Firstly, I’d like to thank Zack and Admin for their help concerning my first post:
Please note that the following has a copyright:
I will try to be as clear as possible concerning the forces on the ground, their activities, their mishaps and my objectives. Because of it, I apologize for the post being rather long.
As the storyline progresses, I’ll periodically integrate remarks validating the reason as to why I believe these men were wrongly accused and wrongly punished. The result, and your comments will be presented to the Ministry of Defence, with the aim of recovering their prestige; including their well-deserved Waterloo Medals for their respective Regiments.
MOD comment: The term ‘Courts-martial’ is not a punishment. The system is simply a military procedure in order to present the facts and have the Judges decide if a punishment should be carried out. In this case, all were punished in one way or another.
Only two men were sentenced to 300 lashes each for ‘cowardice,’ however, the remainder suffered loss of dignity, rank, promotions, a career, Waterloo Money, their names as ‘Waterloo Men’ and some, the added trauma of PTSD…, simply because they did not make it back in time before the closure of the North Gate.
As you can imagine…, a total scandal ! Initiated by a tantrum-motivated Officer because he didn’t have the required number of troops needed to garrison the farm.
As you will see, not only did these brave men stand their ground, but in doing so, they enabled the others to return to the farm unhindered. And in doing so…, they, probably saved the day !
In relation to all 3 Regiments…, I will use their modern-day abbreviations.
(Grenadier Guards GG / Scots Guards SG / Coldstream Guards CG)
Before I start, I’d like to thank John Franklin for providing me with the basic details of this event. Supplementary facts will be found in his book ‘The Struggle for Hougoumont.’ However, I was doing publicity throughout the Brigade in 2015 for this book and as John is now working with a New Zealand Director for a new Waterloo film; we may have to wait until 2021.
In the meantime, if he ever gets to read this, perhaps parts of it might help him with the mise-en-scene.
An overall view of the Hougoumont morning:
Firstly, I’d like to get something off my chest ! The battle did not start at 11h35; Wellington tells us in his Dispatch that it started at 10h00. (as per Napoleons’ wishes)
In addition, the term a “battle within a battle” is poppycock !
Now, with that out of the way, I must mention that there were only two breaches of the North Gate…, no more, no less ! Following the second and as the saying goes, (especially for the Guards) ‘once bitten, twice shy;’ means that the damaged North Gate would have been permanently barricaded for the remainder of the day, using farm equipment from the outhouses. In addition, the manpower for the northern platforms and loopholes would obviously have been stepped up. Of course, the northern courtyard ‘day’ is relatively short, because of the fires. As such, no Enemy in their right mind would have made a third attempt during the blaze.
As for the wounded; they would have used the exit through the formal garden’s hedge and following the fires, just after 13h00, Brewster, pulling gunpowder, would certainly have avoided the courtyard. So, he too would have used the orchard strip to unload.
(meaning that we can now eliminate the ‘spiced up’ painting !)
Concerning the other two breaches we know about:
The third would have been via the western byre door commanded by Lieutenant Sylvian Toulouse of the 2nd Btn 2e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne. (not soldiers of the 1st Léger) Meaning, that if there was a French Drummer Boy, he would certainly not have been with 1st Léger ! (skirmishers do not have drummers)
During this incursion, a distinction was added to Private William West’s service record for gallantry (SG) for the service he rendered at this moment in the byre. Offered probably for killing Toulouse and recommended to Dashwood in the Bruxelles hospital (alongside Capt. Evelyn) by Captain Erlington, who had been in charge of the group in the byre.
The fourth breach was the southern gate when the Enemy finally managed to get a howitzer into the paddock. (due to the fact that the French Horse Artillery were unable to move north through the wood) This bombardment damaged the south gate and tore a hole in the upstairs wall of the gardener’s house. Both incursions were unsuccessful !
Now, getting back to the Courts-martial: During the first breech of the North Gate, no Guards were involved because both the SG and CG Light Companies were in and along the wood’s northern perimeter. Lt. Col. Macdonnell on his charger oversaw the morning’s operation, and he had another two Lt Cols; Dashwood (SG) and Wyndham (CG) who were in charge of the two attack platoons.
The tactics :
So…, we have two Companies involved: (SG and CG) For easiness sake, we’ll say that each company has about 120 men. As usual, the company is divided in two to create two platoons…, one being the attack platoon while the other remains to the rear in support.
However, when in action, the attack platoon is once again divided into two sections. One becomes the advanced attack section, while the other support section remains behind them with their CO, other Officers, the Bugler and their Men. The job of the support section is to ensure that the dead, the wounded and those short of ammo are replaced. In the meantime, with the support PLATOON to the rear, their job is to keep the support section up to strength.
During such an advance, (in a wooded area) the attack sections advance ‘in chain.’ (taken from Rotenberg’s manual of military tactics and explained to me by Rod MacArthur. Thanks Rod; I only hope I well understood. Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
Advancing ‘in chain’ can be quite a complicated affair but in this case, because of the medieval wood and its easy manoeuvrability, it simply means that the men are in extended line. Meaning that with 2 attack sections numbering about 60 men, and depending on their spacing, they’d nearly span the width of the wood.
Note: The west side of the wood (the kitchen garden side) is particularly crowded with Enemy due to the closeness of the exterior hedge and rye field. (the SG being the closest, while the CG are to the east, near the paddock) This left/right position is ‘determined’ by the fact that Matthew Clay describes in detail, the haystack on the pastureland. (this being the ‘Killing Ground’) Meaning that the support platoons are immediately behind their respective COs.
Note: Indirectly, Clay also tells us here that the haystack is positioned near the kitchen garden; not near the crossroads to the east of the pastureland. Said, because later, he says; “suddenly, finding ourselves alone.” Had the stack been to the east near the lanes, then they would have witnessed the Guards during their retreat. However, during the mayhem, this was apparently not the case !
During Wellington’s second visit, he orders Lord Saltoun and his two GG Light Companies to the rear, while at the same time, transferring the CG from the farm and the SG from the sunken lane; with both being redeployed to the western kitchen garden. All three vacated positions are then reinforced with about 800 Dutch and German troops.
This must have been about 09h00 because they were already in position for 10h00; as Captain Büsgen tells us that it needed some time to get the new arrivals installed throughout the farm. In addition, Clay also tells us that the Guards remained kneeling along the garden’s hedgerow for a “considerable length of time.”
At 10h00; Wellington sees the smoke from hundreds of muskets and rifles, billowing towards him from the southern hedgerow of the paddock and the southern orchard. (at 3 rounds per minute per man)
This southerly wind is EXTREMELY important…, and it’s confirmed by Wellington when writing a letter to Macdonnell, saying that “the fire has spread from the southern haystack to the great barn.” Impossible, of course…, but from the ridge, it probably looked that way. In the meantime, what he’s really telling us here is the direction of the wind !
Lol…, something has just occurred to me ! Wellington was no fool; and to write a letter saying that the barn is ablaze BECAUSE of the southern haystack would have been ridiculous; had the French Horse Artillery already commenced their bombardment. Had the bombardment already started, then he wouldn’t have blamed the haystack !
This means that both the haystack and the barn were accidently ignited by 3 ‘flashes in the pan’ per minute; by each defender firing from the rafters and through the barn’s ventilation holes.
No straw in the chateau…, so that building was set on fire by the artillery.
The 3 platoons are now kneeling in line along the western garden’s hedgerow. (on the other side of this hedge is the western rye field and more French skirmishers are approaching)
Dashwood is probably level with the SW corner of the gardener’s house. Kneeling further south would have been imprudent, not just because of the Allied rifles in the gardener’s house; but from this position, the white horse of Cubières could probably be seen milling about, near the northern perimeter of the southern orchard.
Behind Dashwood’s attack platoon is Wyndham’s attack platoon. And behind Wyndham is Dashwood’s support platoon commanded by Ensign Standen. Among Standen’s 60-odd men is Sgt Ralph Fraser carrying his halberd. A halberd, (or half pike) because that morning, he belonged to HQ Company and was transferred at the same time as the Allies; otherwise, he would have had a musket like all the other Light Company sergeants. Also with him are Matthew Clay plus his Old Soldier Robert Gann. (Gann…, to become Wellington’s future servant at ‘Number One London’; Wesley House) In those days, the soldiers usually worked in pairs; one learning from the other.
To the rear and lining the farm’s northern wall is Wyndham’s support platoon, commanded by Ensign Gooch…, he’s along this wall because the hedgerow in the garden is not long enough. (especially with the northern tip of the garden being under water) Had it not been under water, there may have been enough room for his platoon.
Note: Near the water’s edge is a clover stack which Clay and Gann will eventually use to return fire, just before entering the farm. (confirming the presence of the Enemy near the western door…, in readiness for the second breech of the North Gate)
Now, as Bob Burnham can confirm, the Allies didn’t build any defences in the wood, despite ‘turning their thumbs’ for the past 24 hours. (I’d love to lose focus here and suggest why…, however, details of that gambit will be in my book) However, to contradict the Guards Officer who described the non-defence of the wood being due to a lack of entrenching tools; it must be noted that the French Horse Artillery never made it up to the northern perimeter of the wood. Had they done so; the farm wouldn’t have lasted for more than an hour. As such and especially with two ‘navigable’ lanes, the lanes must obviously have been blocked by fallen trees.
Because of this ‘non-defensive situation,’ the 10h00 French advance into the wood must have been a relatively ‘easy’ affair. (especially with the Allies being outnumbered) This means that the time needed to push the Allies back from their leafy-loopholes to the great orchard, couldn’t have lasted longer than 45 minutes. (so; our pocket watches now indicate 10h45 to 11h00)
Lol…, Napoleon’s centre artillery gunners are still turning their thumbs; despite having just lost a General.
Note: Jérôme didn’t use any artillery on the farm during the morning.
The attack :
With the Enemy now by the wood’s northern perimeter, the sharpshooters from the gardener’s house, chateau, its tower and the loopholed wall open fire.
Note: Only those manning the wall to the west, near the southern gate can see the wood. This is due to southern lane’s long hedgerow which extends to the crossroads, obscuring any view of the of the wood for the remainder of the troops along the wall.
Macdonnell, from the NW corner, (next to Gooch) signals the charge !
At this point, I’m not quite sure if both platoons cross the garden to jump the wooden fence before moving up the lane…, however, I’d be inclined to say yes; simply because Clay describes the lane when following Standen.
Anyway, Dashwood and Wyndham advance and in doing so, the firing stops from the gardener’s house. (for obvious reasons) As they approach while firing and reloading on the move, Dashwood heads towards the western side of the wood…, Wyndham to the east.
On entering, each platoon divides in two. The two attack sections form up ‘in chain’ with each support section grouped behind them. Macdonnell then trots up and probably stops by the crossroads. Since both platoons are now well into the wood, he knows that this is a relatively safe position to supervise the attack. Note; he has no bugler ! To his left, he has the southern lane and to his extreme right he has the haystack…, while to his front, he has a forked road with the two lanes moving south. The one on the left leads towards La Belle Alliance at Plancenoit, while the other crosses the southern orchard before moving towards Genappe. As such, both lanes divide the wood in three.
From here, Macdonnell then signals to Standon. Standon then orders Drummer Brodie to sound the advance. Gooch hears the call and orders his platoon to follow Standen up the lane.
Note: John Franklin is wrong at this point when he tells us that Gooch remained by the corner. The main reason for that theory is pure military logic. No platoon can consider itself in support, if it can’t see or communicate with its CO. Note; Gooch didn’t have a bugler because the CG only had one, and he, Drummer Hinchley would have been alongside Col. Wyndham.
In fact, when you stand by that NW corner of the farm, the trunks of the trees in the wood would have been out of sight, principally due to the uphill slope having a horizon. Beyond its horizon and with another 50 yards to go in order to get to the wood, means that if Gooch remained by the NW corner, he’d be totally isolated. (I have more proof that he advanced; but that will be explained in my book) Lol…, as John often says !
As such, Standen (SG) lines his support platoon along the pastureland behind Dashwood, while Gooch (CG) lines the southern lane behind Wyndham.
Note: Neither Standon nor Gooch will ever enter the wood !
At this point, I’m not going into detail as to how Lt. Col. Macdonnell got to know about the breach of the North Gate, suffice it to say that when he found out about the infraction, he probably urinated his britches. His orders from Wellington only a couple of hours beforehand, was that the farm should never fall.
Note: The bugle sheet music for the Allies in the farm is not the same as the Guards. So, Büsgen’s bugler serves no purpose in such a situation.
Now, what he does at this moment is of vital importance. He has two choices ! One, save the farm; or two, maintain his support for the two front-line attack sections, who are now in hand-to-hand combat.
Unfortunately, Macdonnell decides to save the farm (and his rank) and in doing so, he ‘abandons ship.’ In addition and to make matters worse, he also orders Standon and Gooch to follow him…, leaving the two support sections and their COs without reinforcements: (had I been one of the two Colonels ‘in the Mess’ that night…, I’d have given him a right bollocking. Especially taking into consideration that not only were ‘we’ both seriously wounded because of his action, but our dead Guardsmen outnumbered the dead French in the farm.)
Anyway, with the advanced platoons being totally unaware about the situation and heavily outnumbered, they bugle-back for reinforcements. But there’s no response !
The COs, the Officers and the Drummers are now obliged to draw their swords.
Now, in order to give Macdonnell the benefit of the doubt, he obviously thought that he’d be unable to do anything on his own…, especially as he was unaware if the breech was section-strength, or the whole of the French Army. As such, he orders Standen and Gooch to follow him.
However, this, is his MOD Achilles Heel ! He abandoned ship; he left the two attack platoons stranded; and with no bugle sheet music (according to Kneller Hall) to signal a change in command or ‘Enemy to the Rear,’ he relies on Brodie to update the two COs. (explanation later) Then, while in the safety of the farm and in a senior-officer tantrum because he was short of men for its defence; he had the audacity to Courts-martial the attack sections who were obliged to return to their Battalions.
Concerning the retreat and unless we create a Monty Python situation, (“hold on Froggies, don’t shoot until we’re out of sight”) then these men can’t just ground-arms and run…, otherwise, they’ll all be shot in the back. So, from experience, their NCOs know they are obliged to continue firing and reloading while walking backwards. However, this take time ! Something our Heroes don’t have and Macdonnell knew fool well about such a situation !
As the support platoons retreat, the attack platoons are totally unaware about the situation and more especially the change in command. As such and before leaving, Standen obviously tells Drummer Brodie to sound ‘Call in the Skirmishers.’ However, we have a southerly wind, plus the cries of pain, bugles, whistles, the rattle of musket fire, smoke, confusion, bawling NCOs and the treetops rustling…, means it would have been impossible for Brodie’s bugle to be heard.
Note: I suppose one must be a Drummer, Piper or Musician to understand that when blowing into the wind, the sound is carried backwards. (being the reason why a rear Company of a Battalion on the march can sometimes find themselves out of step) Brodie and Standen knew this, so, there’s every possibility that Brodie was ordered forward as a runner, to inform the two COs verbally, concerning the change in command. More time wasted ! Again, not their fault !
What’s more, Drummer Hinchley (CG) has just been wounded, so there’s every possibility that he’d be unable to bugle-in his attack section comrades. Again, not, their fault !
If this was the case, then Brodie must find the COs ! As both COs are now seriously wounded…, are they on their backs in the ferns ? If so, how much time will it need to find them and have them change the command to Captain Erlington…, and even more time lost to inform the advanced attack sections that they should start retreating. Again…, not their fault !
By now, Macdonnell is probably forcing his log under the lock of the North Gate.
In the meantime, the two support sections manage to make it back in time, simply because our Heroes are keeping up the firepower. While all this is going on, the French are gathering force on the NW corner of the wood and are now slowly encircling the remaining Guards.
Finally, the French filter into the kitchen garden probably using the haystack smoke to advance to the western door. (this is just prior to the second breech of the North Gate)
As the French gather and regroup, they receive the last few rounds from Clay and Gann as they fire from behind the clover stack. Both men then enter the farm and Clay tells us he saw Macdonnell carrying the log.
Due to the French build-up in the garden, this cuts the main line of retreat for the remainder of the Guards. Meaning that our Heroes must run the gauntlet along the southern lane, (moving east) past the enemy in the paddock and the orchard, before turning left to climb the ridge.
Independent of the Courts-martial: (just an additional point of interest)
When both support platoons are ordered to retreat, Cubières, like Ney on the main battlefield, becomes too enthusiastic and moves forward while encouraging his troops to advance. Unfortunately for him, as he approaches the western door, he encounters Fraser with his halberd. Then, doing what he had been trained to do, Fraser stabs the horse…, Cubières then falls to the ground. Fraser prepares to thrust; however, his Officers intervene to ‘cool him down’ and persuade him to spare the Colonel’s life.
A few years later, Cubières will thank the Guards for their compassion. A painting of the incident can be found in the SG Officer’s Mess at Aldershot. (soon to move back to Catterick)
An email from the Regimental Adjutant SG-RHQ:
“Dear Mr Wood,
Having consulted with both the President of our Regimental Historical Committee and with the Regimental Lieutenant Colonel, Brigadier Harry Nickerson, (the Duke of Kent’s office at St James’s) I am pleased to report that they are content for you to use Sergeant Fraser’s picture in your book.
Yours sincerely…, James Kelly
Major J R Kelly
Regimental Adjutant Scots Guards”
Despite Major Kelly telling me that I was probably “flogging a dead horse,” I have a meeting with an MoD Lawyer and the above information (and more) will be presented in order to ask for advice. The outcome of that visit will be explained here, and in my book.
In the meantime, I love criticism ! If anyone believes there’s an error in the above, I’d appreciate your remarks before I go to print.
And more especially, if anyone can assist with info concerning such a medal-recovery venture, I’d also like to hear from you.
Thank you for your patience.
Kind ReGuards…, Iain.