In the little town of Blingel in northern France, a pretty, sleepy place where the chirping of birds and the occasional tractor are the most common sounds, you’ll find a little local cemetery.
In it is the gravestone of Captain Matthew Latham, died 27th April, 1865, a famous English soldier who fought the French at the Battle of Albuera and many other battles but who rather extraordinarily ended up being buried in France with a plaque in a mix of French and English honouring his memory. The gravestone reads:
3 Foot for the Buffs
As a testimonial from his brother officiers
of their high opinion of his distinguished conduct
in defending the colors of the regiment
in the Battle of Albuera
in which he lost an arm and part of his face
a la memoire de ce brave militaire
décéde dans sa 79- annee le 7 Avril 1865
Priez Dieu pour Lui
Behind the monument to the long-dead English Captain lies as an astonishing story of a brave warrior who defied the odds and lived to tell the tale…
Matthew Latham entered service in the English army in 1805 and became a lieutenant in 1807. He arrived in Spain in 1809 and fought at the Battle of Bucao and the battle of Albuera and it is that battle for which he is so well-remembered.
Latham was in the regiment of the 3rd Foot, known as the Buffs because of their regimental facings (their collars and cuffs were a tan colour).
The Battle of Albuera in 1811 had on the one side the French and the other side the English with their Spanish and Portuguese allies. It was a hard and vicious battle and the outcome was uncertain. Early on in the battle, Colonel William Inglis of the 57th Foot regiment was wounded by grapeshot from the French artillery. He refused to be carried to safety and lay in front of the Colours among the dead and wounded of his beloved battalion; throughout the battle his voice could be heard calmly repeating “Die hard 57th, die hard”… time and time again.
Lieutenant Matthew Latham was also defending his regiment’s Colours when he was injured by French artillery. First he suffered a sabre cut to the face losing his nose and half of his face, then another cut severed his left arm, but, he held firm though he must have been in immense pain. He, like Colonel Inglis, refused to move and wrapping himself in the Colours he lie on the floor and held fast to his position, disfigured and almost dead.
When they battle was over, he was found, alive, still wrapped in the colours. The Prince Regent paid for Latham to have his face rebuilt as much as was possible at that time and he remained in the army for several years becoming a Captain in 1813.
He later retired to France and married a French lady and not much is known of his life thereafter but on his death at the ripe old age of 79 he was buried in the town cemetery in Blingel and his fellow officers erected a gravestone as a testimonial of their high opening of his most distinguished conduct in battle.
Even today you will find tributes and notes left in memory of this brave man by members of the Buffs.