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Forces War Records Blog

THE MYSTERY OF THE 200-YEAR-OLD FALLEN BRITISH SOLDIER

 
How the Coldstream Guards look today - soldier from No7 Company Coldstream Guards. Credit: MOD (www.defenceimagery.mod.uk) under the OGL (Open Government License) How the Coldstream Guards look today - the buttons still display the St George cross and eight pointed star of the Order of the Garter. Credit: MOD (www.defenceimagery.mod.uk) under the OGL (Open Government License)

Blogger: GemSen I’ve just read a really interesting report by the BBC about the discovery of 200-year-old remains of a British Coldstream Guards soldier, found in the sand-dunes of the Netherlands. As I continued to read the article I was intrigued to find out exactly who the fallen soldier was? This I discovered was a bone of contention (no pun intended) for the archaeology team, also… The sandy grave of the soldier has been left undisturbed for more than two centuries, until some birdwatchers discovered the bones in March 2011, on a beach in Holland. A number of previous finds have been made not far from this site, in Groote Keeten, which on 27th August 1799 was the scene of The Battle of Callantsoog (or Battle of Groote Keeten). Given the area’s connection with the 18th century battle, the archaeologists had suspected that the body might be that of a soldier, and the clues left behind subsequently told them that he was British. The British army had only been in the area for a day and this helped them date the soldier’s remains. The battle behind the bones… The battle followed an invasion of northern Holland launched by Britain and Russia in an effort to topple the Batavian Republic and restore the House of Orange. The action formed part of the wars against revolutionary France, which supported the Dutch republic. Around 12,000 British soldiers were landed in Groote Keeten under the Duke of York and the British-Russian armies included the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, consisting of some 1,000 soldiers. The human being behind the bones… Buried in his uniform, the soldier was found with metal artefacts and several muskets, which all helped the archaeologists with their research. It was the buttons on his uniform that really made the archaeology team from Hollandia Archeologen go “wow” though. These tell-tale items could really help them find out more about where the soldier came from. The buttons were very fragile and the markings were barely visible on one of them, but an archaeological conservationist was able to identify the pewter buttons as belonging to the Coldstream Guards from the regiment’s distinctive star and cross. Further examination revealed some wording that signalled that the buttons had been made by a button-maker based in London’s Covent Garden. Unfortunately, the body was found with a crumbled torso and no head – so with no teeth and badly degraded bones, DNA testing was unlikely to be successful, making it tough to find out exactly what killed him as well as who he was.  The hunt for a name Interviewed by the BBC was Esther Poulus, who has tried to discover the identity of the soldier. The British army did not suffer heavy losses in the battle so Esther went about trying to find out the names of the Coldstream Guards who died on the 27th of August, which could perhaps lead to an identification of the remains. Her research in the National Archives at Kew yielded six possible names, with Nathaniel Haines and Thomas Taylor the two most likely. Esther commented: "The archives in the UK show that the two soldiers I think it could be were in the most dangerous jobs, as grenadiers. Judging by his remains, our soldier was probably around 1.80m tall, which was tall for the time. And the grenadiers recruited the tallest. So it's just a hunch, and a feeling I got when I saw the names." Apparently the Ministry of Defence in the UK does not handle the repatriation of such historic remains, while the Commonwealth War Graves commission does not handle pre-1914 remains. So it was up to the Coldstream Guards regiment itself to engage with the Dutch authorities, and they are not optimistic over the names found by Esther. They say there is no way of narrowing down the search and both names suggested are quite common, so the identity of the soldier is sadly still unknown. The unknown soldier's remains have been stored at the local government depot for archaeological finds in northern Holland. Last week on May 2 they were handed over in Haarlem to the British ambassador and representatives of the Coldstream Guards. A regimental musician played the Last Post before Captain Oliver Morley brought the remains home to the Regimental HQ. Retired Colonel Simon Vandeleur, the regimental adjutant who has been key in organising the repatriation told the BBC: "The regimental archives show well over 100 people killed in 1799 in the Coldstream Guards, and unfortunately some of the archives were damaged in the Blitz. At the time, they didn't look after those records very well - if a soldier died they destroyed his record, as they no longer needed to pay a pension, though we have got the archivist looking through the 1799 box," he says. If the regiment can pinpoint a name, it will try to find the soldier's descendants, though Vandeleur admits it seems unlikely. "But we will try. If not, Plan B is to cremate the remains, and scatter his ashes on Horse Guards Parade before the Trooping the Colour with due dignity and ceremony, and the guardsmen of Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards - his descendants - can tramp his ashes into the welts of their boots on one of the nation's most famous parade grounds, 200 years later. I hope it will be a fitting resting place for an unknown soldier who died long ago, doing his duty." Source: BBC News Magazine Coldstream Guards Formed in 1650 as part of the New Model Army during the English Civil War, the Coldstream Guards regiment swore allegiance to King Charles II in 1660 and has guarded the country's monarchs since. The button on the Coldstream Guards uniform is composed of an eight-pointed star of the Order of the Garter and a cross of St George is at the centre of the star - a similar button design is still used today - see the picture of the modern day Coldstream Guard above. Do you have someone in your family who served in the Coldstream Guards? Forces War Records have various war records relating to the Coldstream Guards across different eras - search the Forces War Records site and fill in the missing pieces of your research. For more information on the Coldstream Guards see our unit history section under Coldstream Guards. Comment below and let us know about the links and stories in your family related to the Coldstream Guards...
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