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6 Nottingham Soldiers and the Historical Turning Points They Found Themselves in

11 March 20 words: Ashley Carter
illustrations: Leosaysays

It’s a sad fact of history that the fate of nations was often decided on the field of battle. In amidst the smoke of firing muskets, the explosions of cannonballs, the clashing of swords and the screams of dead and dying men, history was written in blood, and the world as we now know it was formed. In a new six-part podcast series, we’re bringing to life the stories of six Nottingham soldiers who were witness to these historical turning points, uncovering how life took them from the streets of Nottingham to some of the most definitive battles in world history… 

Robert Lawrence, The Battle of Trafalgar – 1805

From his rank of landsman – the lowest rung of the naval ladder reserved for those with less than one year’s experience – we can assume that Nottingham-born Lawrence encountered the very worst that Napoleonic naval warfare had to offer. If that wasn’t enough, the 22-year-old also witnessed the Battle of Trafalgar on-board the HMS Africa, one of Nelson’s smallest ships that fought the majority of the battle alone, having been separated from the rest of the fleet before the battle. Although he ultimately survived, Lawrence clearly didn’t fancy a life at sea, and went AWOL in Plymouth five years later. 

John Shaw, The Battle of Waterloo – 1815

Standing over six-foot tall, Cossall-born Shaw’s boxing exploits had already made him a recognisable name. Having signed up at the 1807 Goose Fair, Waterloo was to be his only experience of battle; in amidst the carnage, Shaw’s enormous frame made him an obvious target for those seeking glory. The first French Cuirassier to challenge him to single combat had his head split in two by a single swing of Shaw’s sword, and the eight that followed fared no better. Even when his sword snapped, the 2nd Life Guards Corporal fought on using his helmet, before finally being killed by a musket ball. He was 26 years old.

William Raynor, The Siege of Delhi – 1857 

At the ripe old age of 61, William Raynor became the oldest ever recipient of the Victoria Cross during the Siege of Delhi. While it’s often referred to as the Indian Mutiny, the events of 1857 were more of a rebellion against the brutal sovereign British rule in India. During the siege, Raynor, a Lieutenant in the Bengal Veteran Establishment, was one of nine men tasked with protecting an ammunition storehouse against a force of over 1,000 rebelling soldiers. With all hope lost, they decided to blow up the ammunition, killing hundreds in an instant. Miraculously, Plumtree-born Raynor and three other defenders survived the explosion.

William ‘Mosby’ Collins, Andersonville – 1864

There are few periods in the history of human conflict that can rival the American Civil War for sheer brutality. And within those four years of bloodshed, no conditions were harsher than those at Andersonville, a notorious Confederate POW camp. Collins, a Corporal in the 88th Philadelphia Regiment, is rightly remembered as a villain owing to his role as leader of the Andersonville Raiders – a rogue group within the prison that thrived on robbing fellow captives. The Nottingham-born ne'er-do-well was eventually put on trial and hung twice, after the rope snapped first time around. Unfortunately for Collins, the second attempt was successful. 

Frank Stratton, The Battle of Little Bighorn – 1876

Stretton, a 28-year-old former postman from Notts, was witness to one of the most infamous events in US history. Rightly remembered as the ultimate punishment for General Custer’s arrogance, as well as a stunning victory for Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans, the events of ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ put a serious dent in the confidence of America’s Westward expansion. With five of Custer’s twelve companies annihilated, Stretton counted himself amongst the fortunate, finding himself engaged in lesser skirmishes on the outskirts of the main battle, and escaping with his life.

Caleb Wood, The Battle of Rorke’s Drift – 1879

Britain’s Empire past has rightly come under more careful scrutiny under recent years, with the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 in particular being the focus of intense criticism. After killing over 1,300 British soldiers at Isandlwana, Ntshingwayo kaMahole of the Khoza sent between 3,000-4,000 Zulu warriors to destroy the British outpost at Rorke’s Drift. Caleb Wood, a Private in the 24th Regiment, was amongst the 141 men defending the post and, in an action that was made famous in the 1964 film Zulu, successfully held off an overwhelming force, losing just 17 men in the process. Wood survived, returning to become a curtain maker in Ilkeston. 

Episode One of Turning Points, a LeftLion podcast series, will be available on iTunes and other podcast platforms from Friday 10 April

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