Waterloo a labour of love

I have always liked the idea of re-enacting the Battle of Waterloo and the battles encompassed in the Hundred Days, probably because there has been so much written about it. Personal accounts are my favourites, for instance the Highland Sergeant Major getting cornered at the Battle of Quatre Bras by a troop of lancers, with nothing but his claymore he took them on! He was wounded multiple times several of them mortal according to the tales he would regale his guests with at dinner….some forty years later, goodness these people were tough. Another of my favourites is the British Staff officer, seeing the predicament of an allied infantry battalion threatened by swarms of Cuirassier, galloped to the head of a body of Allied Cavalry and ordered the advance. It was only when he was charging that he was pulled up by a member of his staff and to his astonishment realised that they had not followed him! They had not understood a single word of his English oration before hand and it turns out, had thought he was typically a mad Englishman, galloping off into the enemy cavalry in such a fashion with only his staff!

Hougoumont looking east along the battle line

A view of the Battlefield of Waterloo, in the foreground is the Chateau of Hougomont

Well at the Wargames Holiday Centre they host this battle as one of their weekend games. The terrain is something incredible to behold, when you first see it laid out before you without any troops you really can identify with all the key terrain features. There’s the Château of Hougoumont, with its chapel, walled garden and orchard. The villages of Papelotte, on the Allied armies ridge and Plancenoit, the key defence for the French Young Guard and a solitary battalion of Chasseurs-à-Pied de la Garde who delayed the advance of the Prussian army for hours.

It’s worth a moment to relay a tale of Wargaming history here, while at the Wargames Centre over 25 years ago Peter Gilder told me the story of his model of the Château of Hougomont. The first model had been made as a request from a film company as part of a set for the film “Callan” starring Edward Woodward. Peter was paid for the model and that was it as far as he was concerned. At the end of filming the set was due to be destroyed and Peter was asked if he wanted it back. Of course he did, it’s a fantastic looking piece of terrain. Well, during the making of the film, Mr. Woodward had become enamoured with the concept of wargaming and he then asked Peter if he could purchase this model from him, Peter agreed. Over the next couple of years Peter made another model, a replica, or as near as possible anyway and began to play games using it. At some point after this Mr. Woodward contacted Peter and offered the model back to him and due to current circumstances it was for free. So Peter had this model again, a reserve should anything happen to the one he had made in the meantime. Well time passed and another gentleman, I believe from the USA offered to buy the original “Callum” set model from Peter and Peter in cordial fashion agreed. A fantastic story perhaps, but to have sold the model three times is an amazing story I think! Still it’s only a story, but I liked it!

A view from just south of Hougomont

Looking east along the sunken road at the Battle of Waterloo

Lastly, standing out like a bastion in the centre of the allied line is the farmhouse of LA Haye Sainte (Sacred Hedge). This brilliant white fortress was a thorn in the side of the advancing French columns in the early stages of the battle, During the doomed cavalry charges in the afternoon they also added their support in firing into them.
It eventually fell to the French in the evening, predominantly due to the ammunition for the Kings German Legion Light infantry’s rifles running out.

So how does this play out as a wargame? Well there are a wide range of options for you the gamer. As the French there is the option of taking Papelotte first and making the ridge untenable, or flanking Hougoumont, pushing wide and around the supposed fortress and pushing on to the reserves behind the ridge. As the allied player the choices are in the disposition of your divisions. The Guards may be better held on the left of the allied position, with the Brunswickers holding the Chateau. La Haye could hold out longer perhaps with a Veteran British Line battalion in it.

The choices are far and wide.

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