Waterloo: Combat and Combat Surgery on a Napoleonic Battlefield

Professor Tony Pollard

Current World Archaeology, April 2020

Two battles were fought at Waterloo on 18 June 1815. One, wages by soldiers in the three armies that clashed that day, turned on taking lives; the other – fought just as desperately – was by field surgeons racing against time to save lives. Now survey and excavation are shedding new light on both sides of this ferocious struggle, as WU Archaeological Director Professor Tony Pollard reveals.

In 2019, Waterloo Uncovered began excavations at Mont-Saint-Jean, a farmhouse which Wellington chose to be the main Allied field hospital for his troops in 1815. An estimated 6000 wounded soldiers passed through the doors of Mont-Saint-Jean, although it is not known how many the field surgeons were able to save – there was, after all, no understanding of bacterial infection, and wounds caused by musket balls, cannon-shots, sabres and lances often quickly became infected. In this article, Tony describes the archaeological discoveries unearthed in the summer of 2019, when Waterloo Uncovered excavated the field hospital of Mont-Saint-Jean for the first time.