Waterloo & The Retreat from Mons
A Battlefield Tour with Rhydian Vaughan
The Battle of Waterloo was the first and only occasion that Wellington and Napoleon crossed swords directly. It was an epic, bloody and final conflict that ended 22 years of war, and finished with Napoleon’s approach to Waterloo: this tour is a fascinating examination of the two events, both militarily important but for very different reasons.
Our journey begins in Mons. We then spend a day on the battlefield of Waterloo where nearly 200,000 men of at least 9 nationalities fought a knife-edge combat of 9 hours, and victory was only determined towards dusk. Today, the site is well-preserved and highly evocative, with many of the principle features and buildings including Hougoumont Farm, still surviving to illustrate the events of the day.
We also explore the city of Mons and examine the British Expeditionary Force’s fighting retreat to the River Marne on the Western Front in 1914. Our visits will include Nimy – scene of heavy fighting during the original Battle of Mons, Obourg – site of a stubborn Allied defence, the Saint Symphorien Cemetery, the Military Museum and the battlefield of Le Cateau, setting for the heroic yet ultimately costly stand against the Germans by the Allies, and its military cemetery where the fallen of both sides lie, none the victor, none the vanquished.
Day 1: London / Folkestone / Calais /Mons
Morning departure from Victoria Station and travel by coach to Mons and the Eurotunnel. Breakfast will be available onboard the coach.
Lunch at a local restaurant en route to Mons check in to our hotel where two nights are spent.
Day 2: Waterloo
Today we explore the Battle of Waterloo which involved nearly 200,000 men, of whom some 55,000
became casualties, and hung in the balance all day (“A damned near run thing” as Wellington was to call it) until the Imperial Guard was driven off at dusk. Napoleon’s army then collapsed under Wellington’s counter attack and the break through by the Prussians. We survey the scene from a series of viewpoints on the French and Allied lines, and recreate the main actions. We begin with a stop at the Visitors Centre where there is also a bookshop, a panoramic and The Lion Mound. Climb Lion Mound (227 steps, at your own discretion!) for an aerial view of the battlefield. Continue to Hougoumont Farm, where the light troops of the British Foot Guards heroically defended this key position, although heavily outnumbered and under attack all day.
Lunch at a local restaurant in Waterloo. Visit the Wellington Museum at Waterloo, which is located in Wellington’s Headquarters and still contains some original furniture. The church opposite has many memorials to British officers and men who fell during the campaign. Return to the battlefield to look at it from the French side at La Belle Alliance, an inn close to the battlefield which became Napoleon’s headquarters. After the battle, the Duke of Wellington and Gebhard Blücher met close to the inn signifying the end of the fighting. Blücher, the Prussian commander, suggested that the battle should be remembered as La Belle Alliance, to commemorate the European Seventh Coalition of Britain, Russia, Prussia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Sardinia, and a number of German States which had all joined the coalition to defeat the French Emperor. Wellington, who had chosen the field and commanded an allied army which had fought the French all day, instead recommended Waterloo, the village just north of the battlefield, where he himself had spent the previous night, commenting that it would not do to name the battle after the loser's command post. Nevertheless in 1815 the Rondell plaza in Berlin was renamed Belle-Alliance-Platz to commemorate the victory. Return to the hotel. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 3: Mons / Le Cateau / Calais / Folkestone / London
Begin the day exploring the first engagements of the Great War in 1914 and the long fighting retreat by the Allied forces to the River Marne. Two allied regiments took positions along the Mons-Conde canal, one at the railway station and the other in reserve in some nearby woods. The Germans pressed hard against these positions, inflicting heavy losses with artillery from the higher positions on the opposite side of the canal. Under the weight of continuing German attacks, by the afternoon the British began to realize that their position in the salient was untenable. Many of the battalions defending the salient had taken heavy casualties – the 4th Middlesex, for example, had suffered 9 officers and 453 other ranks killed or wounded. To the east of the British position, units of the German IX Corps had begun to cross the canal in force, threatening the British right flank. And at Nimy, a German private, August Neimeier, had swam across the
canal under British fire to operate machinery closing a swing bridge. Although he was killed, his actions
allowed the Germans to increase pressure against the 4th Royal Fusiliers. The 4th Royal Fusiliers served with distinction at Mons with two of its members, Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley, winning Victoria Crosses for their courage in August 1914. The Royal Fusiliers war memorial is on High Holborn, near Chancery Lane tube station, surmounted by the lifesize statue of a World War I soldier, and its regimental chapel is at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.
Visit the Saint Symphorien Cemetery, made by the Germans in August 1914, after the Battle of Mons. It remained in their hands until November 1918, and has the distinction of containing the graves of some of the first and last casualties of the First World War. There is a granite obelisk some seven metres high, erected by the Germans in memory of both German and British servicemen killed in the actions near Mons in August 1914. Visit the Grand Place and the military museum which mainly explores the liberations of the town of Mons in November 1918 and September 1944 but also covers the whole military history of the city.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Walk the battlefield at Le Cateau. The Battle of Le Cateau was fought on 26 August 1914, after the British, French and Belgians
retreated from the Battle of Mons and had set up defensive positions in a fighting withdrawal against the German advance at Le Cateau-Cambrésis. The Germans heavily attacked the British forces commanded by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and despite the Germans taking heavy casualties, the British, began to break under unrelenting pressure. Of the 40,000 Allied men fighting at Le Cateau, 7,812 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner and thirty-eight artillery pieces (guns) were abandoned to the advancing Germans. For these losses, however, the engagement at Le Cateau had achieved its objective, and enabled the British Expeditionary Force to retreat unmolested by the Germans for a further five days. Despite being later criticised for his decision to "stand and fight" at Le Cateau, Smith-Dorrien was lionised by both the army and the public at home for his actions.
Finally visit the military cemetery at Ors where Wilfred Owen is buried as well as two Victoria Cross holders: all three died a week before the Armistice attempting to cross the Sambre-Oise Canal nearby.
Drive to Calais for the journey back to London, via Folkestone and the Eurotunnel, arriving Victoria Station in the evening.
Personal and group tours available
Departures upon demand
Costs on application