Saturday, July 10, 2004

Waterloo Again

Steven den Beste quite correctly refers to David Hamilton-Williams version of the account of the Battle of Waterloo, which as it happened, I had at my elbow when I wrote A Tale of Long Ago. Steven rightly points out that accounts of the battle have historically overemphasized the British contribution often at the expense of the Prussians. So much for the facts. The fiction is much better. Who can resist Lady Butler's painting of the Scots Greys? D'Erlon's Corps nearly broke the British line but for a British countercharge. If it didn't happen as the Alexander Armour account has it then it should have.

"At the start of the charge, the Greys had to pass through the ranks of the Highland Brigade. The Highlanders were then ordered to wheel back , when they did so, we rushed through them, at the same time they heard us calling... now my boys, Scotland Forever."

The Greys at Waterloo are as unforgettable as that of Piper MacKay who, when the rest of his regiment, the 79th Cameron Highlanders, had formed a defensive square against a French cavalry attack, stepped outside the square to continue playing "Codagh no Sith". Nor will historical imagination ever better the story of how Napoleon's decimated Old Guard formed a last square and when asked to surrender  replied "La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!" (The Guard dies, it does not surrender!) Scholars now think Cambronne, the Guard commander, simply said "shit". Just damn.


David AM Terron MInstLM (Website of the Queen's Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons)) writes to say:

Slight spelling mistake re MacKay of the 79th. ["During the formation, Piper Kenneth Mackay of the 79th, a brave Highlander, stepped outside of the bayonets and continued to play round the outside of the square, the popular air of ‘Cògaidh nà Sith' (War or Peace)with much inspiriting effect. "—Jameson’s Historical Record.] MacKay came from Tongue in Sutherland about as far North as you can get without getting your spats wet!

My apologies.