As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden. In our last post Holden described his time in the Rouen camp, and here he goes onto record his journey to the front line.
The train to the line carried 2 men and 8 horses to a compartment, with the men sleeping at the horses’ feet. A precarious place to be one would think, but not Private Holden.
“most people would think this very uncomfortable, but it was much better than riding in an ordinary French 3rd Class Compartment and the truck we had was a fairly large one and that journey was the best railway journey I have ever had”
The frequent stops made by the train allowed the men to jump out and stretch their legs from time to time. Though the hazard was that the train might move off again without you, as Private Holden found out:
“ a few of us got some hot water from the engine behind, intending making some tea, but when on the way back to our own trucks, the engine whistled & started off, but we did not like the idea of leaving our tea (we had none since the Thurs morning), we ran along with the water in our mess tins, but the train began to move quicker, so we had to throw the water away, & run for all we were worth, just as we got on again, & settled down the train stopped.”
Travelling through France and along the coast, the train journey is made to sound almost idyllic with the French people waving and cheering as the train passed along the line. Passing Bethune however, the mood changes as the sound of the shells and the vision of the damage caused by the Germans is seen for the first time.
Arriving at Aire the train was met by the 7th Dragoon Guards who had come for the horses but knew nothing about the men accompanying them.
“here was a fine how do you do, brought eighteen horses all the way from Rouen, & then no one to own us, so whilst waiting we had some breakfast, one of the chaps going after a loaf and another got some hot water and we cleaned ourselves up to try and look our best and make a good impression when we did reach the regiment”
Finally arriving at the squadrons base near Dellettes, Private Holden was issued with a horse, and put to work caring for the horses and carrying out guard duty before moving out for the trenches on 6th July.
“What part of the line we were going to we did not know, as was the case in all the moves we had, we never knew how long we should be or the name of the place until we got there”
Holden’s diary shows that his life at the front settled into a monotonous mixture of drills, horse care and digging parties, broken only by the odd mishap or annecdote. Coming back from a stint on the work gang one evening he was surprised to find that the regiment had moved billets in his absence and that his kit was nowhere to be found.
“next morning we had to look round for our kits that we had to leave behind, but my friend’s and my own was missing & was never found.Among my things was my great coat, & I never had another one given me, & all the nights that I spent in the trenches, I was without great coat”
Fort Nelson has recently received a donation of a composite drake gun sometimes known as a minion drake. The gun is believed to be Dutch, possibly originating from Amsterdam. Dutch patents of 1627 and 1633 cover this kind of construction. According to the inscription behind the vent, it weighs 260 Amsterdam pounds and was produced in the mid 17th century.
The gun was found in inshore waters off the Kent coast by divers Paul Aaronovitch, Vince Woolsgrove and John Webb.
This gun is a light version of a minion or roughly 3 pounder, built up of copper alloy and iron, and probably soldered using lead alloy. The copper alloy has been decorated with bands of interlace from the muzzle (head) of the gun down to cascabel (rear) – where arresting ropes are tied to limit the gun’s movement due to recoil when firing. The handles located on the mid-section of the gun have been cast in the form of dolphins which was common for guns of this type
The gun will be on public display in a desalination tank which will be used to wash the chloride ions out of the gun and to keep it underwater to prevent rapid corrosion until the conservation treatment is completed. This process will take several years in the Artillery Hall at Fort Nelson. Fort Nelson Conservator Matthew Hancock said “Fort Nelson is delighted to be able to add this fine and rare gun to the collection, although it presents some conservation challenges. It is impossible to put a precise timescale on the project as the amount of chloride ions in the gun cannot be calculated. The process is further complicated by the reactions of the different metals in the gun. The public will be able to view the gun during the conservation treatment as the gun will be on display in its tank in the Artillery Hall.”
The Royal Armouries would like to thank the Receiver of Wreck for their assistance with this donation.
Two pistols from the Royal Armouries collection, illustrate perfectly the thrifty manner in which some Prussian firearms were put together in the late 18th – early 19th centuries.
RA XII.1843 (DI 2015-1495)
RA XII.1844 (DI 2015-1497)
At first glance, both pistols appear to be the Model 1789, however there are slight differences. For example RA XII.1843 , the darker stained pistol is 4mm longer in length than RA XII.1844 , the lighter coloured pistol.
The Model 1789 was in the height of service from 1790-1813 however, due to the poor state of the Prussian economy in 1815 it most likely also featured on the field at Waterloo. In order to get a sense of the Prussian Military’s situation in 1815, it is useful to understand the consequences of their actions against the French Empire in 1806.
The Kingdom of Prussia at the time of Waterloo (1815). Credit BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/history/nationalism/unification/revision/1/
The Prussian defeat by Napoleon Bonaparte at Jena and Auerstadt, subjugated Prussia to France until 1812, when the 6th Coalition was formed. Prussia lost its rich provinces, thus reducing its territory, whilst its army was limited to 42,000 men. The French also destroyed vast numbers of Prussian small-arms, ammunition and artillery, whilst redistributing the most efficient of these to their own allies. After the defeat of the French in 1812, the Prussians began work on manufacturing the Model 1813 pistol. However, limited funds meant restricted quantities of firearms were being produced and so the Prussian army instead began modifying whatever was available to them.
The most interesting features of these pistols are the royal cyphers located on their grips, which indicate modification. Both pistols bear the cypher of Frederick William III who reigned from 1797-1840.
Frederick William III
RA XII.1843 (DI 2015-1493)
Interestingly the form of the ‘W’s on the cyphers differ. The ‘W’ on RA XII.1843 (above) doesn’t quite look like it belongs there, as the actual ‘W’ on the cypher of Frederick William III is double lined (see below). This suggests that this darker stained pistol was assembled during the reign of Frederick William III but adapted from an earlier model, with a ‘W’ added to the cypher of Frederick the Great, who reigned from 1740-1786.
The pistol’s overall length is also 15 mm too long for it to be a true Model 1789 suggesting that this is a Model 1731, used throughout the reign of Frederick the Great, reassembled between 1797 and 1815.
Frederick the Great, reign: 31 May 1740 – 17 August 1786
RA XII.1844, the second lighter coloured pistol (below) is also intriguing. In consulting the museum’s catalogue it has been previously identified as being from the reign of Frederick William II who reigned from 1786-97, successor of Frederick the Great and predecessor of Fredrick William III. Given that the pistol resembles a Model 1789 this is a savvy conclusion. Except that the cypher of Fredrick William II does not contain the letter ‘R’, though one is clearly shown below.
RA XII.1844 (DI 2015-1499) with the double-lined ‘W” and additional ‘R’.
Frederick William II reign: 17 August 1786 – 16 November 1797
It is no wonder that this has been confused, as every King of Prussia for over 150 years (1701-1861) was either called Frederick or Frederick William! However the length of the barrel is still too long for it to be a true Model 1789. Therefore one could conclude that the lighter stained pistol was assembled partly from the barrel of the Model 1731, potentially with other parts developed for the Model 1789, which were not used until 1797-1815 during the reign of Frederick William III – which accounts for the royal cypher being correct and untampered.
These two pistols have been on quite a historical journey, from the Model 1731 to the ‘hybrid’ Model 1789, and they both reveal much about the development and manufacture of Prussian firearms during the Napoleonic period.
On the morning of 17 June the Anglo-Dutch army began its retreat from Quatre Bras toward Waterloo, covered by the British cavalry and guns which delayed the French pursuit at every opportunity. The Light Cavalry Brigades under the command of Vivian and Vandeleur formed the left column of the rear guard as it marched northwards, heading for the narrow bridge over the river Dyle at Thuy.
Ernest Croft: ‘Wellington’s Retreat from Quatre Bras’. On loan to the Royal Armouries by Leeds Art Gallery. Now in the Royal Armouries’ ‘Waterloo: The Art of Battle’ exhibition.
The last of Vivian’s Brigade had crossed the bridge, and as the French cavalry attempted to follow they were met with an accurate fire from troops concealed behind a hedge and in a sunken road on the far bank, and forced to retire. The shots had the familiar crack of rifles, but they were not fired by the riflemen of the 95th Regiment (the Rifles) but by the troopers of the 10th (Prince of Wales) Hussars. The 10th Hussars were the only rifle armed cavalry in the British Army, but how had this come about?
Friedrich Christian Baron von Eben was born at Creutzburg in Silesia in 1773 the son of a Prussian general. He joined the army in 1787 and served in his father’s regiment of Hussars against the French in the Low Countries between 1792 and 1795, being awarded the Order of Merit for his bravery. He resigned his commission in 1799 when Prussia refused to renew the conflict with France, and entered British service as a Captain in the York Hussars before joining the 10th Light Dragoons. A socialite, who counted amongst his personal friends the Duke of Sussex, the younger brother of the Prince of Wales, he also wrote several military treatises on the use of light cavalry, which brought him to the attention of the Duke of York, the Commander in Chief of the Army. In 1802, when York was establishing the Experimental Rifle Corps (renamed the 95th Rifles in 1803), von Eben wrote a treatise entitled ‘Observations on the Utility of good Riflemen’ in which he proposed the adoption of the rifle by both infantry and cavalry.
Von Eben’s idea for re-equipping the cavalry with rifles was not taken up, but the Colonel of the 10th Light Dragoons – the Prince of Wales himself, took a keen interest in the equipment as well as the appearance of his regiment, and ordered a test to be made of two rifles, one made by Henry Nock and the other by Ezekial Baker.
‘Twenty Three Years Practice and Observation with Rifle Guns by Ezekiel Baker, Gunmaker, London’, second edition, London, 1804
The result was clear, and in response Baker was ordered to supply the regiment with an initial 40 rifled carbines. The carbine was essentially a cut-down version of the Baker rifle then in service, but without the bayonet (not required by the cavalry) and with the addition of a captive ramrod (to prevent it from being dropped and lost in the heat of battle) and a safety catch at the rear of the lock plate (for preventing the carbine from going off ‘half cocked’). Later versions had a swell underneath the stock similar to a pistol to improve the grip and steady the aim.
The Prince of Wales took great pride in his regiment, and in 1807 he ordered a new sword for the officers from the John Prosser, sword cutler of Charing Cross. The sword was based loosely on the 1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword, but with a modified hilt bearing the Prince of Wales cipher mounted on the langet.
But what of Von Eben? He left the 10th Light Dragoons in 1806 and returned to his native Prussia the following year where he served as a volunteer until the Peace of Tilsit. He then appeared in Portugal, where he married Elisabetha Contessa d`Astigarraga, the daughter of a Portuguese Admiral, in Porto 1808, only to lose most of his possessions when the French siezed the city the following year. He joined the Portuguese Army under Marshal Beresford, and from 1809 to 1813 he was present at most of the major battles and sieges of the Peninsular War before being made Governor of Tras os Montes province. In 1817 von Eben was implicated in a conspiracy against the King of Portugal, and but for his friendship with the Duke of Sussex and his association with the Prince of Wales he would probably have been executed. Instead he was exiled, and he ended his colourful military career in the service of Simon Bolivar during the South American Wars of Independence. He died in Bogota in Columbia in 1835.
‘Napoleon has humbugged me, by God…. I have made arrangements to meet him at Quatre Bras, and if I find myself not strong enough to stop him there, I shall fall back towards Blücher and fight him there.’
– The Duke of Wellington
English: Map of the Battle of Quatre Bras. 2006. Source: Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) – The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, page 800. Adapted from Chandler 1999, 353.
Vital to both sides, the crossroads at Quatre Bras would have allowed Wellington to advance towards his Prussian allies at Ligny. This combined force would have outnumbered the French. However, Napoleon’s plan was to divide the Allies by crossing the border into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Belgium). This disruption would give Napoleon time to advance and defeat Blücher, before turning his attention to triumphing over the Anglo-Dutch army.
The story did not unfold by design and instead the Anglo-Dutch met the French at Quatre Bras, 16th June 1815. After a fiercely contested battle, neither side was forced from the field. Wellington gained a tactical victory, whilst Napoleon a strategic one, having prevented the Allies coming to Blücher’s aid.
Meanwhile, the Prussian retreat from Ligny left the flank of Wellington’s army open to attack, therefore, the following morning Wellington withdrew for Waterloo. This painting by Ernest Crofts is a depiction of the allied army marching towards Waterloo, with Wellington leading the procession.
Ernest Crofts: ‘Wellington’s Retreat from Quatre Bras’ (VIS.1614). On loan to the Royal Armouries by Museums Sheffield. Now in the Royal Armouires’ ‘Waterloo: The Art of Battle’ exhibition.
Born in Leeds in 1847, Crofts studied in Düsseldorf under Emil Hünten, a former pupil of Horace Vernet. Here, Crofts unlike many of his contemporaries, witnessed soldiers in battle during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). On his return to Britain, Crofts continued his studies under Alfred Borron Clay, another painter of military scenes. By the time Crofts had ended his studies, his speciality had, too, become military and historical subjects. His various works include portrayals of English Civil War scenes, and a series of works relating to the Battle of Waterloo. In 1878 Crofts was elected an associate member of the Royal Academy, and a full academician in 1896.
Wellington’s March from Quatre Bras to Waterloo, is on display at the Royal Armouries as part of our Waterloo exhibition ‘The Art of Battle’ (22 May 2015-23 August 2015), alongside contemporary pieces of arms and armour.
The Duchess of Richmond’s ball has become a romanticised element of the Waterloo myth, where all the ‘immediate’ drama of the Battle of Waterloo began. It was held on June 15th (1815), the night before the Battle of Quatre Bras. The Duchess Charlotte was married to Charles Lennox the 4th Duke of Richmond, and the Duke and his 15 year old son (Charles Lennox, Earl of March, ADC to the Prince of Orange) were present at Waterloo on 18 June.
Robert Alexander Hillingford – painting “The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball” in Goodwood House the family seat of the Dukes of Richmond
Brussels was just a short boat ride from the south coast of England, and as a result the city was full of sightseers as well as the wives of senior officers.
The glamorous ball was continuing as any other, with the guests all dressed in their finery. Many of the male guests were high-ranking officers, who would soon be fighting at Waterloo (see full list below). Wellington himself arrived late to the festivities, having heard that the French had crossed the border in Belgium, and had already issued orders to his troops to prepare to move when the direction of Napoleon’s main attack became clear. Wellington was therefore distracted, and regularly speaking with his officers about arrangements during the festivities.
Later that night, a dispatch arrived from Quatre Bras to the Prince of Orange. The message was dated to 10pm that evening, and announced the repulse of Prussian forces from Fleurus on the road north-east of Chaleroi – less than 8 miles (as the crow flies) from Quatre Bras.
Intelligence of the Battle of Ligny (1818) by William Heath, depicting a Prussian officer informing the Duke of Wellington that the French have crossed the border at Charleroi and that the Prussians would concentrate their army at Ligny.
Wellington immediately asked the Duke whether he had a good map available, and they retired to his dressing room. Here Wellington supposedly uttered the now famous lines:
‘Napoleon has humbugged me, by God…. I have made arrangements to meet him at Quatre Bras, and if I find myself not strong enough to stop him there, I shall fall back towards Blücher and fight him there.’ – The Duke of Wellington
The illusion of the ball was then shattered. Officers were rushing hither and thither preparing themselves and their troops to depart at 3am. The women were worried and tense, some of whom were saying goodbye to loved ones for the last time. The theatrical drama of the scene has been captured in many works of classical 19th century art, including those below.
The Black Brunswicker by Millais.
Before Waterloo (1868), by Henry O’Neil, depicting officers departing from the Duchess of Richmond’s ball
Summoned to Waterloo: Brussels, dawn of June 16, 1815 by Robert Alexander Hillingford.
Below is the guest list to the ball, given to Lord Verulam by the Duchess of Richmond, who sent a copy to Georgina, Dowager Lady De Ross, daughter of the Charlotte Duchess of Richmond. This was then published by her in: “Personal Recollections of the Duke of Wellington” Murray’s Magazine, Part I 1889.
There were approximately 223 people invited and it is thought around 200 attended. Highlighted here are those guests who were either killed or wounded at the battle of Waterloo, only three days later.
William Siborne has played a major role in our understanding of the battle of Waterloo , and has left a lasting legacy of his work in the form of two large models, a collection of letters containing the eyewitness accounts of Waterloo veterans, and a History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815 that has remained in print for almost 170 years. But Siborne’s skills as a model maker are largely unappreciated, and his work as a historian is clouded by controversy.
How Siborne developed his interest in model making is not known. It may relate to his time as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military College, or his service with the Army of Occupation in Paris after the war. But when the idea was put forward in 1830 of constructing a model of the battle of Waterloo to form the centrepiece of the new United Services Museum, he was in an ideal position to undertake the project. He had recently constructed a model of the battlefield of Borodino, and had published A Practical Treatise on Topographical Surveying and Drawing, to which he had appended some Instructions on Topographical Modelling. As a result he was invited by Sir Rowland Hill, General Commanding in Chief of the British Army, to make the model. Siborne immediately took leave from his job as Assistant Military Secretary to the Commander in Chief in Ireland, and spent the next eight months at the farm of La Haye Sainte surveying the battlefield with the aid of a plane table and alidade (such as used below).
The site had already been damaged by the construction of the Lion Mound, commemorating the location where William Prince of Orange (the future William II) was wounded, and so Siborne had to recreate part of the battlefield using an earlier plan by the Dutch surveyor Craan and the knowledge of the local farmers. The detailed plans that Siborne produced unfortunately do not survive, and the only hint that remains is a small-scale black and white engraving that was published by his son in 1891.
When the survey was completed Siborne returned to Dublin and set about making his model. After working out an appropriate scale of nine feet to the mile, he calculated the size of the base, and divided it into a number of sections to make it easier to construct and to transport. He then transferred the details of his plan to each section, and used this information to sculpt a clay pattern. When the pattern was finished he created a mould, from which he made a plaster cast. He then added the fine detail – the roads, hedges, trees, crops and buildings – before the 10mm high lead figures were fixed in place. When completed the model measured 21 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 9 inches, and was populated by 80,000 figures, representing the 160,000 Allied, French and Prussian troops.
Siborne had entered into the construction of the model in good faith without any form of written agreement, and when his official funding was suddenly withdrawn, either as a result of the Treasury’s realisation that the cost (£3000) was much more than they had anticipated, or because the new Whig adminstration was not inclined to support a project celebrating the senior figure in the Tory party, he was forced to continue the project at his own expense.
The Model illustrating the Crisis of the Battle, when Napoleon launched the Imperial Guard in a last desperate gamble to gain victory, finally went on display at the Egyptian Hall off Piccadilly in 1838 to popular acclaim, with over over 100,000 people visiting the exhibition. Only one major criticism was raised, that it over represented the contribution of the Prussians in the final victory, and in the end Siborne rectified the ‘error’ by removing almost 20,000 figures.
Despite the success of the exhibition Siborne’s financial position remained precarious. His hopes that the Government would purchase the model remained frustrated, and his attempts to sell it were unsuccessful. He was finally able to raise sufficient funds to pay off his creditors, when to everyone’s surprise he announced an even more ambitious project to construct a series of smaller models showing critical moments in the battle.
The first of the smaller dioramas showing the charge of the British heavy cavalry under the Earl of Uxbridge at about 1.30 pm was the culmination of all Siborne’s skill, knowledge and experience as a model maker. He had long realised that because models were viewed from above, the choice of scale was critical to give the correct visual impression of the ground. He therefore chose to adopt for the New Model a horizontal scale of 15 feet to 1 inch (giving an overall base size of 18 feet 7 inches long by 7 feet 9 inches wide), and a vertical scale of 6 feet to 1 inch in order to best illustrate the undulating nature of the terrain. The result is a splendid impression of the battlefield that illustrates not only the ridge of Mont St. Jean, but the major features such as the the sunken road, the sand pit, the farm of La Haie Sainte, and the re-entrant.
Siborne made an equally careful choice of figure scale. He wanted to show the tactical formations used by the opposing forces at the exact moment of the charge, the two ranks of the British infantry standing in line, the nine ranks of the French infantry advancing in column, and the broken formations of the cavalry and infantry in melee, flight or pursuit.
To do this he adopted the generous ratio of 1 figure to every 4 actual soldiers, and 1 model to every field gun or limber. All of the figures were to be hand painted in the correct uniform colours and facings. But Siborne also wanted to illustrate the action, and so he had each of the 20mm figures cast with separate heads, arms and weapons to allow individual infantryman and cavalryman to be given unique poses. The capture of the eagles of the 45th and 105th Regiments by Sergeant Ewart (Scots Greys) and Captain Clark (Royals), and other scenes were clearly indentifiable. Finally he had a number of special figures made to represent the Duke of Wellington, the Earl of Uxbridge, Sir Thomas Picton, and Count d’Erlon. The result is a dramatic interpretation of the charge of the Household and Union Cavalry Brigades, and the rout of the 1st Corps d’Armee.
The model was not perfect. There were some errors arising from Siborne’s flawed research, such as the transposition of the location of the 1st and 2nd Divisions of d’Erlon’s Corps, the misidentification of the French cavalry regiments, and the absence of Bijlandt’s Dutch-Belgian Brigade, as well as some inaccuracies in the uniforms and weapons. But Siborne’s intention was to produce a model that would enable ‘a closer insight not only into the disposition and movements of the troops engaged, but also into those minutae of detail which characterize the actual battle-field’, and in that he succeeded.