WATERLOO 1815 ‘ENSIGN GEORGE BROWNE, 32ND REGIMENT FOOT’
George Browne was commissioned Ensign in the 32nd Foot on 10 June 1813. He does not appear top have served in the latter stages of the Peninsular War but during the 100 days campaign, he served in Captain Charles Hawes's company, being present at the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. At the battle of Quatre Bras, the 32nd, 662 strong, was involved in some of the heaviest fighting, suffering 1 Officers and 20 men killed, 12 Officers and 225 men wounded. Two days later, at Waterloo, as part of Sir James Kempt's 8th British Brigade (along with the 28th, 79th and 95th Rifles) in Sir Thomas Picton's 5th Infantry Division, the 32nd were stationed around the centre and left of the Allied line - undoubtedly the most exposed and dangerous part of Wellington's position. The 32nd endured the worst of fire from the French 'Grand Battery', participated in the defeat of d'Erlon's vast infantry assault (during which time Picton was shot dead and carried off the field by two men of the regiment) and stood solidly in square for several hours repulsing French cavalry charges. Ensign Browne carried the 32nd’s Colours at the battle of Waterloo, which as 3rd junior Ensign, is not surprising, especially as the 2 Ensigns junior to him and 3 above were all wounded at Quatre Bras and Waterloo.
Casualties to the regiment were again extremely high, especially when considering how many Officers and men were lost at Quatre Bras. According to the Regimental history, a further 28 men were killed, with 8 Officers and over 300 wounded. However the latter figure seems at odds with official casualty lists, which notes the number of casualties for both battles at 370 Officers and men killed and wounded, or a 56% casualty rate. These numbers do not take into account Officers and men on other duties such as baggage, sick etc. As such the actual number of men of the 32nd that were in action would have been 50 to 100 less, making the percentage of casualties far higher. This is the case of any regiment at Waterloo and any other battle and is usually not accounted for. After the battle, an officer of the 32nd noted the battalion had been reduced to just 130 men.
Staying with the 32nd, Browne was promoted Lieutenant in 1819 and Captain in 1832. He was awarded the rank of Brevet Major for gallantry at the battle of at Point Pelee Island during the Canadian Rebellion of 1838-9. Here in the depth of winter, an Patriot and American force of 4-500 men crossed the frozen Lake Erie at Sandusky, Ohio and occupied Pelee Island. A force of the 32nd Foot under Lt Colonel John Maitland, supported by artillery and cavalry were sent to intercept the invaders and Captain Browne, with 2 weak companies of the 32nd (90 -100 men) in sleighs, along with a approximately 20 irregular cavalry, were detached from this force to the South side of the Island to intercept any Patriots attempting to escape.
However, realising that a large force of regular troops had been sent against them and that a smaller force had been detached to cut them off, the Patriot Colonel; Bradley, decided to retire his force via the south of the island. Coming upon Captain Browne’s detachment, the Patriots in regular formation advanced on Browne’s position. After 20-30 minutes of well directed fire, during which both sides suffered heavy casualties, Browne realised it was only a matter of time before his force was wiped out and ordered his surviving men to fix bayonets and charge the enemy! The Patriots; ‘Terrified by the 17- inch blades rushing towards them, they let off one last volley and scattered in every direction over the ice chased by the cavalry.’
Of Browne’s command, 5 were killed and 25 wounded, almost entirely soldiers of the 32nd. The Patriots lost somewhere between 50 and 75 killed and wounded.
Major Browne finally retired from the Army in 1847, after serving 34 years in the 32nd Foot. Of his retirement, the Regimental history stated:
“The regiment also lost their last Waterloo veteran, by the retirement, on half-pay, of Major George Browne, a brave old officer who had entered the regiment in I813, fought with it at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and subsequently much distinguished himself in the affair at Point Pelee island, during the Canadian rebellion. “
Major Brown died in October 1850, according to his obituary:
“Oct. 26, at Ferry, Port on Craig, N.B., Major Browne, formerly of the 32nd Regiment. He entered the Service in 1813, and was present with his Regiment at the battles of Quartre Bras and Waterloo, on the 16th, 17th, and 18th June, and as Ensign carried the colours on the last glorious day. He afterwards saw some active service in Canada during the rebellion of 1838 and 9. Upon one occasion, when in command of two weak companies of the 32nd, consisting of 93 rank and file, he totally routed a force of 350 of the American Sympathisers, after having lost 36 of his men killed and wounded. For this gallant exploit he was promoted to the rank of Brevet Major. In 1846 he accompanied the Regiment to India, and, after remaining there two years, he retired upon Half Pay, much to the regret of his gallant companions in arms.”
Condition about VF, relatively light contact wear overall, with original clip and riband and a replacement split-ring suspension. On the market for the first time in 2021, having come from a direct descendant of Major Browne’s.
This is an outstanding medal, not only as it’s to an Ensign who carried the colours at Waterloo, where the 32nd Foot suffered among the highest number of casualties of any Regiment. But as a veteran Officer, he was promoted for gallantry during the Canadian rebellion for which no medal was authorised to participants, which makes this medal extremely rare.