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The guide Decoster
Decoster was an innkeeper in the region. He was enlisted, against his will, by Napoleon to serve as a guide. Since he hid at the slightest shot, history tells us that the Emperor had him tied to his horse. The mission probably must have inspired him because later, when the situation had become calmer, he offered his services as a guide to numerous tourists who came to tour the battlefield.
Lieutenant general Picton
General Picton commanded the counter-attack that disorganised the assault of the French 1st Corps. This extremely competent British officer was killed there. He had already distinguished himself at the Quatre-Bras battle where he had been wounded. Since the chest containing his uniform had not arrived, Picton fought in civilian clothing and a top hat (exhibited in the National Army Museum in London).
Colonel Hamilton commanded the Scots Greys who participated in the charge of the British cavalry against the French 1st Corps. He certainly cannot have lacked bravery, because when his body was found, he was wounded in both arms.
The Bird Catchers
During the charge of the British cavalry against the French 1st Corps, Sergeant Charles Ewart of the famous Scots Greys (their name was due to their grey horses) succeeded in taking the flag of the 45th regiment of the French line and the eagle atop its pole. Since that time, the badge of the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) has been topped with the drawing of an eagle and the unit has been nicknamed the Bird Catchers. The captured eagle is still exhibited at the museum of Edinburgh Castle.
The hollow lane
In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo described a ravine in which horses and riders were stacked up. The aforementioned “hollow lane” corresponds to the current macadamised route that leads from the Charleroi - Brussels road to the Lion’s Mound. In 1815, the lane was certainly steep-sided over around 150 metres but Hugo’s account is completely novelised and implausible because no witness from the time relates such a tragedy.
Lord Uxbridge's leg
A final French cannon shot badly wounded Lord Uxbridge’s left leg. An amputation was carried out and the leg was buried at Waterloo in an appropriate tomb, which in the years that followed, incidentally, received visits from numerous British tourists.
When Lord Uxbridge died (in 1854), the leg was exhumed, taken back to the United Kingdom and placed in the great cavalryman’s tomb. The prosthesis made the reverse trip and is located in the museum of Waterloo.
This nice ending is contradicted, however, by a version that is just a little macabre for which evidence survives. At an indeterminate period, the leg was exhumed and what remained of it, the bones, it seems, were exhibited in Waterloo. This was the object of a complaint by the family. The leg was then withdrawn to be buried again, but finally disappeared. The presence of the prosthesis in the museum of Waterloo is actually real, though.
The word spoken by Cambrone
According to a popular legend, Cambronne, who commanded the last square of the Imperial Guard was commanded to surrender by the British Lieutenant-General Colville and replied “La garde meurt mais ne se rend pas” (“The guard dies but does not surrender.”) His British counterpart repeated his request, and his response was as passionate as it was concise – “Merde!”. He denied having made this response for the rest of his life. Whether the story is true or not, the name of Cambronne is now forever linked with it, to such an extent that it has become a euphemism for this expletive in French.
During the battle, Wellington is supposed to have occupied, on several occasions, an observation post near the intersection of the chaussée de Charleroi and the chemin de la Croix (route currently leading to the Lion). A beautiful elm soared at this spot. A British merchant had the idea of buying the tree to make it into souvenirs. He even made two easy chairs out of it, of which he offered one to Queen Victoria, the other to the Duke of Wellington. Around 1980, a new tree was replanted at the same spot for the pleasure of tourists fond of anecdotes.
The Scottish kilt
Six battalions coming from Scots infantry regiments were involved at Waterloo. These regiments, called Highland or Highlanders, bore the numbers 42, 71, 73, 78, 79 and 92. Only three battalions wore the kilt. The officers, more sensitive to the cold or more modest, wore trousers
The imperial berlines
Like his marshals and generals, Napoleon had berline carriages transporting everything that was necessary and more in order to facilitate life on campaign. After the battle, during the pursuit, at around 23.00 in Genappe, the Prussians found the vehicles that the Emperor had been forced to abandon. There they discovered luxury berlines especially well equipped for travelling, and even a Panzerberline, a real strongbox on wheels, containing precious stones, pieces of gold and silver. It was a considerable treasure. The soldiers hastily stuffed their pockets and their cartridge pouches but, on the officers’ orders, the booty was nearly all recovered and offered to the King of Prussia. One of the luxurious berlines was purchased by Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London, where it was exhibited as from 1842. The “Waterloo berline” disappeared in 1925 in the terrible fire that ravaged the building.