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Lone Canadian killed at the Battle of Waterloo lies in an unmarked grave

© By Tom Douglas
 
Battle Of Waterloo - Advancing Soldiers

Captain Alexander Macnab of the 2nd Battalion, 30th Foot Guards was one of thousands of soldiers killed and unceremoniously buried on the battlefield near the small Belgian community of Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
     Despite a less-than-illustrious career and an obscure death, Captain Macnab has been accorded the rare tribute of having a marble tablet to his memory affixed to the walls of London's St. Paul's Cathedral. His one claim to fame seems to have been that, as far as can be determined, he was the only Canadian known to have participated in this epic battle that took place about 15 kilometres south of Brussels.
     His Canadian descendants were successful in having a commemorative plaque placed in what is known as the "Canadian Corner" of the cathedral in 1876. Nearby is a bust of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Not far away is the crypt of the Duke of Wellington as well as a monument to Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton.
     Captain Macnab was serving as an aide-de-camp to General Picton when both men were killed at Waterloo. The town of Picton, Ontario is named in the general's honour.
     The Duke of Wellington and his allies had handed French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte his final defeat. Wellington's place in history was assured, and he later was twice elected prime minister of Great Britain. Many of the officers who served under him were eventually rewarded with prestigious posts in various parts of Britain's far-flung empire.
     A spectacular re-enactment of the battle is staged here each year around the date of the actual conflict that took place on a rainy Sunday in June of 1815. The re-enactment regularly draws a crowd of about 50,000 spectators, who fill the bleachers surrounding the battlefield or perch on a huge mound of earth on one side of the field. The hill is known as the Lion Monument due to a large statue of a male lion on the summit erected by the King of Holland to commemorate his son, the Prince of Orange, who was wounded in the battle. Battle Of Waterloo - Drummer
     About 3,000 re-enactors take part in the annual event, dressed in brightly coloured uniforms that the participants go to great pains to resemble the original military dress of the period. While the original battle lasted for the better part of 10 hours, the re-enactment is compressed into two hours. The roar of constant cannon and rifle fire, numerous cavalry charges and hand-to-hand skirmishes add to the realism, giving the impression that the original battle is taking place all over again.
     While history books refer to Captain Macnab as the only Canadian at Waterloo, the designation is a bit of a stretch. Schoolchildren looking forward to events celebrating the upcoming July 1 national holiday know that the Dominion of Canada was founded in 1867 - more than 52 years after the battle that sent the defeated Bonaparte into permanent exile.
     Born in Virginia in 1768, Alexander Macnab fled north with his United Empire Loyalist parents during the American Revolution. Never married, he joined the British Army in 1802 and served in Ireland, Portugal and Spain before being seconded to General Picton's personal staff. As Macnab lay dying on the battlefield, he instructed his orderly to convey his watch, ring, sword, and regimental sash, along with some messages, to his family in Scotland and Canada.
     Macnab was buried in an unmarked grave at the scene of the conflict. With close to 25,000 British, Belgian, Dutch and Prussian troops of the allied forces and almost double that number of French soldiers killed or wounded that day, little is known of the actual circumstances of Captain Macnab's death.
     The rectangular stone slab at St. Paul's commissioned by two of his nephews in September 1876 reads: "Sacred to the memory of Captain Alexander Macnab 30th Reg aide-de-camp to Lieut General Sir Thos Picton who was with him slain at Waterloo. His body lies on the field of battle in the hope of a blessed resurrection."

Canadian place names tied to the Battle of Waterloo:
  • Ontario: a regional municipality, a city and a university all go by the name of Waterloo. There is also a small hamlet with that name in Nova Scotia.
  • Arthur and Wellesley and an Ontario county and a village are called Wellington. (The Iron Duke, as the victorious allied commander came to be known, is remembered by such Ontario community designations.
  • Richmond and a Richmond Hill in Ontario as well as Richmond in Prince Edward Island and Quebec. A borough of the city of Sherbrooke, Quebec goes by the name of Lennoxville, while Lavant Township in Ontario's Renfrew County is a throwback to the Lavant River and Village of Lavant situated in England near Goodwood House, the county seat of the Dukes of Richmond. (Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond)
  • Maitland in Ontario and Nova Scotia. (The Duke of Richmond's son-in-law, Major-General Sir Peregrine Maitland, commanded the 1st Infantry Brigade at Waterloo. He was appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada in 1818, then lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 1828, serving in that capacity until 1834.)
  • Colborne and Port Colborne in Ontario. (Colonel Sir John Colborne, who replaced Maitland as lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, commanded of the 1st Battalion, 52nd Light Infantry at Waterloo. Colborne's term as lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada ended in 1836 and he served as acting governor-general of British North America from 1837 until replaced by Lord Durham in 1838. )
  • Kemptville in Ontario and Nova Scotia as well as the Kemptville campus at Ontario's University of Guelph. (Major-General Sir James Kempt had served as a brigade commander in British North America during War of 1812 and in the same capacity (8th Brigade, 5th Division) during the Battle of Waterloo. He was appointed governor-general of British North America in 1828 and returned to active duty with the British Army in 1830.)
  • Dalhousie in Quebec and New Brunswick; Port Dalhousie in Southern Ontario and in the eastern part of the province, the townships of Dalhousie and Ramsay. Nova Scotia boasts the community of West Dalhousie as well as Dalhousie University, founded by Ramsay during his tenure there as lieutenant governor. (Sir George Ramsay, Earl of Dalhousie, served as a senior officer under the command of the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal as well as at Waterloo. Ramsay held the post of lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia from 1816 to 1820, and governor general of British North America from 1820 to 1828.)
  • Uxbridge Township - Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, led the 7th Hussars during the battle and was second-in-command to Wellington.
  • Picton, Ontario - Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, killed during the battle.
  • Keppel Township, Ontario - Sir George Thomas Keppel served as a young officer at Waterloo.
Tom Douglas is an Oakville-based entertainment columnist, travel writer and author. Check out his books at: http://tomdouglas.typepad.com/tom_douglas/books/

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