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.

Dawn breaks early in the Old Guard Bivouac


Historically the Old Guard did not have tents at this point and place in time, but fortunately for me – M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairmont, the organizers have bent the cardinal rule – ‘It must be correct for the period’ – enough to let us use tents.

And what is inside a tent is private – no peeking by tourists. Thus we can stow in the tents all our non-period correct items – from plastic bottles of water, to food stuffs, sacks of bread, and in the case of our unit of Old Guard – rotten carrots. I’m not sure what the point of the carrots actually was – but rotten they were, and throwing them away was really the only solution.

In our tents you will also find things like sleeping bags and foam air mattresses – but the hardier among us use bags filled with Straw (called Paillaise), sheepskin pads, and wooden furniture. Those tents are left open for tourists to check out – the simple rule – if the tent is open, you can look – if the tent is closed – no looking please!

After what can only be described as a seriously disappointing breakfast – they opened packages of waffle looking things (can you say sugar high), and there was some coffee looking stuff involved – but the lack of milk is a serious problem for me, as is the lack of a chair. I need to sit to eat – and sitting is not an option when there are 40 soliders, 12 chairs – and one Doctor. Despite this – I try to find a seat – and get the hairy eyeball. Hey – that’s my chair – you didn’t even ask to share.

Thanks. Next time I fly – I fly with a chair.

Ah – but creature comforts aren’t what this is about – so I stand tall – and join the army. They are not at all sure what to do with me. The only people I’ve marched with before is Gilles – the Major who does most of the leading of the troops, and Pierre – who as the Collonel is the senior officer, but serves mostly as overview. It’s Gilles who tells the troops to let me alone – and begrudingly they ceed space. But you can tell they aren’t too happy about a woman who is wearing an officier’s uniform (all medical staff are officers).

I’m extremely serious about drill – so I gather my water bottles, hidden in my doctor’s bag, and march just behind the 3rd division. That puts about 70 men in front of me, another 30 behind – as the Docteur, it’s pretty important I be protected – but again with the hairy eyeball. The nerve I have…

A quick word about my doctor’s bag – I don’t just have water inside, I have bandages – both real for emergencies, and ‘fake’ large clothes with blood stains for covering the real bandages. I also have stuff for other kinds of emergencies – medical, and not so medical. I’m a gal of many tricks – all hidden behind my lovely Doctor’s uniform!

I ignore the questioning looks – seen this before – and decide to march closely behind the men. At each repose – I make sure everyone has water. At first most of the men politely decline – but as the drill goes on and the sun comes out – I have more and more ‘Thank You’s’ to my questions – “L’Eau? Water?”

We practice forming and reforming the Square. This formation is specifically against calvary – and our captain clearly fears their effectiveness. We get it down to 8 seconds – from his call to form a square – to a clear square with room inside for the flag and flag bearers, the other officers – and of course the Doctor.

My view from inside the square isn’t great – the spaeurs on the corners are the shortest of the soliders – and they are huge! But that isn’t the point of a square – it’s all about protecting the flag and the eagle on the top.

We break for lunch (sliced sauage (Thanks Crown and Queue), cheese, and bread. After lunch I perform the other part of my job – translator for the re-enactors from the US who speak no french. One of our guys has purchased a musket that will not fire – and I’m going to go with him to the sutllers who have set up shop back near the battle field. Guess I’m doing that 5K walk again!

We manage to buy him a used musket, and head back to camp – just in time to march out for the Friday night battle. This time there’s no cheating by taking a bus or hitch-hiking – it’s march the 5 Km in full kit with backpacks or else. I’m carrying 2 liters of water – and I’ve hidden another 6 liters of water in the backpacks of the stronger soldiers. I’ll refill my ‘period’ bottle as I run low during the fighting.

We drop one man on the walk – he just stumbled – but the result was a bloodly knee that needed my quick attention. My job during the next 4 hours is to be sure the men have plenty of liquid, provide bandages and help with mis-firing muskets as needed, and stay out of danger. I’m the Doctor. At the end of the battle – I need to signal the medical core to come and get the injured worth saving off the field. But this is getting ahead of my story – first we might fight.

The French plan, as I understand it, is to simply run the Brits off the field. After all – we trounced the Prussians just 5 days ago – the Brits are far less experienced. And things go well at first – we form our squares pretty well – and the Allied Calvary fails to break thru.

At one point – to my horror – the allied calvary gets behind our lines – and is riding free – swinging their sabors. Along with Adrien, our adjutant – I defend the back of our men with my epee! It’s like theatening a dinosaur with a needle – the sabors of the calvary would make mince-meat of my attempt at defence – but at least the line realizes the issue, and does an about face. Now I’m in front of the line – and they are preparing to fire!

Do I fall? Do I flee?

Fortunately, the Major recognizes the issue – and calls – form Square! Whew – somewhere for me to run and hide!

Never been so glad to see a square in my life!

But the Scotish infantry have different plans. Instead of just pretending to shoot at the square – they mount bayonets and Charge!

The Square stays as strong as it can – but eventually the Scotish – despite their officer giving other commands – forces some of the elderly Sapeurs aside and attempts to grab our flag. My husband, as Guardian of the Flag, levels his musket and forces 3 Scots back. An actual fight breaks out – complete with bloody noses – until the offciers can get the Scots to back off. I continue to swing (ok – pretty harmlessly) my epee – and while it’s not very scary, the Scots do keep away from me. Is it the Epee? Or is it the Doctor’s Uniform?

The Scots retreat – the battle is over.

We form up, and march off the field. The plan is to continue the battle from this point tomorrow!

I ask permission from the officers to hitch rides for soliders that are too tired or too sore to march the 5 Km back to the camp.

Then it’s Frites and Beer and Bed!

Signing off – M. le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairemont

The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball


200 years ago – with troops massing all thru Europe, and Napoleon fighting for the life of France – the Duchess of Richmond decided to have a ball in Brussels.

According to our informed source – so many people wanted to attend the ball – it was held in a barn!

Fast forward 200 years – and with re-enactors massing all around Brussels – the ‘Duchess’ is holding her ball again – and of course we must attend.

Word has gone out that French uniforms will not be acceptable – and gentlemen and their ladies must dress properly. The Ball will include a lovely sit-down dinner, hosted by the ‘Duchess’ and her consort – and of course ‘Wellington’ and his officers will be in attendance.

We are booked into the ‘Salve’ BnB – with in easy walking distance of the Chateau where the Ball will be held. Our friend – the Saper – is joining us – we shall be attending the ball together.

We dress for the occasion – and I must admit – we look quite fine! My seamtress has done a wonderful job on my gown, and my escorts look dashing in their top hats, canes, and dancing shoes. We look so good that one of our hostess’s neighbors comes over to see what is happening and insists on taking pictures. Our hostess even provides us with a carriage ride for the short distance – and we make our proper entrance to the Ball. The company is fine and beautifully dressed. And the Chateau is magnificant.

Properly dressed waiters in period wigs serve everyone champagne and hors d’oeuvres – and we gossip and chat till Wellington arrives. He invites us to join him on the veranda for a fife and drum concert, performed splendidly by a troop from the loyal Colonies.

They march in, perform to the attention and applause of all, and then we mount the stairs for a splendid dinner.

Our dinner companions are Dance Masters from the Colonies, a wonderful couple from the Prussian Allies, the ‘Saper’, and a Spanish Couple who enterain us all with tales of the problems Spain is having with both Louie Boneparte and their herditary King. To their minds, neither is worth the uniform they wear!

After dinner, it is time for the ball proper to begin. While my dance card is hardly full – I do have the first few dances claimed – and I hope to find partners for them all.

We begin with a traditional Polonaise – which gives us all the opportunity to check out the other dancers, and to admire the gowns of the other ladies. There are some stunning gowns, and to be honest, I suffer a bit from gown envy. Where do they find such lovely materials to work with – I shall definitely have to have a word with my two seamstresses – The Regency version of keeping up with “The Jones’s ”

The dances roughly alternate between Long line dances and Quadrilles. I of course try to dance them all – but it is a challenge to hear the Dance Master over the hubub in the room. Several times – in several languages – he asks for people not interested in dancing to retire to the sitting areas – or to make use of the terrace, but I suspect that watching the dancing is simply too much fun!

Suddenly the dancing is interrupted by a young man in uniform accompanied by two Prussian officers in muddy traveling cloaks. They run into the room – calling for the attention of Wellington! He hands him a message – and Wellington reads the note to himself and then informs us that Napoleon has ‘humbug’d’ him – and is even now approaching the city! Women gasp white the officers in attendance grab their hats and swords and promptly follow Wellington out of the room.

The remaining dancers finish the dance, but clearly the mood is no longer one of gaiety and laughter – war has come too quickly upon us.

We make our way to the cloakroom – and head back to our lodging. Tomorrow we are off to the Bivouac.

Signing off to put on her uniform and prepare for battle – The Soup Lady.