On our last full day at Waterloo we visited the Wellington Museum in Waterloo town and Napoleon's HQ at Le Caillou. The Wellington Museum is under renovation and felt a bit dowdy compared to the slick venues on the battlefield, but it had real charm and atmosphere, particularly the rooms where Wellington wrote his despatch while his ADC lay dying in the bed next door. The church opposite the museum has several memorials, mostly to British and Dutch Belgian officers and there was one plaque dedicated to all the French dead. We ate lunch at the Brasserie du Couvent, highly recommended for hearty pig-related dishes. We almost gave the Emperor's HQ at Le Caillou a miss but were so glad we didn't as it was another beautifully presented little museum with excellent audio guide.
On the last evening, Keith and I replayed D'Erlon's attack on the dining table of the Gardeners House, using the Cigar Box Battles Waterloo mat, Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules and his 100 days card set. It was a never-to-be-repeated chance to play Waterloo at Waterloo. I will choose figures over cards whenever possible but Sam's unit cards are perfect for a situation like this.
We had a wonderful few days and my enthusiasm for the 1815 campaign is back on fire. I have probably read more about Waterloo than any other battle but still learned masses from the museums and walks around the field. I would never have dreamed it might be possible to be staying in the chateau of Hougoumont, looking out over the courtyard with a glass of wine and some kettle chips. Magical!
Here are some thoughts and pictures after last weekend at Waterloo. As we were staying in the Chateau grounds, I will start at Hougoumont. It looks lovely after the renovation. The refurbished buildings are fantastic and the approach to the South Gate, which was under constant attack on the day, looks as it did in 1815. The North courtyard, missing several buildings that caught fire during the battle, is interesting for the surviving chapel and the memorial to the Scots Guardsmen who closed the gates at a critical moment, trapping a group of French infantry inside and saving the chateau from capture. The walled garden was bigger than we expected and overall, we were struck by how large the combined position of chateau, garden, woods and orchard must have been. The multi media show in the Great Barn was clever, absorbing and actually very moving. It was a highlight of the holiday.
We spent a whole day at the Mémorial in the centre of the Allied position, which covers the Lion Mound, Panorama and museum all in one ticket. We climbed the Lion because it was there but it didn't thrill. The Panorama was impressive. Pause for a Wellington sandwich and beer at the brasserie on site, then back for more. The museum was a revelation, with slick interactive displays and some great use of multimedia. There are dozens of uniformed mannequins, with extensive written and audio information about the armies, men, their uniforms and equipment. The 4D film is great fun. I especially enjoyed being under the guns of a French battery as it fired. The massive shop had a mixture of good books, expensive replica firearms and cheerful tat. The Napoleon T shirts are on sale there; you need to go to Hougoumont to pick up a Wellington.
On day three we walked from the Allied ridge cross country across to La Belle Alliance, then down to Plancenoit and the Prussian monument. Back up to the Brussels road, past La Haye Sainte and on to the crossroads. We had an excellent lunch at L'Estaminet de Josephine, washed down with Waterloo beer, brewed at the Mont St Jean farm.
We came back to Hougoumont just ahead of the 2eme Régiment de Chasseurs à pied, a reenactment group of twenty or so men and a dozen family members dressed as vivandières. The group demonstrated drill and musketry in the chateau gardens off and on for two hours. They were friendly and informative, happy to tell us about the details of their uniform and the life they recreate. Alongside the Chasseurs were a couple of gendarmes, a Guard pontonnier and, a little surprisingly, a customs official in a green uniform. They also serve...
On 6 September we played the Battle of Waterloo again. I wanted to use the battlefield one more time before tidying it away and so invited four new players to come along. As in the first refight, this group were all new to the Blucher rules. In addition, only one of them had played a historical war game before: the others drew on memories of playing Warhammer. They all picked up the rules quickly and we fought the game to a conclusion inside one long day. In this game, the Allies deployed with a strong right flank, expecting a French left hook. The French duly obliged, but held on to a strong reserve including their two Heavy Cavalry Corps. Once the French left had engaged them, the Allies assaulted with their own left flank. The French screened this attack with a very light force and then launched their reserves against the Allied Centre. Thinned out to right and left, the Allies buckled between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. Despite the best efforts of the British 1st Division, the French juggernaut chewed up its opposition and Allied morale broke. While the French had lost a lot of élan points, they had not lost many units so were a long way from their break point at this stage.
It had been a great game and all players said they would happily play again. With hindsight, it might have been better to use another scenario to introduce the rules, as the players learned some useful lessons to their cost. Unit handling got a lot better in the course of the day, especially by the Allies. We agreed to meet again soon for another game. Next time we might try the Battle of Montmirail, 1814, a scenario I’ve played several times with Napoleon’s Battles. I’ll be interested to see how this works with Blucher.
On 12 July our gaming group refought Waterloo, using Sam Mustafa's Blucher rules and my collection of 20mm plastics. See the battle report here. It was a hard fought day in good company, with a clear result by teatime. The perfect day's gaming! All feedback is welcome. Next project report: The first day of Gettysburg, ready I hope in the next week.