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040/090-3 John 3018 the drummer boy

John 3018 b 1792 Worstead


By far the most interesting of the eight children born at Worstead to William and Elizabeth is John - our little drummer boy. Perhaps a means of escape from the grinding poverty afflicting the countryside at the time, perhaps a response to the renewed fears of invasion arousing deep anxiety in so many rural communities (See Footnote 3) - whatever the motive, John was among the ragbag of local volunteers to abandon his plough for the King’s uniform, a very different kind of drill.


Well under age at fourteen, with dark hair, blue eyes, fresh complexion and standing at just five feet, he enlisted for ‘unlimited service’ as a drummer in the 1st (or Grenadier) Foot Guards on the 12th January 1805. When awarded the Waterloo Medal in 1816 he was serving with the 3rd Battalion in Lieutenant-Colonel Henry D’Oyly’s Company - a battalion that formed part of the 1st Division of the Army under Maitland and, to all accounts, fought with heroic valour defending position among the woods and gardens of Hougoument.


Waterloo, as we all know, brought about the final defeat of Napoleon, who was forced to abdicate four days later. The coming of peace, after almost a quarter a century of conflict, brought its own problems - not least a painful readjustment within the rural economy. (Shortly after the failure of the Peace of Amiens (1802), Brigadier John Moore – later to achieve fame in the Peninsular Campaign – toured East Anglia’s defences and worried about the inadequacy of the shore battery at Great Yarmouth. Around the same time, William Windham III of Felbrigg began stiffening defences around the coast at Cromer. Trafalgar was still several months away.)


John, however, remained with the military and was finally discharged on the 24th August 1821, in consequence of scrofula - a form of tuberculosis - and the reduction of the regiment. Despite the award, his conduct was described as ‘irregular’.


Bereft of drum and glory, John would have spent the remaining thirteen years of his life in or around Worstead and was buried there on the 1st April 1834 at the age of 45. No records suggest what became of him during those years, time that saw widespread discontent among the rural poor climaxing with the Captain Swing Riots of 1830. Perhaps he married. Perhaps, just perhaps, he is the John GOTTS (s) who married by licence at Worstead on the 2nd October 1833 Ann KIRK (s). We know that drummer John died in 1834 and no trace is found of this couple in Worstead in 1841, but by 1851 Ann GOTTS (44) is widowed and bringing up a daughter Caroline, who was born at Worstead on the 2nd November 1833. Potentially this is the Ann who was buried on 07 Sep 1875 at Worstead.


Ian Gotts Kings Lynn


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