The discharge papers of George Rose describe the remarkable military career of an Afro-Caribbean soldier who fought at Waterloo and served the British army for nearly 30 years. Discharge papers are the records of a soldier’s career in the British Army, given to every veteran when they were discharged due to age or sickness.

 

At first sight, the papers appear typical of many long serving men, in that George Rose enlisted in London as Private No. 13 in the 73rd Foot in August 1809. He served in the 2nd Battalion of that Regiment until April 1817, when it was disbanded at Chelmsford following the Government’s reduction of its Standing Army after Waterloo. Some men transferred to the 1st Battalion but George joined the 42nd Foot, subsequently serving a further 14 years and reaching the rank of Sergeant before finally being discharged at Edinburgh in May 1837.

However, what makes George Rose very unusual can be seen from his discharge description: aged 45 years 6 months, height 5’ 6”, black hair, black eyes, trade labourer and, particularly, “Copper, a man of colour” complexion. George Rose was a Jamaican. When he was promoted to Sergeant in 1831 he was the most senior black soldier in the British Army.

He was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica in 1791 and his papers note that he was attested for “the 73rd Foot King’s Militia”. Due to manpower and health problems in the Caribbean, African slaves were often purchased or recruited to serve in the British Army alongside the local militias.

Unlike many Regiments, the 2nd/73rd Foot did not serve in the Peninsular War. Instead they sailed from Harwich in May 1813 to join the expedition to Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania against the French occupying forces. They were then with General Graham in Flanders, where George was wounded at Merxem on 5th January 1814.

As part of the 2nd/73rd Foot he fought at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo, for which he received an additional two years service towards his pension and where he was severely wounded in the right arm. The battalion suffered the second heaviest casualties for a line regiment.

Between 1817 and 1837 he saw service with the 42nd Foot, spending ten peaceful years at Gibraltar, Malta and Corfu with the remainder on home service.

At his discharge, the Regimental Board described George Rose as an efficient, trustworthy and sober soldier. His medical report stated that he was unfit for further service because of a left inguinal rupture (hernia) and his right arm being weak from an old gunshot wound.

You can read transcripts of these discharge papers at the National Archives website.

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This object is in the collection of The National Archives