Coldstream Guards flag from Battle of Waterloo found in shoebox

Gary Lawrence with his Battle of Waterloo flag.
Gary Lawrence with his Battle of Waterloo flag.

A military antiques collector has found one of the last remaining flags from the Battle of Waterloo in a shoebox.

Gary Lawrence bought a collection of items in an online auction and found fragments of the flag, dating back over 200 years to Berwickshire soldiers helped defeat French leader Napoleon Bonaparte once and for all, among them.

The flag.

The flag.

He is now restoring the flag, belonging to the Coldstream Guards’ 15th Light Company, with a team from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The 58-year-old runs Waterloo Militaria with his son Luke, 28, but he says he has never found anything this historically significant before.

He thinks the 1815 flag is even rarer than the only surviving flag from the Battle of Trafalgar, which sold for more than £300,000 in 2015.

Gary, of Collier Row in London, said: “I bought it through an online auction in America.

“We deal a lot in Napoleonic items and had no idea what this would be.

“It was really fragile. It’s a very early flag and was described as fragments, so we had no idea how much of the flag there’d be.

“We laid it out on a board – it took three days to put together – and found it was a flag from Waterloo, of which there are virtually none in existence.

“It’s more important because it’s from the battle of Hougoumont, and barely any flags from that battle survived.

“The Coldstream Guards’ 15th Light Company were one of the most important regiments at Waterloo.

“Nothing else we’ve found could ever compare to how important this flag is.

“Everyone’s saying this is such an important find.

“It’s almost a national treasure. This is such an important battle.”

Gary, a window-fitter, and Luke, an industrial painter, have now handed over the flag to the V&A’s conservation team so it can complete the resoration work they have started.

Gary, a collector of military memorabilia for over 30 years, added: “The team came and visited us and said it was so important they’d take on the work.

“It will have to go up for sale. I would love to keep it but it’s just too big – it’s 7ft by 7ft.

“It’s going to go into an auction. We’ve already had some of the big auction houses interested.

“I’m not sure who will buy it. It could be a museum or a private collector, but I would love it to stay in England or go to the Hougoumont museum.

“We’re restoring it so it can be hung again, and we’ve done an awful lot of work. It’s almost a nightmare.

“To have that sort of thing in the house makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

“The regimental colours were taken to Waterloo and were in the thick of the battle all day long.

“We have no idea where it’s been since then. There’s been lots of research done, but we just don’t know.

“I’m not saying it’s rarer than the flag from Trafalgar, but it’s every bit as important and probably more desirable.

“That flag was on a rear ship and was just a Union Jack, whereas this is their regimental colours with their battle honours on it and was at the most important part of the battle.

“It was advertised as flag fragments, so it could have been anything. We were expecting flag bits and pieces, but we knew it was an early flag.

“No one had unsealed the box, but it had a cellophane seal over the top, and we picked out early bits of lettering from the tiny picture in the catalogue.

“We didn’t expect this to be what it was. We bought it because the material sometimes comes in handy for other things. Period cloth is well sought after, which is part of the reason we got it.”

Gary bought the flag for less than £500, but is unsure how much it will sell for after it is restored.

May Berkouwer, the woman given the job of restoring the flag to its former glory, said: “The flag is very deteriorated because of the way it was folded in the box. It was completely shattered.

“We now have to put all the pieces back together as a puzzle before we mount it on semi-transparent fabric to secure it, then it will be framed, and hopefully a good home found for it.”