Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waterloo Days

Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy is in bookstores this month. This last book in my Three Soldiers series, takes place, in part, in Brussels in the days before Waterloo. Brussels is where Captain Gabriel Deane finds the woman he and the two other officers rescued at Badajoz and it is in Brussels where Gabe’s and Emmaline’s love story really begins…and almost ends.

After Napoleon was exiled on Elba, Europe opened up again for the British, who’d had to give up their Grand Tours of the Continent’s grand cities. Many British from aristocratic families, but lacking aristocratic fortunes moved to Brussels where they could live in luxury at low cost. When Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned in triumph to Paris, the British army amassed at Brussels, anticipating a march into France to do battle with Napoleon’s new army. Consequently in the spring of 1815, Brussels was brimming with British.

In June 1815, Miss Charlotte Waldie (married name Eaton) wrote a memoir, Waterloo Days: The Narrative of an Englishwoman resident of Brussels. Accompanied by her brother and younger sister, Charlotte traveled to Brussels, arriving the day of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball.

Charlotte found a city bustling with British soldiers, civilians, and other foreigners. She described it as lively, gay, and festive, “… everything spoke of hope, confidence, and busy expectation.” That very night her sleep was interrupted by the bugle’s call to arms. She rose and went outside to witness the hasty departure of the soldiers, marching off to battle.

She wrote:

“Numbers were taking leave of their wives and children, perhaps for the last time, and many a veteran's rough cheek was wet with the tears of sorrow. One poor fellow, immediately under our windows, turned back again and again, to bid his wife farewell, and take his baby once more in his arms; and I saw him hastily brush away a tear with the sleeve of his coat, as he gave her back the child for the last time, wrung her hand, and ran off to join his company, which was drawn up on the other side of the Place Royale.”

The next day she, her brother and sister heard the cannonade at Quartres Bras and received mixed messages about the fate of the army, most indicating that the British were overwhelmed by the French. The next day, Charlotte and her party joined the numbers of British civilians fleeing Brussels. Like so many others, they traveled to the relative safety of Antwerp.

On June 18 they again heard the cannons and experienced “the dreadful, the overwhelming anxiety of being so near such eventful scenes, without being actually engaged in them; to know that within a few leagues the dreadful storm of war is raging in all its horrors, and the mortal conflict going forward which is to decide the glory of your country, and the security of the world.”

The next day, wagons full of wounded soldiers poured into Antwerp and the news was everywhere that Wellington’s forces could not overcome the French. Eventually, however, they heard that Wellington had won the battle.

Then the wounded poured into Antwerp, many unable to find shelter, merely lay in the streets.

Charlotte wrote:

If such were the horrors of the scene here, what must they be on the field of battle, covered with thousands of the dead, the wounded, and the dying! The idea was almost too dreadful for human endurance; a there nd yet were those of my own country, and even of my own sex, whom I heard express a longing wish to visit this very morning the fatal field of Waterloo!”

A month later, Charlotte and her brother and sister visited the battlefield. She had this to say:

“I stood alone upon the spot so lately bathed in human blood—where more than two hundred thousand human beings had mingled together in mortal strife: I cast my eyes upon the ruined hovels immortalised by the glorious achievements of my gallant countrymen. I recalled to mind their invincible constancy—their undaunted intrepidity—their heroic self-devotion in the hour of trial—their magnanimity and mercy in the moment of victory: I cast my eyes upon the tremendous graves at my feet, filled with the mortal remains of heroes.”

Charlotte ends her memoir with her return to England, writing:

“I returned to my country after all the varying and eventful scenes through which it had been my lot to pass, more proud than when I left it of the name of....An Englishwoman.”

I have long been captivated by the battle of Waterloo and the men who fought it, but for the purposes of writing about my heroines, reading Charlotte’s memoir gave a whole other perspective to the battle.

Is there a moment in history that captivates you?

There is still time to get your copy of Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy. If you have been following my Three Soldiers series, you will also be pleased to know that Claude’s story is told in October’s Harlequin Historical Undone ebook short story, The Liberation of Miss Finch.

1 comment:

Marguerite Kaye said...

Diane, what a fascinating memoir. Diaries are such evocative things, they often give you a much more intimate sense of history than even the best text books.

The Great War is one of the most compelling times in history for me, and Vera Britten't 'Testament' books along with the letters she wrote really bring home the catastrophic effect it had on people's lives.

Thank you for sharing your research, I loved this.