Thursday, 16 April 2009

Quatre Bras

A warm, sunny morning, and breakfast on the patio of the hotel was a nice way to start our third day. As we finished our coffee we studied “Wellington at Waterloo”, and in particular Chapter V Quatre Bras.

This volume really is the ideal battlefield companion. There is a short section on the topography of the area, and suggestions for places to visit. Then there are chapters on each phase of the campaign. But most important of all are the wonderful black and white photographs.

Many are aerial photographs, and are ideal for confirming your location. There are also close ups of the various farms and important strategic locations. These are particularly useful as you can be sure that your are looking at the correct farm, or cross roads or indeed in the right direction! On a first visit to a battlefield it really is very difficult to orientate yourself with only a modern map and a line drawing from a book. Although published in 1967 I would still strongly recommend this wonderful book to anyone attempting the battlefield for the first time.

We were soon on the road, and driving across the Waterloo battlefield, and the unmistakeable La Haye Sainte, towards Quatre Bras. It is impossible to miss the cross roads, and at least you can be sure that you are pointing towards the French. However after that things get a bit more complicated.

The battlefield of Quatre Bras is much the same as it was in 1815. The cross roads is easy to locate, and all four roads still follow the originals. Most of the large farms are much the same. However there are a lot of new buildings, and it is not always easy to recognise the ones you want. I could not find any trace of Bossu wood.

This is the vital cross roads on which most of the most desperate fighting was centered. The Dutch Belgian troops holding this junction were soon reinforced by British brigades arriving both along the Waterloo road and from the left. Wellington held this cross roads throughout the battle despite the best efforts of the French led by Marshal Ney.

Picton's was the first British division to arrive, and it was deployed to the left of the photo. The brunt of the French attack was directed at this area, and it was here that the 42nd and 44th were attacked by French lancers.

We walked down the Charleroi road to the Brunswick monument. It was here that the Duke of Brunswick was mortally wounded leading a charge by his hussars to stem a French attack.

A little further down the road is the farm of Gemioncourt farm. It was artillery fire from this position which pursuaded the Prince of Orange to order the 69th out of square and to form line. Cavalry deployed in a fold in the ground near the farm spotted this deployment and swept down on the British infantry. The 69th practically ceased to exist, it lost its colour and played no further part in the battle.

Further still, and to the right of the road, is Pierrepont farm. This area was in French control until the final allied counter attack. The Brunswick infantry pushed the French right back south of this area and took possession of the farm.

We returned to the cross roads and turned right (west) to walk along the area of Pictons battle.
We soon reached the hamlet of Thyle and the nearby Materne lake. This area was the scene of prolonged skirmish fighting between the 95th Rifles and the French light infantry.

Early in the day Wellington sent the 95th Rifles to occupy Piraumont farm. However before they arrived a strong force of French infantry took possession of it. The Rifles fought to drive them out, but they retained possession until the end of the battle.

The old Roman road is no longer in use, but it was then the main road from Quatre Bras to Ligny. It was down this road that Wellington rode for his historic meeting with Blucher prior to the battle.


Quatre Bras is an easy battlefield to find, but we found it a less easy one to explore. Some postions are obvious, for example the cross roads and the Brunswick museum. Others take a lot more effort, even with such a useful guide.

We spent a full day there, but I still feel we did not do it justice. We did a lot of walking but despite our best efforts were unable to find some of the locations. This was mainly because it was a very hot day, and we were covering a big area on foot. We were forced to spend a considerable amount of time in the shade, consulting "Wellington at Waterloo". We got a good "feel" for the battlefield, but did not have the energy to do full justice to the Thyle area in particular

I often thought that I would like to return and do it properly. Either with a knowledgeable guide, or (better still) on bicycles. It is a very flat area, and the wheels would allow us to explore a much wider area in comfort.

Its not the only battlefield I would like to return to. But perhaps one day?


  1. A great entry! I've always been fascinated by Quatre Bras, even more than Waterloo. It must be the thought of those charging lancers!


  2. Hi Greg

    Thanks for the comment

    Quatre Bras is an easy one to find, and an interesting one to explore. But you need to do your research before hand - particularly a good map.

    I dont know what its like now, but I suspect that it is a lot less changed than its big brother Waterloo.


  3. Thanks so much for sharing your memories of these battlefields. I'm currently building Allied forces in 6mm for 1815 and seeing your photographs is extremely helpful from the architectural angle.

    As I build up the forces and some buildings I'll put them on my blog. After completing Wagram I hope this will be less intense!

    It is a bit scary though, to see pictures taken around the time I was born :-)

    Kind regards

  4. Hi Steve

    Thanks for the comments

    6mm is the way to go for big battles, though I must confess I would not desert my 28mm and 15mm. But its hard to beat 6mm for visual effect.

    We have also visited Wagram, but that is a long way down the list for the blog. Unfortunately I do not have any similar photographs to the ones of Ligny, otherwise I would send them to you.

    If you think it scary to see pictures taken around the time you were born - imagine what its like to receive mail from someone who was only just born when I took them!!



  5. Thank you Paul for sharing these.My 3rd Great Grandfather was Lieutenant Thomas MacIntosh of the 92nd Regt Gordon Highlanders.He was severely wounded at Quatre Bras.Resigned commission as Captain in 1819,came to Canada ca1830 and died at age 83 in 1855.Buried at Burnbrae Cemetery Seymour Twp,Ontario


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