Did you know that our less than dearly beloved Chancellor has gone into the property restoration business on our money? Oh yes he has, and here is the object of his affections into which a million or so of our dosh will be poured and in response to which I can only shout as loudly as possible - well done, George!
This bucolic dump is not even in Britain, it is in Belgium and it is called Hougoumont Farm and 'Posh' George is determined to restore it because those walls and those cobbles are soaked in British blood and the year after next we will be remembering the men who fought and died there and celebrating the 200th anniversary of a truly great British victory - Waterloo.
In yesterday's Telegraph, Joe Shute reported on a visit he had made to the site and was shocked to see the state of disrepair into which this famous farm had fallen. A fund has been started to assist in the restoration and if you go here you can a see short film introduced by the well-known TV historian, Peter Snow, giving a brief outline of struggle for Hougoumont and reminding us of the words of the dear old 'Duke of Boot':
The outcome of the battle of Waterloo turned on the closing of the gates at Hougoumont.’
It wouldn't be right for ex-Corporal Duff to argue with the Duke of Wellington but it is rare for a battle to hinge solely on one particular event but even so, Hougoumont was one of the most critical events during the day's fighting.
For those unfamiliar with the details, the battle was fought by two armies deployed facing each other on ridge lines on opposite sides of a shallow valley running east-west. Hougoumont Farm was, in effect, in no-man's-land, forward of the British right flank - the red 'U' shape in the illustration below.
Both before and during the battle Wellington was constantly fretting about possible attempts by Napoleon to outflank him on his (Wellington's) right. In the event of defeat that way led eventually to the sea and escape back to England. Thus Hougoumont was vital as a strong 'breakwater' to protect that flank. Actually, Napoleon had no ideas of trying to outflank the British, he was past his prime and subtle, grand tactical manoeuvrings were beyond him. His orders to the commanders on his left were simply to screen Hougoumont but his command and control was too loose and instead, during the course of the day, his subordinates fed more and more and yet more troops into savage efforts to take the farm. The result was that for all intents and purposes the entire French left was hog-tied and useless.
Wellington, by now a tremendously experienced battlefield commander, had an almost uncanny feel for the way the ebbs and flows were going. He was on the move constantly this way and that along the line always managing to be at exactly the right place at the right time. During the course of several visits to the British right he gradually fed in small numbers of troops, mostly, as it happened, Guardsmen, to ensure the farm would not fall into French hands. It was, to quote his own words describing the entire battle, "a fine run thing" because at one stage a mass of French troops managed to push through the main gates into the courtyard. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting ensued until the Guardsmen managed to push the gates shut once again. A small group of French soldiers trapped inside were put to the bayonet with the exception of one small drummer-boy who was shown mercy and allowed to live. The restoration of those gates is one of the main parts of the programme to save Hougoumont from total ruin.
I know everyone and his uncle are after your money these days but if you can spare a few quid then the Hougoumont Project is worth it. Also, you could plan a summer break in 2015 and take part in the celebrations and re-enactments.
ADDITIONAL: Damn, I forgot! I meant to add these words, courtesy of 'SoD', from the dear old 'Duke of Boot' who had a habit of 'telling it the way it was':
“A French army is composed very differently from ours. The conscription calls out a share of every class — no matter whether your son or my son — all must march; but our friends — I may say it in this room — are the very scum of the earth. People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing. Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine
fellows they are.” – Duke of Wellington, on the subject of the British soldier,
ADDITIONAL: In order to illustrate a comment below from 'SoD', who is un garçon très méchant (a very naughty boy!), here is a picture from The Telegraph article which says it all:
M. le Presidente and the Coldstream Guards, and, er, yes, actually, the same ones who helped hold Hougoumont Farm!