Monday, 16 November 2015

Episode 2 - Dragones in Waterloo

This is the second instalment of our trip to Crisis 2015, covering the visit to the Battlefield of Waterloo. I must add that personally, the most emotive milestone of the whole trip, suffering one of those “Stendhal Moments” on arriving to the “Butte de Lion” feet, when I could hardly contain my tears... how many of us in the wargame hobby had played countless hours (with my younger brother in my case) in the early 70s with the Airfix farm and the boxes of British, French and Prussian soldiers???
A visit to the real Waterloo one day in the future was one of my earliest dreams, but it has taken 53 years to become true... I’m sure you understand the feeling

Freezing but happy and moved

We spend most of Friday there, since landing in Brussels til when the sun set at around 5PM strolling around. To facilitate the interpretation of the photo report below, I have included a map of the battlefield that will help you orientating where we were at each stage of the visit.
The first sign of the proximity of the site is of course the Butte du Lion, the monument erected after the battle to honour the Dutch and Belgium soldiers participating in the battle. The monument dominates the whole battlefield today and as illustrated in the map below, it is located  to the right of the main Brussels road and right on top of the former Chemin d´Ohain, (today a secondary road) that marks the frontal line of the Allied troops. 

(click to enlarge)

The Butte seen from Hugoumont Farm
One advantage of having waited to 2015 to visit the battlefield is that we have benefited from all the improvements made related to the bicentenary of the battle. In that sense, we must mention the new Museum build underneath the Butte and the first mandatory step in the visit.

The museum display an interesting collection of uniforms, weapons and contemporary artefacts  from all the armies involved in the fight. There are also a large number of explanatory and educational panels telling the story of the Napoleonic wars and putting the battle in the context of the return of The Ogre to mainland Europe from Elba.

I have included the photos of the uniforms at the end of this post for those interested 

The museum provides the access to the Butte du Lion. The impressive view from the top gives you an idea of the battlefield lay-out, which unfortunately has suffered lots of changes since the days of the battle. The following panoramic photo from the Butte is a good illustration
(click to enlarge)
The Plaque at the top

La Haye Sainte Farm from the Butte

And proving that we were really ther!! :-)
At the foot of the Butte you can find the building called the "Panorama" hosting a 360º painting depicting the (ineffective?) glorious charges of the French cavalry against the Allied infantry squares and artillery batteries. 

The paints are from 1911, almost 100 years after the battle; but the historical accuracy of the uniforms is astonishing.


(click each photo to enlarge)

Ney, the bravest of the brave!

After a break for lunch we then moved to scout some of the remarkable places of the battlefield. We passed by La Haye Sainte as the building is in private hands and not open to public; being on the main road to Brussels it was difficult to park even to take pictures.

Therefore we drove to the extreme of the Allied left flank, the Papelotte farm. The building seems to remain more or less as in the time of the battle. 
(click to enlarge)

The thick brick walls and the large enclosure represented a kind of a small heavy fortification, working as sting ahead of the main Allied army line; the building remained in Allied hands until the German troops emerged from the left. Standing on the site is when one truly understand the difficulties faced by the Durrutte`s division to take the compound.

The road to La Papelotte links with the former Chemin d'Ohain, along which the Allied troops deployed in the battle. In the photo below, Wellington troops would stand on the right while the direction of attack of the French would be to the left; although not too clearly perceived in the photo, the French would have to ascend a long slow to clash with the Allied army. The building seen in the photo is La Haye Sainte. 

Next, we moved to Plancenoit, where a major battle developed late in the day between the arriving Prussians and the last reserves of the French Army. Here's is where the French Young Guard resisted around the village's church and cementery until being overwhelmed by the number of Prussians; and also where a single battalion of the Old Guard Grenadiers charged and expelled (temporarily though) the Prussian troops, caught by surprise by the ferocity of the Guards.

(click to enlarge)

And here is the famous and constested church, located on top of a small hill

French memorial

Memorial of the Young Guard

Memorial to the Prussian Troops

 This is the view from the village where the Prussian emerged, behind the memorial.

Our final visit of the day was to Hougomont Farm, one of the most remarkable sites of the battle. As you know the attack on the farm developed into a battle within th battle, absorbing an increasing number of French troops under command of Bonaparte's brother Jerome within Jerome's Corps.

(click to enlarge)

The farm and the surrounding landscape have significantly changed over the last 200 years. Many of the original buildings within the compound have disappeared and the whole site had fallen into an alarming state of decay by the beginning of the century.

Hougomont plan in 1815

Luckily, an initiative called Project Hougomont led by the actual Duke of Wellington and supported by relevant names like the writer Bernard Cornwell of Sharpe's fame or the British military historian Richard Holmes, has restored the buildings and ground, making it now a must-stop visit for anyone coming to Waterloo. I also recommend reading The Longest Afternoon  before visiting the site, an almost minute-by-minute story of the fight for Hougumont published a few months ago.

The South Gate

The south wall and the loopholes made by the defenders. These were the original holes fo 1815, later reinforced and preserved in the Victorian age; they have survived until today.


In the photograph above you can see the Butte in the horizon, marking the main Allied Army line. The photo is taken from the French troops attacking position

This area was covered originally with woods, but agricultural use of land has deforested most of the site. The following are the last surviving old chestnuts, also preserved as part of the Project Hougomont.

This is the site of the famous north gate of Hougomont, with the new memorial erected for the 200th anniversary celebration.

 Some views inside the farm

The building in the middle of the photo are the remnants of the chapel. The one at the end witrh the blue roof is the South Gate from inside.

The next photos are form the site of the great orchard and the formal garden existing at the time of the battle.
The south wall

View from the loophole

French Memorial

 The battlefield view from over the south wall, looking into de French lines...

...and looking into the Allied lines


And to conclude this most emotional first day of our tour, nothing like testing the local products

Final notes
To prepare this trip, I have been reading a pile of books that I happily share with you. 
About Waterloo, in addition to The Longest Afternoon I stronglty recommend Barbero's the Battle and Cornwell's Waterloo. A must-buy is the Waterloo Battlefiled guide written by David Buttery and published by Pen & Sword.

Uniforms Collection at the Waterloo Museum




  1. You must remember the Lion Mound used a load of soil from the battlefield and has changed the topography considerably

  2. The general understanding in the UK that the Butte de Lion commemorates the location on the battlefield of Waterloo where a musket ball hit the shoulder of William II of the Netherlands (the Prince of Orange) and knocked him from his horse during the battle.

  3. Great stuff. I was there this June. One small point: The Longest Afternoon is about the fight for La Haye Sainte and in particular the role of the KGL not about Hougoment. I thoroughly recommend it though.

  4. Really awesome to see. Thanks for sharing your pictures.

  5. Very nice, I really enjoyed the photos.