La Haye Sainte, the charge of the Scots Greys, Life Guards and Household Brigade                           

To the right, on the main road, you see the roofs of La Haye Sainte; it was held by the King's German Legion, who were Hanoverian exiles in British service. Beyond, where the main road crosses the opposite skyline, is the inn of La Belle Allance; and there the British and allied soldiers could see the French and hear their drums and bands as they passed the Emperor in review and marched to their positions.


There also, on the slope before the inn, they saw French artillery being dragged into line. At 1.30 p.m., 78 French guns simultaneously opened fïre. All dong the line, this artillery barrage was remembered by Wellington's troops as the hardest part of the battle, because there was nothing they could do about it. But the guns were a little below the level of the ridge. Consequently, shot which fell short came bounding up the slope and thosc which were high went right over; and just behind the ridge there was a zone of comparative safety.


       


Wellington therefore ordered the infantry to retire a hundred yards from the lane. This meant they could no longer see what was happening in the valley. But they could hear. After half an hour, the gunfire suddenly stopped, and they heard the approaching drums of Napoleon's infantry, the rum-dum-dum of the pas de charge and the shouts of  'Vive I'Empereur'. The officers, who stayed here on the lane, could see: three solid phalanxes of infantry, each about 150 men in width and 25 in depth, were marching slowly through the rye parallel to the main road.


There is a small mound, still visible on your right, which half hides the buildings of La Haye Sainte. The leading ranks of the French came over the top of it, and met the fire of the Rifle Brigade. But further along to their right they could not see anyone on the lane. So they inclined in that direction. Forty yards in front of where you stand, they halted and began to deploy into line. The main reason for this manoeuvre seems to have been the hedges: they were not thick and men could easily force their way through them, but a solid body of men could not march through them in formation.


Picton had ordered the Scottish infantry forward again to the hedges: the French had not yet seen them. He shouted 'Fire!' and the Scots discharged 3,000 muskets in the French in the middle of their deployment could hardly reply. Then he shouted 'Charge! Charge! Hurrah!' - and was shot dead on his horse moments afterwards. A memorial stone now marks the place where he fell. The Scots burst through the hedges with their bayonets: and in front of the lane, just at the crest of the slope, the first hand-to-hand battle of the day was fought by six or seven thousand men.


Sir William Ponsonby, commanding the Union Brigade, was also here on the lane. He gave an order to his aide-de-camp, who waved his hat, and the 1,200 men of the Scot Greys heavy cavalry came up at the gallop, took the hedges like steeplechasers and charged down through the milling infantry. Lord Uxbridge, who commanded all Wellington's cavalry, saw what was happening from the other side of the main road, and charged diagonally over the crossroads leading the Household Brigade - the Blues, the Life Guards and the Kings Dragoon Guards.


French cavalry came across from beyond La Haye Sainte, intending to support their infantry attack. But under the double assault the ranks of the French infantry broke, and their



survivors retreated disorganized across the valley. The British cavalry in their excitement went too far, right up among the guns on the opposite slope, and before they could fight their way back, something like half of them were killed.


Within about half an hour, the valley as you see it from here was empty again, except that thousands of dead and wounded men and horses were lying in the mud and the trampled rye. Later in the afternoon this part of the field was comparatively quiet: the main action took place at the far side of the main road.


But it was dong this lane, from your left, that the advance guards of the Prussian army under Marshal Blucher began to arrive at about 7 p.m. too late to take much part in the fighting here, but just in time to revive the spirits of Wellington's men, who by that time were in desperate straits.

Continue tour The Kings German Legion defending the farm of La Haye Sainte


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