Thursday, July 9, 2015

Waterloo 1815-2015

It was my great pleasure and honor to partake in the 200th anniversary event in Belgium this year.  I would need a dozen posts to relate all that happened, both in the event and with the time we spent in Paris and Brussels and the Ardennes as part of our vacation.

We had twenty-one Americans traveling over, together or in small groups to participate.  We joined our parent regiment, the 21eme Regiment d'Infanterie de ligne on the Thursday before the festivities.

Combined we had 72 in camp and our combined battalion fielded 194.  Around 6000 infantry, cavalry and artillery participated in  total.  We drilled for hours on end and found that the distance between camps precluded visiting for all but the hardiest.  Having put many, many miles on my bad feet being a tourist, I wasn't inclined to add more mileage.

When we marched out for the evening "spectacles" (to maximize profit for the organizers) we were confronted by tall barley fields that hindered movement and huge numbers of allied troops.  Not wishing to be exclusive, one could see British, Dutch-Belgian, Prussia, Russian, Austrian and Swedish troops.  Plus probably some I missed seeing.  Here are some scenes from Friday night.

The Lion's Mound, wreathed in smoke

A square, nestled in the barley

We arrived back in camp about 11:30pm and with "la Diane" coming at 7:00am there was little partying.  Saturday was more of the same, though the "spectacle" was far more enjoyable.  There were many things about the event that strongly differed from ones in the US or Canada.  We were given tins of sardines, bags of peanuts and chips, and cans of vegetables for "rations."  Fortunately the 21eme had a meal plan in place.  If you wanted to use the clean facilities it cost a Euro.  Food and beer (especially) could be purchased fairly cheaply however.  Saturday night was very exciting.

Not mine, didn't write down the artist's name

Photo by Andrey Popkov

Photo by Andrey Popkov (I can be seen in the back left)

Scots Grey and I exchange sabre blows, photo by Andrey Popkov

Photo by Andrey Popkov

As we retired from the field the allied cavalry got very aggressive.  Very aggressive.

The cost was very real.  Tragically, there were four fatalities at the event and the ambulance was a familiar sight around camp and on the field.  While many handshakes were exchanged when we assaulted Hougomont or la Haye Sainte, the open field melees were more like a rugby scrum and firing was done extremely close to one another.  Strangely enough, the reaction to the deaths in Europe was, "with so many involved that is not bad."

Having done battalion drill a few times in Europe now, I can say that as a wargamer most rules make battlefield evolutions too easy.  I'm very proud of our battalion for how well we performed.

Photo by Jean-Francois Schmitz
On Sunday we all went to the battlefield marker for our regiment.  It notes our engagement with General Pack's brigade.  Our flag and Eagle were presented to us by the modern day 21eme.

Vivandiere and Lieutenant

On Monday, despite Belgium being closed on Mondays, we took a short tour the the Ardennes, visiting Bastogne, St. Vith, and la Gliece.  My high school history teacher fought with the 101st throughout the war.  506th, I Company.  God bless you, Mr. McGowen.


  1. I am thrilled to enjoy your descriptions and images Michael!
    Thanks a million.

  2. What were the causes of the fatalities? Was it heat stroke or acts of carelessness on the battlefield?

    Also, what were you doing in the evening event that kept you out until 11:30pm? Fighting by candlelight or were there some parade ground events?

    What were your thoughts and reactions to the amount of smoke that we've seen in many pictures of the event? Gives us food for thought


    1. One heart attack (a Canadian, off the field), two broken necks (one on the field, one off) and an unspecified "seizure". People were galloping up and down the slopes in the tall barley and many of the lesser injuries were related to mounted troops. Marechal Ney in particular was seriously injured in a fall.

      The "spectacles" were scheduled to start at 8pm but actually started at 8:30. They lasted two hours and then we had the 4km march back to camp.

      The smoke totally obscured units unless you were right up on them. And it hung in the air. Even if I had a sight and range finder I'd have a hard time hitting a line with a cannon at bombardment ranges.

      We never formed a true square. Instead we went to a closed column, one with no intervals. At one point my section of about 20 we detached to skirmish against la Haye Sainte and we got caught up in a cavalry charge. We ran to a nearby friendly square and sheltered there till we could dash a gap and rejoin our battalion.

  3. Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences. Sounds like an incredible time. Hope to see your soon!

  4. Thanks for sharing the moments and events about your experience at the re-enactment. I recall some of what you mentioned about other experiences you had at an earlier re-enactment at Waterloo and together they definitely help me revel in the experiences I was fortunate to share with you a bit over a decade ago. Miss you and Peg a great deal! Stay well my friend.