Napoleon meets his match – Waterloo 2015


Dawn on June 20, 2015 – aka June 17, 1815

Last night’s battle didn’t go too badly – no clear winner of course – but the French troops managed to push the British line back almost to the edge of the battlefield. Aside from that one Scottish group (looked like Scots – could have been Russians) – we held firm and felt strong.

Today of course is another day.

There’s a change in the atmosphere in the camp – the soliders are being so nice to M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont! Do I have a seat, will I sit here – did I get my breakfast yet. Hey – do you think they are begining to see that I am not just a fancy outfit? Whatever – I’m relieved to feel the change – means I’m doing something ok.

Breakfast done – drill done – we are given the rest of the day off. The battle tonight will be epic – and we all realize it. Nerves are on edge – Justifably so I suppose. 200 years ago do you think the soliders were as nervous – they faced life or death, so I suppose they must have been worried. But they were so young – mostly 18 to 21 years old, did they think that what would happen that day would be so studied, so celebrated, so well remembered.
Our Major – Gilles – reminds us to be in battle dress and ready to assemble at 4:30 this afternoon. The battle won’t start till 8:00 pm – but we must march the 4.5 KM, then get into our formations.

Taking on my background role – interpreter – I go visit the Sutlers that have set up tents to sell their goods in the Allied camp, and near the battlefield. There are treasures galore – I score a new fan, and my partner finds a canteen. The weather is hot and humid, having enough water is going to be critical to the success or failure of the troops, and there are 120 men and women marching as Garde Imperial, not to mention the entire drum and fife core. I grab another 12 litres of water from the ‘canteen’ tent – and it’s a good thing too – he’s running low.

We gather at 4:30 – and ‘dinner’ is distributed – packages of dried apricots and bags of peanuts. I can appreciate the apricots – but why peanuts? M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont is going to have enough trouble keeping the troops hydrated and on their feet without them eating peanuts! Good thing that La Culiere was in charge for lunch. He started with canned ravoli – but with skillful addition of sauage and chopped onions, made it into something delicous. Not period correct of course – (ravoli for French troops?) although canning was invented by order of our Emperor – so that at least was right!

Not fed – but carrying what is going to have to pass for dinner – the troops are mustered and we march out. There are cheering townspeople everywhere! They yell out their support for us – many choosing to march along beside us for short periods. We spot the calvary – over 150 horses and their riders – ready for battle, and looking truly fine.

There are over 2500 French troops on hand for this fight – we’re one small cog in a huge machine – all focused on gaining another victory for our Emperor. He rides by – gaily waving his Bicorne. We are joined on the field by several of the higher officers – and in the distance I spot the rest of the medical core. They have come prepared for trouble, they have stretchers ready to take soliders off the field.

We are positioned at the far end of the battle field – on a slight hilltop overlooking 3 huge structures – mock-ups of La Haye Sainte (bravely defended by The Kings Legion), Hougoumont (which will be set on fire sometime during this battle), and on the far eastern side of the battle field – Papelotte. La Guarde Imperiale never gets near any of these – we stay well into the open areas of the battle field.

Massed in front of us are what we can see of the Allied armies – primarily British commanded by Wellington. Historically – many of them would have been hidden from view, but today they are very visible, and very scary. They stretch from one end of the huge battlefield to the other – a mass of red coats and artillery.

The start of the battle is signaled by the announcer – who plays O Fortuna from Carmia Barna. Excellent choice – as it tells of the raise and fall of man’s fortune. Perfect for this battle that set the stage for Europe as we know it today.

But we don’t have time to listen – Our Major has gotten orders – and they are communicated to the 4 divisions as a series of commands yelled out by each of our officiers. The artillary barage has begun – and we are stationed near two of the larger guns. The noise level is considerable, compounded by the pyrotecnics. To both our left and right there are now fires burning – officially the result of cannon fire from the Brits – but really the careful positioning of pyrotecnics.

It dawns on me that I don’t know where they have these stacks of fireworks hidden on the field – but one of the officiers takes a moment to explain to me that they are individually controlled and supervised. The big ones won’t go off if anyone is near by. That’s reassuring, I guess.

I’m just hoping that my position in the exact middle of the Guarde will keep me safe.

Our Major commands that we march forward – and soon we are going down hill thru rye that reaches to my waist. Underneath the rye are ridges and hallows caused by plowing the fields – and I’m having trouble keeping my feet underneath me. I stumble along – trying as best as I can to march – but honestly – it’s hard just to walk fast enough to keep up with the troop.

Form Square is suddenly called – and for the first and only time – we blow it! Our square has a front and a back – but there is no real middle. The space where I would normally stand is filled with the flag, officers in gold and gilt who have decided to march along with us, and the entire fife and drum core. I have no choice – I draw my epee – and try not to get trampled. The British calvary makes a valient effort to cut us down – but the bayonets are mounted – and all they can do is clash sword againt bayonet. We are not allowed to shoot at them when they are this close – it’s dangerous for the horses. And they are really really close. I can hear the horses heavy breathing as they gallop past. And the earth literally shakes.

Our calvary rides up – and there is a massive calvary battle – right outside our position.

The Brits and their Allies eventually retreat – we form lines and continue our advance, straight into the guns of the British line. We mount Bayonets – but the gunfire doesn’t cease, and the Major doesn’t tell us to charge. Instead we being an organized march backwards.

The Old Guard never retreats – but apparently marching backwards (you try that) is ok.

We reposition ourselves further to the right side and this time we attack the British line.

It’s so much fun – we pull back and do it again!

But our losses are beginning to mount up – there are literally piles of dead everywhere – and when next I peek out from behind the line – the other doctors have begun to check on the dead. I join them – using my wet white glove to cool down their heads. It’s hot work being dead – even at 9:45 at night. The wounded and dead thank me – and like a good doctor, I don’t steal their shoes. I leave that for the thieves and Camp Followers – I’m all about helping the injured.

One solider lifts his hat – and his hair – to receive my cool touch- and I wipe down his bald head.

Suddenly I hear ‘Charge!’ from behind me! Oh my goodness – the Prussians have entered the battle – and we are being attacked! I’m on the outside of the line – and in serious trouble. I bravely (ok – maybe not so bravely) desert the dead and dying to run towards the square that the remaining members of the Guard have formed to protect the Eagle and the Flag.

Let me IN!!!

I squeeze in – just in time to see La Culiere throw himself into the line of fire in an attempt to protect the flag. He falls – along with most of the line.

The next time the attacking Brits fire – I fall too.

Wellington rides in to claim the field for the English. We have officially lost. The battle is over. Napoleon has met his match.

…..

After the call to end the fight – the dead arise, and two of the old guard help me get back on my feet. Good thing too – I was lying there thinking – hmm, down wasn’t that hard – but I really don’t think I can get up my myself.

My apron is bloodied, most of my water bottles empty – and we still have the long march back to the Bivouac. Again I form a hitch hiking line up – flaging down cars to the amusement of the police acting as traffic control and fill them with soliders too tired and too sore to make the walk back. Eventually – it’s just me left – and when I flag down the last car – the police that are directly traffic give me a round of Appaluse!

Beer, Frits, Bed! No problem getting to sleep to night, I’m seriously sore – but glad I came.

The next morning I get the absolutely best compliment in the world. After Gilles, our Major, finishes his announcements – and thanks the North Americans in general – one of the Old Guard asks for M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairont to be brought in front of the ranks. The line parts, and I’m waved to the front.

He announces – We want to thank Leslie specifically – and the entire company gives me a Hip- Hip – Hurrah.

Tears in my eyes – I remind them to drink water!

As the men pack up to leave – each and every one comes over to personally thank me – and in many cases give me a hug.

M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clarimont – you done good!

Signing off – The soup Lady.

Jane Austin Does Salt Lake City!


Nope – not Debbie Does Dallas – more Jane does Conservative – but lots and lots of fun.

We belong to JASNA – aka the Jane Austin Society – and without getting into particulars – our passion is the English Country Dancing. We didn’t join JASNA to debate the merits of Mr. Darcy over another one of Jane’s heros, analyise her books for hints about finances in Regency Times, nor get all dreamy about falling in love with the perfect man – but we will talk about dance masters, the finer points of dance behavior – and maybe even discuss the advantages of hard sole vs soft sole dancing shoes.

All of which brought us to the Valentine Regency Romance Balls in Salt Lake City. We traditionally spend several weeks sking in and around Park City – often returning back to Montreal on Valentine’s day. So imagine our surprise to be invitied to come to 2 – count’m 2 – Regency Balls in Salt Lake City right during our annual ski holiday.

Obviously – we just have to see what this is all about – so we grabbed a fourth suitcase, pack it full of our full dress Regency Best – and buy tickets.

This is the 5th year these pair of balls have been held – and they are organized by the JASNA folks in Salt Lake, with the participation of The Old Glory Dancers. They are held in the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake – a place you must visit. The ball room was huge! One can imagine the stern faces of the Masons overlooking some kind of Masonic rite in the space, and the hundreds of black and white photos – dating back to at least to 1906 definitely carry through on that theme – but for the purposes of a ball, the Masonic Temple is awesome.

The first ball was Friday night, the second on Saturday. Both balls included Dinner and Dancing- started at 6:30 – and were slated to end at 11:00. Keeping in mind that this is extremely conservative territory – the early ending hour shouldn’t be a surprise – but other things were.

Attendance, by Montreal Standards, was huge – 100 dancers on Friday, over 200 on Saturday. But the dance floor was so large that these numbers posed no problems. The space was grand, high ceilinged, cool, and while not a properly sprung dance floor – the surface was quite acceptable for dancing.

Unlike other balls I’ve attended – the only live music was during dinner – when a string quartet quietly played in a corner. The dance music was produced by iTunes – playing thru proper speakers so that it was sufficiently loud to be clearly heard over the hub-bub of the dancers. Speaking of hub-bub – and comparing this ball to other’s we’ve attended – the dancers were extremely polite, watching the demo’s attentively – and then paying close attention to directions. Maybe a Morman thing? Don’t know – but it certainly made it easier to learn the dances.

One clearly Morman thing – the conservative take on Regency dressing! Nary a heaving bosom in sight – the dresses consistently rode high across the chests of the ladies. Too funny that – I noticed the difference immediately, it took Victor a bit longer to pick up on it.

We were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and greetings we received. After all – you don’t generally get people from a different country (Canada) showing up at your local ball, deep in LDS territory! On Friday night we were given a prize for longest distance traveled, and then there was a ‘clap-off’ for best dressed Gentleman! My husband claimed the Mr. Darcy prize – much to my personal delight. There were also prizes for best dressed couple, and for most Anachcronistic dress. The winner on Friday was a gal wearing a dress featuring black leaves, but most Anachcronistic on Saturday night summed up what folks who revel in Regency dress find most distrubing. This gal was wearing a dress that ended about 3″ from what counts – with her legs on full display! Scandalous! And her hands were exposed, and her hair down. What was her mother thinking when she left home for the ball. I’m sure her coachman were equally alarmed!

On the other hand, the dance masters were truly excellent. Seriously excellent. Maybe some of the best I’ve ever seen. Each dance was performed without explanation by their team, then performed again with a verbal explanation. Then we formed up lines or quadrilles or circles – and they walked us thru the dances several times – each time allowing us to progress – so we got to practice with different partners, and in different starting positions. Finally – we’d do the dance – and the music would run long enough for everyone to move thru the entire line. It was Great.

Dinner – such as it was – was served about 1/2 way thru the evening. It was buffet style – a huge platter of salad, a metal serving tray of rice, a platter of ham like you get off a spiral cut, and grapes. I can easily observe that food quality was not a criteria for caterer selection. In fact, I’m willing to guess that we were looking at home cooking. Oh well – dancing is thirsty work – not so much hungry work! So grab some food and carry on!

Some other unique things about the Utah versions of Regency Balls – There was no alcohol served – but thinking back on other balls, particularly the ones held in Montreal, there was no alcohol served there as well. So maybe more of a JASNA thing. And another unique-ness – the after ball party! In Montreal, we might gather at a local late night restaurant for food and chatter – but in Utah – they danced! Rock and Roll of course – which is a hoot when you are wearing Regency dresses let me tell you.

And the last unique-ness – the age of the guests! Most of the JASNA events I’ve participated in tend to favor an older crowd – people looking for something active, but not too active. In Utah – Regency dancing is a way to meet guys and gals! So the average age was closer to 30 then 50.

Bottom line – we’ve penciled in not only next year’s Utah JASNA Valentine Dances – but also their summer JASNA festival. In fact my husband and our friend – the sword master – are working on a dueling workshop. I’m going to guess that the battle will be hard fought before a winner in announced.

Signing off to find a new pair of dancing shoes (mine died during the reel) – The Soup Lady.