Tuesday 1 September 2009

Back from La Boissiere - Was it worth it? Hell yeah!

Back home and, after a day of work, looking back on the living history/campaign weekend at Ecole-Boissiere. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, and was very impressed with all the involved participants, as well as the organization - as well as the friendliness of the local population. I have never seen people this enthusiastic about cannon fire in their back yard before....

I've given a stab at a brief summary of the day from my own perspective. By definition it will incom plete, subjective and in some cases perhaps even incorrect. So if you're reading this and have anything to add, by all means add a comment!

Arrival and first night
Travel to the event was very 'fluid' as the signs on the Paris peripheque would call it. It's a good 700km total in a horse truck, so it took us from 8am till mid-afternoon, but traffic was light and we arrived pretty fresh. Just from the drive up the campsite it looked promising alright, a very scenic environment with rolling hills and woodland and farmland distributed roughly evenly. The villages were without exception very pretty. I'm sure living there must cost a small fortune being within striking distance from Paris and very rustic.

Hussar van Ee and myself set up the horse line, unloaded the horses and got changed into our uniforms. After we unloaded all our kit and moved it into the woods, we set up our camp. That is, I filled my strawbag, arranged for a support for my saddle & horse equipment... And then watched the infantry hard at work building shelters. 10 points for the effort, but with the weather looking the way it did, we figured we'd do without them.

I had the opportunity to make myself useful when the leatherwork that came with the wagon would not fit the percherons (wat fine animals!). Luckily I had brought my leather working tools so I could stitch a new belt onto the existing leatherwork, problem solved.

After dinner (bread, cheese and some sausage - this would become a pattern...), we set out for a brief reconnaissance towards L'Epinette to the northeast of us, and were happy to report it entirely free of armed French. Reporting it free of French would be silly, this being France. Nonetheless, where I refer to French in the remainder of this blog, assume it to refer to the 1800's armed French variety.

Having returned and watered the horses (thanks to the wagoneer bringing up water, as the local water supply had burst the night before....), we hung out with the infantry, minded our wagoneer-general's fire, and then went to get some sleep. I rolled up in my mantle, snuggled up as best as I could and tried to sleep. I slept roughly half of the night - at other times kept awake by a dg foraging through our camp, the horses trying to dig their way to Australia, and later simply by getting cold.

The morning proved a very beautiful one. Everyone got up groggily, hardly anyone had slept well, but I think we all felt pretty energized by the experience. Breakfast followed - bread, cheese, sausage again. Awaiting orders we got dressed and saddled up the horses. As this was the first time we were actually traveling with horses rations, our own rations and all our kit, that proved a bit more work than anticipated. I had already discovered the evening before that I needed to make some changes and lessen the hard food for Bles (by feeding him in the morning, so Bles never suffered...), but Hussar van Ee could be overheard swearing and cussing for a good half hour when he ran into similar issues. We handed some of our supplies (primarily buckets and rope) to be loaded onto the wagon, waited for the infantry to receive their pay (are they slow at _everything_? :P ) and set off.

Below map shows the route taken during the Saturday, as well as the encounters along the way.

View Ecole-Boissiere 2009, Saturday in a larger map

Wagoneer-general Macdonald announced that, although we were organic to the wagon train, the cavalry (all 2 of us) would also assist Captain Draak of the infantry in scouting for the enemy. Thus, our first orders were to scout the way ahead of the column. We moved on ahead, with Hussar van Ee's horse setting the pace, and my horse, Bles, making a big show of walking at a slower pace. Blessed be the day when I convince him walking a touch faster and not having to trot to catch up is to BOTH our benefit.

Scouting the first clearing, Hussar van Ee turned back to report the all clear - as much to test how the horses (amazingly close buddies even though they only know eachother at events) handle seperation as anything. While standing still Bles bucked a bit but when I set him to work scouting further ahead he was fine.

Soon we came upon our first watering point at la Gatine. There, we were waylaid by an obvious French patriot lady who delayed the column by offers of coffee. But at long last we set off. We now got the opportunity to do some useful scouting by checking which of the roads allowed the wagon to pass. Fortunately the direct route was quite passable and we made our way to our next waypoint near Faverolles. The only excitement proved to be the horses at the equestrian center - they freaked out at the sound of our pipe and drum, so captain Draak ordered the musicians to silence.

At the Faverolles way-point we set up for lunch, and dismounted. We were received very generously by the local populations, allowed to rest in their walled garden, and (joy!) use the porcelain toilet rather than dump somewhere in the woods. Lunch consisted of bread, cheese and a sausage. Plus the apple that I shared with Bles. We had the horses to mind, while the infantry could crash without a care. I'm sure they feel it's meager compensation for them having to walk while we 'laze about on our horses'....

Still, we'd gotten not even a single glimpse of the French troops, and jokes were already heard that they had been the previous weekend. One local however informed us that the French were in the next village over. With this news we set off in haste, all thoughts of lazing about discarded.

Backing up along the equestrian center, we headed through a woods to enter upon a large open plain. Unfortunately there was very little we could do to prevent being observed from the wooded hills across from us, that concealed our destination from view.

Shortly after having set off onto this plain, a cry came from one of the highlanders, as well as our commander Middleton himself, that they'd seen French cavalry - possibly chasseur - heading into the woods 500m to the northeast, or hiding behind those woods. Embarrassingly neither Hussar van Ee nor my own eyes had seen a thing.

The original route was abandoned, and we were told off onto a route that would take us directly north, and then east, to approach our objective through the cover of a forest. Shortly after having crossed the plains, confirmation arrived of the cavalry sighting, as a small group of Chasseurs a Cheval was seen less than 200 meters away where a side path passed between two woods. When they fell back out of sight, Hussar van Ee and myself were sent off to pursue, with the remainder of the column following at best speed. We dutifully did so at good speed and with sensible precaution.

Coming around a corner, we spotted both about a dozen enemy infantry, while further back enemy artillery and cuirassiers (later turned out to be 1 cuirassier and several other cavalry) were seen. While Hussar van Ee returned to the column to report, the artillery opened fire on little old me. What a waste of gunpowder...

With my view partially obstructed by woods further ahead to the north, I spotted the Chasseurs a Cheval disappearing behind these woods, whereas the enemy infantry close by had fallen back to the east. The column arrived, turned the corner to the north, then immediately to the east again, as advancing directly against the cannon across this ground would be suicide. However, to the east an isolated group of French infantry (whose leader I have been told is named Stavros) was seen. With us hussars forming the rear guard, orders were given for the infantry to advance to the east, and the wagon to follow close by. At this very moment I heard a large number of hooves, ad spotted movement on the road we had just come from. Yelling 'cavalry behind!' we tried as best as we could to reform to face this threat. Much to dismay my effort proved quite futile. Were this in earnest, I would have been quite dead within the first moments of the engagement. Well done on the Chasseurs who had grabbed the opportunity to outmaneuver us.

Our infantry regrouped on the wagon, and thus managed t fend off the Chasseurs a Cheval. Had enemy infantry been closer, we'd been in serious trouble. In this case, the price was just one lowly hussar. Unfortunately it was me....

Once the opposing cavalry fell back, we were ordered forward again. Amazingly, the isolated French infantry had not used the time to maneuver. Our infantry pursued, and with the artillery well out range and the cavalry a good 200m off, chased away this small hostile force.

Following the road in the direction of Les Rueles, we were very aware of both the French cavalry as well as the same group of infantry moving in parallel just to the north. Speeding ahead, the Chasseurs moved to our front and lined up neatly for a charge. With the infantry taking advantage of the wagon's cover, and van Ee and myself deployed in parallel, we stood and received the charge. I have to say it doesn;t feel right for cavalry to stand in receive. But a charge of our own would have isolated us amongst the French, and at least this time we gave a good reckoning of ourselves. Observing that nothing much would be achieved, the Chasseurs left us be, and galloped further down the road. Where, unfortunately, the wagoneer's son as well as one of the highlanders were lagging behind. They paid the price for their tardiness.

Delivering the wagon and some light casulaties to Les Rueles, we moved on towards the quarry that would be our position for the night. Stavros's troops moved to block our way again. However this time we had the opportunity to combine the strength of musket and sabre - the infantry chasing the French out of the woods, and Hussar van Ee and myself sabring down the ones that tried to run. Soon after, a (black?) flag was waved, and the survivors were taken prisoner.

Leaving the prisoners under guard of the highlanders, the 7th of the Line (Dutch Infatry) and us hussars set off up into the woods, towards the crossroads that were our final destination. As terrain got rougher, the duty of scouting ahead was handed over to the infantry, with us cavalry walking behind. This also gave us an opportunity to dismount and walk our horses, as we probably should have been doing sooner already.

In those woods we briefly encountered a hostile Gendarme d'Elite, who turned his horse around and raced off to report on our advance. With the element of surprise lost, we found the way out of the woods blocked by a piece of artillery and a small group of infantry. Advancing along the road clearly was no option, so the 7th moved through the woods to flank the hostile position. Hussar van Ee and myself grasped the few moments after a hostile salvo to spur our horses past the front of the battery, and into the cover of the woods on their flank.

Then, when they realized they were going to be outflanked, the opposing artillery and infantry moved to pull back. This was the moment we'd been waiting for, and excellent teamwork with the infantry had made it possible.We charged down the road, throwing the French in disarray. If we had not already taken more prisoners than we could handle, we would have captured both the gun and the infantry.

Turning back towards the quarry, we had one last surprise. Up a side road came two French heavy cavalrymen. They saw us hussars, and seem to consider an attack. When a number of muskets were then leveled by the infantry at our flanks, they knew there truly was no point and fell back out of sight.

This ended the martial activity for the day. Having secured the crossroads, we were given permission to return to the village for some rest and relaxation. With a wedding in process, we offered a complimentary salvo and photo opportunities in exchange for drinks. The drinks never did materialize, but a complimentary kiss from the bride did, and I think they seemed to truly appreciate the surprise.

The lack of drink was soon fixed, with the 7th setting out to forage for billet space and supplies. They did not succeed in finding billet space, but the local population was very generous in supplying them with plenty wine and all sorts of food.

Returning to the quarry we set up camp in the woods above. Pretty much the same exercise as the day before, and with weather still fine we once again did not prepare a shelter. This time only the highlanders made shelters, with the 7th sleeping under the stars as well.

Dinner proved... interesting. I had made the foolish mistake of buying brie rather than some hard cheese. This had now mutated into an unholy mixture of cheese and horse-sweat with a most vile stench. I ate the good bits, some sausage and some bread, and then was about to throw the brie away. Jokingly, I asked the lads of the 7th whether they would like some 'fromage au cheval' - and to my shock some of them did, and even offered wine in return. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I agreed with the trade.

One small issue at the camp site was the absence of a water supply. Some of the 7th infantry went to fetch water from town and were kind enough to fill the large metal drumn we had for our horses as well. With the majority of my beer unfortunately having been left at the first camp, both myself and hussar van Ee drank from this barrel, joking that 'as it doesn't kill the horses we should be okay too'. This would later prove to be a mistake.

The rest of the evening was spent with the 7th infantry in a valiant attempt to help them finish their wine. We were all dog-tired, so we only drank a few mugs before retiring to the 'comfort' of our cloaks. I slept a bit restlessly until I woke up to be violently sick. Hussar van Ee would repeat the ceremony shortly after rising in the morning, and since we'd actually eaten entirely different things we figured food wasn't to blame, with the most likely culprit being the water. Unfortunately this left us with nothing to drink in the morning and a very thirsty throat to set off with.

NB. Reports from the French cavalry indicate that they had followed the infantry column for the better part of the morning, only losing them when we broke for lunch. Well done indeed, as we never caught on to their presence!

Additional info from Bastien of the 12th Chasseurs a Cheval: "We spend the morning to pursue the wagon and his escort. Unfortunately we overshot it when you were at lunch and we went much further to the south. After performing a large loop, we met again with French forces where we decided to lunch. Fifteen minutes later, the wagon has been spotted by Stavros's infantry and we had to scramble...
We went west in order to intercept the wagon and his band but were unable to find anybody. Instead, we found the wagon’s path where it turned back.

Then, you know what happened next… !"

Sunday 23 August 2009

Bles fully loaded: Horse equipment one step further to completion

The past weeks I've been working on getting my horse equipment closer to completion, making some of the simple cloth bags and such. Especially relevant as I'll need them for the campaign weekend at La Boissiere... After all, it's "if you can't carry it you're not taking it".

Today I had the opportunity to check it all out on my horse, Bles. He didn't seem to mind the extra luggage so much, other than that it extends the already annoying (to him) saddling process even further...


I made a cloth cover for my D-style eating tin, stored on the porte-manteau, and a pair of linen saddle bags, carried in front of the saddle. Since I don't have the pistol holsters yet, and my saddle has a straight (vertical) pommel, they seem to sit a little low. I think that together with the porte-manteau (still on loan from Martijn until I have made my own), I've got enough carrying capacity.


Also on proud display is my brand-spanking new cloak, that I finished over my summer holiday. Yes, that'd be the dark blue thing stored above the saddle bags.


Fortunately, it all comes together very comfortable during riding, hardly seem to notice the bags at all, except maybe just a little when cantering.

Now I just have to finish 2 shako couvres before Thursday....

Sunday 2 August 2009

Coat in the making

Working on my overcoat to make ure I have it ready for La Boissière-Ecole. It's nearly finished, just need to do both rows of buttons on the front still.

Quite pleased with the result so far, it's a relief making something that does not have to fit close to the body for a change...



Looking at the photos I will need to check the cuve at the bottom once all the buttons are in, looks to me like the sides are a touch too low relative to the front.

Also, I'm not 100% happy with the way the back buttons up, but that may improve once it's had the time to fully fall into place.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Waterloo Pictures

Here's some pictures taken at Waterloo by Phil Thomason. Have a look at his site for some astonishing photography!

With Bles prior to mounting


At ease (front)


At ease (side)


Two hussars and officer riding in formation





Lieutenant Gasthuys


Hussar van Ee


Hussar Groeneveld


Cavalry Melee


Cavalry Melee - photo from lesoir.be

After the Battle


Monday 22 June 2009

Reading Lessons?

André Dellevout, author of 'The Dutch-Belgian Cavalry at Waterloo' paid a visit to our bivouac as well. As we were having a browse through the book, Bles suddenly took an active interest, insisting in having a look at the pictures himself.


Photo courtesy of Bart Ramakers

NB. The picture is actually posed. But only because the photographer was too surprised to get the shot when it first happened.

Waterloo - Bles is bombproof?!

Last weekend was my first Napoleonic re-enactment. And the first for my Gelders horse (Bles) as well. I had an absolute blast and am extremely impressed with Bles.

Bles has experience with jousting and skill-at-arms shows, as well as with medieval re-enactment with a small amount of artillery. But nothing like a noisy battlefield with loud bangs and smoke pretty much everywhere.

So I honestly did not know what to expect. I did know that worst case, his response could be something like:
* Stand in place and not go anywhere
* One wild turn for the rear before I could stop him
* Backing away from scary stuff
* Some bucking that I was confident that I could ride out (he bucks pretty slowly...)

To my amazement none of the above happened. On Friday Bles enthusiastically loaded on the truck for our long trek to Waterloo - first to pick up Albert's Belgian warmblood horse Kidnapper, then on into Belgium. Due to huge traffic jams it took us 7 hours to make the 300km journey. Both horses were pretty relaxed throughout.

Once arrived on the camp site, we tied them to a picket line, and judging from their behaviour, they were obviously best of friends already. This wouldn't change over the weekend, the two horses entirely content with each other's presence. Being tied up to a picket line was another first for Bles, so we had a safety boundary around in case he did disagree with the idea. This proved pretty much unnecessary, but did allow us to give them a small area to roam during the first night (when there still was grass...)

The next day the event kicked off for real. The first few times when people were doing musket drills nearby, I kept a close eye on Bles. His response never was much more then perking an ear or glancing over his shoulder. Cannon fire was a bit more startling, but only just.

We did some formation work together, where I was once again reminded just how much slower his natural walk is than that of e.g. Kidnapper. On a few occasions I did manage to get him to pick up his walking pace, but in a lot of cases we did have to trot to keep up. Definitely something for me and Bles to work on. Other than that, Bles seemed to be enjoying himself, he really does enjoy 'playing with other horses' - be it formation work, playing tag, or melee.

The first battle was due on Saturday evening. We set off to Plancenoit, a 30 minutes (rough estimate) ride that was pleasantly interspersed by a friendly offer of ice cream from a local vendor, before we arrived on the field of battle to await the French. Manoeuvring around the field, scouting for the French and generally keeping the horses moving, we finally saw them marching onto the field.

(photo courtesy Phil Thomason)

Initially I was a bit concerned about the relative small size of the field, and therefore our proximity to the guns and musketry. The battle started off with us parked on the right flank, about 20~30 metres off the artillery. As we were hugely outnumbered by the opposing cavalry we would have to seek our opportunities to gain an advantage, anything else would be plain silly. (8 allied cavalry versus reportedly 60+ french - all the hired horses had gone to the French, only horse owners on the allied side. We counted about 35 hostile cavalry. So either the reported 60+ french cavalry was an overstatement, or a substantial part never made it to the battlefield; probably a bit of both)

The initial volleys sure were loud enough, the blast easily felt, and the roar cascading off the surrounding hills. Bles took it entirely in stride, as if a veteran of many campaigns. Off to my side, Kidnapper seemed to calm down, now that the game was on. We were waiting for a good while, until the French cavalry came charging forward on the other flank, to hit the infantry and artillery to their front. Orders were given, and we rode out, wheeled left and charged across, straight into the flank of the French cavalry. Maybe it was the gun powder smoke hiding us, but apparently they never saw us coming. Their charge thrown into disarray, a brief melee followed before we retired behind the infantry.

This game of hide-and-seek continued for the better part of the battle, with Bles remaining well forward and enthusiastic. Nothing really seemed to bother him much, be it enemy cavalry charging us, guns firing in close succession, or volleys of musketry a few yards off.

We had one hairy moment where Bles proved absolutely sterling. While we were trying to quickly manoeuvre out of the way of a cuirassier charge, Bles slipped and fell. I kept my leg out from under him, kicked my other leg free of the stirrup and landed next to Bles. I hurriedly got up, and Bles had already beat me to it. He didn't budge,patiently standing there waiting for me to take the reins, check him out and remount. This in one of the most chaotic environments, where it would have been entirely natural for him to take off with the other horses that were milling about. And after that interlude, his appetite for more fun seemed entirely unspoilt. I'm not sure what I have done to deserve such loyalty, but I feel well blessed with my horse.

On Sunday, the battle was on a different field, next to Hougoumont. On this field they had allowed the crop to grow waist-high to get the authentic picture for the battle. Whilst visually very attractive, it is quite a challenge to the horses. Not wanting to risk injury to the horses, we had decided to stick to walk and slow trots only, no cantering.

Bles took quite easily to walking in the high grass, I guess his "all-terrain" hooves help a lot there. From a natural follower, in this environment he lef the other horses until they also felt at ease. Other than that, his response to the battle was much the same as the previous day. He seemed to really enjoy himself, and I had to rein him in several times to stop him from taking off at the canter. The terrain making for very hard work. and as the end of the battle drew closer, exhaustion was starting to tell with the horses of both sides. We fell kept behind the infantry to give our horses to rest. Less forward than previously, Bles still responded well enough.

Overall, I am very pleased with Bles. More importantly, he seems to actually enjoy the experience of a Napoleonic battle. He is about a bombproof as any horse I could have wished for. This definitely is something we'll be doing a lot more of, now.

Photos to follow shortly.