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Henry Maidment – Forgotten War Hero

(Illustration: A Peninsular War Veteran with his medal.)

Henry Maidment was an agricultural labourer who lived in the village of Pimperne.  In 1866, Henry was one of the few surviving British Army veterans who had fought Napoleon Bonaparte’s French Army in the Spanish Peninsular War. 

At 83, he could not work and had hit hard times. He was surviving on a parish handout of just two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) per week and a single loaf of bread. The octogenarian pauper had, in fact, a distinguished military record but had left the army without a military pension.                                                                    
Henry Maidment fought in the Battles of Talavera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle and Toulouse. For this, he was entitled to a Military General Service Medal with clasps. Each of his major battles was represented by a clasp on the ribbon. Such a medal was valued in 2006 to be worth £3,700. In August 1815, his battalion had even accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on the island of St Helena. 

In March 1866, a letter about Henry Maidment appeared in the columns of the London Times newspaper. Signed by 2ndLieutenant of Dorset, George Mansel he described Henry as a fine old soldier now suffering hard times. He invited the assistance of the public towards maintaining this old Peninsular War veteran, whom he said had no other maintenance than a tiny parish payout. 

On Friday 6 April 1866 a more acidic but unsigned letter about Henry Maidment appeared in the Western Gazette.

‘I read in the Times of 28th, a letter signed by a gentleman of property and position, as I am told, in Pimperne – Colonel Mansel. If this be so, more shame, I think for the Colonel, Lord Portman, and other rich proprietors in the parish and neighbourhood, who must surely might afford, among them, to keep this poor old soldier in comfort, without invoking the powerful aid of your columns to assist them.’

Henry Maidment died on the 22nd March 1868 in Pimperne by which time he had been granted a pension from the Crown. He lived in an era when an agricultural labourer rarely left his home village. However, as a soldier he experienced Ireland, Portugal, Spain and France and would have visited cities such as Cork, Porto, Toulouse and Bordeaux. Quite different places compared to the village of Pimperne!  Undoubtedly though, the finest achievement of Henry Maidment was to survive the six major bloody battles of the Spanish Peninsular War. It was a period also, when armies lost more soldiers from disease than in battle. One can but hope that the appeal made on his behalf deservingly led to the old Dorset infantryman spending his last few years in a little more comfort.

(Source: British Newspaper Archive.)


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