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Rifleman Andy Deering sent this despatch on his recollections of the Defence of Hougoumont:
As we marched inside the courtyard at Hougoumont, I wondered how today’s battle could possibly match up to the day before with three separate battlefields and seventy rounds down the barrel! However, the defence of Hougoumont would prove to be a totally unique battle and one which would show the very real dangers of re-enacting.
Primarily we were posted inside the perimeter wall but as soon as the French appeared on the field it was decided that we sally out to greet them. Green jackets and red coats poured volleys and rifle fire into the advancing French Army and we appeared to be holding them until we realised the Old Guard had manoeuvred unnoticed through the woods. Humbugged again! We began to pull back, albeit in an orderly fashion and made a stand at the foot of the walls.
It was at this point that we witnessed some of the best cavalry fighting I have ever seen. A troop of eight British Heavy Dragoons came charging down the field and clashed with some French Dragoons. A French horse turned at the last minute and was knocked clean over with it's unfortunate rider narrowly missing being crushed. The horse sped off riderless while the others gave a fantastic display of swordsmanship in the saddle that really didn’t pull any punches.
Meanwhile, Corporal Wamner positioned the 1/95th directly opposite the Old Guard in an attempt to stem their advance, unfortunately the artillery were firing across our front which you can imagine was quite deafening.
After a sustained fire fight, the British were forced to retreat inside the Chateau walls and take up position on the firing steps in time to watch some of the stragglers succumbing to the Frogs. The 1/95th had at first to defend the east wall and succeeded in hauling some Voltigeurs over the wall and saw to them with the bayonet during several ferocious attacks.
Next we were summoned to the north gate as the French had broken down the gates and were pushing into the chateau. There now ensued what can only be described as a huge scrum of British and French men pushing and heaving against each other. Although fun at first this rapidly became a dangerous situation and at least a couple of soldiers had to be pulled from the centre to catch their breath. At one point, I had to get very abusive with a couple of red coats before they let off enough pressure to allow Rfn James Deering to emerge from the scrum.
As we fought within the walls of Hougoumont, with the air full of smoke and the French attacking on all sides, it was easy to imagine the hell that the Guards faced in 1815.
Eventually the French gave up the struggle and began to withdraw. As always the 1/95th were hot on their heels and exchanged volleys with a few units we have become familiar with, such as the Voltigeurs.
It was not long before the French Army was driven off the battlefield and marched up to the Lion Mound with their tails between their legs.
All of the Rifleman performed excellently during the battle and kept their rifles firing to the end. Special thanks should go to Corporal Wamner for keeping us in the heat of the battle the whole time and bloody well done to Rfn Dixie Deans for fighting so well despite his lack of experience.
Last edited by Alan Earp on Sat Aug 11, 2007 4:37 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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1/95th Camp Follower Mistress Lisa DuRose has provided this personal view of the weekend and an especially interesting visit to La Haye Sainte!
I went to Waterloo a complete numpty on the subject and came away with a great sense of my History and awe for all the brave men who fought and died there.
My main concern on arriving in our camp at Hougoumont was, am I about to sleep where they still lay? I asked around and found that the site had never been cleared and in fact they still lay where they fell, over 6.000 of them, but all who told me this commented on how peaceful and calm they felt here. I too felt this, they had done their job well and are at rest and after all we were only there to honour them.
On Saturday evening I set off in full posh regalia to watch the first battle, it was amazing to be almost amongst the men as they fought, to be deafened by the volleys and really be a part of the spectacle and colour of the event.
From Plancenoit we moved on to a second site, a field that was roped off for the spectators and so we watched as in England from a distance and the feeling of being a part of it was lost, the canon fire was awesome and I have never seen such amazing smoke rings!
Our boys, 1/95th, even faced the Emperor himself and gave him a rolling volley.
As in England too the weather changed for the worse it started to rain and became cold. Maureen, whom I was with, suggested that we retire to the bar back in Plancenoit and have a drink, get warm and meet up with everyone on their return for the coaches. She assured Lizzy and I that they would come through that way!!!
However this was not the case as we drank our way through several bevies the sounds of the battle faded and died and no returning soldiers in sight, at around 11pm we decided to go and look for the coaches but all was deserted, we came to the conclusion we were stuffed and would have to walk back to camp in the dark.
We set off with only the light from that beautiful Lion to guide us. Not long into our trek we heard the sound of hobnails on the opposite side of the road we called out in the dark and were rescued by four gentlemen from the King's German Legion (KGL). We fell into step with them, two in front and two behind, they lessened the pace and we were on our way. My feet in posh slippers hurt, I was cold and only too aware of how far we had to walk !!
La Haye Sainte
But we soon came to an abrupt holt and Andrew told us they had to go and do something special, that we could come but we had to be quiet, tall order for three women. With my posh dress tucked in my knickers and my legs stung and scratched with nettles we made our way through a field to an archway I now know to be La Haye Sainte, Maureen whispered to me that a lot of the KGL were lost here and that they were probably going to pay their respects, so we hung back quietly under the arch, the guys however marched up to the front door and knocked. ”They’ve lost the plot now” muttered Maureen, but the door was flung open, the courtyard filled with light and we were all welcomed inside.
Our hosts, the current owners, an American couple named Sherrie and Kim, gave us a guided tour interspersed with tales from the four guys. Over 300 men had entered by those doors and only 42 had escaped out through the back and up to the battle ridge. They had not been reinforced and had run out of rounds and so these men under Major Baring fought their way
out as the French were battering at the door. One man took a fatally wrong turn up the twisted stairway to a small bedroom above where two of their injured had been laid, the French finding the injured there, killed them and bayoneted the escapee against a wall where the marks can still be seen.
Back downstairs in the hall is a large wooden door leading now into the lounge it still proudly bears three musket ball holes. The guys lent their Baker rifles here with their shakos on top, this caused much delight with our hosts and they rushed off for the camera to capture the sight. We then made our way down to the cellar and in candlelight were told how the injured were brought here, well over a hundred men lay in this dank, dark space , we saw the well of water they used and when the water is lifted in the hand to the light it glows blood red, the remaining bottles of wine that were not pilfered still lay in their cobwebbed nest of dust, we joined hands and stood in a circle around a candle, paid our respects and asked if they could join us, the air grew cold and several more shadows appeared with our own…………
The chill of that experience stayed with me through the evening, our hosts were brilliant plying us with much beer and even bringing out ciggies when Maureen and I ran out, they each fired a Baker, the joy of which was wonderful to watch, the guys fired a volley the first there in over 200 years and Sherrie told us of reading history books in bed and thinking yep that happened in my hall way, or my garden. La Haye Sainte is in good hands and is carefully and reverently respected.
Outside and the cold night air hit us, I have to thank Andrew for being a true gent of the first order, removing his jacket for me to wear and carrying my basket back to camp, for helping me when my shoe was lost in mud and the resulting bare foot found a fresh cowpat, all well worth it I have to say !
After not to many hours of sleep I was up and about on the Sunday for the final battle of the weekend, defending Hougoumont after my adventures I decided against wearing posh and put on my camp follower kit and headed off down to Hougoumont.
Today was not to disappoint. I had the feeling again of being involved with our men fighting so near and again the noise and the colour of the event was amazing, to watch the cavalry thunder past, to hear the echo of the volleys against the wall and to feel the ground literally move under your feet from the boom of the canons is something I will never forget , I became very emotional as I watched the French break through the gate, it gave me a real sense of what it must have been like, a fantastic history lesson.
I later found out a few facts from that day, a young girl of 12 survived the battle of Waterloo having been pushed under the bed by her Father at Hougoumont and went on to lead a celebrated life on the back of the stories she could tell and only 2,000 British Guardsmen held Hougoumont against over 13,000 French.
Makes you proud doesn’t it !!!!!
95thRLHS Official Communication