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The Battle of Waterloo
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The Battle of Waterloo

'The ringing of ten thousand anvils'.

In March 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and entered France with the French army firmly in support. By June, with most of Europe against him, he had invaded Belgium. At Quatre Bras on the 17th, The 1st Life Guards rescued two British cavalry regiments from French lancers and were congratulated by the Earl of Uxbridge, commander of the cavalry, with the words, 'Well done the Life Guards, you have saved the honour of the British cavalry'.

The Duke of Wellington intended to block the road to Brussels near Waterloo and wait for the Prussian army to come to his aid. Napoleon detached troops to stop the Prussian advance and, with 74,000 men, marched in appallingly wet weather to face the British and their allies. On 18th June, the British heavy cavalry were in two brigades, behindthe infantry; the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, The Blues and the King's Dragoon Guards (KDG) formed The Household Brigade; the Union Brigade contained The Royals, Scots Greys and Inniskillings.

The Battle of Waterloo

After the preliminary action at Quatre Bras, Captain Kelly of the 1st Life Guards cuts the epaulettes from a French officer's tunic.

At the height of the battle, to prevent the allied centre being overrun, the two brigades were ordered to charge. The Household Brigade on the right, with the Life Guards leading, hurtled into French cuirassiers. The noise of swords striking armour was like 'the ringing of ten thousand anvils'. The Blues and the KDG, initially in support, soon became intermingled with the Life Guards. After a fierce fight, the cuirassiers fled.

The Union Brigade with The Royals charged at the same time straight into the French infantry, which within minutes was hopelessly routed. The Royals then captured the Eagle of the 105th Regiment of the Line. This was a silver eagle surmounting the flag pole on which the standard or colour of a French regiment was carried and was a symbol of huge importance to a regiment. Loss of an eagle, a rare event, was considered a lasting disgrace. In commemoration, an eagle is now worn on the uniform of The Blues and Royals.

The Battle of Waterloo

A replica of the silver Eagle captured by The Royals at Waterloo.

The threat to Wellington's centre was over, but the aftermath was less glorious. The cavalry brigades, exhilarated after their success, galloped on towards
the French artillery and, with horses exhausted, were attacked by French lancers. They took many casualties before withdrawing. Later, with the arrival of the Prussians, the battle was won. Waterloo was by far the bloodiest battle in which any of the regiments have participated.

Corporal shaw, the boxer.

Corporal John Shaw of the 2nd Life Guards was a national hero beyond his life as a soldier. At over 6 feet 3 inches (1.9 m) and weighing 25 stone (95 kg), he earned money as a prize fighter, winning his last bout over the celebrated boxer, Painter, in 30 minutes, including ten knockdowns. At Waterloo, he advised his troop to swing at the back of cuirassiers' necks, as this was where they were most vulnerable. The British swords were shorter than French ones, so Shaw 'smacked at their faces with the hilt'. In the charge he accounted for nine or ten Frenchmen, but when the regiment failed to stop in time, Lancers attacked them. In the ensuing fighting, Shaw killed another ten of the enemy before, having broken his sword, he had to resort to using his helmet as a flail and was himself killed. A replica of his skull is one of the more unusual objects in the museum.

The Battle of Waterloo

The earl of uxbridges leg.

Lord Uxbridge, later Marquess of Anglesey, commanded the cavalry at Waterloo. Towards the end of the day, he was sitting on his horse beside the Duke of Wellington, when a shot shattered his right knee completely. 'By God, sir,' he is supposed to have said to Wellington, 'I've lost my leg'. The coolness of the Duke's alleged reply said everything about his intense dislike for the man who had eloped with his sister-in-law: 'By God, sir, so you have,' he said. His leg amputated above the knee, Uxbridge made a remarkable recovery. He was fitted with a very early prosthetic leg consisting of a wooden shank and socket, a steel knee joint, and an articulated foot controlled by catgut tendons from knee to ankle. This was variously known as the 'Anglesey Leg' or the 'Clapper Leg' (because of the noise it made). The leg is on display in the museum.

The Battle of Waterloo

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