Sergeant Major Clay Bedfordshire Militia
5th January 1781 at St Mary’s. Their eldest son was Matthew, who was born on 6 March 1796.
Matthew started work when he was 11 or 12 as an apprentice framework knitter as this was an important trade in Blidworth at the time. He worked at this for seven years before joining the army at the age of 18. He enlisted in the Third Regiment of Foot Guard, the Third Scots Fusiliers Regiment, in London on the 6th December 1813. He was 5 foot 7 inches tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and light coloured hair. Possibly because of his lack of height he served first with the 2nd Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Master in Holland and France from 1814 until 1816. He was captured and imprisoned but only for a couple of weeks, being set free as Paris was liberated. When in France he started writing a pocket account book, which is now held by the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service (Ref Z1081). The writer purchased a copy in 2009 for £120.
His story starts on the morning of 16th June 1815 at Quatre-Bras and he writes how he was fighting in the battle that day, quickly reloading his musket. By evening, as the battalion settles down for the night, he goes to look for water as he remembers passing a stream just before it got dark. He soon finds it, fills his kettle and takes it back for his friends and the injured. As he drank from it he thought it had a funny taste but it was still refreshing. Just as it was getting light he went for some more but when he looked down at the water it was red with blood; dead bodies were everywhere, so he did not refill his kettle but hurried back as the battle had started up again.
After fighting at Qutre-Bras the battalion headed to the Chateau at Hougoumont through the crop fields where he fell into a puddle up to his neck as they had had a lot of rain the night before. It was another day of fierce fighting and his musket kept misfiring, so he found one on a dead body which was dry so it was ‘load and shoot’ all day. That evening the soldiers lit fires to dry their clothes and warm themselves. The sergeant came round giving them all a piece of bread, ‘about on ounce’. They were near the farmyard now so one of the troopers caught and killed a pig. Matthew’s portion was a part of the head! It started to get light and the fighting had started again in the direction of Hougoumont Farmhouse and that is where they headed, dodging cannon fire and bullets. Matthew wrote, ‘I was quite a target in my red coat, being more distinctly viable than theirs, ‘The French.’ He saw the lower gates of the Chateau were open and soldiers were lying dead and injured. When they got inside Lieutenant-Colonel Dashwood and captain Evelyn of the same company, were there wounded. The battle was full on. At the gates of Hougoumont they were climbing over the dead bodies, injured French and their own men too. He saw Colonel McDonnell carrying a piece of wood or a trunk of a tree in his arms, with which he used to secure the gates against the renewed attack of the enemy. This action probably saved the day as historians are agreed that the defenders of Hougoumont decisively affected the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo. The book that Matthew wrote has fantastic accounts of the war and it makes you feel as if you are with him as you read it. *