Saturday, 2 September 2017

La Bossiere-ecole

Last year it was Frequieres, this year the campaign weekend was about twenty kilometres outside Paris and seven of the 45eme were bound for adventure in the French countryside.

Our camp site was on the edge of a farm, I presume, as there was the shell of a barn at our disposal and a rectangle of rocks that marked out a firepit, and a latrine made out of a box over a hole with a wall of twigs and sticks but no door, so singing or whistling was required when occupied.

We all contributed some rations to a stew and then some disappointing news came that apparently the farmer had decided we could not use the land where the second nights camp was meant to be, some of the French wanted to be static but some of the more mobile souls wanted to set off into the wilder regions for a stop over in the woods next night. (later it emerged this might have had more to do with some organisers not wanting the French forces to split up).  Oh well, food was eaten, wine was drunk and we crashed out on the ground in various degrees of makeshift shelters from just a cover to a canvas sheet roped up to trees.

I did wake up in the night when I got bitten and could feel something moving about in my trousers. I don't know why anything would venture into my trousers or just how they get in, the top is belted and the bottoms have gaiters over shoes again with straps at the top. It turned out to be a beetle about the size of a twenty pee. Reveille sounded at 6, The morning was misty.

Not having to march straight to a point in the woods to make camp at the end of day some saw fit to empty their packs of all unnecessaries, I however wanted to keep all my food/drink/gear with me as I would if I was on campaign, I was here to live it more than ever.

Down grassy paths we travelled, along hedgerows and through woods, and (unlike last year) it was not long before we saw some of the enemy in the opposite tree line, greater numbers emerging than last year, we let through a King's German legion trooper who had twisted her ankle, and then the first vollies started flying. Skirmishers peppered shots at us, and we marched forwards, then back again. The enemy passed down a wide track to the left soon followed by their cavalry. Word was we had won that fight as we were deployed in line again a force coming on in columns or dribs and drabs.

we metaphorically counted to one hundred to let the allies go, and set off again, coming out of a wood someone thought they had heard noises behind us, I volunteered to go back and look, and just as importantly in a wood, listen. but no one was there. we made to cross a mowed down wheat field, everytime this raised the question of 'What if the cavalry come out now?'  it nearly came about but we managed to scrambled into a bushy area and gave them fire, caught between two units the horse retired.

More marching, par le route, and it seemed we were looking for a source of water which was eventually found at a cemetary with a tap although myself and the Caporal had got a local lady to provide a couple of bottles which she literally ran in and out of the house to fetch. The locals would provides taps and hoses for water on several occasions. Opposite the cemetary we crashed out, some folk took off sweat damp uniforms to hang over a wall to dry. 


When we set off again down a road between woods the cavalry came up behind us but it seemed they merely wanted to pass and trotted off to by pass us, further down the way we skirmished in the trees in pairs whilst larger groups held the road, rushing down a slope towards more firing many of us took a double take at a couple standing obliviously in the middle of fire and fury to film a video with their ipad. 
Out in the open came a great melee as troops were fed into the throng seeming to give us the advantage of numbers, but the Belgian cavalry appeared and came round the flank, our two intrepid scouts (chasseurs a cheval) met them but outnumbered it would only prove a speed bump. Our group fell back into the trees but were given an ultimatum by a dashing Dutch officer to re-join our main force or be shot. We decided on the not being shot.
We all stopped in some trees on a slope to regroup and catch breath but the big Belgian unit were already coming on! unarmed I went forth to meet them and offered their Captain a drop of brandy, he declined, but I negotiated a five minutes armistice. 

Shortly after skirmishing resumed but the day was drawing to a close and it petered out. It was quite a long way back to the camp after a day of marching and fighting and it wasn't long until the army started to straggle apart. At one point we found a young recruit just sat in a cottage doorway clutching an empty water bottle, don't know how he came to be alone without water but we gave him some and a bit of bread cake and took him with us. It was a challenge not to drag our feet on the way back, with long sighs as we turned a new corner to see the road went up a long sloping hill. sacre bleu!
On making camp we collapsed and many stripped down to trousers, some in bonnets, to hang up sweat damp clothes and the camp must have looked a bit like Smurf village. Each group was awarded a bottle of wine for our efforts. Many of us spend the evening 'Walking like John Wayne.'

That night having been denighed a rougher camping site I stole away a distance with just a blanket and my rolled up hábit (jacket) and slept under a tree, quite well until the thunderstorm. Starting in the distance until the lightning crackled overhead and the thunder was accompanied by rain and dogs howling like wolves! Fortunately the tree I was under was not straight and afforded better shelter than a straight trunk.

Sunday saw our group up and ready to march before time, and ourselves and a small unit of line Grenadiers were posted to keep watch around a crossroads (a track) opposite the village. 

We watched and waited and heard the enemy drums.. from where exactly though? And then it all went quiet. Split into our skirmishing pairs we took to different points. 

We waited longer then moved towards a corner of a wood where upon enemy cavalry appeared. We gave fire to support the small group of grenadiers on the path.. they gave a small volley but the rules of engagement were that infantry lose to cavalry when in the open. (Six men do not make a square) 

Having crossed a ditch and began up to the village we were fired on from the treeline, a patrol of Scots lights and Landwehr.. skirmishing broke out as our officer, a good man, joined us and we advanced. One of the foe shouted an 'An officer!' and fired. The officer promptly moved close behind soldat Bonbon for the rest of the advance. At the end of which we formed and charged up an awkward thickly wooded slope. A close flash of fire was odd and it would turn out our leader had a bad, black burn on his lower leg, although after treatment he was fine getting about.

Having taken the patrol prisoner we took them up the slope to the village by the church and awaited the arrival of the main allied army, surely with us skirmishing and some support fire from the Imperial guard cannon they cannot have failed to hear the noise?  Locals had also been attracted to see what was going on. One of them brought a tray of tea for the prisoners but as guards we also indulged, one pot was mint tea which was very refreshing. Then the enemy were spotted at the far end of the slope, they sat amongst the trees, presumably having a rest before launching an assault. I finished my tea and was relieved of guard duty as the prisoners gave their parole. We waited a bit more.

The order for us to march down the side of the field and form a firing line came but by now their was a sense of reluctance, no one wanted to go far. The allied cavalry thundered passed and attacked the undefended cannon and crew but this was apparently to give the locals something to look at. As we formed line some grumbled that the cavalry might return to try and hit us in the flank.. some French had also called it a day, in ones and twos firing off their rounds and going to the rear. The rest of us fired down towards the Belgians at extreme long range, really to provoke a reaction 'Come and get us!' but still nothing. with a shrug we turned around and called it a day.  A few of us helped move and limber the cannon up. Off to lunch!

And so in a small park the weekend ended with bread, melons, pate and cidre. Soon after we marched back across the field with the crossroads and began to pack up.

A stark contrast of events was seeing pictures of Detling military odyssey where impeccably clean redcoats marched out of their tented camp with flags flying to the sound of 'Hearts of oak' and polite applause to fire a few vollies at some pirates before giving a hurrah and being back in time for tea and biscuits. I still enjoy those events, mainly because I am there with good friends, but after a campaign weekend they do feel a bit like a Church fete.

This is one of my favourite images of the weekend, by photographer Nicolas Villeret having seen Albrecht Addams watercolours of scenes from the Russian campaign, the tired figure, sans one shoe, so echoes those images of a tired soldier.

La Bossiere-ecole is held once every two years but I hope there will be an alternative one in France next year. There is such an event hosted by two rifles groups in the UK next month but work life gets in the way. I'd like to do one in UK although I am aware what a 'crowded isle' the UK is, whist continental Europe has more open rolling, wooded country where the locals don't mind a bunch of grown men playing soldiers across fields and lanes.

This is also last Napoleonic event of the year, a good end! Remind me to make repairs and replace those lost buttons before next April.


No comments:

Post a Comment