As the first week of Waterloo Uncovered 2019 draws to a close, the sites of Hougoumont and Mont-Saint-Jean have once more been been overrun by British redcoats.
Today’s visitors are members of the Coldstream Guards 1815 group, a military and living history society dedicated to the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards. The Coldstream Guards are the oldest infantry regiment in continuous service in the British Army and are fiercely proud of their role at the Battle of Waterloo.
Coldstream Guards 1815 aim for complete historical accuracy in their reenactment, and intend to create an exciting and realistic experience for members of the group and those who come to watch the demonstrations. The group endeavour to recreate all aspects of military life, including the living conditions of the soldiers – they camp outside during their events and cook their meals over an open fire, and no electronic devices are allowed during reenactments. Coldstream Guards 1815 are an inclusive group and have roles for men, women and children – they recognise that people of all ages and genders would have been present around the battlefields of the era, with women and children following the regiments on campaigns, and often looking after the wounded after a battle; their lives and vital work should not be forgotten just because they weren’t soldiers.
Clive Jones, who runs Coldstream Guards 1815, always had a passion for history but decided to become a soldier himself, spending 14 years as a Welsh Guard. The Welsh Guards had not been established at the time of the Battle of Waterloo, so when he decided to get involved in reenactment, Clive joined a Coldstream Guards group instead. But he is not the only veteran in the living history society group:
“We have a whole selection of ex-servicemen within the group. We’re lucky with that, because those ex-soldiers bring an ‘air’ of soldiers to the camp, so then the civilians who have no military experience can learn from the soldiers.”
Clive was aware of Waterloo Uncovered through his group’s links to the real Coldstream Guards regiment. Coldstream Guards 1815 were involved in the first ever Waterloo Uncovered season in 2015, where they gave demonstrations of weapons of the period, including the British Brown Bess musket, to the participating veterans, who in return showed the reenactment group their most exciting finds.
Clive next encountered the Waterloo Uncovered project at Chalke Valley History Festival in Wiltshire, England three years ago. Competing with living history displays, firing demonstrations and tanks, Clive felt that Waterloo Uncovered’s display was not getting the attention it deserved:
“People were walking past, and I thought: this isn’t right! This is really good stuff. So we went round there and showed up in uniform, with the guns, to add a bit of colour to it. All of a sudden, people started coming in.”
Coldstream Guards 1815 have attended Chalke Valley History Festival to help out Waterloo Uncovered every year since. Their help in raising awareness of our project has been invaluable, and Clive feels, in return, our archaeologists have helped increase the historical accuracy of the reenactments at Hougoumont, saying we have “completely rewritten a lot of what we know about what happened at Hougoumont.” As a former serviceman, Clive also understands how valuable the work of Waterloo Uncovered is in supporting its veteran participants.
“The help they’re giving to the veterans is spectacular. I’m a veteran myself so I know where they’re coming from. Where people have got PTSD, once depression gets you it’s a downward spiral and trying to stop that spiral and get back up again…sometimes it feels like its’s impossible. Being involved in Waterloo Uncovered, sitting down in a trench with a trowel and a brush and just scraping away – it grounds people, and they’re able to put the world to one side, box it off, calm down and move on.”
Clive shares his hopes for the future of Waterloo Uncovered:
“It would be great if they could do more of it, if they had the funding and the backing behind them. I really hope the charity grows and expands in the years to come. Anything we can do to help them, we will gladly do.”
The Coldstream Guards regiment’s motto is ‘Nulli Secundus’, meaning ‘Second to None’. They are perhaps most famous for their role in the defence of Hougoumont farm on the 18th of June 1815, alongside members of the 2nd Nassau Regiment, 3rd Scots Guards and 1st Hanoverian Brigade.
One moment, above all, captures the drama and violence of the fight for Hougoumont. Nicknamed ‘L’Enfonceur’ or ‘The Smasher’ for his daring attack, Sous-Lieutenant Legros broke through the north gate wielding an axe, allowing 30 French soldiers to storm into the courtyard of the farm of Hougoumont. A small band of Allied soldiers led by Guardsmen Corporal James Graham and Lieutenant-Colonel James Macdonnell were left with little choice but to fight their way through the French in a desperate hand to hand battle. In a miraculous turn of events, the Allies were able to slam the gates shut and reinforce them with piles of timber in order to keep the French at bay. Left trapped and vulnerable, the French soldiers who had managed to break through were swiftly killed – though a young, unarmed French drummer boy was spared and hidden in a stable by Scots Guardsman Matthew Clay.
“The success of the battle turned upon closing the gates at Hougoumont”Lord Wellington
The reenactment group’s uniforms and equipment are handmade and are highly accurate, based on written accounts and paintings of the period, as well as archaeological evidence such as unearthed coat buttons. Earlier this week, serving Coldstream Guardsman Oliver Horncastle was lucky enough to find a Coldstream Guards button while digging at Hougoumont. Check out the fantastic moment Oliver shows archaeologist Phil Harding his find and explains what the discovery means to him:
Wearing their painstakingly recreated redcoats, the reenactors were joined by Sergeant Trevor Rafferty in his own red coat: the iconic scarlet uniform of the Chelsea Pensioners, which he wore to honour the fallen of Waterloo during our Reading to Remember event earlier this week:
If you would like to find out more about the Coldstream Guards 1815 group, check out their website here:
London Calling: Black Cab Visitors
Today, a very British sight could be seen in south Belgium: a convoy of black cabs! 6 taxis full of veterans and Officer Cadets drove all the way from London yesterday afternoon, in order to join us on site today. The visiting veterans were taken on a tour of the main museum on the Waterloo battlefield, Memorial 1815, which sits at the base of the Lion’s Mound. They then visited us at the farms of Mont-Saint-Jean and Hougoumont, where they were updated on our most exciting finds from the week and were even able to try their hand at digging!
The black cabs and their occupants were able to join us through the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, a charity which supports veterans by organising trips to concerts, museums, fundraising events and military reunions. Taxi Charity also organise international trips to Belgium, France and the Netherlands to visit various battlefields and military sites. These trips are made possible through donations, and through the kindness of the licensed London taxi drivers who volunteer their vehicles and time for free. To find out more about the work of Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, please visit their website:
The team, including our new visitors, soldiered on through the rain and thunderstorms that hit Mont-Saint-Jean this afternoon. Stay tuned for more updates as we begin our second week of digging – and watch out for a recap of tomorrow’s #WaterlooWeekend open day, held at Hougoumont farm!