On this day 203 years ago, the Household Cavalry were soldiers on a battlefield where history was changed.
The regiments of the Household Cavalry all fought at the Battle of Waterloo, June 18th 1815, in the last battle of a brief military campaign to stop the return of Napoleon Bonaparte and all won great distinction in the fighting; over the course of the day, Napoleon sent successive cavalry attacks to try and swamp the British lines, and it fell to the British cavalry to fight them off, pushing the French back despite being outnumbered and pitted against an enemy with better training, mounts and equipment.
The Household Cavalry Museum contains many artefacts from Waterloo which tell the stories of the men who made names for themselves on that field in Belgium over two centuries ago, including:
- The Eagle of the 105th Regiment of the Line, captured by members of the Royals at Waterloo: A French Regiment’s eagle, personally given by Napoleon, was mounted on top of its standard, and represented the honour and pride of the soldiers who fought under it. For the enemy to capture an eagle was a terrible blow to the French Army, and a great honour to the man who took it (as such commemorated on the left arm of the uniform of the Blues and Royals)
- A lock of hair and a snuff-box made from the hoof of Marengo, the horse ridden by Napoleon at Waterloo
- The sword wielded by Major Edward Kelly of the 1st Life Guards, with which he killed Colonel Habert of the 4th Cuirassiers during one of the savage cavalry clashes at Waterloo (winning him a knighthood of the Order of St. Anne, as well as the personal commendation of the Russian tsar), as well as the tail of Kelly's favourite bay mare, which carried him to safety despite a fatal lance injury to the head.
- The uniform of Sir Robert Hill, commanding officer of the Blues at Waterloo, including the musket ball removed from his arm on the field.
- A cast of the skull of Corporal John Shaw of the 2nd Life Guards; a veritable Hercules of a man, over 6ft tall with a career outside the army both as a boxer and a life model for the Royal Academy, Waterloo was Shaw's first and last battle; he died during one of the cavalry clashes, accounting for 10 French cavalrymen before he was cut down (when his sword shattered, Shaw resorted to clubbing enemies with his helmet and the broken hilt). Given a hero's burial on the battlefield, Shaw's body was later exhumed and casts of his bones made to feed the vogue in British society for souvenirs with a connection to the battlefield.
- The prosthetic leg of the Earl of Uxbridge. A musket wound sustained at Waterloo necessitated the amputation of his right leg below the knee; dissatisfied with the prosthesis provided for him, Uxbridge commissioned a fully articulated prosthetic leg which would be the standard of such until as late as 1914.
These artefacts and the histories attached to them are just some of the stories that can be discovered at the Household Cavalry Museum, tied to that grey, damp day in June where on a field in Belgium over 200 years ago, the course of history was changed...
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