St Saviour's Church breathes fresh life into the stories of over 100 Napoleonic war veterans

The churchyard is now thought to contain more soldiers than any other in the British Isles. Credit: ITV Channel TV

A two year project at St Saviour's Church in Jersey, has led to the discovery of the graves of over 100 war veterans from the Napoleonic Wars. It first ignited the attention of Rector Peter Dyson in 2018 when he received a letter asking about just one grave.

It came about because of a letter. Someone wrote to me saying 'I'm a Waterloo affectionado, and I think you have a guy called William Deane buried in your Churchyard, and if he is there he was at the Battle of Waterloo", so I got the burial book out and we then found it, went to the area of the Churchyard where it was likely, and we found him.

Peter Dyson, Rector of St Saviour's Church, Jersey

Revd Dyson then went to a dinner party where he was told by another person: "I think there are several Waterloo persons in your churchyard."

"Several" turned out to be an understatement. It is now thought to contain more soldiers than any other churchyard in the British Isles. On making the initial discovery, the Waterloo Committee was formed to organise the tribute to the forgotten heroes they went on to discover. A plaque has been erected in the Church naming the 58 soldiers who fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War (1808-1814) and the Battle of Waterloo (1815). It further details an appendix of an additional 43 soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars in other theatres. But how did they end up in Jersey?

The war ends in 1815, and the army and the navy completely reduced in size by about 90% and you have all these men on half pay, so still kept in reserve. Jersey became a place for them to go first of all because there was a government subsidy for them to come here. Jersey of course was very close to France, which was the enemy during the Napoleonic Wars, so it was comforting to have them here.

Peter Dyson, Rector of St Saviour's Church, Jersey

Some of them went on to marry into Jersey families and became ensconced in local society. St Saviour, at the time, also happened to be the apex of religious and social life in the island, which explains why so many veterans were buried there. The Lieutenant-Governor had relocated to St Saviour from St Helier in 1822, and it was the base for the island's Dean. A commemorative book, written by Sir William Mahon, an expert on Wellington's Battles, and a committee of local historians. has been published alongside the project and breathes life into the names rediscovered. One story is that of Daniel Herapath who joined the army at the age of 12 as a drummer boy.

The drummer boys of course march at the front of the battalion into full battle beating the drum to keep the soldiers marching in time and they were shot ten a penny, and this boy survived six major battles in the peninsula and then was at Waterloo aged 17, such a young man and surived as well....and then came to Jersey.

Peter Dyson, Rector of St Saviour's Chuch, Jersey

Daniel Herapath is one of four or five soldiers whose graves could not be identified. Being poor their graves were not afforded a memorial, which meant they are thought to have been buried in a paupers grave, in a separate area of the churchyard. "One of the sadnesses", said Revd. Dyson, "is that most of these (names) are officers. Because the officers were wealthy and their regiments kept records, those who were the foot soldiers and the privates, it's far harder to find them." All the graves identified have been marked and will have an English rose planted on them, to mark each of the veterans buried. The soldiers believed to be resting in the "paupers" section of the graveyard, will share one between them, to ensure none of them are forgotten again. "I love the fact that their names have been lost...and they're back to life, and going back to Daniel Herapath, he went through so much, and I'm so pleased, he's remembered."

Islanders are encouraged to take a walk through the churchyard and visit the church, where the plaque is in situ.