One of my other hobbies is family history. Although I was born in New Zealand, my parents both hailed from the Netherlands, so my research has taken me back through the history of Europe. One particularly interesting character I found was my direct great-great-great-great-grandfather, who was the staff trumpeter in Napoleon’s 12th Dragoons.
Petrus (‘Pierre’) Cornelis van Dooren, son of Michael van Dooren and Joanna Maria van Meijel, was christened in Weert (Netherlands) on 13 February 1787. He married Marie Raemakers, a servant, who was born on 14 December 1785 at Beegden. They were married in Weert on 9 November 1814.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Pierre was conscripted into the French Grande Armée, enlisting on 3 March 1807 into the 12th Regiment of Dragoons, where he soon became a trumpeter. Pierre served in Germany from 1807 to 1809, and in Spain from 1810 to 1813, before taking part in the final battles in north-eastern France in 1814. He was wounded in March 1814 and was recovering in the hospital of Angers at the time Napoleon abdicated.
Pierre was discharged from the French army in April 1814 and returned home to Weert. Here is a transcription of his Congé Absolu (discharge papers):
We the undersigned, administrative council of the 12th Dragoons, grant this certificate of ‘Congé Absolu’ to Pierre van Dooren, trumpeter of the 1st Company of the 2nd Battalion, born 13 February 1787 in Weert, Department of the Meuse Inferieur. Height 170cms, brown hair, blue eyes, round forehead, broad nose, large mouth, no beard, round face, passbook number 1447.
Colonel-President Binach, Chef de Brigade Delacpeine, Captain Ribet Versailles – 22.4.1814.
He did not rejoin either the French or Dutch armies during Napoleon’s return and eventual defeat at Waterloo in 1815.
With his military music experience from the Napoleonic Wars, Pierre established a musical band in Weert, beginning the long association that the van Doorens were to have through the following generations with the Weert town band (the Stedelijke Harmonie St Antonius).
Over the generations, Pierre has become part of van Dooren family folk-lore. Family historian Joep van Dooren recalls his grandmother telling him stories about Pierre:
‘When he marched from Maastricht to Weert he played the trumpet the whole way, among other tunes the March of Austerlitz’.
‘He was wounded, shot in his right buttocks during the campaign of Paris. We thought we must feel ashamed because Pierre took to his heels, but we were told that the trumpeter always stood with his back to the enemy to send his signals to the troops!’
‘It was said that he was very proud of his period in the French army, and he liked to show everyone the flag from his trumpet.’
‘He threw a three-pronged fork at the customs officers, because they laughed at the defeat of Napoleon. The fork stuck in the door of the customs house. He was let off because of age.’
‘The most interesting story: when Napoleon marched through Weert, he saw Petrus standing on the bridge over the canal, and called at him, ‘Allo, Pierre, ça va?’ (‘Hello, Pierre, how’s it going?’) When I told my grandmother that the canal was built after the death of Napoleon, she said perhaps the bridge was already there!’
Pierre was buried at Weert on 13 May 1873 at the age of 86.
Of course, I just had to paint up a dragoon trumpeter in my French army as Pierre. But, who knows, maybe one day a manufacturer can be induced to sculpt his face from the portrait onto a model!