Tuesday, 23 June 2015

WATERLOO 2015 - One author's experience of the bicentenary, from 18th – 21st June 2015

Artillery - where is Lord Randall?
One would think, having made a battlefield tour years ago and then going over it all again when I wrote A LADY FOR LORD RANDALL, I would have had enough of Waterloo, but I could not miss the chance to be there for the recent Bicentenary. 

I joined a small party to travel to Waterloo for the commemoration events taking place to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle. It was a convivial group, about 28 of us; some from England, the rest
Me and the Scots Greys....
from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA. Our party also included at least seven descendants of people who had served at Waterloo, so we all had a strong interest in history and the battle. With estimates that a quarter of a million visitors were expected to descend on the area, we were quite prepared for crowds and disruption (or "risques de perturbations" as one road-sign advised us). One shock was to find that the farm of Mont St Jean (which had been a military hospital during the battle) had been decorated with a large plastic beer-bottle on the roof - Waterloo beer specially brewed for the occasion!  A little more tasteful was the huge image of the Charge of the Scots Greys fixed over the doors!


Happy to pose....

In fact, although the crowds on the Saturday were enormous, most of the time we managed to get everywhere and do everything we wanted without too much queuing or delay. Or perhaps we were just well-organised!

We arrived on the Thursday, when the French and Allied bivouacs were already teeming with soldiers.  It really was like stepping back in time.  For the first hour or so it was "Ooh look at that fantastic outfit/uniform/dress," or "More soldiers, quick, take a photo!" but it was impossible to keep up and it wasn't long before we felt it was quite normal to be surrounded by colourfully dressed people. There were stalls selling everything from stamps and mugs to wines and even Napoleon's perfume! Also period dress, anything from Regency bonnets to full dress uniforms.
Farthingale's Historical Hats

Only the uniforms are for sale, madam.


Reports say there were up to 6,000 re-enactors, 300 horses and 100 cannon assembled for the battle, and there were also many more enthusiasts who had come as spectators and were happy to wander around in their Regency outfits. 

Practising for the battle

The re-enactors came from all over the world, the uniforms were superb and they were all so keen to show them off. The troops were split into two camps, the Allied Bivouacs gathered around Hougoumont, and the French Bivouacs a little further down the road, near Napoleon's last headquarters at Le Caillou.

Officers living in style

Quarters for ordinary soldiers & their wives

Truly international and a family affair

Just walking through the camps was hugely exciting, the air smelled of woodsmoke from the camp fires, soldiers paraded, marched or stood around in groups chatting. 

Here come the band!

"just in case the Prince of Orange should be wounded..."

 In one area we saw Hanoverian soldiers tying wooden poles to a door to make the stretcher for carrying the wounded Prince of Orange from the field (very prescient of them) while in quiet spaces the cavalry were tending to their horses.  As we gazed out over the sea of tents I was reminded of Lydia Bennett's delight at going to Brighton where there was a whole camp full of soldiers. Now I know how she felt!

"A whole camp full of soldiers!"

We visited Hougoumont and saw the new British memorial, officially unveiled by Prince Charles on the 18th June.  When we were there on the Friday (19th) the artillery were practising, so as we walked around the courtyard there was the ominous sound of gunfire – very atmospheric.
The walls of Hougoumont - a peaceful encounter

The new British memorial at Hougoumont
The re-enactments took place over two nights and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. The corn had
Skirmishers on the field
deliberately been left growing and although it was waist high, rather than the six foot crop we are told was there at the time of the actual battle, it did give a good idea of what the soldiers would have faced and provided a wonderful image when a single rider galloped across the field, leaving a shimmering wave of moving corn in his wake.

British Cavalry parading past the grandstands

Before the action started Napoleon and his entourage rode past the stands (we were not surprised that he received more cheers than boos). On the second night the Allied PR team had clearly decided they were losing the publicity battle so Wellington was persuaded to make a similar tour, waving his hat to the crowds and when he reached our stand he even made his horse rear dramatically, to huge cheers from the crowd. I suspect the Duke was not at all impressed with having to pander to the hoi polloi in such a way, but there, that's democracy for you!

The Duke - huzzah!

The spectator seating and standing areas were arranged around two sides of a small part of the original battlefield – the site of D'Erlon's attack against the Allied centre. One needed binoculars to see the action on the far side of the field, and unfortunately some in the southern-most seats had a very poor view because of the rise in the ground, but fortunately we had a good view of the battle – until the cannon started firing and everything was enveloped in smoke.

Hougoumont re-enactment

Cavalry in the corn
If anyone was hoping to learn about the battle in detail from the evening re-enactments then they were probably disappointed, but for an idea of the chaos, smoke, confusion and noise of early 19th century warfare, it was brilliant. The organisers had arranged for models of Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte and Pancenoit to be built on the battlefield and various actions took place around these structures . I know some of the re-enactors were disappointed that the spectators would not see much, given the size of the battlefield and the smoke from the guns, but I thought it all added to the drama of the occasion and helped one to imagine just how it must have been on the day. On more than one occasion we were asking each other what on earth was going on, and it can't have been much different for the men and officers back in 1815, the smoke was too thick to make out uniforms and whole divisions could be hidden from view.  During the re-enactment, the number of troops engaged in fighting around the model of Hougoumont gave some idea of the hard-fought original battle, where 3,000 Allied soldiers kept 13,000 of Napoleon's troops at bay. At times the action here was a little too enthusiastic, and the plywood walls collapsed!
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – we saw skirmishers and the first troops on the field literally wading through the waist-high corn, we watched in awe as a seemingly never-ending column of men and horses moved across the skyline to take up their positions, we heard the cheers, the bugle-calls and drums.  Through the smoke we saw soldiers form square before a cavalry attack and watched the orange flash moving across a line of infantrymen as they fired a volley. The 300 horses taking part looked magnificent although there were a few worrying moments when we saw a couple of riderless horses galloping off the field – clearly they did not like the gunfire.  For me one of the most surprising experiences of the re-enactment was before the action had begun, when a party of officers galloped past. I expected the ground to shake with the thunder of hooves, but instead what I was most aware of was the hiss of the corn hitting the riders' boots and stirrups (look out for that in future books!).  Another surprise was how resilient the corn proved. In the area near our grandstand, where there were small skirmishes and some artillery action, the corn was almost intact even after the two nights, although I imagine where the main action took place, including the marching columns of the Imperial Guard and the cavalry charges, the corn would have been flattened.  We didn’t have the mud that the original soldiers experienced, either, but no one complained about that!
If you are wondering why I haven't many pictures of the battle....

Of course, it was on a much smaller scale than the real battle – this was a mere 5,000 troops putting on a show for two hours a night, whereas in the real battle over 100,000 men fought for over ten hours and left more than 40,000 dead and wounded. The smoke from just this relatively small number of guns threw a misty pall over us as we made our way back along the road to find our coach, and it was easy to imagine just how thick and black the smoke from  must have been in 1815.
For me, the re-enactments were fantastic, but they were only part of the whole experience. It was wonderful to be able to spend hours walking amongst the tents, to see the soldiers and their camp followers going about their daily routines. It was living history. 

On the Sunday morning we went to a corner of the field where Adams's Brigade had been stationed. There we listened to the Waterloo descendants amongst our party telling us about their ancestors and lay a wreath. For me it added considerably to the moment that while we were listening to the readings behind us some of the re-enactors were preparing to leave, so we had marching feet and the clatter of a gun carriage being moved, and as we were about to leave some of the soldiers began marching away.

A fitting ending to a fabulous few days.
Was this real, or had I gone back in time?

There are any number of sites online with films and photos of the re-enactment, so do please search them out for more details - this is just a quick and very personal overview, but I hope it will give you some flavour of the event.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Monday, 13 April 2015


With the imminent publication of my latest Sarah Mallory novel, A LADY FOR LORD RANDALL, I thought you might be interested to read a scene that isn't in the book.

You can find details of the book and read the opening chapter where my hero, Justin, Lord Randall, meets the independent Mary Endacott on Mills & Boon's website but the scene below is set just before the opening in the published book, when Randall arrives at the house of his delightful sister Harriett.

So, if you would like to know a little more about Randall and his family and the infamous Randall's Rogues then read on ...

Sussex, England, May 1815
Somervil House was a monstrosity. Justin Latymor, 6th Earl Randall, drew rein at the top of the rise and gazed with distaste at the castellated building with its turrets, towers and ogee arches. In a moment of rare black humour he eyed the building with the professional eye of an artilleryman and imagined Flint and Bartlett lining up their nine-pounders on this ridge and reducing the Gothic confection to rubble. It would not take them long.
His jaw tightened. Heaven forbid that his heavy guns should ever be fired in anger on English soil. His two experienced majors and their divisions were already heading towards Brussels, where he would be joining them to make a stand against Bonaparte and prevent just such an occurrence.
But first he was breaking his journey at Somervil. The house was a folly, not at all suitable for a man of the cloth and if it had been in his gift he would have razed it to the ground and built a neat villa in the restrained and orderly style of Palladio. But his sister Harriett and her husband, the rural dean, seemed perfectly happy with their lot, so it was not for him to criticise.
'Come up, Pompey.' He kicked the rangy grey on, urging him into a canter, eager now to finish his journey.
As he approached the house the studded oak doors set beneath their Gothic arch were thrown open and Harriett appeared, pulling her shawl a little tighter about her, for although it was now May there was a chill wind blowing.
'Randall, my dear. I have been looking out for you this past hour. Did you get dreadfully wet in that horrid rainstorm?'
He jumped down and submitted to his sister's embrace while a stable lad took the reins and led Pompey off to the stables.
'Not at all, we stopped at Mayfield and waited until it had passed.' He looked over his shoulder. 'My carriages should be here shortly, I left them and rode 'cross country to get here the sooner.'
'As I can tell,' laughed Hattie, looking him up and down. 'You are muddied to the thigh! Come along in. You shall have my wrap to sit upon until your man arrives with your baggage.'
'I can sit in my room – '
'Nonsense,' she said, drawing him towards the house. 'I cannot wait another moment to hear all your news. How long can you stay?'
'Only until Friday. My yacht is waiting at Folkestone and I plan to sail on the midnight tide.'
'But gives us barely a week together!'
'I'm afraid it must be so. My troop is already on its way. I have arranged to meet up with them near Brussels.'
'Then we must make the most of the time we have with you. Have you come from Chalfont Magna? How is Mama and the family?'
'Our mother is much the same, running the Abbey like clockwork. The younger boys are still at school, I did not see them.'
'And what of Gussie and Sarah? It is so long since I heard from my sisters.'
'Sarah and Augusta are somewhere Europe,' he said shortly.
'Indeed? How exciting.'
'It is extremely tiresome, with Bonaparte on the loose again. Gussie was on fire to follow the ton to Paris and of course, Blanchards indulged her, as he always does. Mama sent Sarah with them, hoping she would be thrown in the way of eligible young men and induced to accept one of them.'
'Ah yes, of course. Poor Mama must be growing desperate to marry her off.'
She led him into the drawing room, removing her shawl and throwing it over one of the chairs before gesturing to him to sit down.
'I do not see why she should be desperate,' opined the earl, relaxing into the chair and crossing one mud-splashed leg over the other. 'Sarah is only two-and-twenty.'
'My dear brother that is practically on the shelf! Oh, it is different for her twin,' she added quickly, before he could reply. 'Gideon is a man and free to do very much as he pleases. How is he enjoying his new cavalry regiment, by the by?'
'I have no idea, he does not correspond with me.' Randall broke off as the butler came in.
'Ah,' said Hattie, looking up. 'Here is Lewis with our wine. Did you tell Mr Graveney that Lord Randall has arrived?'
'I did, madam.' The butler waited until the glasses of wine had been accepted then gave a solemn bow. 'The master is in the middle of his letter to the bishop and says he will join you as soon as he has finished.'
Hattie gave Randall a knowing look, her eyes twinkling. 'That means we need not look to see him before dinnertime! The bishop is concerned about reports that Graveney is consorting with undesirables. Atheists and Unitarians,' she added, when Randall's brows went up.
'And is he?'
'But of course.' She opened her eyes very wide. 'What is the point in always preaching to the converted? All sorts of interesting people attend the little parties we and our friends hold, intellectuals, artists, poets – '
'And atheists.'
She laughed. 'Some of them, yes, but that is not why we invite them.' The twinkle in her eyes deepened. 'Do not look so disapproving, brother dear, they are invited because of their intelligence, not their rank.'
'No doubt you open your doors to tradesmen, too.'
'If they have something interesting to say, yes. But you shall see for yourself, for we are going to the Bentincks tonight after dinner.'
'The devil we are!'
'It was arranged weeks ago and since you did not deign to let me know you were coming until yesterday it was too late to cry off. I sent them a note to say we would be bringing a guest.' She gave a little trill of laughter when Randall grimaced at the idea. 'They will be quite delighted to have a real live peer of the realm in their midst. And a soldier, to boot.'
'Do not tell me, they would abolish the monarchy if they could and are against all forms of violence.' Randall scowled. 'I can always stay here and go to bed, I suppose.'
'You will do nothing so impolite,' retorted his sister. 'I want to show you off. I would like our friends to know that even earls and soldiers can be intelligent.'
'I shall take that as a compliment,' he said drily.
'Yes, do. Oh do say you will come, Justin, to please me. We need not stay long but Theo does so enjoy their debates and he approaches these evenings with all the zeal of a missionary. It will be most entertaining.'
Randall took leave to doubt this, but since Hattie was set upon his attending he acquiesced, albeit grudgingly. His reward was a beaming smile.
'It may not be the very highest society, but I promise it will not be boring,' she told him, her eyes twinkling. 'And of all our family, I trust you not to be shocked by the company we keep!'

As soon as his baggage arrived Randall went off to his bedchamber to bathe and change. His man Robbins laid out his coat and fresh linen on the bed while discreet house servants ran to and fro in the adjoining dressing room filling a hip bath with hot water. Fires burned cheerfully in both rooms and drove off any lingering chill. He might not like the style of the house but he had to admit that it was very comfortable. His mother had been outraged when Harriett had returned from school with her head full of independent ideas and declaring that she wished to make her own way in the world and would never marry. It was a relief therefore when, three years ago, she had fallen head over heels in love with Theophilus Graveney. He had a comfortable independence and Lady Randall was too pleased to see her daughter respectably married to protest at her new son-in-law's rather unconventional views. They had lived happily in Sussex ever since, aware but unconcerned that most of Harriett's family disapproved of the match.
For his part, Randall had no objection to Graveney. The man was forty, a decade older than Randall and they had very little in common, but Graveney made no effort to ingratiate himself with the family and was not afraid to speak his mind. Randall respected that, and was content that the fellow could support Harriett and make her happy.
Dinner was excellent and Randall's only regret was that he and his brother-in-law could not linger over the brandy. It seemed that they had hardly finished the first glass when they received a message that Mrs Graveney had sent for the carriage.
'Thank you, Lewis, tell her we will join her directly.' Graveney pushed himself to his feet. 'We have been summoned,' he said with gentle humour. 'Come along, my lord. It is time for you to, er, do the pretty.'
'Must I?' murmured Randall, following his host to the door.
'But of course, my boy.' He added, as they crossed the hall, 'She is very proud of you, you know.'
'Yes. She likes the fact that you followed your grandfather into the artillery and that you were chosen to set up your own troop.'
Randall laughed at that.
'Thieves and villains, most of them!'
'I know. Randall's Rogues.' Graveney chuckled. 'Men it is impossible to place elsewhere. If you had not taken them most would have been hanged by now. You have turned them into a crack unit. From the despatches I read in the newspapers they acquitted themselves well in the Peninsula.'
'They are all good artillerymen.'
'They have a good Colonel.'
Randall shrugged.
'I demand only two things, unquestioning obedience and loyalty,' he said as he climbed into the coach and sat down beside his sister. 'They give me that, and I look after them.'

*  *  *

© Sarah Mallory 

If you have read this far I hope you have enjoyed this snippet! Do leave a comment to let me know what you think. And below are the covers of the next two books in the trilogy:

The Brides of Waterloo Trilogy - published by Harlequin Historical
Book 1 - A Lady for Lord Randall, Sarah Mallory, pub May 2015
Book 2 - A Mistress for Major Bartlett, Annie Burrows, pub June 2015
Book 3 - A Rose for Major Flint, Louise Allen,pub July 2015