Waterloo 379 (Small)

The sun was shining as I gazed across the flat, neat farmland which was the site of The Battle of Waterloo.

How different the weather was in 1815!

200 years ago the land was still farmed, but most of it was ripening rye, which grew to a height of 1.5m.

And the sun wasn’t shining. In fact, the terrible weather almost definitely caused Napoleon’s defeat.

WATERloo was well named on that fateful day.

waterlooIt thundered and heavy rain pelted down relentlessly during the Battle of Ligny on the 16th June, and it carried on until the early hours of the 18th.

The soldiers hardly slept. They were soaked and exhausted. They couldn’t use their blankets for warmth and shelter as the ground was saturated.

Private William Wheeler of the 51st Kings Yorkshire Infantry wrote in one of his letters; ‘We were as wet as if we had been plunged over head in a river. We had one consolation, we knew that the enemy were in the same plight.’

waterloo2In the morning of the 18th, the start of the final Battle was postponed. Both sides were reluctant to begin, hoping that the ground would dry out.

Although Napoleon had been planning to start between 8 and 9, it was 11am before some of the regiments turned up. And this gave the Prussian army time to arrive and join Wellington, which gave the English the upper hand.

Napoleon said, ‘This affair (beating the English) is nothing more than eating breakfast.’

Picture the scene; Napoleon had 74,000 men and 246 guns.

waterloo3Wellington had 67,000 men and 156 guns at first, then Blucher’s army arrived at 1pm to join the English.

Both sides were exhausted, and they had to battle through water-logged rye, which would have been slippery.

It was impossible for the horses to gallop, and the cannons couldn’t be moved around easily.

Apparently cannonballs were often fired to fall short of their target, and then they would skip over the ground, which made them even more lethal. But of course they couldn’t skip over the muddy ground. They just plopped down and stayed where they landed.

Waterloo 390 (Small)A lot of the men couldn’t fire their muskets because their gunpowder was soaking wet. And it was hard to fire the cannons.

As a cold mist rose up from the soaking farmland, and blended with the cannon smoke, visibility was equally difficult for both sides.

The booming of the guns would have briefly drowned out the screams of the dead and dying soldiers and horses.

When the Battle finally ended and Napoleon surrendered, around 62,000 corpses littered the cornfields.

It has been worked out that in most Battles, the largest numbers of soldiers were killed while retreating as they would break ranks and run or ride away, with every man for himself. And it’s not known how many soldiers died later as a result of wounds, diseases, etc.

Waterloo 384 (Small)(Also on this day in 1583, the first life insurance policy was issued in London. I wonder how much was paid out after the Battle?)

Did the weather during historical battles affect History?

Very much indeed!

When battles were fought in the sun, the side facing the sun were at a disadvantage as they couldn’t see clearly.

Food would warm up and often be crawling with flies.

Loads of soldiers died of dehydration before they were involved in any fighting.

And then there were the after-effects of the Battles. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t officially recognised until1980. Suicides went unrecorded. Wounds didn’t heal and finally took their toll, maybe months later. And diseases were caught on the battlefields, eg dysentery, TB, and many more from the different Nations involved in the fighting or the bad food and water, or lack of water.

A lot of knowledge was learnt at Waterloo, including medical progress.

It taught the Powers That Be how to fight their wars better.

What a shame it didn’t teach them not to fight wars at all!



www.whybelgium.co.uk, http://www.museewellington.be/


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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