Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Sunday 10 July 1971 was another sunny morning, as we once more drove down the Charleroi road, past Waterloo to Quatre Bras and turned left towards Ligny.

To quote Jac Weller from Wellington at Waterloo "...the villages here have not increased astonishingly in size, but there is still not much to see even from the air. This is a confusing battle to read about and even more confusing to walk over" And how right he is!

To be honest I did not know a lot about the battle when we visited in 1971. In recent years I read a book called something like "Waterloo, a German Victory" by Peter Hirschhofer. I believe the first volume covered Ligny, and has a lot of diagrams and maps. Ideal as a battlefield companion. Unfortunately not available to me in 1971.

Nor is much about Ligny in Wellington at Waterloo, and that was my main source of reference. There is not even a map. I hoped that I might be able to find something in Ligny itself, but could find nothing in English.

Ligny is not a large village, and walking around we soon found Ligny church. This is the only photograph in Jac Wellers book about the battle. So at least we were sure that this is indeed the church which changed hands many times during the battle.

And then our luck changed, we found this lovely little museum. There is only two rooms in the museum, and appears to be a collection of items found on the battlefield.

The unique thing about the museum is that none of the exhibits were under glass, and could be handled. At least I think it was OK to pick up this original sword. There was no one to ask, and I really could not resist the temptation.

There were also a number of models of typical Belgian farm buildings. They were not dioramas, in that there were no model soldiers involved. However the painting below was on a nearby wall, so I am reasonably confident that it was a model of the same farm.

Encouraged by the excellent museum, we set off to explore the area. We found a farm building on the outskirts of the town which looked very like the one in the museum. However there was no plaque or other identification, and no sign of war damage. So it is quite likely that it was not the same one!

We looked around the outskirts, but could not find any bearings on the battle. We sat near the farm building, and imagined what might, or indeed might not, have happened there. But all in all a disappointing battlefield walk.

I would stress that our lack of success was entirely due to our own lack of research. Time and again we have found that the more preparation you do the more enjoyable the walk turns out.

However we had one little unexpected treat in store.

Driving back towards Waterloo I saw a little sign for Genappe. We parked the car and walked through the village to the little bridge over the river Dyle. It was so old that there could be no doubt this was the famous bridge which featured in both Wellingtons retreat from Quatre Bras and Napoleons even more famous retreat from Waterloo.

We took our picnic lunch from the car and sat on the banks of the river overlooking the bridge. As we ate our sandwiches on a lovely summer afternoon, I read Jan this description of the cavalry melee on this very spot during the afternoon of 17 June 1815.

"The French forced a passage across the bridge and though the village to its northern outskirts.". The French lancers were met by the 7th hussars, but their charge proved ineffective. The Life Guards were brought up...."the French were awed by their appearance, and ran away before they came near them....".

The scene was so unchanged that we could easily imagine the French lancers trotting across the bridge, only to come back minutes later in great disorder pursued by the Life Guards on their big black horses. Stirring stuff!

And the second story concerned the French retreat after Waterloo.

"The French were now completely broken and retreated mainly by the Genappe road. they were badly hampered in passing through the village by the long narrow main street and the small bridge. Here they suffered additional severe casualties in killed,wounded and prisoners and lost practically off of their wheeled transport. The Prussian cavalry even took the emperor's coach a few second after he had jumped out of it and on to a horse".

And here we were sitting just yards away from that very same bridge!

I took loads of photographs, but the film must have been faulty because they never came out. But my memories of that afternoon are perfectly clear without the aid of a photograph.

I guess what I learned from that lovely afternoon is that to enjoy a battlefield visit you only have to take the time to sit, look and recall the events that took place right there. And if you can find a spot such as Genappe bridge it really is not all that difficult to do.

If you are in the area, do take the time to visit Genappe. Personally I would not want to go back, it could never be so enjoyable a second time.


  1. Great stuff, I look forward to the next installment.


  2. Excellent stuff - and "hear, hear" on the advice re. preparation...

    I've walked a few battlefields (not many, or enough, but then I haven't finished yet!) and by far and away the best walks have been those where I had time to read up beforehand not only on dispositions, but also any effects the physical terrain had on the actual battle (one example of this being the slight rise the Royalist forces occupied at Sedgemoor - I'd never have seen it without having read about it)

    I would wholeheartedly recommend Google Maps for anyone thinking about visiting battlefields in current times - the satellite imagery is very (very!) useful for being able to place events and units where they were at the time, on a modern view of the battlefield....

  3. What a great recollection! You certainly "lucked-out" with the visit to Genappe!


  4. Hi John

    Thanks for your comment. I am really glad that you like the blog, and am very pleased with how well it has been received.

    Its a plasure for me to write, a bit like telling old holiday stories.


  5. Hi Steve

    Thanks for your comments

    I had not thought of using Google Maps, but it sounds like a good idea. I always tried to get the most accurrate modern day map, and then try to work out locations by using battle maps from reference books. But I found that the latter were often incompatable with modern day maps, and there were usually a lot more roads on the new maps making it difficult to determine which was the correct one. And, of course, I did not have access to a computer in 1971!

    When I was in UK we lived near Salisbury, and there was a lot of activity around that area during the ECW. We tried to get interested, as it would have been a great opportunity to explore nearby battles, such as Newbury. But we could never get into the period, and a great opportunity was wasted.


  6. Hi Greg

    Thanks for posting.

    We were certainly lucky at Genappe. But its strange that so often the things you remember most about a hoiday are the lucky finds rather than the main tourist attraction you went to see in the first place. For example I have happy memories of wandering about the unknown canals of Venice, rather than the overpriced and overcrowded St Marks Square.



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