The Kings German Legion defending the farm of La Haye Sainte                           

View point two


This is La Haye Sainte, the scene of a different kind of fighting here the Kings German Legion were orderd to defend La haye sainte. On your way back towards the Lion Hill, it is only a short distance to walk down the main road; but it needs care because at present there is no footpath down the right-hand side of the road, so that if you cross at the traffic lights you have to walk in the roadway. It is probably better to walk down the left-hand side of the road, and wait for a chance to cross opposite the farm.


Down the main road on the left is a Hanoverian monument erected in 1818 to commemorate the defenders of La Haye Sainte and in particulary the men of the Kings German Legion. It also marks the site of one of the graves on the battlefield, a huge pit where 4,000 men were buried. The main interest of La Haye Sainte is that it was repaired soon after the battle and has not changed since, except for the traffic which now thunders past it. It is still a working farm, and the owners are understandably reluctant to have large numbers of visitors in their courtyard. But it can be seen quite well from the opposite side of the road, or from the gateway. The house is on the right of the yard and the barn on the left; they are joined on the far side by a row of byres and stables with an arched gateway to the fields beyond, and on the near side by a high wall between the yard and the road.


   

          


All this is almost exactly as it was when the battle began, except that there is a new gateway in the wall to the left of the main gate. For Wellington, it was awkward to have to defend such an outpost, but it was so close to his line as to be a serious danger if the French could take it. So he posted there a detachment of 360 men of the King's German Legion, who were well known for their reliability. They had sheltered there in the rain the night before, with an enormous crowd of other men. But they had not been told the place had to be defended, so they broke up all the farm carts for fïrewood, and even the great gates of the barn, on the opposite side to the road; and they had no timber left to build firing platforms or block the entrances.


But they knocked loopholes in the walls, and from those and the upper windows the men of the Kings German Legion had a grandstand view of the French infantry's advance and retreat, and of the cavalry charge. Napoleon also saw the importance of this farm, and he ordered Marshal Ney, who was in the thick of most of the fighting, to take it at all costs. It was first attacked at about 3 p.m. by French infantry who came up the road and across the fields. They surrounded the buildings, trying to force an entry. Some got in by the open door of the barn, but they were slaughtered. Straw in the barn caught fire, and the defenders had to put it out with their camp kettles, which they filled from a pond (it has since dried up) on the left of the main gate.


That attack was repulsed, but many of the defenders were killed; and in fighting it off, and firing at French troops who passed the farm to attack the line itself, they used almost all their ammunition. They kept sending messengers up to the crossroads for more, but none came. In the middle of the afternoon they had to collect all they could from the dead and wounded. Even so, they had only four or five rounds a man.


At about 6 p.m., the French made a second attack. They crept dong the foot of the wall which still divides the courtyard from the road, seized the barrels of the defenders' rifles and fires into the yard through the loopholes; they brought an axe and tried to smash the wooden gate. Defenders standing on the roof of the shed inside the wall leaned over the top and fired their last few rounds. But other French succeeded in climbing to the roofs of the stables opposite, and they fired down into the courtyard. The ammunition ran out: the farm had to be abandoned.


The only way of escape was through the house and out by the garden door at the back. As the defenders ran for it, the French broke in, and there was a short, gruesome fight in this yard with bayonets and the butts of muskets. Only 41 of the 350 Kings German Legion Hanoverians reached the crossroads alive. Walking back up the road, you pass the small garden surrounded by hedges behind the house. In the last hours of the battle, the French were in this garden, little more than 100 yards from Wellington's line, with artillery under cover of the buildings. For much of that time, though, the gun smoke was so thick that neither side could see the other.


Continue tour The French cavalry unleashed, Marshal Ney leads the finest napoleonic cavalry...


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