Saturday, June 3, 2023


George Raymond Stevenson
25 May 1964 – 21 May 2023
Not feeling the urge to be creative today, but I have also been remiss in forgetting to commemorate the passing of one of my favorite actors, Ray Stevenson. He played Titus Pullo in one of my favorite HBO mini-series, Rome.

You died too young, Pullo.

As for the title of the post ...

(Viewer discretion advised)

Godspeed, Ray.

Friday, June 2, 2023

And So It Begins ...

French Foot Artillery
From where he sat on his horse, Général de Brigade Jean-Baptiste, Baron Pelletier¹, commanding the artillery of the II Corps, could see what appeared to be buildings just beyond the trees which seemed to fill the small valley to his front.

But on the slope opposite where his batteries were positioned, he could see infantry, cavalry, and artillery. His gun captains knew their business, he was ready, they were ready. So he nodded to the gun captain of his right-most gun.

"Feu!" that worthy bellowed, which was followed by the report of his 6-pounder gun, followed almost immediately by the gun next to it, then on down the line to the left-most battery commanded by Capitaine Jean-Louis Marie Tacon.

As the cannonade rippled down the line, Pelletier grinned as he heard the deeper roar of the reserve artillery, six 12-pounders and two 5.5 inch² howitzers. The English would feel those, even at a distance of what Pelletier judged to be 1200 paces.

As shot began to fall among the positions of the men deployed behind Hougoumont, some of the battalion commanders had their men lie down. Many had noticed that due to the condition of the ground the artillery weren't able to "bounce" their rounds into the troops.³

The sodden ground was absorbing the shot for the most part. For the explosive rounds fired by the howitzers, many of those had their fuses go out when they landed in the mud.

Though the French gunfire wasn't that effective, it did cause some of the Angl0-Allied troops to pull back just beyond the crest of the ridge, to further shelter the men from the guns.

Pelletier was watching the far ridge through his glass and saw some units falling back out of sight. He took this as a sign that the English might be retreating, he called to his aide.

"Jean-Claude, my compliments to Prince Jérôme,⁴ les Anglais seem to be pulling back from the ridge, now would be a good time to drive their skirmishers from those woods below."

The aide galloped off.

Général de Division Prince Jérôme Bonaparte received the handwritten message himself, rather than waiting for an aide to handle it. He was impatient to get into action.

With the classic impatience of the Bonaparte clan, he gestured at the messenger from Pelletier. "Quickly man, give it here!"

He read the message quickly, "Hhmm, only skirmishers in the valley. Monsieur le Comte," he said to his second-in-command Général de Division Armand-Charles, Comte Guilleminot, "I thought there was a substantial farm complex inside those trees. Pelletier only sees skirmishers."

Guilleminot shook his head, "He can't see much from up there, maybe the roofs of the farm but not what's inside the trees. Maybe he assumes that the units on the ridge only have their skirmishers in there. But I saw more, Nassauers and Hanoverians in the wood, Englishmen occupying the farm complex, which has been prepared for defense."

Jérôme thought for a moment, then called to a waiting aide-de-camp, "Capitaine Jonquil, my compliments to Baron Bauduin, he is to take his brigade into the woods, using a heavy line of skirmishers out front, and drive the enemy from the woods and the farm complex!"

Guilleminot thought the move premature, send skirmishers in to fix the enemy position, then perhaps send a brigade, or more, in to contest the farm and the adjacent wood. But the Prince wasn't known for his patience.

Privates Jürgen Stroop and Wilhelm Kessler, light infantrymen from Nassau, heard the drums of the French and within moments saw a line of French infantry advancing slowly into the wood.

"Hold your fire, Kessler. I shoot, then you wait until I reload, then you shoot. We take turns. Our job is to slow the enemy down, cause casualties if we can, but our job is to delay. When you shoot, look for the men waving their arms around and with the fancier hats, those will be sergeants and officers."

Kessler grinned, he rather liked the idea of shooting the types of men who made his life miserable.

Their green uniforms blended in somewhat with the trees, though there wasn't much in the way of underbrush, there was enough to provide them concealment.

As the French got closer, Stroop saw a man on foot, carrying a sword. Had to be an officer. He brought his musket up slowly.

The captain of light infantry was searching the wood ahead, he knew there were enemy in here. His company's job was to drive them back so that their own supports could move up and drive the enemy from the wood.

"Alors, my boys, don't bunch up, keep your intervals ..." as the last word left his mouth, he saw movement to his front. Then he felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach.

"Slide to the rear, Kessler. I'm sure I hit that officer. Displace to your left a bit. Don't move in a straight line."

Stroop was reloading as he moved, difficult but not impossible. He had removed his bayonet, and had had Kessler do the same, to avoid impaling his own hand as he reloaded.

"Merde! The capitaine is dead, come on lads, I see the bastards who did it!" The junior sergeant let his emotions take him to a place he shouldn't go. "En avant! À la baïonnette!"

At least three Nassauers had their muskets leveled at the young man, as he charged forward, those three muskets all fired, nearly in unison.

The young sergeant from Gascony was thrown back from the impact of the three lead balls, all to his torso. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Stroop was heading back to the rear faster than he wanted to, but the French had their blood up. He had watched aghast as a party of French skirmishers had caught up with two of his countrymen. Both were bayoneted to death without mercy.

"Come on, Kessler, we need to get back to the chateau. There are too many Frenchmen coming at us."

But Kessler had dropped to one knee and was aiming his weapon towards the advancing French. Stroop wanted to run, but his training and his sense of duty overrode his sense of self-preservation. He stopped and prepared to cover Kessler, who, at that moment, fired.

And missed.

Sergent-chef Guy Chalmont felt a ball whistle past, that one had been close.

"Guy, to your left, there is the cochon who fired at you!"

Chalmont turned, indeed, he saw two green-coated men, he knew they were Nassauers. "At them boys! Cut them down!"

The man kneeling stood no chance, Chalmont's bayonet took the young Nassauer in the chest. The man standing thrust the muzzle of his musket at Chalmont's face, which was parried by the man to Chalmont's left.

It was a good thing he did, for Chalmont's bayonet was stuck in the dying soldier's chest. Putting his foot on the dying Nassauer he tried to pull it out, to no avail.

Stroop was screaming with fury, his stroke had been parried, but fortunately it had left that Frenchman overextended. Stroop swung the butt of his musket at the Frenchman and felt it connect with the side of the man's head.

That man dropped like a stone, but at the same time, the French sergeant had managed to free his bayonet from Kessler's corpse. As Stroop prepared to fend off the French sergeant, he took a step backwards. He felt a hot agony pierce his side as a French bayonet found him.

Stroop died under the French bayonets, within just a few feet of Kessler's body.

Chalmont was panting with exertion, they had arrived at the edge of the wood and what he saw filled him with dread. There, across a few paces of open ground, was a tall brick wall, the top of which bristled with English muskets.

He started to order the remnant of his section to fall back, but the roar of an English volley drowned him out.

Chalmont was down on the ground, there seemed to be no sound, he could feel movement around him, he felt someone tugging at his legs, but then that sensation was gone.

He lost all feeling in his legs and he felt a coldness spreading up into his belly and advancing through his body. He knew what it was, Death was coming for him.

He blinked once, then again. His vision was fading, he wondered ...

Then he felt no more.

"My Prince, Baron Bauduin reports that they have driven the skirmishers from the wood in our front. But he also reports that there is a substantial block of buildings occupied by a great many English. He wants to use his entire brigade to assault that place."

Guilleminot shook his head at the aide, then turned to Jérôme, "I would advise sending this information back to the Emperor. I don't think he knows the problem we face here. I would recommend a holding action, put just enough pressure on this place to keep the English fixed in place. We could maneuver the rest of the division around to the left flank ..."

Jérôme interrupted him, "Do you think I don't know what I'm doing Monsieur le Comte? I understand that the order was to clear the wood. I believe that includes this farm complex as well."

"We should at least go forward and see the situation ..."

Turning from Guilleminot, Jérôme told the aide, "My compliments to the Baron. He may use his brigade as he sees fit."

Turning to a second aide, he said, "My compliments to Baron Soye,⁵ he is to prepare his brigade to support Bauduin."

As that man galloped off, Guilleminot scribbled a message on a scrap of paper from his valise. Turning to his own aide-de-camp, he said, "Give this to Reille, let him know what we're doing, see if he approves."

The man galloped off, causing Jérôme to turn to his second-in-command with a question in his eye. "What was that about?"

"Merely informing our Corps commander what we're doing."

"Very well."

Defence of the Chateau de Hougoumont
Denis Dighton
The battle for the chateau would rage the entire day.

¹ French orders of battle: here and here. The latter source has the order of battle for the entire campaign, all three armies involved.
² In French this would be referred to as a "obusier de 5.5 pouces." One pouce being roughly one inch. Pouce translates literally as "thumb."
³ The range of a cannon firing solid shot could be nearly doubled by having the shot hit in front of an enemy unit, which would kick up stones and dirt into the enemy, increasing the effectiveness of the ball, which would then plunge through the formation before continuing on, hopefully to bounce again. A 12-pounder gun, with a normal range of 900 meters, could nearly double that.
⁴ The younger brother of Napoléon.
⁵ Général de Brigade Baron Jean-Louis Soye commanded the 2nd Brigade of Jérôme's division, Bauduin commanded the 1st.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Morning, 18 June 1815

Dawn of Waterloo
Lady Butler
"Johnnie, wake up!"

Corporal John MacBain, Johnnie to his friends, opened his eyes. He was wet, he ached all over, and he was in no mood to suffer his fellow man.

Glaring at the interrupter of his sleep, he grumbled, "What the Hell do ye want, MacDonald?"

"Can ye no' hear that?" MacDonald said, pointing to his right.

"Ah!" MacBain heard the regiment's trumpeters sounding reveille, he sat up, and groaned. He and most of the regiment had been in the saddle all day yesterday. Half of the day in the rain, which was still coming down. He did note that the sky was lightening in the east.

"Is there anything to eat, Dickie?"

"Aye, Johnnie. stirabout¹, lots of it."

"Yummy." MacBain stood up and looked at the sorry state of his uniform. Without scraping away a layer of mud, one could barely discern that it was a uniform. Going into his valise, he pulled his brush out.

"I guess I'd better scrape some of this mud off before the Sar'nt Major sees me. Have you been down to the horse lines?"

"Aye, they've been fed. Not much mud on 'em, except for their feet."

"I guess if I'd stood up all night I'd be clean too."

"Aye," MacDonald laughed, "and no less wet!"

The Army Awakens
Illustration from L'Epopeé by Job
Soldat Pierre Delaplace awakened in a sea of glutinous mud. He was on his back, using his pack as a pillow. He thought for a moment and wondered if he'd ever been this miserable before, yes, in Russia. He sat up.

"I was wondering if you were just going to sleep in today." Soldat Roger Brassard said. He had only awakened moments before and was busy scraping the mud from his trousers. He thought about removing his greatcoat, he knew the back of it had to be caked in mud as the garment felt ten pounds heavier. As it was still raining, he opted to leave it on and hoped that the rain would clean it off.

"Well, as much as I'd like to sleep in, the neighbors are making a terrible racket over there."

Brassard chuckled as he looked over at the battalion's assembled drummers, busy beating Le Diane². Then he said, "I wonder if rations came up during the night?"

"Up those roads? The only thing moving up those roads last night were guns, caissons, and the ammunition wagons. Rations? I suppose the Emperor assumes we'll be eating in Brussels tonight. But I tell you, first corpse I come across, I'll be looking for biscuit."

"What if the dead man is French?"

"Then I'll hope he's an Immortal, those lucky bastards always get fed first. If not, I'll look for a dead Englishman!"

Brassard shook his head, "Like the Guard would go in first. You're  more likely to find a dead pharaoh than a dead Guardsman!"

Both men turned as a flourish of trumpets announced the arrival of the very men they both hated and envied, the Imperial Guard.

The Guard arrives.
Sergent Nicolas Guilbert took a deep breath, then let it out. They had finally been called to a halt. Word spread through the ranks that the Emperor was nearby. Some of the men were excited, Guilbert just wanted to get off of his feet for a few minutes and perhaps have a bite to eat.

The Guard had pushed hard throughout the long, stormy night. When the last of the artillery had passed, they climbed up out of the sodden fields and marched on the chaussée itself, though slick with mud, it was better than slogging through the fields beside the road.

Guilbert looked up to see Capitaine Philippe Pierlot making his way back down the column. "Hey Capitaine, what's the plan here?"

Pierlot was somewhat startled to be hailed from the ranks like that, he looked up, ready to have a sharp word with the offender. When he saw who had called to him, he relaxed. He and Guilbert went back a long ways.

"Nicolas, someday you're going to shout at an officer and you'll be lucky to keep your stripes. How are you and the men holding up?"

"Tired, Sir, and hungry."

"We have no idea where the ration carts have got to, foraging parties have gone out, but this area seems to have been stripped clean. We're a little late to la Fête³ but I suspect we'll get a break while the ground dries. Still too wet to move the guns in the fields."

It was only then that Guilbert realized that the rain had stopped and the sun was appearing fitfully through the scudding clouds.

"The ground should be dry enough before noon, Sire. The rain has stopped and there is a nice breeze which will help things along."

Napoléon nodded and dismissed his artillery chief with a wave of his hand. He hadn't slept well, his stomach was bothering him and he could feel his piles⁴ acting up. Lack of sleep, many hours in the saddle, Napoléon understood the cause, but why, on this day?

Général de Division Comte Reille leaned over the table as the Emperor's staff began to put food out. "Sire, I beg you, do not underestimate the English. They ..."

The Emperor shifted in his chair, he felt a sharp pain which instantly made him snap at Reille. "I tell you Reille, and you others who fought them in Spain, this Wellington is a bad general and the English are bad troops. Defeating them will be no more taxing than eating breakfast. Now enough of that, gentlemen, please help yourselves," he swept his hand over the table. "We have a long day ahead of us."

Corporal Michael Wareham was back at the garden wall of Hougoumont, he could see green coated men in the woods to the south moving about. It seemed to him that they had finished their breakfast and were seeking good positions.

Wareham couldn't imagine the French attacking this place, it was solidly built. The thatched roofs on a number of the buildings gave him pause though, fire could roar through thatch in an instant. But after the soaking from last night, fire didn't really concern him all that much.

What did concern him was a chat he'd had with a Hanoverian soldier, whose unit was also deployed in the woods to the south. He'd traded the man a bit of tobacco, which he didn't use, for a bit of brandy, which he was fond of. The German spoke some English, though with a heavy accent.

"So English, there are a great many Franzosen beyond this wood. At least, how do you say, zwei Divisionen?"

Wareham knew enough German to understand that. "Two divisions, why that's some eight to ten thousand men. Are you sure?"

"I didn't count them, English. But I served with them in the old days, I know how many I saw. They're preparing their soup now, but when this dries out," he said gesturing at the sodden turf, "I think they will come. Your Vellin'ton intends to fight, ja?"

"I daresay he does, thanks Fritz, good luck today!"

"You as well, English. Danke für den Tabak!"

As the German had gone back into the wood. Wareham realized that they would fight today. From the sounds of it, Boney had brought his entire army this way.

Private Mick Wilcox interrupted his thoughts, "Go back and get some tea, Corp. Rumor has it there's biscuit as well."

Wareham saw the crumbs on Wilcox's tunic, "Brush yourself off before the Sar'nt Major sees you. Are you relieving me here?"

"That I am, Corp, that I am. I hope you'll be back before the festivities begin?"

"Depends on my leftenant, but I'm sure I'll be back here. Keep your head down, Mick."

"Aye, that I will, Corp, that I will."

Across the valley, Wilcox could hear a band start to play, then others joined in. Grumbling, he said to himself, "I'll bet Boney's putting on a show right now, trying to scare us off the ground. But we'll see about that, that we will."

¹ Porridge made by stirring oatmeal in boiling water or milk.
² The French drum call for reveille.
³ The party, French Army slang for war.
⁴ Piles is a common term for hemorrhoids, the Emperor suffered from that problem. As do I.
⁵ Frenchmen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Wee Hours ...

The Chateau of Hougoumont as it appeared in 1815¹
Corporal Michael Wareham of the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards looked out over the wall towards the south woods. The rain was still pouring down and he felt bad for the Nassauers and Hanoverians posted in those woods. At least in the chateau they had a few cook fires going out of the rain.

He had gotten a couple hours of sleep earlier in the night on some sodden straw in the big barn which formed the western flank of the chateau, which one of the officers had referred to as "Goomont," or something sounding like that.

He had been awakened by a party of pioneers who had come in to cut firing ports in the exterior wall of the barn. Unable to sleep, he had assisted with that work. At least it kept him moving, which helped keep him warm, and moreover, it kept him dry.

But now he was out on the wall, wondering if the rain would ever stop and if it did, would there be a battle?

"What are ye lookin' at Corp?"

Wareham turned to see Private Mick Wilcox, one of the men in his company, but not in his section.

"Mick, why aren't ye sleepin' lad?"

"Too damned chilly for me, Corp. Damned pioneers makin' all that noise as well. Who can sleep on the night before a battle?"

"Aye. Climb up here, we can watch together. Wonder how the foreigners are doing out in those woods? They're a mite closer to the Frenchies then we are. I reckon we'll get warning enough, if Boney decides to try for it."

"Better them than us, Corp. Better them than us."

"De la Bédoyère, have we heard anything from le Maréchal Grouchy?"

"No, Sire. Just before he went to take a nap, Maréchal Soult sent another dispatch, ordering him to march to join our right flank. It is the second order that le Maréchal sent."

The Emperor paced back and forth for a few moments, his hands clasped behind his back. He looked disheveled and unwell. His coatee, the undress uniform of a colonel of the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard was draped over the back of a chair.

"And still it rains ..." Napoléon mused aloud.

"It's as if the heavens themselves wish to prevent us defeating the English duke and his foreign minions."

"We faced them in Spain, Sire. I wouldn't underestimate them." Maréchal Soult said as he stepped into the room.

"The army he used to beat you in Spain is in America², fighting those rustics. The men he has now are new recruits. Most of his army is composed of Belgians and Dutchmen. Who were our allies not long ago! If we win tomorrow, they will flock to our banners." The Emperor seemed put out at yet another reference to English fighting prowess by another of his generals who had been beaten by this Wellington in Spain. Soult, Ney, Reille, all of them were infected with this fear of Wellington.

"Couldn't sleep, Soult?" The Emperor decided not to dwell on the fears of the men who had fought, and lost, in Spain. He knew his own limits, he also knew that his one campaign in Spain had seen the English driven from Spanish soil and their commander laid to rest in a Spanish grave!

"I have reports to send to Paris, Sire. Also I am expecting word from Maréchal Grouchy before sunrise. I have slept enough."

In truth, Maréchal Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia had hardly slept at all. But if the Emperor was up, so would he stay up.

Worried that the Emperor took the English lightly, but resolved not to speak of it again, at least not until morning, Soult kept his thoughts to himself.

Private Jürgen Stroop of 1st Battalion, 2nd Nassau Regiment's light infantry contingent had managed to find a modicum of shelter under a tree. It wasn't much but it did keep the rain from running down the back of his neck and into his uniform.

"Jürgen, are the French out there?"

Stroop gave his companion, another private by the name of Kessler, he had no idea what the man's first name was, a look of pity.

"No, Kessler, I'm sure they've all marched back to France because of this filthy weather. Of course they're out there, and let me tell you, they are just as wet, just as miserable as we are."

"Did you receive any rations before they sent you out here?"

Stroop wondered how he got stuck with the youngest man in the company, kid couldn't be older than seventeen, he thought. Begrudgingly, he dug into his haversack and brought out a stale biscuit he'd been saving for later.

As Kessler's face lit up, and as he gobbled the biscuit down, Stroop had to smile. He wasn't particularly hungry, he seldom was before a battle, but the kid was probably ravenous.

Ah well, at least one of them was happy.

"As soon as the eastern sky lights up, I want us on the move." Generalfeldmarschall von Blücher felt very good for a man of 72, who had had probably three hours of sleep over the last few days, had had a horse shot out from under him leading a cavalry charge, and been ridden over at least twice by French cavalry.

"It's no wonder the men love him," von Gneisenau mused to himself. Out loud he said, "I have already given the order Herr Generalfeldmarschall. Von Bülow's Corps will march first ..."

"But they have the farthest to travel!" von Blücher pointed out, with some heat.

"I know that Herr Generalfeldmarschall, however IV Corps is our strongest unit within reasonable marching distance of Mont St. Jean. Better to arrive and deliver a solid blow than have the men who lost at Ligny have to make that long march then face the French after that." von Gneisenau realized, with some embarrassment, that he had snapped at the field marshal. Tired or not, that wouldn't do.

Before he could apologize, von Blücher laid a hand on von Gneisenau's arm and said, "I know, you do know best. Get my army to where we can fight, I'll do the rest."

"Jawohl, Herr Generalfeldmarschall, with God's help, we will prevail."

"Amen! Now where is my orderly? I need something to drink!"

It was hard to tell, what with the pouring rain, but gradually the eastern sky began to lighten. Many men looked with dread at the coming of daylight.

They expected to fight, one way or the other. Some of the men, particularly in the Prussian Army, would be praying. Some would be trying to dry their kit, knowing it was futile. Some sought a bite to eat, or something strong to drink.

Many of the men gathered on the slopes of Mont St. Jean and the ridge of Belle Alliance, and further away in Wavre and on the approaches to that town, knew that this would possibly be their last day on earth.

Many had seen their last night and many hoped that at least the sun would rise and that the rain would cease.

Most knew that no matter what they did, fate would find them on these muddy fields south of Brussels.

And so the sun arose on the morning of Sunday, the 18th of June, in the year of Our Lord, 1815.

Last Reveille
Lady Butler

¹ North is to the left in this photo. The French attack cam from the right.
Buildings n° 1, 4 and 5, as well as 9, 16 and 11, are long gone.
N°10 was the Chapel, of which a few walls survived
N°19 is the Northern Gate
N°2 is now a simple wall.
N°3, 12 and 18 are now dedicated to exhibitions
N°13, 17, 14 and 5 are still in use. (Key from the source, edited.)
² Sent there to fight the War of 1812, many were still aboard ship returning to England, some were actually present on the other side of the field. But for the most part, the Wellington's Peninsular Army was no more.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Last Night

Blücher auf dem Weg nach Waterloo¹
Jäger² Markus Kohlmann hissed under his breath as he lost his footing, nearly falling, he somehow managed to stay upright. He was drenched and the rain kept falling in torrents.

His best friend in the army, Jäger Horst Kempf, reached out and steadied Kohlmann as his feet started to slide again. "Try to walk wider, my friend."

"Wider, what the hell does that mean?" Kohlmann muttered.

"Place your feet wider apart as you walk. What do you think I mean?" Kempf thought his friend had little imagination, he tended to bull his way through any and all situations.

"Well, say what you mean, Horst. Say, 'spread your feet further apart.' 'Walk wider,' such nonsense. What are you, a poet or something?"

Their sergeant, Unterofficier Max Schultze, turned and barked at both men, "More marching, less gabbing, you two!"

Kohlmann shook his head, bloody sergeants!

"How are you feeling, Herr Generalfeldmarschall?" von Nostitz was still concerned that Blücher was in more pain than he would admit. But he knew his commander was stubborn and tough, very tough. Most men his age would still be under a doctor's care after having a horse shot out from under him in the midst of battle.

"I am fine, Junge. I just wish the doctor had let me drink some of that brandy he used to make the concoction he insisted he massage into my bruises. Champagne is fine, but brandy gives a fellow a fire in the belly!" von Blücher was in better spirits but he still rued the need to retreat.

Von Nostitz tried not to get too close to his commander, the old man positively reeked of the brandy, gin, garlic, and rhubarb the doctor had used to treat the old man. The doctor had also recommended that the field marshal should rest in bed for at least a week.

Not that there was any hope of that!

Von Nostitz hoped that perhaps the driving rain might wash the smell away. It was almost as bad as the stink of the hundreds of unwashed soldiers marching around them.

"That's one thing the historians seldom mention," von Nostitz thought, "the smell of war!"

La Haye Sainte
Lieutenant Wilhelm Brecher was tempted to stay in the large barn where he'd left his kit. The rain was non-stop and it had been coming down since earlier in the day. But he felt duty bound to check on his men.

The march north to this ridge had been grueling. Though the battalion had not been engaged in the actions on Friday, they had still had a long march from their bivouac when the orders had come to move to occupy this farm. Most of that move had been in this miserable rain, which Brecher was beginning to think was trying to drown him.

He heard the sounds of an ax and went to investigate.

"What in God's name are you doing, soldier?!"

The man in question, one of the pioneers from his apron and the rather large ax he was wielding, turned around.

"Firewood, Sir! This door is pretty substantial, we thought to use it to cook supper and keep us warm in this nasty weather."

Brecher shook his head, "How about using that door to keep the damned French out? How about that?"

The pioneer looked a bit chagrined, it was obvious that he nor any of the other men had thought of that.

Brecher realized it was too late to save the door, turning to a sergeant he barked, "You, sergeant, go into the barn, grab anything we can use to block this entrance. I swear to God, you lads would tear down the walls themselves if you could either burn them or eat them. Damned fools!"

Turning again to the pioneer, Brecher asked him, "Why aren't you with the other pioneers, over at the big chateau³?"

The man shrugged and said, "Colonel Ompteda kept some of us back. I didn't ask why."

Brecher said, "Make yourself useful then and help the sergeant."


The Guard was halted again to let another battery of guns move up the road. The men were soaked to the bone, most of them were too tired to complain. Each man simply followed the man ahead of him.

Sergent Nicolas Guilbert turned to see if his old comrade, Sergent Pierre Grandchamp was still behind him. He was, Guilbert nodded to him.

Grandchamp nodded back, he could see that Guilbert was as sodden as the rest of them, but somehow he still wore his fatigue cap at the same jaunty angle he always did.

"Hey, Nicolas, any idea where we are?"

Guilbert adopted a thoughtful look, then said, "Belgium, I think we're in Belgium. Though from the look of things, we might have taken a wrong turn someplace and are at the bottom of La Manche⁴ right now. Seems wet enough."

Before Grandchamp could reply, the call to march came down the line.

Somewhere in the midst of the column, one wag shouted out, "Perhaps le Tondu can find the English before we're all swept out to sea!"

Privates Will Thomas and Jack MacKenzie were doing their best to stay dry. They were huddled in a sunken road next to a hedge which seemed to block a lot of the rain which continued to pour down.

"Will, how's the leg?" MacKenzie had shot down the cavalryman who had opened a gash on Thomas' leg the previous day. Thomas claimed he was fine, but MacKenzie had noticed him limping towards the end of the march to this place.

"I'll be a'right, Jacko. It was a scratch, had worse in Spain and you know that." For the moment Thomas' leg was not bothering him, he felt so wet and miserable that the leg was the least of his worries.

"C'mon laddie, I saw ye limpin', I know it pains ye."

"Pebble in me shoe, that's all."

"What's that?" MacKenzie thought the man had to be joking.

"Nah, I'm serious. Bleedin' great boulder in ma' right shoe. When we stopped I had it off and found it. Thing was the size of a hen's egg."

From down the line nearby an officer yelled out, "You men try and get some sleep and stop yer jawin', the morrow's bound to be busy!"

As he pulled his sodden blanket closer around him, MacKenzie muttered, "And how are we supposed tae sleep, in this bloody muck?"

The night wore on, the rain poured down on the men atop the ridge at Mont St. Jean, knowing that their enemy was moving towards them, in force.

As Wellington wrote the last words of a message to London, he paused and looked out the window of the small inn in the town of Waterloo he was using as his headquarters. He knew that there would be a battle in the morning, a big one. He wondered if the Prussians would come, he wondered if he would need their help.

Knowing that his worrying about things wouldn't change them, the Duke of Wellington prepared for bed. He would be up before dawn, which wasn't that far away, any sleep he got now was better than none at all.


"Your Grace?" Gordon had been waiting outside of the small room he was using as his quarters.

"My compliments to the provost, have this dispatch sent to London, immediately."

"Very good, Sir."

As the Duke turned down the lamp, he looked outside.

The rain was still coming down, in sheets.

¹ While the engraving is supposed to depict the Prussian Army's march from Wavre to Waterloo, I use it here to depict the Prussian retreat from Ligny to Wavre. Conditions were similar.
² Private in the Prussian light infantry. Literally means "hunter."
³ The "big chateau" would be the Chateau Hougoumont which anchored the far right of the Allied line. I have read accounts which indicate that most of the pioneers from the regiments in the Anglo-Allied army had been sent there to prepare the place for defense.
⁴ Literally, "the sleeve," what the French call the English Channel.

Monday, May 29, 2023

My Five

 Well...Let me start off with wishing all y'all a relaxing, peaceful, memory filled Memorial Day.

While you're standing around having an adult recreational beverage while tending the smoking of the Brisket (it's a state law in Texas.  Brisket must be served, smoked, on Memorial Day.  Punishment for non-compliance is said to be severe.  I don't know, I've never broken the law.)

Stay on Target, juvat! 

Yes, oh esteemed Sarge of mine!

While you are standing guard on your brisket, I'd like to tell you about a five-some I remember on this day and their stories.

I was stationed at Holloman AFB in October of '84. I'd been checked out as an instructor for a very short time.  I was getting ready for a mission that was going to one of the local airspace areas in Eastern New Mexico.  The Supervisor of Flying Hot Line rang and when the Duty Officer answered there were a couple of  "Yes, Sir's" then he hung up, walked over to the schedule and drew a line through all the flights that were going to those areas.  (Airspace use was tight with two Fighter Wings at the base and another one near Clovis NM, so going to another area generally wasn't an option.)

In any case, my flight was one of the cancelled.  I asked the duty officer what had happened.  He told me there had been an accident on one of the low levels below the airspace and while the investigation was going on, the airspace was closed.

Later that afternoon, more information was available.  A single ship F-111 sortie had hit the ground on a low level flight,  no ejection was attempted.  The Instructor Pilot on the mission was Capt Alan J. Pryor.  He went by Joe.  I knew that because he'd been in my ROTC detachment at Texas Tech.  I'd also worked with him pumping gas into airplanes at the Lubbock airport.  He'd graduated the December before me, been an IP in ATC after UPT, then got the 'Vark as his post ATC reward.  The Accident Report could not find a cause.  They hit the ground at an estimated 700 knots.  Doubt they even realized it happened.

I couldn't find a picture of Joe, but this video will give you a bit of a feel for an F-111 at low level.  Looks like it's in England, which means they aren't as fast or as low as they would be in NM.

While still stationed at Holloman, I'd trained an A-10 driver who was going through the IP course.  He had just gotten married and had bought a house across the street from us.  Good guy.  Could shoot the gun and drop bombs quite well.  Didn't have a lot of experience at air to air, but caught on pretty quickly.  In any case, it's now 1987, and I'm fully checked out in the Eagle.  I'm in the squadron and the duty officer asks me if I'd been assigned at Holloman.  I said I had and he asked me if I knew a Ross LaTorra.  I told him I did.  He told me he'd just been killed in a mid-air.  

That sucks the air right out of ya'.  He'd been on an Air-to-air ride with two students, one in his front seat and one solo on his wing.  During the last engagement before RTB, the solo student lost sight of lead and thinking lead was below him, pulled up.  unfortunately, lead was inverted directly above him.  Ross and his student were killed instantly.  The solo student managed to eject and was rescued.  If interested, here's more details

Ross as a Air Force Academy Cadet

So, I've left Kadena and am about half way through ARRRMMMMEEEE Training Sir! when the Air Force Colonel in charge of all the Air Force Majors (~20) going through the school, calls me into his office.  Now, remember, at Kadena, I was a Flight Commander in charge of ~10 guys.  (That means I wrote their performance report and got to sit in on and receive the butt chewings when they screwed up).  Later on, I was the Assistant Operations Officer, the third in command of the Squadron.  I got to make coffee.  But, the guys in my Flight were MY Guys.  

So, being a lowly Major with no responsibilities other than not embarrassing the Air Force at an Army School, I wonder what the Colonel wants.  I knock and go through the usual pleasantries of entering a senior officer's office. (Hint: it involves a salute and an mentioning of name and rank).  He asks me to sit down (uh-oh).  

Then he says, "juvat, I know you were in the 12th TFS at Kadena until recently."

"Yes, Sir"

"Well, Apparently there was an accident last night involving the 12th and one of the pilots is missing presumed dead."  

Since virtually all of our flying was above the Pacific, it's a pretty good assumption.

I ask if he has a name.

Captain Robert Schneider, call sign "Rocket".

My heart sank.  Not only was he in my squadron, he'd been in my flight and indeed was my wingman.

I gulped a couple of times and might have blinked quite a bit, then asked if he had any details.  All he said was that apparently there had been a mid-air collision.  I asked about the other jet.  It had safely recovered.

Unfortunately, Rocket's airplane was seen to fly into the water.  The accident report later said that minimal damage had occurred to either airplane, but that the horizontal tail of the jet that recovered had pieces of canopy and blood on it.  The only good news is Rocket never knew what hit him.

I'd always heard that, in the Fighter World, losing a wingman is one of the hardest things to get over.  I agree.

Rocket is in the first standing row.  The aft fin of the missile is pointing at his head.  Sorry, this is the only picture I could find.


Next on my list, is Ed Rasimus.  Ras, as he was known, died of Cancer in 2013.  Why do I remember him on Memorial Day?  YGBSM!

Ed flew two tours in Vietnam, one in the F-105 and one in the F-4.  Both involved flying missions in North Vietnam.  Hanoi at the time was supposedly the most heavily guarded target in the history of aviation.  I had the honor to have him as my IP when I was going through the AT-38 IP course when I was assigned to Holloman.  The man knew how to fly the jet and it was extremely rare that I was able to bring "weapons" to bear on him.  So rare, that I'm pretty sure he "let me" when I did.  Post Vietnam, he made Major the very first time it was possible.  But another trait of his was he would tell you exactly what he thought without sugar coating.  Evidently, he did this to a General who didn't take it well.  Ed retired as a Major.  Another reason he's one of my heroes.

He's also an accomplished writer.  If you haven't read his books, you should, cheapest ride in a fighter cockpit you'll ever get.

Love the Fighter Pilot 'stache and the "I can kick your ass anytime I want" smile. Describes Ed to a T.

Finally, there's one more on my Memorial day list.  Not in the Air Force, not even in the Military.  Rather, he did his duty in the State Department.  That would be Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

He gave his last full measure on Sept 11, 2012 in Benghazi Libya at the hands of terrorists attacking US sovereign territory.  That episode, and our governments handling thereoff, still bothers me and I will not forget it.  RIP Ambassador.

Only one of these 5 died in "combat", the others risked it all to be the best they could be in case they were needed in combat.  Ed proved he could do it when needed.  I have no doubt the other 3 could have also.

Rest in Peace, Warriors!