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Waterloo 200: retreat to Waterloo (17 June 1815)

On this day all of Wellington's forces drew together towards two new positions, being the fields south of the hamlet Mont St. Jean and positions south of the town of Halle.

Both the Prince of Orange and his brother Prince Frederik accompanied their troops and found a bit more comfortable shelters for the night, although the first just resided in his field bed at Chenois, just north of Braine l'Alleud, together with his chief of staff Constant-Rebecque sleeping on a chair... Frederik found a much more suitable place at Halle for the night and soon other headquarters at the village of Hondzocht. (...see more photos at the end of this news item!)

You can all read about the retreat in Volume Three "Standing firm at Waterloo"

The ordinary soldiers had to find shelter and food for themselves, as they arrived on the fields of Waterloo. One such example is Private Sebastiaan Allebrandi of the 7th National Militia Battalion. His unit and all other battalions of Bijlandt's brigade initally were placed upon arrival between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont on the reverse slope! Did you know that? Well, let's see what Allebrandi told in his memoirs:


Here too our rest was shortly lived, as our appetite had greatly increased by the tiring march and the subsequent building, so every ones stomach called for satisfaction. What else remained to us, than the usual remedy for soldiers in the field, who find themselves in such a situation? To go marauding.  This we did wit lust and zeal; while one collected wood, the others salt, meat, chickens, in short everything we could lay our hands on in the neighbourhood and was to our taste. We gathered some beautiful provisions in a short time, taking into account we had to go for about three hours to Alsemberg. The rain hadn’t stopped pouring during our entire expedition, but didn’t deter us from our endeavours and even spurred us on to complete them.

When we gradually had collected the necessary ingredients for a good field meal, we hung the kettles above the smoking fires and the cooking and roasting began. Pushing, peeping and yearning we stood with open mouths around the promising kettles, which hovered in the dense smoke of the wet wood set alight. We longed for the delicious moment when the transformed contents would be spread out in front of us in a tempting way. But alas!, how often is the sweetest hope and expectation of man but merely a deceptive dream! Who of us wasn’t convinced of this old truth, had to come to other thoughts through this experience. Suddenly a clear drum roll, that sounded to us like thunder, called cooks and guests to arms and woe us, as we had to leave all of our meal. One comrade in my company defied fate; in all haste and neglecting burning any of his fingers, he filled his small tin kettle with hot potatoes and rushed up to his comrades with the costly spoils. He had the tin kettle strapped to his ransack and rightly satisfied marched along with us.


Prince Frederik's headquarters at Hondzocht

Field bed of the Prince of Orange (Collection Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)