Who was the bravest man at Waterloo?

In 1815, the Duke of Wellington's Allied troops defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, much to the nation's joy and relief


A grateful churchman, the Reverend John Norcross, offered a £10 yearly pension to “the most deserving soldier at Waterloo”, and Wellington’s response resulted in Sgt James Graham (Coldstream Guards) and Private Joseph Lester (3rd Guards) sharing it.


Unfortunately, Norcross was soon declared bankrupt, but many history books claim he earned another fortune and left a £500 lump sum in his will for “the bravest man at Waterloo”. This time Wellington suggested Colonel Sir James Macdonnell, who graciously shared it with Sgt Graham.

What made the Irishman, Graham, and the Scot, Macdonnell, the bravest? Well, they had been among the valiant defenders of Hougoumont, a walled farmhouse crucial to Wellington’s battle plan.

In the intense fighting, the French had burst into the compound and threatened to overrun it, but Graham and his commanding officer had fearlessly rushed through the chaos to close the heavy wooden gates, trapping the French soldiers inside and preventing their reinforcement.


Wellington’s praise for their action was clear: “the success of the Battle of Waterloo turned on the closing of the gates at Hougoumont.”