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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

French soldier

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French soldier

Postby Kezza » December 20th, 2015, 11:56 pm

Peter Joseph Fredericks was born in 1786 in Belgium and according to his obituary in 1875 “he had been for some years in the armies of the first Napoleon. He was one of those who survived the two greatest disasters which befell that conqueror, —the campaigns of Moscow and of Waterloo.” According to family legend towards the end of the Battle of Waterloo he changed sides and fought with the British against the French. He then went to England with the British Army and seven years later he married Elizabeth Wade in London in 1822 and immigrated to Australia in 1827. His sword still survives in the family and I have a digitised photograph of it taken many years ago.

Could anyone suggest how I can prove that the story in the obituary is true and Peter was really in Napoleon’s army on the march to Moscow and at the Battle of Waterloo? I have checked the stehelene.org website but he’s not listed on it. Is the story of Peter changing sides near the end of the Battle of Waterloo plausible?

Any assistance would be welcome
Kerrie
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Re: French soldier

Postby OXFORDMON » December 21st, 2015, 9:49 am

A warm welcome to the forum Kerrie!

If you could post a picture of the sword we could verify if it's napoleonic, not sure how plausible it would be to change sides during the battle, more likely he would be a POW?

Andy
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French soldier

Postby Kezza » December 21st, 2015, 11:03 pm

Thanks for your welcome Andy. I have uploaded the photo of the sword. It was taken before the age of digital cameras and then scanned so is not very clear.

I was always skeptical of the changing sides story. Do you know how long a prisoner of war would have been incarcerated in England before he would have been released? According to the family he was in England for almost 7 years before he married in London.

I'd really welcome any comments on the sword. By his having a sword would it mean that he was in the cavalry?

Thank you
Kerrie
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Re: French soldier

Postby Dominique T. » December 23rd, 2015, 10:37 am

I have some doubts too about the changing of sides. It's nearly impossible, except if he changed his uniform too !
Moreover, Peter Joseph Fredericks doesn't sound Belgian at all, if that is true, he probably he changed his name too, what makes research difficult.
It's fortunate he didn't get the Médaille de Ste-Hélène after his betrayal.
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Re: French soldier

Postby OXFORDMON » December 23rd, 2015, 11:46 pm

It's a little difficult to identify the sword from the picture, someone might recognise the pattern unless it's a generic piece. It's possible he did indeed change his name and went to England after Waterloo, it will be a difficult search if so.

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Re: French soldier

Postby Josh&Historyland » December 24th, 2015, 2:03 am

Welcome! Great to have you here.

I suppose it depends on what we mean by changing sides. If it is going over the the allies like some men did before the Imperial Guard advanced, then it is highly plausible, but like the other members have said, it is highly implausible due to lack of similar instances, of a soldier surrendering would be allowed to keep his weapon and not end up being taken to the rear as a prisoner.

There was no fixed term of execution for Prisoners of war, they would be held either in secure places with converted barracks, or on hulks until the war ended or an exchange of prisoners was arranged. Men of comissioned or field rank could expect better treatment. The return of prisoners would be arranged after the treaty that ended the war was signed. I doubt it would have taken 7 years to return prisoners taken at Waterloo, since the whole business was over by the end of the summer.

If you search the forum there are a few threads that deal with POW's and it will give you the profile of an expert who is also a member. The sword looks too rustic to be a formal pattern, I've never seen a French cavalry sabre or infantry hanger that looks like that. To me it resembles a naval sword, but I couldn't be certain.

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Re: French soldier

Postby jf42 » December 24th, 2015, 8:25 am

Asking in complete ignorance here, but would a naval sword be that long (as it appears to me)?

Given the Australian provenance, an ocean cruise at some point seems likely 8-)
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Re: French soldier

Postby PaulC » January 25th, 2016, 9:10 pm

I don’t think it plausible that Fredericks changed sides during the battle. Most likely he was taken captive and was sent to England to reside in Dartmoor Prison or in one of the Devon Parole towns in use in 1815. Was he an officer? The prisoners from this campaign were finally sent back to France in February 1816, however, some of them decided they did not want to return to a now Bourbon France and stayed in England, and some went back to France for a while, decided they did not like the regime, and returned to England. The official records ended when they left Dartmoor, so after that you have to rely on personal letters, diaries etc. to trace their story.

One avenue that might bring forth more information is to find which London parish he was married in and look at the records for 1822. Any of the major Family History websites should provide some assistance with this. If he had been working at a trade for some time in England, plus the fact he was at Waterloo, his marriage might have been notable enough to get mentioned in a local Newspaper. Searching various newspaper archives might help as well.

The fact that he immigrated to Australia may be recorded in detail and this may give you some information to trace back with.
However, I would focus on the marriage year and see if this has any hints as to his story from 1815 to 1822.
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Re: French soldier

Postby Kezza » February 17th, 2016, 12:01 am

Many thanks to all the replies and please forgive me for not replying earlier.

The replies are most helpful and it does seem odd that PJ would have been allowed to keep his sword if he had been a prisoner. That just doesn’t add up. So if he wasn’t a prisoner did he indeed change sides towards the end of the battle and go to England with the British Army and make a new life for himself in England. I will follow up the suggestion that his marriage may have been noted in a newspaper.

But maybe the sword is a furphy. Perhaps he obtained it somewhere in his travels and passed it off as the sword he used at Waterloo. Maybe he wasn’t at Waterloo at all. Would anyone know if there any indexed records of those who fought in the French Army around that time?

Thanks as always
Kerrie
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Re: French soldier

Postby janner » February 17th, 2016, 4:18 am

Given his place of birth, he may have found refuge with former comrades in the Belgium contingent, but it seems a stretch.
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