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

Re-enacting isn’t easy, People!


1 Historic Battle (broken into 2 parts), 4 days in the Bivouac, 300 horses, 100 cannon and 5000-6000 participants are needed to entertain the 200,000 spectators that have paid good money to watch us march, form squares, repel horseman slashing at us with sabres – and scream “Vive l’Empereur” at every opportunity. Oh – and learn a bit of history in the process.

It’s huge fun – and really hard work!

Day 1 – we must find the Bivouac of the Old Guard. I do wish that was as easy done as said – but we are running late, and can not just drive into the space. Already in uniform – Victor tosses me out onto the road with bags full of wine, sausauge, and other Bivouac necessities. His directions – find our tent in the Old guard camp. This would be a lot easier if I wasn’t weighed down with bottles of wine – and if there was only one Old Guard camp. Turns out there are 2 – and of course I first find the wrong one.

Fortunately – Victor is extremely well known – and by extension – so am I. It doesn’t take long for someone to realize I’m completely lost – and direct me (smattering of English, some French – bit of Russian) to the right camp.

Now – I just need to find our tent. I ask – and get sent in the wrong direction. The camp has grown significantly since Victor set up the tent 2 days ago – and it now huge. There are probably over 100 tents in the space – and finding our tent is not trival.

Just not a good start.

The Old Guard Bivouac is on a relatively hilly piece of ground, making finding a level spot to pitch a tent an issue – the good news – Victor was here early enough to score one of the flattest spots! Yeah, Victor.

There are the mandatory row of Port-o-Potties – plus a wonderful surprise – boy’s and girl’s hot showers! There’s even a portable Pissoir – with a sign indicating – only for guys! (It’s a sign with both a woman and a man, but the woman has a red ‘X’ through her!) There is also a ‘canteen’ of sorts – the organizers have promised a meal a day – and this is where we’ll be picking up our cans of peas and carrots, Ravoli, and spaggetti. Grand dining – I think not! I’m really happy that we brought some sausages from Crown and Queue and on my mental list is fruit – should I spot a salesperson.

There is one lonely water faucet – for the entire encampment. To deal with this lack, the organizers have seriously stocked up on .5 litre plastic water bottles. Knowing that 100 men will go thru 10 to 12 liters of water – per drill and per battle – I immediately stock up. I hate the waste of little bottles – but if that’s all that’s on offer – I’ll deal.

The Bivouac is open to the public – which means tourists snapping picture after picture of us trying to eat, trying to relax, trying to build a fire, trying to cook. One unmounted calvary man is sharing our space – and he has his Cuirass and saddle on display. The entire world marvels at it – I’ll bet it’s going to be featured in at least 100 home movies!

Things aren’t all rough however, just a short 1 minute walk away are a frite truck that sells bratwurst – and a waffle wagon. That plus the omni-present beer tent – and it’s camping – re-enactment style!

Our plans for the evening get changed drastially when we find out that Cirque d’Soleil has planned a sound and light show called “Inferno“. The price per ticket is huge – but in our uniforms – we’re free. That’s a great price – so a group of us gather to figure out two major things – how to get TO the show, and how to get HOME!

None of this is trivial – the organizers have a bus service of sorts that goes to the battle field (we’re 5 Km away – keep that in mind), but it stops at 5:00 – and the show starts at 10:00 PM. Humm. My new best friend Sophie suggests we hitch hike- and we all agree – why not!

It’s surprisingly easy to catch a lift – or 4 as it turns out we need. Who wouldn’t stop to pick up a guy (or gal) in uniform. We’re not even armed.

Once there – we settle in for what turns out to be the fireworks show to end all fireworks shows!

The theme is of course the battle of Waterloo – and from the opening notes of ‘The Hanging Tree’ from the Hunger Games series – you know this isn’t going to be pro-war!

In addition to limitless fireworks – all coordinated to music, there’s the opening ‘Duchess of Richmond’s’ Ball – there’s a memorial act to the thousands of horses that died on this field in the form of gigantic horse puppets – lite from within, and there are real Calvary on real horses racing around the field. My favorite – the fire throwers.

Performers in skin tight outfits come out onto the walkway that seperates us from the field, and proceed to pour fire around and around them. Then they shovel up whatever they were pouring – throwing it up and over their heads. It explodes there into a huge fireballs – and pours fire onto their heads. They do that over and over again. It’s awesome!

Further from us, there are performers with fire head-dresses, and of course the huge lion mouth at the center of the stage shoots fireballs from the top – over and around the spectators.

I can’t help but think that in comparison the battle will be a sad sack event!

Fireworks finally over, we leave and walk 1 km to where they are allowing cars to travel. We again resolve to hitch our ways back to the Bivouc, and eventually we are all tucked into our tents.

Tomorrow is our first battle!

Signing off to get some much needed rest – The Soup Lady – aka 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.