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.