Waterloo part 2 – Balls and Battles

So the ball and the battle? Well I said I’d write about those next so that’s what I’m going to do.
As I’m sure you all know, in 1815 on June 17th there was a big ball held in Brussles; the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball. And at this ball many of the British officers were attending, as well as all the high and mighty people of society who were present. And it was during this ball that a messenger came with the news that Napoleon’s army was getting close, and Lord Wellinton (who was also at the ball) informed all the guests that they would be marching out that very night, but not before finishing off the last dance.

It’s probably the most famous ball in history and during the year there have been quite a few Duchesse’s of Richmond’s balls around, but this one was the one that me and Andrew wanted to go to, becuase it was on the right day, in the right city.

Since we were staying at the camp we had to get changed and ready for the ball in a tent. That was a new experience for me, it’s not quite the same as fixing your hair and putting on all your finery in a hotel room. But it worked. We were taking the car from Waterloo and into Brussels and we had rather a nice experience along the way. As we got into Brussels we became a little unsure of which road to take, so we stopped by this service station and went inside to ask. Of course, when you are in costume you tend to always get attention or a reaction, but this time it was rather funny. At the service station there was the lady working there and two older gentlemen, who seemed to be hanging out there just chatting, and when they spotted us one of the gentelemen got incredibly excited and started shouting “Napoleon! Napoleon!” to Andrew. But then he realised he was in a British uniform and corrected himself; “No! Wellington! Wellington!” He was almost jumping up and down with excitement! We tried to ask for directions to this house where the ball was, but none of them spoke any English really and our French isn’t the best. So then the excited gentelman gestured for us to follow him outside, and then he hopped into the back of our car and said he’d show us the way! So he came with us for the rest of the drive, pointing which directions to go and when we arrived he just jumped out wished us a pleasant evening and, with another little excited “Wellington!” walked back in the direction we came from! It was just so sweet and nice and it was just one of those great moments of friendly and helpful people! That he was really tiny and had a true Asterix mustache just made it all the better!

Anyway, we arrived at this lovely house where the ball was. Had time to meet all the people we know there before the dancing was to start. It really was nice to see everyone again, so many people I haven’t met in so long! Even a lady who I met in LA 8 years ago, at a Victorian ball well before any of my Jane Austen events! Those are the times when I’m so happy and grateful there are things like Facebook which means you can keep in touch for all that time and distance!

The dancing was great, as usual. But also as often is the case it was very crowded and hot. But very fun! There was a fantastic performance by a Canadian Fife and Drum group (I cannot remember the name of them…) and the Duke of Wellington was there giving speeches and, of course, towards the end of the evening, informing us of Napoleon’s arrival and that there was to be a battle, at a place called Waterloo.

It felt very special to be part of this historic event, and I’m so glad we were able to get tickets to go!

Andrew in the garden of the house where the ball was

Dancing. See what I mean about it being crowded?

All rights reserved by Phil Thomason for this beautiful image. I don’t have many photos of me from this ball, but here at least you can see my new dress 

Another picture that I love. All rights reserved for this one by Michel Van Reysen

And the battle? Well there were actually two battles; one on the Friday and one on the Saturday. I was fortunate enough to get to see both of them, which I was very happy  about.

For the first battle I marched with the soldiers, together with the rest of the camp followers who were to watch. The battlefield was a couple of kilometers away from the camp but I think it took us like 1 ½ – 2 hours to get there! For one reason because it takes a long time to get thousands of people from one place to another, but then there was also this bridge that we had to cross and that had broken when they had dragged one of the cannons over it! So we just had to patiently wait while they mended the bridge again!

 

The Nordic Battalion marching off to battle

It was quite an amazing feeling walking on to that battlefield. Even though we weren’t to take part we had to cross the whole field to get to the area where the camp followers were to sit. The field was massive and around it were these big stands for the audience, 60 000 spectators per battle!

Entering the battlefield. Hougoumont farm to the right

The Duke of Wellington with Hougoumont farm in the background (not the real one, just the one for the battle)

Nordic Battalion once again. Observe some of the audience in the background

This is where us camp followers got to sit

I managed to get a photo of Andrew as I walked past on the battlefield. He’s in the middle, with his head turned to the right.

They started off by playing very loud music on loud speakers, which I must say although it did sound pretty epic felt a little unnecessary. It wasn’t a show as such but a historical re-creation of a battle! But at least they didn’t keep the music going for very long.

From where we sat we had a pretty good view of the battlefield, that is until the fighting started! Then most of the field was swallowed up in a big cloud of gunpowder smoke. I now know exactly what they mean when they talk about the fog of war!

But we could still see of course. The second day even more so because then they had moved the action a little bit closer to the audience and we could feel the ground shake from the cannons firing around us and the horses thundering past! It was truly epic and amazing! I kinda wish I had actually been part of the battle itself and not just a spectator, but even being a spectator was incredible! And from what I’ve heard from those who were in the fighting it was all fantastic and felt so real at times that they almost forgot it was only pretend. Andrew said that when the horses came charging at their line you were terrified for real, and I can sure imagine it!

As with any event of this size and style of coruse there are injuries. And Waterloo was no different. There were gunpowder burns, fractured bones, people falling of horses and accidentally being slashed with swords (which though blunt would still hurt if you were hit by one). Ambulance was on stand by at all times and I have to say the medical service did a great job at this event (I can say so from personal experience since I managed to stupidly chop my own thumb with an axe and was sent to hospital..). But the scariest moment for me was when we were watching the battle and right infront of us this man falls of his horse but is caught by his foot in the stirrups. The horse of course freaked out and started charging around, with the poor man being bashed around left right and center. It looked like he kept being stepped on and people were trying to stop the horse. Everyone kept their breath and honestly we thought he was gone. But then he came loose, got to his feet and jumped right back onto the horse again as if nothing had happened! The whole audience cheered! But that was a bit too realistic to be comfortabel!

Before the smoke had completely covered everything

Cavalry in the distance

I loved the fact that it was in a field of crops like this, just made it feel all the more authentic!

Fire!

A thin line of red. The French were on the other end of the field, so I didn’t really get any photos of them

Beautiful, beautiful horses! 

The other farm house in the distance, that I sadly can’t remember the name of…

I’m rather proud of this picture, even though I know Isabel got one that was even better 😉 

With this one I like how clearly all the cross belts stand out!

I have a couple of short videos that I filmed while watching the battle as well that I thought I’d share. Just so you can get some sound and movement to the whole thing too 🙂

Sorry the quality isn’t better though 🙁

And that my dear friends really sums up my experience of the Waterloo 200 reenactment. I’m so glad I participated, I don’t know if there will ever be another event on this scale in my life time. But if it isn’t, at least I can say I was part of this one! And now I cannot wait for another reenactmetn!

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2 Responses to Waterloo part 2 – Balls and Battles

  1. Quinn says:

    How exciting to see the pictures of the battle! It certainly sounds like an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Best,
    Quinn

  2. Priscilla .W says:

    Wow, looks like a scene right out of the movies! The magnitude and scale of this “battle” is quite impressive! For those of us who did not get to go, your pictures bring it to life. A battle AND a ball….hmmm….now why does that strike me as ironic? Can’t help but think of that quote. “All is fair in love and war.” Thanks can’t for sharing and excellent photos.

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