The Waterloo Wounded.
The day after I saw the absolutely fantastic Battle of Waterloo 200th Anniversary Re-enactment, we visited a small town nearby called Braine-l’Alleud.
In 1815, Braine-l’Alleud had a population of around 2,500 and 250 houses, most of them with two rooms on the ground floor. A ladder led to the two bedrooms under the rafters.
There was a toilet outside the back door which was emptied twice a year. But most sewage was used on the land, or thrown into the gutter.
Yes, that’s right. They had an average of 10 people living in each house.
On Saturday, 17th June 1815, the weather was terrible. Late afternoon, the town filled up with Dutch-Belgian soldiers who were soaked and covered with mud.
Up to 10 soldiers were billeted in each overcrowded house.
With the cauldron over the open fire, the drying-out soldiers and the family members, it must have been pretty whiffy in there!
At 11.30 on Sunday, 18th June, trumpets rallied the troops, who were all very drunk!
Dawn on Monday 19th June broke over a horrific sight like something from Dante’s Inferno.
180,000 men had fought on the battlefield, and 50,000 of them lay dead and wounded amidst the corpses of horses, abandoned cannons and other military and personal belongings.
Looters grabbed what they could, not caring if their victims were alive or dead.
Braine-l’Alleud sprung into action. Mayor Panquin started organising everything from dawn with his two deputies.
He requisitioned all the local farmers to load the wounded onto their carts, and, with the help of the Sisters of the Marolles, their young boarders, and the local people, the Church of Saint-Etienne was transformed into a hospital, filled with straw on the ground and bales to be used as operating tables.
The doctors arrived and checked all their surgical instruments with the nuns’ help, laying out alcohol, laudanum, tincture of opium, and gangrene prevention. They showed some people how to use bandages and tourniquets and to pile up the lint.
Now the weather turned fiercely hot and the heat and stench in the church was unbearable. So the Mayor arranged for 16 stained-glass windows to be removed.
For two days the blood-stained victims, who were mostly French, were collected in carts and delivered to all the barns around the town. 30-40 cartloads arrived daily.
Sadly, on the 25th June, there were still 40 cartloads of the most seriously wounded men waiting to be taken somewhere for treatment.
A lot of rapid amputations were done. Surgeons discovered that, drastic as it seems, amputations often prevented gangrene, which could kill.
All around the Waterloo Battlefield, similar sites were full of volunteers frantically working to save hundreds of lives, including in the Waterloo Brewery, Mont St-Jean which was set up as a hospital by the Duke of Wellington, and treated over 6,000 wounded British with the help of the local people.
A lot of the Belgians opened their own homes – and their hearts – to help the wounded of both sides, some of whom were their enemies, even though most of them were struggling to earn a living to support their own families. And a lot of them had their crops destroyed, their food donated to the troops, and their lives generally disrupted by the Battle. But they went out of their way to give help when it was needed, to complete strangers.
I’d love to find out how many lives they saved, and whether any friendships were formed and carried on through the years to come.
I think that what they did was as memorable and moving as the Battle!
For the Waterloo memorial and other events and Napoleon’s last headquarters http://www.waterlooandbeyond.be/en/actualites
The Waterloo restaurants in Waterloo were
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