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An Australian Highlander At The Battle of Waterloo

In June 2015 the 200th Anniversary of the Battle Of Waterloo was held on the original battlefield in Belgium, and the event attracted thousands of Napoleonic re-enactors and living history enthusiasts from around the globe. The major events held over three nights at Waterloo were attended by tens of thousands of spectators, many of whom would be unaware that even a reenactment event like this in the 21st century, could pose a significant risk of serious injury...

A small detachment of the 42nd Highlanders (living history impressionists) at the Allied encampment at Hougomont Chateau, on the far right of the Allied lines on the battlefield.  Photo: © Historical Aviation Film Unit

On the afternoon of 20th June 2015 HAFU shot an interview with Martin Gibbs, who was at the battle site as a Highlander of the 42nd Regiment, the Black Watch. Martin had taken part in the major re-enactment the evening before and was excited about repeating the experience during the second reenactment on the 20th (see the video interview with Martin, below).

Little did anyone know at the time, but a few short hours later, Martin would become one of the serious casualties of the 200th Battle of Waterloo. Here's his story, in his own words:

" ....I managed to "do" most of the event at Waterloo 2015, but unfortunately at 2130hrs in the early evening on the Saturday the 20th June, while serving in the lines of Highlanders high in the rye grass in the middle-left of the Allied lines I was quite seriously wounded by a catastrophic musket recoil from my Brown Bess (musket). I managed to break my right upper humerus in two places, break my right eye orbit, and lacerate my right trigger finger and right cheek !!! All with only half an hour remaining to the end of the second day of the battle [reenactment].

Someone signaled the Medics (green smoke) and a stretcher party came down quite quickly. Soon I was upon a stretcher, strapped in and triaged at a Med Tent near the Audience Stands (I remember the spectators starring down onto me - thinking ... "Look at that poor bloke! He's REALLY Wounded!!"). I was ambulanced down to Braine l'Allued and a private hospital (Orthopedic apparently which was 'lucky' for me). I spent the next six days there, with two bone operations and stitches for my cheek and right index finger -- I looked a real mess !!

Allied troops fire into the French lines as the battle nears its climax.  

I had been lucky enough to be with my regiment as we slowly followed up the retreating French Army, and they started their withdrawal. The Prussians had "arrived" at last, and were busy firing huge volleys of musket fire into the French right flank. I was very busy "in-the-thick-of-it" shoulder-to-shoulder with my 42nder comrades, as we too were firing by divisions about 20 men each in rolling volleys down the battalion line from right to left. Our brigade was furiously pouring fire into the beleaguered French as well, firing en masse a volley every 15-20 seconds.

Unfortunately for me, with the excitement and pressures of the moment, and aiming to 'keep up' --- I inadvertently overloaded my musket --- by somewhere between 5-7 loads (maybe 600-700 grains of blackpowder at least). My musket 'touch hole' had become temporarily blocked, resulting in only the priming pan "going off". Each further load added another 100 grains into the barrel .... I could not remember how many "loads" were down the barrel. I didn't think that it was "That Much" -- until I picked my touchhole through again -- and fired ..... This was enough to detonate with a BIG recoil, knocking me flat on my back, and blowing the brass flash suppressor clean off - plus my injuries. 'BUGGER!!' is all that I could think of after that ....

Ah well - the hazards of (Living History) service. I survived, and nothing had to be "sawn off". Medical care in Belgium and Germany was first rate, and I have a few nice scars to remind me of the 200th Battle of Waterloo commemoration. Some 6,128 Participants (I believe), and about 4,000 kgs of Black powder expended, through combined 'blank' fire musketry and the 51 full sized canon.

I was discharged at the end of a week, and a nice lady from Waterloo 2015.org, visited me and arranged for a courtesy taxi-voucher so I could return back to my hotel in Brussels. I spent a week there, and on July 1st travelled up from Brussels to Notuln by train. [A friend] kindly offered me a room at his place for about two weeks. I recuperated there and did some further "light touring" with Carl and his ex-wife. He even drove me back down to Waterloo again .... arm-in-sling ... so I could see some of the sights I'd missed like the Butte De Lyon which I climbed up with my broken arm, The Visitors Centre/ Museum and battlefield surrounds and points-of-interest..."

Martin Gibbs, a Napoleonic living history re-enactor, at the bicentenary commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.

We're pleased that Martin managed to 'walk away' from the battle with no permanent serious injuries and just a few battle scars as a reminder of the event. But it must be said that this is an interesting example of what can go wrong in the heat of the moment when all you're focused on is 'the enemy'...

The Scots Greys capture a French Eagle (one of their most prized regimental possessions) during the battle. The haze in this photograph is caused by the smoke from all the black powder weapons being fired on the battlefield.  

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