Battle of Waterloo

18TH JUNE 1815
By Gill Alford

Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler
Image Source Wikipedia

It has not been possible to compile a comprehensive list of local men who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, as it would require a search of huge proportions and the original home of many men was not uniformly recorded. These are, however, real men from the Epsom area or nearby who risked their lives for their country at Waterloo.

If you are from a local family, perhaps one of them is your ancestor.....

The Battle of Waterloo, whilst commanded by the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon, was won through an alliance between the armies of Britain, Netherlands, Germany and Prussia. They had to mobilise very quickly, as Napoleon's escape from Elba was unexpected and once in France he very swiftly gathered an army and went on the offensive.

Although the Allied Army was a mixture of nationalities, many of whom were raw recruits, they were organized in such a way that the experienced troops could support the inexperienced. It was also fortunate that the two main leaders, the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Geberecht Blucher, leader of the Prussians, established a good rapport and acted in concert.

Napoleon's intention was to attack swiftly enough to prevent the Armies of Wellington and Blucher joining up, as he expected to be able to defeat them both individually. Due to a variety of delays and unfortunate decisions, he was unable to do this and therefore had to face both at Waterloo. Although the Prussians were delayed by a battle with the French two days earlier at Ligny, they still arrived at Waterloo in time to assure victory for the Allies, but as Wellington said afterwards, "It was a close-run thing".

If you think one of 'our boys' could be your ancestor, come and visit the Local and Family History Centre in this Library - we would be pleased to hear from you.



SOME OF 'OUR BOYS'


PRIVATE ANTHONY PLANNER
32nd Regiment of Foot

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Born 6 November 1780, Epsom, Surrey to Charles and Mary Planner. His description from his record says he was 5'9", brown hair, hazel eyes, swarthy complexion, labourer by trade. It also confirms that he was definitely at Waterloo.

The 32nd were stationed opposite the French main attacks, standing their ground before severe cannon fire and attacking Napoleon's assaulting troops. There were 647 men of all ranks at the start of 18 June 1815, and at the end of the day there were only 131 men left standing. [Regimental History]

PRIVATE JOHN FIELDER
16th Lancers

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Born about 1779 in Epsom, actual date of birth not found. His description says he was 5'10" brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, labourer by trade and his record confirms his presence at Waterloo. It may be interesting to note that he was discharged in 1822 "in consequence of being old..." He was 42! It goes on to say, "is subject to rheumatism which he thinks was brought on by long service ..... in the Peninsula" [i.e. the Peninsular War] He had been a soldier since 1801 and as can be seen elsewhere in this display, the life was very hard even without the fighting.

At Waterloo the regiment managed to cover the withdrawal of the Heavy Brigade when the latter had charged too far from its own lines.

SERGEANT FORBES GLEN
69th Regiment of Infantry

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Born about 1774 in Epsom, Surrey. His description says he was 5'7", brown hair, grey eyes, fresh complexion, labourer. It is confirmed that he was at Waterloo. He was in no. 7 Company (Wests) and his company alone sustained 54% casualties at Quatre Bras two days before, where their colours were lost to the French. Therefore at Waterloo, they were amalgamated with 33rd Regiment of Foot in order to have enough men to form square to stand off French cavalry.

PRIVATE EDWARD LATTER
15th Kings Regiment of Hussars

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Born in Epsom in about 1792, he was 5'8", brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, a labourer. It is confirmed in his record that he was at Waterloo. His record also says he "distinguished himself as a brave soldier in action" and that "his character has been that of a very good and efficient soldier.... perfectly trustworthy and sober". This is evidenced by the fact that he was promoted Corporal in 1818 and Sergeant in 1827. He served in Portugal, Spain and France during the Peninsular War and was in the battles of Vittoria, Orthes and Toulouse before arriving at Waterloo.

The 15th Hussars were supporting the infantry in the main line of defence towards the right of Wellington's line, although one squadron was guarding a lane and bridge to the rear of the farm of Hougoumont. We are not able to know which position Latter was in. Along with 7th. Hussars and 13th. Light Dragoons, they suffered severe bombardment all day, although only called into action at around 4 p.m. when they repulsed several French cavalry charges.

PRIVATE SAMUEL ROBERTS
1st (Royal Scots) Regiment of Foot

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Born "Parish of Epsom near Kingstone, Surrey" and we believe it is his record of baptism on 1 Nov 1781 Epsom Sy to William Roberts and Elizabeth. He is said to be '5'9" with Dk brown hair, hazel eyes, ruddy complexion, labourer and his conduct is 'good'.

The 1st Foot were front line troops all day. Then they repelled the final attack by Marshal Ney at 7.30 in the evening when he took 5 units of the Imperial Guard marching across 1000 yards of bloody and littered, sodden fields near La Haie Sainte taking terrible fire from British Artillery all the time. Wellington had 1st. Foot lie down behind the ridge so they had more shelter from enemy artillery, and Ney couldn't see them. The British unit could not see the enemy approach but the Duke who was mounted could. As the French breasted the ridge, the Duke shouted "Now Maitland, now's your time," and the 1st. Foot rose up right in front of the French killing a huge number with musket fire, then driving them back down the hill. [see also 52nd Foot]

This was a pivotal moment as, when other French units saw the Imperial Guard (their crack troops) being driven off, it is reported that cries of "La Garde recule!" seriously demoralized the rest of their army.

PRIVATE ROBERT DAVIS
1st. Battalion 35th Regiment of Foot

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Born about 1766 in "Chine near Kingston upon Thames" [could be Sheen or Cheam, no other clues] his record gives him good conduct and says he was 5'5", black hair, hazel eyes, dark complexion and a basketmaker.

PRIVATE JOHN FARMER
1st. Battalion 35th Regiment of Foot

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There is a baptism transcript which we believe to be his, on 16 Dec 1772 to John Farmer & Anne at Kingston upon Thames. His record describes him as 5'1 brown hair, grey eyes, dark complexion, a cordwainer (i.e. leatherworker, mainly shoes - his comrades must have been glad of him).

The 35th Regiment of Foot was part of the army at the Battle of Waterloo, but was not in the fighting as, with another three regiments, it was held in reserve 8 miles to the west at Tubize and Hal in case Napoleon should attempt to outflank Wellington on that side. Whilst Waterloo is not specifically mentioned in the records of these two men, they were enlisted with the Regiment at the time of Waterloo and were therefore very likely to be there.

PRIVATE WILLIAM PERRY
Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards

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Born about 1780 in Kingston Surry (sic) there was no description of him on the surviving record. However, the Regimental Board "is of opinion that his conduct has been that of a good soldier, seldom in the hospital ..... and sober". Waterloo is not specifically mentioned in his record but he was serving in this regiment at the time of the battle.

The Coldstreams were deployed to defend the extremely important farm of Hougoumont. It was about 600 yards forward of Wellington's main line of defence to the right of his centre and if Napoleon could take it, he would have a greater opportunity of outflanking Wellington on the west side. Aware of its importance, the French also hoped to use it to draw in more Allied troops there and thus weaken Wellington's centre. They attacked Hougoumont as hard as possible all day but the Coldstreams, supported by other units at various times, were able to hold it, even when at one point the French managed to break into the gates and enter the courtyard. A Sergeant, his brother and four Coldstream Officers managed with immense effort and bravery to secure the gates and all the French inside were killed with the exception of a little drummer boy whom they spared. Wellington called Sergeant Graham "the bravest man in the Army" and his exploit is celebrated to this day in the Sergeants' Mess of the Coldstream Guards.

PRIVATE JOHN STEVENS
95th Regiment of Foot (later Rifle Brigade)

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Born at 'Cheam near Epsom' in about 1789. His record says he was 5'7", brown hair, grey eyes, fair complexion, a labourer. It is confirmed that he was at Waterloo and his conduct reports that he is "a good and efficient soldier in the fullest sense of the words".

The 1st Battalion 95th Rifles were at Quatre Bras with Sir Thomas Picton two days before Waterloo and sustained severe losses, being among the last infantry to leave the field. At Waterloo they were deployed in various locations but generally in the centre of Wellington's line. Two companies were in a quarry just behind the farm of La Haie Sainte to support its defence by the King's German Legion, three more companies were a little further north at the front of Wellington's main defence line. They were in the thick of the battle all day.

A contemporary sketch of the sandpit defended by some of the 1/95th at Waterloo. The position was untenable once La Haye Sainte farm was captured by the French but the riflemen fell back to a hedgeline to the right of this picture and prevented any further French advance.

PRIVATE HENRY SKINNER
Royal Artillery

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Henry Francis Skinner was baptised in Epsom, Surrey on 13 April 1785 son of William Skinner and his wife Sarah. His record describes him as 5'5", dark hair, hazel eyes, swarthy complexion, labourer. The part of his record which survives does not confirm his presence at Waterloo but he was serving with the RA at the time.

PRIVATE THOMAS STEPHENS
Driver, Royal Artillery

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He was born about 1787 in Epsom, Surry (sic) and is described as 5'4", brown hair, grey eyes, brown complexion (sic). No birth record has been found but a death recorded in Epsom in 1871 at age 83 could be the same man.

As a Driver, he would of course have to take care of the horses and limber and unlimber the guns. At Waterloo he would have had no easy task as, although it was June, it had been pouring with rain all through the night and the ground was sodden - indeed so wet that Napoleon who was always a great advocate of guns in battle, put off commencing the battle for a couple of hours to let the ground dry out for his own batteries.

The Royal Artillery was represented at Waterloo by 8 horse batteries of 170 men each with an average of 6 guns each, and 5 foot batteries of 220 men each with an average of 6 guns each.

There was also the artillery of the allied armies which brought Wellington's total up to 160 guns at Waterloo - but Napoleon had 250.

LIEUTENANT EDWARD RICHARD NORTHEY
52nd. Light Infantry

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This is a family name that will be known to many local people. Edward Northey was born on 8 February 1795 and was only 17 when he first joined the Army as an Ensign. Lieutenant Northey served throughout the Peninsular War and was wounded at Vittoria but recovered from his wound and was back on active service by the time of Waterloo.

The 52nd had not been involved heavily in the fighting during the earlier part of the day but when Marshal Ney led the Imperial Guard on their final attack about 7.30 that evening, the 52nd came to the assistance of the 1st. Foot Guards, attacking the left side of the French columns. This forced the French to try to turn and defend two directions at once which caused them to lose momentum, become confused and be more easily driven off. Seeing their crack troops retreating seriously demoralized the rest of the French army and that was the last major French attack of the battle.

Lieut. Northey received a head wound during the battle but survived.

CAPTAIN JAMES GUBBINS
13th. Light Dragoons

Captain James Gubbins
Captain James Gubbins
(The uniform is that of his former regiment)

This is another well known local name. James Gubbins was born on 16 March 1778 and his family moved to Epsom in 1804, the same year that James joined the army. He had served in 60th Rifles, moved to 3rd. Dragoons as a Lieutenant in 1805 and by 1811 he was a Captain in the 13th Light Dragoons.

According to a history published in 1911, at Waterloo the 13th. LD along with 7th. and 15th. Hussars, were stationed behind the western end of Wellington's defence line near Hougoumont. They suffered very heavy bombardment all day until about 4 p.m. and sustained many casualties one of whom, early in the day, was Captain Gubbins who was hit by a cannon ball and killed immediately.

Captain Gubbins appears to be the only one of our researched Epsom men killed at Waterloo, as all the others have discharge dates some years after the battle.



THE LEADERS


THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON

THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON

The Duke of Wellington was perhaps a difficult man to know. One officer who knew him for many years said he was "confident, presumptuous and dictatorial, but frank, open and good humoured". He had a reputation as a womaniser and was charming to women and kind to children.

Wellington was 46 at the Battle of Waterloo - the same age as Napoleon - and at about 5'9" was taller than average for the time. He had no great liking for fancy uniforms and was usually dressed for battle just in a blue frock coat with a grey great-coat and cape. He was very fit, tough and courageous, sharing hardships with his troops and doing his best to look after them. Although not loved by his men in the way, for example, Nelson was, they trusted and admired him. In choosing his staff it was said that he "preferred ability with a title to ability without".

He was known to have a very good eye for terrain, so his enemies became wary of what might be hidden in a wood or behind a ridge and his ability as a commander was generally undisputed.

PRINCE GEBHARD LEBERECHT VON BLUCHER

PRINCE GEBHARD LEBERECHT VON BLUCHER

Marshal Blucher was 72 at the time of Waterloo but had been a soldier since the age of 16. He had immense energy and courage and his men really loved him. They called him Papa Blucher or Marschall Vorwarts (forward) - a reference to his keenness to advance and attack. He called them his 'children' and he could get them to do almost anything. He showed no inclination to 'ego' or vanity and accepted help willingly which greatly contributed to good relations with Wellington.

Although an aristocrat, Blucher was considered to have somewhat vulgar tastes and was known for womanising, gambling and drinking, no doubt fostered by soldiering all his life. However, his long service also made him a good commander and reliable ally which is what was needed at Waterloo.

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

If Napoleon lived today he might be described as 'marmite'. He was admired and detested equally in his own time both by his allies and enemies. The Earl of Wycombe said in 1797, "He has indeed no Model but in Antiquity". A Swiss journalist, exiled for criticising him, wrote, "Never were human valour and contemptibleness, capacity and false greatness, understanding and shifts of ignorance, insolent immodesty and brilliant qualities so mixed in a man". Even some British enemies admitted, "he was, and will remain, the greatest man of his time". His soldiers loved him and upon his return from Elba, thousands deserted the serving Bourbon army to rejoin his cause.

British cartoonists fostered the 'little man' image but in fact he was about 5'7" which (as can be seen from 'our boys' descriptions) was average for the time. Considered handsome when young, by 1815 he was stout, paunchy and in ill-health which, it is suggested by some historians, was the reason he left the main conduct of the Battle of Waterloo to Marshal Ney.

Not all the French nation were pleased to see Napoleon back, even though he made a show of seeking peace, because he had such a reputation for ambition and involving France in war, and in his wars about a million Frenchmen had died.

MARSHAL MICHEL NEY

MARSHAL MICHEL NEY

Ney was described by Napoleon as 'the bravest of the brave' which was clearly true as he was always at the front of his troops. However, this was not a good thing when Napoleon left the main command of the battle to Ney as, instead of being available to command, he was often somewhere far off on the battlefield. He was so keen to be on the offensive, that when, surveying the battle at about 4 p.m. Napoleon saw him sending units of the French Cavalry in to attack without proper infantry support, he observed, "There is Ney hazarding the battle which was almost won," but then added, "but he must be supported now for that is our only chance".

One might feel a little sympathetic over the fate of Ney, who was shot as a traitor by the returned Bourbon regime on 7 December 1815, considering that Napoleon himself and other senior French commanders were spared - and some were even subsequently re-employed in the Bourbon army.



THE ARMY


Army officers at this time bought their commissions, which meant they might be good or poor leaders. Most of their men came from the poorest levels of society, mostly as volunteers and not, as is often thought, as an alternative to prison. Life for these men at home was very hard with frequent unemployment, imprisonment for debt, no real social welfare, sickness and high mortality rates and it is from this background that they entered the Army where at least they would be paid, fed and clothed and have the companionship of their comrades. Some, it is true, continued to be unruly or drunkards for which the punishment was flogging, but many took to army life and became competent and reliable soldiers, as can be seen from the records of some of 'our boys'.

Kit and Equipment

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This is an example of the typical equipment of British soldiers at the time of Waterloo. Most armies were similarly equipped and attired. It has been estimated that a French foot soldier's pack might weigh as much as 60lbs. which is extremely heavy considering the long marches soldiers of the time often made.

They seldom had overnight shelter and the night before Waterloo, they slept in the open, in the pouring rain. In order for the Prussian troops to reach the battlefield to support Wellington at Waterloo, they had to march from about 6 a.m. until about 4 or 5 p.m. having fought a punishing battle the previous day and having to fight again at the end of their day's march.

Weapons

These are some of the British, French and Prussian infantry and cavalry weapons used at Waterloo. Many of the arms were of old pattern, made in the previous century, renovated and modified for the war.

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From Left to Right
British pattern 1796 heavy cavalry sword
British India pattern musket with shortened barrel and long bayonet
Prussian model 1809 infantry musket
French heavy cavalry sword
British light dragoon pistol
French cavalry pistol
British pattern 1796 light cavalry officer's sword
British Baker rifle
French infantry musket, model 1777 with later modifications
French light cavalry sword.

Muskets and even rifles of the time were inaccurate and were only useful fired en masse at approaching blocks of attacking infantry or cavalry.

Swords and bayonets were used at close quarters.

Some French cavalry wore breastplates but these were heavy and whilst they might fend off a musket ball coming at an oblique angle, they were no protection against a direct shot at fairly close range. Furthermore, once the cavalryman was unhorsed, the breastplate encumbered him from rising or defending himself.

'The Scum of the Earth'

It would seem very ungracious of the Duke of Wellington to refer thus to his own men, but his comment is often taken out of context. In fact, he said that for a group coming from the 'scum of the earth' [the poorest and lowest in society] : "People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling - all stuff, no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children, some for minor offences, many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together and it is really wonderful that we should have made them the fine set of fellows they are."

Where were the other Regiments?

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There were many regiments of the British Army not present at Waterloo because they were serving elsewhere in the far-flung reaches of the British Empire and could never have been called home in time.

In searching for 'our boys' we found a number who were not at Waterloo because they were serving in the East Indies [i.e. India, Mauritius], the West Indies, America since 1812 and Ireland where a garrison was required due to periodic unrest. The journey home from America took about 6 weeks and from India took 5 - 6 months so the sudden emergency when Napoleon escaped from Elba had to be dealt with by those regiments on hand. This partly explains the shortage of seasoned troops and the need to mix experienced and inexperienced in order to bolster the latter.

[Note: 'Our boys' found, who served abroad and were not at Waterloo are listed in the display's accompanying book.]

Surrey Soldiers at Waterloo

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The fore-runners of the Royal Surrey Regiment were not present at the Battle of Waterloo. A substantial part of the 70th Regiment of Foot was in Canada at the time, part of the 31st. Foot was disbanded after the Peninsular War in 1814 and part was in Sicily from 1806 - 1815.

However, following the Peninsular War, the Queen's Royal Regiment was mentioned by Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) in his dispatch to the Duke of York, Commander in Chief of the Army, saying that "it is impossible for troops to behave better." In 1815 numbers of Surrey Militia recruits fought in other Regiments at Waterloo, many still wearing the uniform of their own Corps.



TACTICS


Battlefield Plan - Click on image to enlarge.
This plan shows the initial positions of the Allied Army, showing where we believe 'our boys' were placed.
Click on image to enlarge.
Notes:

1.Tubize & Hall
JOHNSTONE - RESERVE
Davis & Farner
35th Foot
2.H. HALKETT ADAM
Northey
52nd Light Infantry
Du Platt
3.Unit of 15th Hassars
Guarding Bridge
4.BYNG
5.MAITLAND
Roberts
1st Foot
6.GRANT
Latter
15th Hussars
7.HACKETT
Glen
69th Foot
8.ARENTSCHILD
Gubbins
13th Light Dragoons
9.SOMERSET CAVALRY
10.PICKTON
Planner
32rd Foot
11.UNION CAVALRY
Ponsonby
12.RETTBURG
13.BEST
14.VINCKLE
15.VADELEUR
Fielder
16th Lancers
16.STEVENS
95th Rifles
Quary
17.PERRY
Coldstream Guards

Attacks were usually begun by an artillery bombardment to weaken the enemy. Then an infantry advance usually in a line two to four ranks deep, often accompanied by horse artillery which would stop to fire and then move on with the troops. Cavalry joined the action once the front line of enemy artillery was overrun and before his infantry could recover and form squares 'to receive cavalry'.

The tactic of forming a square involved (usually) a battalion forming a closely massed square of men facing outwards in three ranks: outer rank kneeling on one knee with musket stock resting on the ground, bayonet pointing out, second rank standing with bayonet pointing out, third rank standing with bayonet pointing out. Since it was impossible to get a horse to charge into the hedge of bayonets, a cavalry attack was not possible unless the square could be broken.

Untried troops might break and run at the sight of charging cavalry and the horsemen could then ride them down and sabre them, but steady troops who stood their ground were much harder to break and there were occasions at Waterloo where the squares stood and French cavalry were just walking their horses round them watching for a chance.

The cavalry were of course in danger also, since before they got too close, the infantry facing them would fire and after a few charges, there would be such a wall of dead and injured men and horses, further attacks were almost impossible.

It was generally considered that advances of infantry without cavalry support, or cavalry without infantry, were not good tactical solutions and yet they were employed by the French during the Battle of Waterloo.



TIMELINE OF THE BATTLE


[From "Waterloo 1815" by Gregory Fremont Barnes - The History Press]

6 a.m.Units of Prussian Army on move towards the Waterloo battlefield
8.30 - 9Wellington's army in position around Mont St. Jean Napoleon arrives at La Belle Alliance to examine positions
11.30French attack Hougoument
12.30 -12.30British Guardsmen repel French attack from Hougoument and reinforce the 1.15 garrison. Napoleon's artillery of 80 guns opens up at 1 p.m.
1.30 -Grand Battery ceases fire for d'Erlon's cavalry to attack.
2.15Household and Union Brigades charge d'Erlon's corps
2.15 -Hougoument still defended.
3 p.m.British cavalry repulse d'Erlon but continue charge into Grand Battery. Although inflicting casualties by sabring the gunners, the cavalry suffer very severe losses from French cavalry.
3 - 4Buildings of Hougoument catch fire due to artillery attack. Kings German Legion still valiantly defending La Haie Sainte farm French Grand Battery opens up again Prussian Army units now approaching battlefield to right of French line Ney misinterprets movement behind Allied line for withdrawal and orders major cavalry assault
4 - 5Wellington's infantry form square to repel repeated French cavalry attacks French attacks fail through attack by Allied Artillery and then infantry fire. Prussians now engaging Napoleon's right.French still attacking Hougoument and La Haie Sainte
5 - 6French cavalry fail to break Allied squares although their artillery inflict some damage between assaults By 5.30 all Prussian IV Corps engaged against French
6 -Hougoument still held by British against French in woods 7.30 and orchard.
6.30By 6.30 Kings German Legion at La Haie Sainte run out of ammunition, having failed to be re-supplied, and abandon the position. Prussians are beating French obliging Napoleon to send reinforcements which he can't really spare.
6.30 -With loss of La Haie Saine, Allied centre is in danger. French artillery still inflicting severe damage in this area. Whilst French forces manage to turn the tide on Prussians, they fight back and re-take the village of Plancenoit, obliging Napoleon to commit 2 battalions of the Old Guard (his bodyguard troops) to re-take it. At same time, further Prussian units link up with Wellington's eastern flank, strengthening his line.
7.30 - 8.30Ney leads 8 battalions of the Imperial Guard against the Allied centre, across a battlefield now thoroughly churned p and thick with mud, where their slow advance causes terrible casualties from Allied artillery fire. British infantry then rise up and attack, unexpected by the Guard who break and flee back towards their lines. Cries of "La Guarde recule!" severely demoralise the French troops, as these are their crack units fleeing before the Allies.
8.30French rout begins. Wellington signals general advance. Prussians assume responsibility for pursuing the fleeing French.



WAS WATERLOO THIS MAN'S FAULT ?


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Maj. Sir Neil Campbell, Kt - " The man who let Boney go." *

This distinguished officer was second son of Capt. Neil Campbell of Duntroon, born 1st May, 1776.

In April, 1814, he was chosen by the British Government to accompany Napoleon from Fontainebleau to Elba. He was the author of 'Napoleon at Fontainebleau'. In the following spring, whilst Major Campbell was at Florence, having left Elba for a few days on business, Napoleon formed and carried out his plan of escape. It was widely believed that Campbell had been bribed, but he was not officially blamed for the escape and his service was declared satisfactory.

In 1815 Campbell was in command the 54th (or the West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot (in whose uniform he is depicted) at the Battle of Waterloo and at the storming of Cambray. This painting of 1819 is by Edouard Henri Pingret. Promoted Major-General in 1825, he was appointed Governor of Sierra Leone, where he died of fever in 1827.

[* this is how he is listed in The Waterloo Roll-Call]



CIVILIAN EYE-WITNESSES, AND CASUALTIES


One witness was a girl of thirteen at the time, Therese Roland. She lived to be 103 and, then Mme. Dupuis, related her memories to a visiting journalist from La Patrie in about 1905:
"... When I looked out next morning I saw wounded men lying by the roadside. Then the doctors came, and took out the bullets from the wounds of the soldiers. Not far away soldiers were digging trenches in our fields to bury the dead. There were so many of them, so many of them," and the old peasant covered her face with her hands as though to shut out the terrible picture. "I saw one woman of Gotarville cut off the fingers of a Prussian officer, sorely hurt but still living, to secure the jewelled rings that he wore. No I did not see Napoleon and I still regret it. Poor Napoleon !"
The wife of Quartermaster Alexander Ross of the 14th Foot remained at his side for some time after the firing began. Her friends feared that she might be hit and urged her to quit the field, but she was reluctant to go, in case she could help the casualties. They then told her that a battlefield was not a suitable place for an officer's wife, so she retired to the belfry of a church, where she enjoyed a fine view of the action.

Elizabeth Watkins
Elizabeth Watkins

Buried in Brockwell Cemetery is a lady called Elizabeth Watkins "Veteran of Waterloo". She appears to have been the last living witness and was a child of five in the women's camp with her mother at the time of the battle. In 1904 aged 94, Mrs. Watkins (nee Elizabeth Gale) was interviewed by The Sphere journal and was photographed "specially for The Sphere by Miss Nancy Gillman". The report states:
"Elizabeth Gale sat by her mother's side shredding lint and helped some of the women to dress the wounded soldiers. She has a vivid recollection of several men dying in the camp and was frightened when her mother lifted a cloth which covered the face of one of them and she saw the dead open eyes apparently staring vacuously toward the battlefield."
Another venerable old Belgian lady was Mme Givron of Viesville, Hainault who was 100 when a journalist from the 'Gauloise' interviewed her. The interview was then reported in 'The Morning Post'.

[She] made her way through the woods, being curious to see what was going on. She was close to Hougement [sic] when the place was attacked by the French troops and remained in hiding for hours not daring to move. The cannonade having diminished she ventured towards the farm but fled horror-stricken at the sight - the ground as she expresses it, being like red mud, so drenched was it with blood. She ran away across the fields and hid. At dusk she saw a troop of cavalry, headed by a man of short stature mounted on a grey horse. He was riding slowly on as if in a dream, looking straight ahead and paying no heed to what went on about him. The girl learnt on the same evening that the rider was Napoleon."


CASUALTIES AT WATERLOO


The overall figure usually quoted is that 40,000 men and 10,000 horses were dead at the end of the Battle of Waterloo. Many soldiers died subsequently as a result of their wounds as medical treatment was not very advanced, particularly with regard to infection.

Sir Thomas Picton
Sir Thomas Picton

There were many losses amongst officers as well as men. Illustrated are Sir Thomas Picton who was killed by gunfire and Wellington's second in command, Lord Uxbridge, who lost a leg but lived. See also what a cannon ball can do to a breastplate - and obviously the man who was wearing it.

Lord Uxbridge
Lord Uxbridge

what a cannon ball can do to a breastplate
What a cannon ball can do to a breastplate

However, there were some astonishing recoveries, for example Frederick Ponsonby, Colonel of 12th Light Dragoons. He was wounded in both arms, came off his horse close to French lines, was then lanced in the back through his lungs, was used as cover by a French soldier, was plundered by the French, ridden over by Prussians, plundered by Prussians and finally the next morning rescued by a British soldier, taken to Waterloo, and nursed back to health by his sister, Lady Caroline Lamb.

Plundering the Corpses

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The morning after the battle, many of the bodies (dead or alive) were naked, having been robbed of everything, even their clothes, during the night. A more macabre theft was that of their teeth: the front teeth of corpses were pulled out and used to make false teeth, which commanded a very high price. The battlefield was a bonanza for dentists. According to historian Dr. Marjorie Bloy, the fact that they were from Waterloo was actually a selling-point as the teeth of young, fit men were preferable to those of old, disease-ridden corpses or criminals hanging from gibbets!



CONCLUSION


Waterloo26

This is a daguerreotype of Wellington taken in 1844 when he was 75 years old. He died in 1852, mourned by the Queen and the whole nation and although he had been a great General and then a great Statesman throughout his adult life, he was remembered for Waterloo above all.

He cared very much how his actions affected others, and perhaps he sometimes remembered the night when he rode over the battle field back to Waterloo in the moonlight. The few officers with him said he was silent and they saw tears on his cheeks. He said later, "A victory is the greatest tragedy in the world, except a defeat."

This year is also the 70th Anniversary of VE Day - we are fortunate that we have continued to have brave soldiers to defend our freedom.

Gillian Alford © 2015.


Main Sources :
Waterloo 1815 by Gregory Fremont Barnes ISBN 978 07524 6441 1 The History Press
Waterloo Four Days that Changed Europe's Destiny by Tim Clayton ISBN 978 0 349 12301 1 Abacus
Wellington The Iron Duke by Richard Holmes ISBN 13 978 0 00 713750 3 Harper Perennial
Waterloo A Guide to the Battlefield by David Howarth, Publisher Pitkin Guides
Also various Internet sites

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