commander-in-chief of the Army from 1828 until his death in 1842.

His military career took him to France, Egypt and Germany before he distinguished himself during the Peninsular Campaign, and by 1812 he was a general.

A local memorial near the Shirehall in Shrewsbury, known as Lord Hill's Column, stands at 133' 6" (40.69m), making it the tallest Doric column in the world.

The Battle of Waterloo by Denis Dighton
The Battle of Waterloo as depicted by Denis Dighton

Peter Duckers is the curator at the Shropshire Regimental Museum, based in Shrewsbury Castle. He is a great admirer of Lord Hill: "He was known as Daddy Hill to his men because he was one of the few generals who took a serious interest in the welfare of the men under him."

At Waterloo, Lord Hill commanded the 2nd Army Corps which included the 2nd and 4th divisions: "There were some of the very finest of the British Army's regiments in it, including veterans of the Peninsular War.

"He took part in the overall command of what was one of the greatest military victories in British history."

Portrait

There is little belonging to Lord Hill in the museum, but some years ago a branch of the Hill family, living in Australia, sent a portrait of him to the museum. It was painted by one of his sisters in about 1820.

Mr Duckers said the painting, which shows Lord Hill wearing all 23 of his medals and decorations was impressive: "She was obviously a very competent artist and it's a very fine portrait of one of Britain's greatest Napoleonic generals."

The medals themselves are now in a vast collection of British and European decorations in the Sheesh Mahal Palace in Patiala in the Punjab region of India: "It's an immense shame that we haven't got any here. I'd be only too delighted to put his medal group on display," Mr Duckers added.

Solid silver

Lord Hill's canteen: picture courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum
Some of Lord Hill's campaign cutlery and decanters.

The museum does have some of Lord Hill's campaign equipment including part of a set of campaign cutlery and a box, all in solid silver.

The wooden box they would have been transported in was destroyed in a fire which badly damaged the museum in 1992. His personal seal survived the blaze.

Mr Duckers said the pocket watch which Lord Hill carried in the Battle of Waterloo is with his medals in India.

Lord Hill's seal: picture courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum
Lord Hill's seal which is in Shropshire Regimental Museum

"It is one of the legends that Wellington asked Hill what time it was when the French began the attack at Waterloo and that Hill flicked open his pocket watch and told him the time.

"However, various other people have also claimed that it was their pocket watch which told the time to Wellington and not Hill's, but I suppose we'll never know."

In 1817, General Sir Rowland Hill became Colonel of the 53rd Shropshire Regiment. He was also MP for Shrewsbury from 1812-1814.

He lived at Hardwick Grange at Hadnall and it was there that he died on December 10 1842 aged 71, just after he had been made a Viscount. He was buried at Hadnall Church.

The Battle of Waterloo campaign medal: picture courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum
The first campaign medals were given out after the Battle of Waterloo

Mr Duckers described Lord Hill as a a very modest and unassuming man: "You almost think that the grave of a man like that should be in Westminster Abbey with the great and the good, but I think it was his wish that he had a fairly simple tomb in his local church."

The first ever campaign medals were handed out after the Battle of Waterloo to the survivors and the families of those who died.

One of the recipients was Trooper William Matthews of the Royal Horse Guards who was born in Ellesmere in 1785.

He survived the battle and lived in Coleham until his death on 1845.




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