SERGEANT BRICE McGREGOR is named in several sources as one of the small band of men who fought to close and bar the gates at Hougoumont Farm on June 18th, 1815. Credited by Wellington as having sealed his victory against Napoleon, this was one of the most fierce and famous days of action in the Battle of Waterloo.
According to his 1846 obituary in The Times, whilst Brice was patrolling outside the Hougoumont gates, he was attacked by a French Cuirassier who struck at him with his sword. The cut was parried, the Frenchman shot dead and Brice then galloped the vanquished Frenchman’s horse into the farm where he cut off the eagles from the saddle-cloth to keep as a souvenir.
In 1809, Brice had served in the unsuccessful ‘Walcheren Campaign’. This was an expedition to the Netherlands intended to open a front in the Austrian Empire’s struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition and involved 40,000 British soldiers and 15,000 horses – all shipped across the North Sea along with a great deal of artillery. The four-month campaign involved little fighting, but incurred heavy losses from a sickness dubbed “Walcheren Fever”. Although more than 4,000 British troops died during the expedition, only 106 died in combat.
Brice was one of those stricken by the fever and “was carried on a sheet from the sick ward to the dead-house and placed in a shell”. The nurse in charge must have been quite shocked a little later when she entered the room and found him sitting up in his coffin. Fortunately, his strong constitution enabled him to survive and recover to fight at Waterloo.
Whilst still serving in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards (Scots Guards) in May 1816, just a year after Waterloo, Brice joined the ‘Lodge of United Strength’ (then No 399, now No 228) which met at the Saddler’s Arms in Swallow Street, Piccadilly and he remained a Lodge member for over 30 years until his death in 1846.
He joined the Lodge along with three of his colleagues who were also sergeants in the 3rd Guards of Foot – Thomas Goddard, William McRobert and the charmingly named Joseph Plumtree. All four men had been initiated into Freemasonry only a month earlier in ‘Lodge 895’ which is believed to have been an ambulatory military Lodge for the 71st Highland Light Infantry warranted by the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Ireland.
It would be great if anyone could help with an explanation as to how/why men of the 3rd Guards of Foot were allowed into the 71st HLI’s Lodge. It is understood (perhaps wrongly?) that the initiation of men from other regiments was a breach of the Irish Masonic rules of the day for military Lodges and could have resulted in Lodge 895 being fined or closed down?
According to Brice’s army discharge certificate, he enlisted in the regiment at the age of 18 in 1800 and was discharged in 1823, although his Times obituary quotes dates of 1799 and 1821 (journalists were apparently no more accurate then than they are now!). Shortly before leaving the army, he was installed as the Worshipful Master of the’ Lodge of United Strength’ and presided over its affairs in 1822 and 1823. After his discharge from the forces “in consequence of being worn out”, he was appointed as keeper of the ‘Foot Guards Suttling House’ in the Tilt-yard at Horse Guards in Whitehall (effectively the publican in charge of the pub/canteen of the Guards).
The Suttling House tenancy was at the disposal of the field officers of the Foot Guards who reportedly ‘bestowed it on old, brave and meritorious non-commissioned officers’ and it was granted to Brice ‘as a reward for his prowess at the Battle of Waterloo’. The tenancy must have been a lucrative appointment as, according to his obituary, he left £15,000 to his son – an enormous sum at the time!
During the years that he kept the house, he was in the news a few times. On one occasion, he was in court accused of using too much force to eject an argumentative customer who, along with his wife, had been rather too boisterous whilst (in the lawyer’s words) “bowing to the throne of Bacchus”. And he featured in all the London papers again when the Tilt Yard was attacked by someone unknown who threw an incendiary grenade which landed at his feet.
Whilst still in charge of the Suttling House, he was appointed by George IV as a Yeoman of The Guard and kept both positions until his death in 1846.
At some point in the 1820s (the last digit of the presentation year is obscured), the brethren of his Lodge presented him with an engraved silver item. After his death in 1846, the engraved part was cut away and incorporated into the mourning brooch pictured – probably for his daughter as his wife had died a few years earlier. It is not now in very good condition, but when she wore it at his funeral almost 170 years ago, it would have sparkled with its jewelled surround and glass front and would have contained a lock of her father’s hair.
The engraved dedication reads: “Presented by the Members of the Lodge of United Strength, to Br. Brice McGregor, P.M. & T, as a Tribute of Gratitude, and a Memorial of Men, April 4, A.D. 182..” Regrettably, the Lodge records, which might have told us more about the silver item and the significance of the dedication, are missing and are believed to have been destroyed. However, it seems likely that the presentation took place in the mid to late 1820s after he had installed his successor as Master and served for a time as Tyler.
For those interested in further research, there is still much to discover about his life and career – but be aware that his name is variously recorded as McGregor, MacGregor, MacGreggor, Brice, Bryce, Bice, Price, Bruce and even as Bryan!