Tuesday, 23 June 2015

W a t e r l o o, part Two.

                                                 Another night with some time round the fire.

Then Friday. Reveille at six, which means the poor musicians have to get up even earlier. Bleary eyed people get the breakfast fires going, trickier today after the rain but some wood is always stored where it will stay dry.
Drill is pretty much the same as yesterday except for a break as each unit sent a couple of men to que with paperwork at the black powder tent which was guarded by troops with fixed bayonets to turn anyone with no business there away. Later there was a brief march in full kit for the benefit of our newer members so that they could get an idea of how much they would be carrying and whether to ditch any unnecarsaries. Water of course was essential.

5.30 was muster. We had a reporter with us from the Telegraph who had drilled and been at a couple of events but was balled out for being late 'I haven't been shouted at like that since I was ten!' he said but understood why, only not that 5.30 really means fully ready about 5.15. You hurry up and wait.

                                         Part of the epic 360 degree panorama, the red lancers!

The next hour was march a bit. Stop. March a bit. stop, but finally we were on the main road down to the field, both ahead and behind seemed an endless stream of soldiers. Camera phones all along the march were clicking away, even the police were stopping to take the odd snap.

Then arriving on the field. Wow. Once marshalled onto our position we all stood and looked down over the regiment in front at the gathering army across from us on the opposite slope. Lines of red and green, skirmishers in the front. knots of horsemen. Gun batteries. and still they came. It must have been a terrible prospect to see a full army arrayed before you and know the only way to win was to do great massed violence unto them, more than they can dish out to you, or break through and force them to retreat or be outflanked.  If I was a General I would never want to order a head on slugging fest unless there was no option.


After some wait the French artillery suddenly roared into life and everyone cheered! The British guns returned fire. Soon after we marched. En Avant! Going through the wheatfield was real Waterloo ground (I felt a sudden conviction that I had to snatch an ear of corn and pocket it away as if some sort of talisman) and we were about the same place as the real 45eme had advanced that bloody day. It was not easy going wading through and on previously ploughed ground, plus swarms of horseflies were disturbed and here and there patches of waist high nettles rose up that being shoulder to shoulder you could not avoid. It was the only time I wished I had thicker trousers.

Cavalry charged for the brigade ahead and we got a great view of them wheeling around the big French square before galloping off in the hope of finding an easier target. I saw a Belgian carabineer (?) get thrown off his mount and vanish into the wheat, rising and then falling again, his horse ran wild and disappeared somewhere to our left. The rider reappeared and didn't seem injured.

  A volley or two was fired at some lurking British then we were marching left toward Le Haie Saint, then passed it, and on towards Hougonmont (A painted knock up), for a few moments the whole building disappeared into a thick bank of smoke, then as the wind changed was suddenly there before us. Redcoats could be seen behind the walls and began firing as we lined up and loaded whilst another French unit attacked the side wall, one man bodily throwing himself into the barricade and a redcoat overblanced and was dragged over the wall.
En Avant! our turn, I was in the front rank, and crossed muskets, then saw a break in the wooden wall and heaved to push it back, a piece broke away, others joined in, British braced themselves against the otherside to stop us. A tolerable crush began and a British Sergeant was trying to push my arm out but it ended up more pushed down, someone trod on my ankle, making the back of my shoe slip loose.
Fallback Fallback! but I couldn't immediately due to the Brit against my arm, and wiggled my shoe back on as I broke away. Reforming was a bit of a mess, ranks completely mixed up. Everyone was saying 'I was by Mark, weren't you behing Colin?' etc and the Officer and NCOs were quite miffed. The man besides me wasn't feeling great.
Three times we gave them a volley and then took a turn at charging, I scopped up a piece of broken wall as a souvenir.. Each charge became more cordial than the last until we were pretty much just trading banter with the defenders.

                                        These two fantastic pictures are from La Libre (Belgium).

We left Hougonmont (with our Norwegian comrades and the doughty Sappeurs) and marched east, I am not entirely sure about the next twenty minutes, a couple of shots were fired and a march up the slope now crowned by a few blazing fires, some magnificent rolling vollies were seen through the smoke and gathering dusk. The French had captured Le Haie Saint. A cavalry charge went up the slope but too far away to see if they were ours or theres, and so they might as well have been a mile away. Actually, they probably were.

Finally we halted near the top, one of my comrades collapsed and our in-house medic went to help. Two more had gone down from the rear ranks without me knowing, to exhaustion and a leg injury. We were all blessed by the weather though.. if it had been proper summer heat it would have been more.
It all ended in fire, the gathering darkess made each blast of cannon fire and musket volley stand out, battle was still sounding but it wasn't our battle anymore, we were marching away. It was over.

There were cheers as we came off the field which we tried to rise to but the people giving out water were a Godsend. After a bit of a bottleneck units seemed to disolve, it was like a real retreat in the dark as clumps of men banded together or walked alone, it seemed like a long walk as every-which-way I carried my musket it seemed heavier than usual. This was the most demanding event I had been to, a combination of action, encumberance, ground conditions and warm weather.

I felt like I was mildly stunned by the whirlwind of noise and sights that I had witnessed when back at the camp, but getting kit away and opening a beer sorted everyone out. Our dear chap who'd been with the medics rolled in and broke out special brandy for his birthday!

We would sleep well tonight.