The departure of Bonaparte and his armed followers from the island of Elba in the spring of 1815, with their sudden appearance in France, followed by the flight of Louis XVIII to the Netherlands, and the resumption of the Imperial throne by Napoleon, were events more wonderful than the fictions of romance; and all Europe looked on with astonishment. But the nations soon resolved that Bonaparte should not reign in France, for his restless ambition was not to be trusted: and nearly every European state prepared an army to assist in removing the emperor of France from his throne; and a dreadful struggle was expected to ensue.
The English Life Guards were among the troops selected to take part in this gigantic contest which was to decide the dynasty of France and probably the destiny of the world: and in the month of June 1815 I was in quarters in Flanders, awaiting to take an individual part in the great enterprise.
The entire French nation did not espouse the cause of the Emperor with all the zeal he had hoped to see manifest; yet he had a body of veteran troops, full[y] devoted to his interest, which he believed was more than a match for any one of the armies preparing to attack him: but not capable of contending with the whole united. He therefore resolved to attack them in detail and to destroy them one at a time, and he determined to commence with the Prussians and English, who were nearest the frontiers, that he might destroy them before the Austrians and Russians could come up. And to enable him to take them by surprise, he sent his army forward by forced secret marches; at the same time he called a public meeting near Paris, to induce a belief that he was meditating pacific measures.
In this he so far succeeded that the commanders of the allied armies appeared satisfied that no hostile movement would take place for some time. The Prussians reposed in quarters; and the Duke of Wellington and many of his officers attended a ball at Brussels: not thinking that the French legions were coming down upon them with astonishing rapidity.
When Bonaparte had finished his speech at the public meeting he galloped off to join the army: and he made a bold attempt to surprise and destroy the Prussians.
I was in quarters among the Flemish peasantry: we had been grinding our swords and putting new flints to our carbines and pistols, that we might be ready at a moment’s notice. About two or three o’clock in the morning of the 16th of June I happened to be awake and heard the notes of an English bugle at a distance breaking in upon the silence of the night; I called to some of the soldiers sleeping in the same apartment, and the bugle was again heard. Some said the light dragoons in the next villages were going out to exercise; but it was too early for that. We therefore concluded there was some cause for that unusual call to horse, and although the call did not concern us, we got up and dressed ourselves.* Presently our own trumpet sounded the ‘Alarm’ followed by ‘To horse’, when we saddled our horses and proceeded to the point of assembly. We waited some time for the other regiments of the brigade to come up, and then advanced along the road leading to Nivelles. But no one could assign any reason for this movement; nor was it for a moment suspected that Bonaparte had made a desperate attack on the Prussians, and a body of French troops had advanced against the British post at Quatre Bras.
After we had been a few hours on the march, we heard the noise of a cannonade at a distance, and we then began to understand the reason of this sudden march. Towards evening we entered Nivelles and saw women seated at their cottage doors scraping old linen into lint, and this showed us that they expected many wounded soldiers to arrive. A little further we saw an English surgeon dressing the wounds of French prisoners: we hurried forward but before we arrived at the field of battle darkness had put an end to the contest. We passed the night in a corn field, in ignorance of what had taken place during the day, beyond that there had been some fighting and the French had been repulsed at this point.
On the following morning all was quiet: our horses ate the green corn in the field. We had a little food which we had brought with us ourselves; and we stood in line dismounted and looking around us. Presently we saw infantry regiments march one after another past us along the road to Brussels. They were followed by artillery and cavalry, and our brigade seemed to be left alone: and in time we learned that the Prussians had been driven from their position on the preceding day and had retreated; and that the Duke of Wellington had resolved to retire to keep up his communications with the Prussians.
In the eventful times alluded to, I was acquainted with a singular character among the guards of the royal person: his name was Shaw, and he was afterwards celebrated for his heroic conduct at the sanguinary field of Waterloo. Shaw was six feet high, and possessed a powerful athletic frame. His features were large and rather coarse, his countenance indicated a measure of good nature as well as of determined purpose. His broad chest, muscular arms, and large bony hands, denoted a powerful antagonist to be encountered in close combat. He was not only well versed in the use of the broad sword and could use the shining blade with a speed of a flash of light, but he also knew the science of pugilism, and few men could stand before him. A blow from his sword would have been dangerous and disabling if not fatal to an armed man and a stroke from his clenched fist dreadful to a weak man.
Looking back into the treasures of memory, I have a clear recollection that on the morning of the 17th of June 1815 the troops of our regiment were reposing in a cornfield near the Brussels road, ready to take part in covering the retreat from Quatre Bras to Waterloo, when Shawe laid down among the corn and fell asleep. From this slumber he suddenly aroused himself, and springing on his feet with agitated countenance said, ‘I have just dreamed that a Frenchman shot me.’ He was, however, as little addicted to superstitious fears as any man on earth, and instantly shaking off the unpleasant feeling his dream had produced, he joked about the alarming apparition he had seen in his sleep.
After a short time we saw large bodies of French troops in front of us, and we were ordered to retire. When we turned round, a very imposing and pleasing spectacle burst upon our view; it was the whole British cavalry and artillery, skilfully put in array, to cover the retreat of the British army, by the Earl of Uxbridge; and each brigade was so placed as to be seen to the best advantage. And there was need for a good force to do this; for Bonaparte, having driven the Prussians from Ligny with great loss, and sent a French corps in pursuit of them, was directing the main body of his army against the English, hoping to crush them at one blow before the assembly of their army could be completed. But the retreat towards Brussels was skilfully conducted.
This day’s work was more noise and sham than otherwise; each brigade retired in succession and the front had always a formidable appearance. The use of fire arms on horseback had not attained much perfection. For on one occasion I watched the mounted skirmishers of the French and English armies, firing at each other for more than twenty minutes, and not one man or horse fell on either side. The French artillery occasionally hurried forward and fired a few cannon balls at us; I saw the flash and the smoke, and heard the sound, but no harm was done; the gunners must therefore have been bad marksmen. Our guns opened a heavy fire in return; and now and then a Congreve rocket* went hissing through the air; but I suppose little damage was done. And a heavy fall of rain cooled human ardour on both sides.
Some fighting took place in the village of Genappe and the Seventh Hussars were at one time in some danger, but a very gallant charge of the First Life Guards turned the tide of affairs, and the rear guard quitted the village without much loss.
On arriving at the rising ground in front of the village of Waterloo, the British infantry and artillery stood prepared to repel any further advances of the French who halted on the opposite heights, called Mont St Jean; and the two armies passed the night without molesting each other.
Although midsummer was near, we passed an uncomfortable night exposed to a cold wind and to heavy rain. There we stood on soaked ploughed ground, shivering, wet, and hungry; for there was neither food for man nor horse. Some soldiers complained of the hardship, some jested at their sufferings, and others tried to guess at what would take place on the morrow; and some hinted at the probability that not many of us would see the 19th of June. But no one believed in gloomy prognostications. We pulled down a fence and made a fire, but we gained little good by standing round it, for while one side was warming the other was cold and wet.
The morning was clear, the rain gradually abated and Shaw,† myself and several others were sent in search of food for our regiment. We found a wagon loaded with bread abandoned by the driver and horses. We each took a sack full of loaves, and then went to a large farm house in search for cheese, butter, or bacon, to be eaten with the bread; but at that moment a cannon shot gave indication of the approaching battle. ‘The work is beginning’, exclaimed one of our company (Shaw), ‘Come lads, let us hasten to our regiment; we have each our share of duty to perform today’ and we hastened to our regiment with our bread; but the firing had become very brisk before we joined the ranks.
The occurrences of the 18th of June have a place in my memory like a dreadful dream; like some fearful vision of the night when gloomy horrors brood over the [mind?]. Scenes of frightful destructions flit before my mind as shadows and yet I know that they represent awful realities. I have a confused, disjointed recollection of many things; yet no clear, comprehensive idea of them as a whole. I recollect our brigade (consisting of the 1st Life Guards, 2nd Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards, 1st Dragoon Guards) being formed in regimental columns of squadrons under the brow of a hill near the centre of the British army and dismounted. The field of battle was in front of us, but it was hid from our view by the rising ground. We heard a thunder of cannon, the fire of musketry, and the shouts of combatants near us; and we saw many wounded men passing towards the rear: some were carried in blankets, others walked slowly along, and several fell and died. It was dangerous to pass the ground behind us, for the shot and shell which passed over our heads struck the ground behind us in great numbers.
Sometimes the turmoil of battle appeared greatest on our right; at other times on our left; and at length there was a tremendous thunder of cannon which drowned every other sound, immediately in front of us; but the rising ground before us concealed from our view what was taking place; yet we naturally concluded a powerful attempt was being made to force the centre of the British army; and as there were no troops in our rear, we viewed ourselves as a last resource to defeat this project. The conflict was raging violently beyond the rising ground in front of us, and the roar of artillery with the report of small arms was incessant, yet we could not see what was taking place; but the commander of the cavalry, the Earl of Uxbridge, rode forward to gain a full view of the conflict and to watch the progress of events, that he might bring our brigade of a thousand powerful swordsmen into action under the most favourable circumstances, and at a moment when a charge of heavy cavalry was particularly wanted.
After a time I saw the Earl of Uxbridge, who had been in front watching the progress of events, gallop towards us, when a slight murmur of gladness passed along the ranks. The word ‘Mount’ was given, and the trumpet sounded ‘Draw swords’: and the command followed, ‘Form line on the leading squadron of the 2nd Life Guards.’ This done the word ‘Advance’ was given, and the trumpet sounded ‘Walk’. But we saw no enemy; yet there was a strange medley of shouts, musket shots, and the roar of cannon, beyond the rising ground in front of us.
Presently we met a number of English foot soldiers running for their lives: they passed between our horses, or through squadron intervals, formed behind us, and followed us. They were succeeded by a confused mixture of artillery and rifle men, hastening to get out of our way and form behind us. At the same time I noticed the soldiers of a battalion of Belgian infantry, formed under the brow of the hill, run away: and I supposed they were very young soldiers, for no veterans would have done so.*
So great was the impetuosity of the various attacks, that our first line was somewhat shaken, and a body of cuirassiers was ascending the crest of our position. The First Cavalry Brigade deployed and advanced; halted a few minutes between the first and second lines [of infantry], (not one hundred yards from the enemy’s ranks) and then charged in line! It was a magnificent sight. The charge of the Life Guards was tremendous! They rushed with overwhelming fury on the ranks of the enemy, and hurled them back in confusion.
The French cuirassiers came on in the pride of assumed superiority, and with all that martial bearing and daring audacity so remarkably evinced by that arm throughout the day; their advance was therefore singularly imposing; but being met in mid-onset by the British Household Cavalry, although in every respect the elite of the French army, and like the mailed warriors of chivalry, ‘locked up in steel’, they were completely overthrown, cut down, and driven back, l’épée dans les reins.† In the pursuit the Second Regiment of Life Guards passed some columns of French infantry, and captured several pieces of cannon; but being pressed on all sides by superior numbers, and the regiment having to fight its way back, it was unable to retain possession of the guns, which were consequently dismounted and abandoned. Before the regiment could regain the position of the allies it was closely pressed by a corps of lancers, of more than treble its own strength, and was exposed to the fire of two columns of French infantry.
#Note by Playford: The first cuirassier corps encountered by the Second Life Guards was the Carabiniers a Cheval, the elite of the French army.
Our troop formed the right half of the left squadron of the brigade. In the centre of the squadron troop quarter master Beamond (who was killed) was stationed. On his right hand was Shaw, riding a very powerful horse and grasping a recently ground broad sword. Next to Shaw rode a trooper named Adamson (who was killed); on Adamson’s right was seen Hilton (who was also numbered with the slain). On Hilton’s right hand I was stationed; and on my right hand rode a powerful Yorkshireman named Youeson:* but memory fails to retain the names of the other brave men who fought near us; they were, however, nearly all killed through penetrating too far into the French lines.
We were advancing in line at a slow pace with horses well reined in; for they were excited by the dreadful din of battle in our front; but we saw no enemy, for the scene of combat was still hidden from us by the rising ground.
The trumpet sounded ‘Trot’, yet we saw no enemy. The Earl of Uxbridge was in front watching for the best moment to bring us into action; and he regulated the pace we should move at accordingly. Meanwhile a few cannon shots took effect in our ranks and Shaw was hit, as we rode slowly forward Youeson gave me a nudge with his elbow and said ‘Shaw is hit!’. I instantly looked to my left and noticed Shaw’s head had fallen from its erect position, his right hand was raised in the air, and his sword had fallen from his grasp but was held by a strap fastened to his wrist: and as his person was not injured I concluded that he had been struck by a spent ball which had knocked the breath out of him. A few moments afterwards Youeson nudged me again and said ‘There goes Shaw’s horse without a rider; what a splendid creature he is!’ I then noticed that Shaw’s horse had galloped through the squadron and was sporting in front; and with head raised and tail extended he galloped first one way and then another. I, like Youeson, thought him a magnificent beast.
The Earl of Uxbridge again approached us; he took off his hat, waved it round his head, and then passed his hat forward over his horse’s head. It was a signal, and the trumpets sounded ‘Charge’. Hurrah! Shouted the soldiers; Hurrah! Responded the infantry behind us; and there appeared to be a pause in the battle to look at us. And at that moment a line of French horsemen in bright armour appeared in front of us; they were shouting, waving their swords and sabring the English infantry and artillerymen who had not got out of our way. Our shouts had arrested their attention, and looking up they saw fearful ranks of red-horsemen coming galloping forward, shouting and brandishing their swords. The cuirassiers paused and looked at us as likely to prove an easy conquest. Their bearing had all the bravado and audacity of veterans accustomed to triumph and they appeared to look upon us as victims given to their superior swords. They met us in mid-onset near the brow of the hill as men confident of victory, but the shock of battle overthrew many of them; for the weight and power of our men and horses was too great for their less powerful men and weaker horses. They gave way, some fell back: but returning to the attack, hand to hand and sword to sword the work of death went on; but our weight and strength of our men and horses again proved too much for them. Many fell; others fled, and were pursued towards their own lines. British valour had triumphed so far; but the French cuirassiers were also brave men and good swordsmen; only we fell upon them when their line was a little deranged, otherwise they would, doubtless, have stood their ground longer; yet I think that our charge was irresistible. As the cuirassiers fell back, and the English troopers pressed forward a melee took place in which lancers and infantry musketeers mingled in the fray.
From the moment that Shaw fell from his horse I never saw him alive afterwards; but presuming that the heroic conduct ascribed to him by journalists and historians was founded on facts witnessed by some of his companions in arms (although, perhaps, a little heightened in print), it would appear that he speedily revived from the effects produced by the spent cannon ball, regained his horse, and dashing into the thickest of the hand to hand fight, when cuirassiers, lancers, and musketeers fell beneath the broad sword wielded by his powerful arm. For he was a very strong man of impulsive temperament and determined purpose, and it is affirmed in history that he wrought wonderful execution among the opposing combatants. According to the accounts published at the time the glittering blade of this heroic swordsman was seen descending with fatal violence first upon one enemy and then upon another until his strength was exhausted, when he received a fatal wound which terminated his victorious career. In the printed records he is compared with some of Homer’s heroes. And while it may be truly said that many brave men fell at Waterloo, it may be added that Shaw was one of the bravest of the brave.
I have a painful recollection of the pursuit, of shots, of clashing swords, of mangled bodies and groaning men; yet, strange to say, no enemy confronted me. Those who first looked me in the face rode off before we crossed swords, not I suppose, from the fear of a personal conflict, but from noticing that it was impossible for them to maintain their ground against our numbers.
I pursued; my progress was arrested by a hedge, and I looked over the fence, when I saw dreadful deeds taking place in a paddock a little to my right: my blood was hot and I went to a gap in the fence, but it was choked up with horses struggling in the agonies of death. I turned to my left and saw fearful carnage taking place on the main road to Brussels; but my recollection of what I saw is confused like a frightful dream. Under a hot impulse I hurried to the scene, but the fighting there soon ceased; and all I could do was to ride after some cuirassiers who, however, contrived to escape. As I rode on I saw our soldiers destroying the men and horses of some French artillery. But in whatever direction I turned every Frenchman got out of my way, excepting one cuirassier who fell completely into my power. He was unhorsed, his helmet was knocked off, and I raised my hand to cleave his skull; but at that moment compassion sprung up within me, I checked the blow and let the conquered cuirassier escape with a wound on the side of his head.
We pursued the French too far, and when we returned we sustained some loss. We had galloped through wet ploughed ground, and many of our horses panted for breath; at the same time a number of fresh enemies rode down upon us, and a few single combats occurred in which Frenchmen generally had the advantage. Yet I rode among conflict and slaughter and every enemy avoided me. Those of my companions who fell at this time generally lost their lives from rash bravado; for they rode singly out of their way to attack two or three enemies, and when a greater number came against them, their horses were blown and they could not escape. They could only sell their lives as dear as possible.
I saw a comrade (Joseph Hindley) whose horse had been killed, running to catch a French horse and I rode between him and his pursuers, for my horse was comparatively fresh. I helped him to catch the French horse, and stood by to defend him while he mounted; and, although musket and pistol balls passed near us, we remained uninjured.
As we rode back towards our lines, a body of French infantry intercepted us; a regiment of the King’s German Legion menaced the infantry with a charge, when the French formed two squares; between these squares we had to pass, and as we approached both squares opened an oblique fire upon us; but not a single man and only one horse fell. I therefore concluded that these French soldiers were not good marksmen; for as we were not much above two hundred yards from them, I considered that the greater half of our number ought to have fallen, but their balls must have struck the ground before they reached us or have passed over our heads.
During the engagement his grace came to the head of the First Regiment of Life Guards, and thanked the squadrons for their distinguished bravery.
Note by Playford: After the return of the army to England, the Duke of Wellington came to the barracks of the Second Life Guards, in King Street, Portman Square; and, the regiment being on parade, it was formed into a close column, when his Grace again expressed, in the strongest terms, his admiration of its conduct during the whole of the periods it had served under his command, in the Peninsula and on the Continent, particularly at the Battle of Waterloo; and observed to Earl Cathcart, the Colonel of the regiment, who was present on this occasion, that its conduct had repeatedly produced in the breast of his Grace the most lively feelings of exultation; when his Lordship replied ‘I have known the regiment more than twenty years, and have always had reason to feel proud of its conduct.’
When our regiment was again formed, I looked round to see who was there, and I found that about three out of four were not present. Many were killed, some were only wounded, and others had lost their horses; but our loss altogether was a dreadful. We were only a small remnant of what we were in the morning; and some of that remnant were bleeding.
The battle was still raging and we again occupied a position under the brow of the hill, but much nearer the combatants; and in this instance many cannon shots took effect, so that officers, soldiers, and horses fell one after another: and I noticed the same taking place in other regiments of our brigade. This is, perhaps, one of the most painful situations a human being can be placed in; to sit still and be shot at, and to see men and horses falling on each side of you, and yet you are not allowed to move. When men are fully engaged in the hot work of war, their animal nature becomes fired, and their blood appears to boil within them; and they are too busy to think or to fear: but when a man has to sit still and be shot at; with nothing to think about but that the next shot will probably deprive him of life or of a limb; and that in a moment or two he shall be weltering in his blood in the agonies of death or under the [surgeon, his blood?] appears to run cold. At the same time his thoughts are apt to wander home to a father, mother, wife, or child; particularly if the individual is not given to thinking on such subjects. And I felt glad that my mother did not know the danger her son was in. Generally, however, men, under such circumstances, sit motionless and dumb; if they survive, you may learn from conversation afterwards what was passing in their minds at the time.
Here my memory fails to identify particulars in which a melee of all arms were mingled in close combat. The French were driven from the field; the Prussians arrived and pursued the broken fragments of the French army. I became separated from my regiment, and passed the night in a barn near the road to Brussels together with three or four other men of our regiment.
On the following morning we went in search of the surviving fragments of our regiment, and found a few officers and men; perhaps twenty in all including ourselves. In this search I rode across one part of the field of battle, and Corporal Webster pointed out to me the dead body of Shaw, pointing to a spot where several dead French soldiers lay, said ‘There lies Shaw’. I replied ‘I rode over that ground this morning, and noticed that one of our regiment was among the slain, but his face was concealed’. Webster said ‘I examined the countenance and recognised Shaw. He appears to have received a fatal injury in his body, for there is a deep wound in his side, near the heart, which appears to have been inflicted with either a bayonet or a lance’. This Shaw was only two file from me in the ranks; he was a powerful brave man and fell early. I think I saw him fall but it is possible he revived again. As I did not witness the exploits of Shaw in close combat, nor yet inquire of the wounded French soldiers near his corpse, by whose hand the dead lying roundabout had fallen, I can neither add to, nor take away from the published accounts; but from the position in which Shaw’s remains were found among dead adversaries, with only one or two killed Englishmen near, this seems to favour what has been said concerning the havoc he produced among the French troopers before he fell. What I knew of him would favour this: for he was the strongest and most resolute man I ever knew, and had such great confidence in his own prowess that he would not hesitate to attack as many foes as could stand opposed to him.†
When the remnant of our regiment was collected together we looked a strange medley, some on French horses and some on foot, and from time to time we found one of our own horses whose rider had been killed. We followed the army a few miles and then halted for the night.
When I had cut green forage for my horse, and sat down on the ground looking at him eat, I reflected on the preceding day’s work. I wondered at the fact that I had gone through such dreadful scenes and had appeared as an actor in such dreadful carnage without ever having slain one human being!
I contemplated the occurrences of the 18th of June and recollected that some men of our regiment, of impulsive natures, had become decidedly insane during the hot work of war. They shouted, raved, and rushed recklessly into battle where several of them perished. One man, Samuel Godley, had his horse shot and his helmet knocked off, and he raved about the field of battle on foot until he met a cuirassier, whom he slew and rode off with his horse to new scenes of conflict. I saw Godley* perform that daring exploit which is recorded of him by his regiment. He lived some years afterwards and when he died I made a drawing for the device on his tombstone, which may be seen in the burial ground St John’s Wood, London.
Other men of the regiment distinguished themselves; and mention is made in the Historical Records of The Life Guards of John Johnson, who triumphed over three cuirassiers. I knew Johnson well; he was a quiet man of few words, but a brave soldier.
Other men, naturally of nervous infirmity, became almost helpless; I saw one man about forty yards from me, drop his own sword, and seize the sword of his opponent.
Some men, not naturally hard hearted, became so brutalised by the conflict that they were ready for any act of barbarity. I saw one soldier, who had always before appeared to be of a humane disposition, slay a grey-haired French officer, who had surrendered, in a most savage manner. Some men appeared anxious to shed blood whether there was any occasion for it or not.
I had conversed in the morning with several who were killed during the day; and they had expressed a conviction that they should fall in the conflict, and they did fall; but I never had any such impression: nor had any of those who were alive at the close of the day any presentiment that they were to be killed that day. On the 17th of June, when we were halted in a cornfield and were dismounted, several men lied [sic] down; and one soldier (Shaw) started suddenly up saying ‘I have just dreamt that a Frenchman shot me’: and he fell about the same hour on the next day. I have noticed on several occasions that strong presentiments often prove true (but not always); and if the presentiment produced a dream the dream may also prove true.
As we followed the French army in its flight towards Paris, I noticed that the cruel propensities called into development by hand to hand struggles and combats, did not subside when all danger was past. One evening, when cutting forage, the troopers found a French soldier concealed among the corn, and brought him prisoner to the bivouac, where he was told to sit down under a tree. Presently a farrier coming that way, saw the Frenchman, and said ‘That fellow shot at me yesterday, and now I will have my revenge’. The farrier’s countenance manifested a determined purpose; he drew a sword, and muttering ‘I’ll cut him to pieces’ walked deliberately towards the trembling captive. I thought it wrong to kill a prisoner, and stepping between the farrier and his victim, I induced the former to desist. He threw down the sword with an oath, and walked away cursing me for interfering. And several men hinted their disappointment of my conduct; and yet these men had formerly been as kind and humane as the generality of mankind. But shedding blood had deadened their sensibilities, and it required time for them to regain their former principles and tenderness.
At the close of another day’s march I was affected by noticing a soldier grieving over his dead horse. The faithful animal had been wounded on the 18th of June, but had travelled several days without appearing to be seriously injured. The horse, however, died suddenly at the end of the fourth day, and the soldier shed tears: I listened with deep attention to the afflicted soldier as he spoke of the excellent qualities of his steed, and told how that faithful beast had carried him through Spain and France; and had borne him triumphant through the dreadful scenes at Waterloo. The soldier told how the horse would eat out of his hand, lick his face and hands, and give evident signs of attachment to his master. And I felt gratified at these signs of sympathy and tenderness in one of my companions in arms. I, however, knew that many soldiers are attached to their horses: and some horses evince attachment to the man who gives them food.
The flight of Bonaparte from France, his surrender to a British ship of war and his subsequent exile in St Helena are events which followed in succession. The allies entered Paris; Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France, and the British army occupied quarters near the French capital. I was stationed at the village of Nanterre,* near Paris, for several months, and I was employed as an assistant clerk to the regiment, which was a duty agreeable to my disposition: for to keep books, preserve records, and enter correspondence, was an employment to which I had no objection.
The war was terminated, but some time was occupied in settling the conditions of peace and in arranging the affairs of Europe, during which period the small remains of our regiment was stationed at Nanterre. During these negotiations, a number of reviews took place, at which the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, and other great personages were present.
While I was at Nanterre I noticed some of the customs of the people, and particularly that in several families the wife conducted the business, while the husband loitered about or went to the wine house. At the house where we had our regimental office the mother and her two sons, who were quite youths, carried on a large business as wholesale pork butchers. The woman went to market twice a week, purchased pigs, superintended the killing and dressing, and sent the pork to Paris. She also sold the meat in the wholesale markets at Paris: while her husband loitered at the wine houses. I think there is no country where females are so kindly treated as in England. I have seen French women filling manure drays, driving teams, and performing work which in England is supposed to require masculine powers.
The French placed confidence in English soldiers, and treated them with kindness. The Portuguese and Spaniards looked upon us as heretics, and although we appeared as their deliverers from foreign oppression, they manifested nothing beyond a cold political friendship, and never forgot our religion. But the French had less bigotry; they appeared to lose sight of religious differences; and they treated us with warm-hearted kindness, although we had come as enemies to force upon them a king whom they spoke of with ridicule and contempt.
My hostess would often, after returning from market, empty her cash purses upon the table before me, gold, silver and copper all mixed, and request me to count it up while she was busy in household affairs. I was to fold it in papers, the copper ten penny lots by themselves; the silver in twenty franc lots by themselves; and the gold in twenty Napoleon (20 s) lots; and she put each lot into a separate purse ready to be taken to market. I also mingled with several family circles, and was invited as a guest to weddings and entertainments. And it seemed strange to me that English soldiers, who were foreign enemies, just arrived with a victorious army to impose an objectionable yoke upon them, should be treated as brothers. But it was understood that the Russian, Prussian and Austrian soldiers treated the French peasantry where they were quartered with some cruelty: and the more civil behaviour of the English was appreciated. At Nanterre I was promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer [corporal].
The French appeared to regard Sunday as a day of merriment. A few persons attended public worship in the forenoon; and the afternoon and evening were generally devoted, at least by great numbers, to card-playing, to billiards, and other games, and more especially to dancing. The dancing rooms at the wine houses were generally crowded on Sunday evenings. The Spaniards also formed dancing parties on Sunday afternoons in the streets of Logrono.
It seemed to me right to observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day, but French and Spaniards looked upon it as a day for amusement.
After reposing in comfortable quarters near Paris for several months, we received directions to return to England, where we arrived in February 1816 and resumed our former duties in London.