Waterloo Weekend Diary: Weapons, Women and Wet Weather

#WaterlooWeekend Open Day

The working week may be over, but a group of veterans, archaeologists and students donned their hi-vis jackets regardless yesterday morning. Their destination was Hougoumont farm, and not even a brief spell of torrential rain could stop them! On Saturday we held our annual #WaterlooWeekend open day event, where we opened up the gates of Hougoumont – slightly less dramatically than the French did in 1815 – to interested members of the public. Visitors were greeted by Waterloo Uncovered co-founder Major Charlie Foinette, who explained to all those unfamiliar with the project the value of Waterloo Uncovered in expanding our archaeological knowledge of the battle, as well as in supporting our hard-working veteran participants.

A reenactor in the uniform of a Dutch/Belgian cavalryman and the British Ambassador to Belgium Martin Shearman listen to Phil Harding’s explanation of this year’s findings at Hougoumont. Photo by Emma de Graaf.

In what was once the formal garden of Hougoumont farm, an exciting range of activities had been put on for visitors, set up by a team of volunteers who gave up their weekend to help out, and organised by UCL students Danae Divaris, Natalie De La Torre Salas and Kate Scott. Visitors were particularly excited by the dynamic pop-up museum, which displayed some of our most exciting finds from our 5 seasons of excavation, including the 6-pound cannonball found earlier this week.  The pop-up museum also held a display of heart-breaking letters sent from Waterloo soldiers to their families and sweethearts back home. Artist Teresa Beth Hough displayed a variety of beautiful paintings she had completed while observing Waterloo Uncovered in 2018. which perfectly captured the hard work of dig participants as well as the beauty of the Waterloo battlefield. As part of the museum, visitors of all ages enjoyed a card game designed by UCL student Natalie, in which the player assumed the role of a surgeon at Waterloo, and had to choose which historical treatment would be best to keep their wounded soldiers alive. In the midst of battle and overwhelmed by the sheer number and brutality of the injuries arriving at your hospital, what treatment would you chose for a musket ball wound, or a broken leg? Bleeding, trepanning (drilling into the skull) – or amputation, without anaesthetic?

Professor Tony Pollard addresses visitors at the open day. Photo by Emma de Graaf.

We were joined once more on Saturday by the fantastic Coldstream Guards 1815 reenactment group  – you may remember them from Day 5’s dig diary:

The presence of the Coldstream Guards 1815 let visitors contextualise some of our finds and added some colour to the day – essentially bringing the archaeology to life in front of them. Visitors were able to see an accurately recreated British camp, complete with an open fire one of the reenactors cooked over. The Coldstream Guards 1815 gave a fantastic period weaponry demonstration, showing how soldiers would have cleaned, prepared and fired their muskets. Attendees also had the opportunity to fire a Brown Bess musket themselves!

Clive Jones oversees the firing of Brown Bess muskets by members of the Coldstream Guards 1815 reenactment group. Photo by Alex Cauvi.

Elsewhere in the formal garden, a team of archaeologists and veterans were braving the rain to dig a small trench near the so-called ‘Killing Zone’ at Hougoumont. This allowed visitors who were new to archaeology to see what the process entailed, and even to try their hand at digging, no matter their level of experience. Looking over the group of volunteers, archaeologists, veterans and reenactors who put on the open day, Danae told us how proud she was of all the effort put in to making it a success:

“I’m really amazed at how well the team works together. Everyone is ready to do everything – it’s not as if people stick only to the task they’re given. It really demonstrates the team spirit.”

Our visitors included archaeologists, holidaymakers and local families, as well as one rather special guest: Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Belgium, Martin Shearman. With the other visitors, he was given a tour of Hougoumont farm and its history by Professor Tony Pollard, and was invited to examine the trench by the north gate that archaeologist Phil Harding was still diligently working in – even on a Saturday! Impressed by the open day, HMA Shearman told us:

“I have read some books on the battle before coming here, but actually hearing about it in this way has truly brought it alive for me.”

Major Charles Foinette (far-left), Coldstream Guards 1815 leader Clive Jones (left), British Ambassador to Belgium Martin Shearman (middle), a Coldstream Guards 1815 reenactor (right) and Professor Tony Pollard (far-right). Photo by Emma de Graaf.

HMA Shearman has only been the Ambassador to Belgium for less than two weeks, and visiting the Waterloo Weekend was “actually one of the first things I have done as an ambassador to Belgium.” We hope our open day was a nice way to start his new position!

Women of Waterloo: The Board Game

Elsewhere at Hougoumont, an exciting meeting was taking place between historical novelist Katy Moran, archaeologist Stuart Eve, game designer Juan Hiriart and artist Beth Collar. The team plan to develop an innovative board game to tell the stories of a forgotten group: the women of Waterloo. While a plethora of historical and archaeological research has been carried out on the Peninsular War and the subsequent Battle of Waterloo, our knowledge of the role women played in the period is sparse, at best.

Only 6 wives, drawn by lot, were allowed to accompany each band of 100 British soldiers – although many more women may have unofficially followed the march across the Iberian Peninsula. While there are records of the lives of officer’s and aristocrat’s wives, including several personal accounts from the women themselves, lower class women are almost invisible in the history of the Peninsular war. The wives of low-ranking soldiers would have almost all been illiterate, and so poor that they would not have had the resources to record their stories even if they could write.
The vast majority of women go unremarked upon in contemporary accounts, with the exception of women who were killed, injured or widowed in unusual circumstances. One such case is that of Elizabeth McMullen, whose leg was shattered by a musket ball while carrying a wounded soldier off the battlefield. Despite being heavily pregnant and severely injured, she returned to the battlefield to carry off her husband, who had been shot three times and had to have both of his arms amputated. Both survived, and when Elizabeth gave birth to a baby girl mere days later, she was christened Frederica McMullen of Waterloo with the Duke of York as her godfather.

A life-size model of Elizabeth McMullen and her husband Private Peter McMullen at
Enniskillen Castle. Photo by Ross Fernie via BBC News NI.

The women who accompanied their husbands on campaign were known as ‘camp followers’, and were vital to the war effort. The women took on a variety of roles including maintaining the camps, cooking, washing and repairing uniforms, caring for the wounded and raising children. Some women even disguised themselves as soldiers and took to the battlefield, while others were engaged in prostitution, looting and trade. Camp followers dragged themselves, along with their children and worldly possessions on gruelling marches toward situations that posed enormous personal risks. But the contributions and complex lives of these women – their suffering, happiness, hardships and heroism – have been all but forgotten in the annals of history.

British soldiers, women and children marching during the Peninsular War.
‘Soldiers on a March’, 1811 by George Moutard Woodward, held by the National Army Museum.

Based on extensive research into the lives of women between 1807 and 1815, the project will shine a light on the invisible women of Waterloo through fun and engaging gameplay. The team aim to create a narrative throughout the game which gives a realistic view of the lives of women during the Peninsular War and Waterloo Campaign which does not shy away from accurately depicting the horrific conditions and hardships they would have faced. The player will be able to engage with these untold stories in an empathetic way, by playing as the wife of a soldier who must make her way through the Peninsular War and onto Waterloo in a fight for safety and survival.

“History is no longer just a chronicle of kings and statesmen, of people who wielded power, but of ordinary women and men engaged in manifold tasks. Women’s history is an assertion that women have a history.”

Toshiko Kishida

The project is still in its early stages, but stay tuned for more updates as the game takes shape in the coming months…

Writing for Recovery

On Friday afternoon, Dutch volunteer Amee Zoutberg organised a creative writing workshop for our Dutch veterans and students. Writing down thoughts and feelings can be an excellent therapeutic tool, particularly for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which some of our veterans suffer from. The Dutch team took part in a freewriting exercise where they wrote down anything that came into their heads, transferring their trains of thought directly onto paper. The aim was to encourage the team to get into writing without worrying too much about the content or structure of their piece – all they had to do was write whatever came to them.

Dutch students and veterans take part in a creative writing workshop. Photo by Chris van Houts.

The participants produced short ‘diary entry’ style pieces that discussed their feelings about Waterloo Uncovered, archaeology and their own recovery – stay tuned to read some of those accounts in the coming days! We hope the participants enjoyed their foray into writing, and that the lines written in the workshop form the beginnings of a new chapter –
and maybe even a successful writing career – for those who took part.

We hope everyone who came out to the open day had a great time – if you couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year instead. Stay tuned as we start our second week of excavation – we’re expecting it to be even more exciting than our first!