Archaeological dig for Battle of Waterloo site

An archaeological dig has been approved by Belgian authorities at the site of Hougoumont farm – a crucial location and turning point in the Battle of Waterloo.

The Napoleonic farmhouse,Château d’Hougoumont, and its farm out-buildings were held by British and Allied troops and were defended by the Coldstream Guards 200 years ago during the Battle of Waterloo.

Archaeologists from Glasgow University led by Professor Tony Pollard will be conducting the excavation.

Mark Evans, a former Coldstream Guards officer, who narrowly escaped death while fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan will be joining the excavation in a bid to help his recovery and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Evans is hoping that taking part in the excavation will be self-healing in that he knows and has experienced what the soldiers during the Battle of Waterloo went through and how they would have been feeling.

The story of the Coldstream Guard’s defence of Hougoumont farm is renowned within the regiment to this day. It is one of their most famous victories.

Napoleon had instructed his French troops to advance and capture the British positions on the Mont St Jean Ridge, near Brussels. Hougoumont farm was around 12 buildings in a wooded area near the British main strategic location.

It was purposely selected by the Duke of Wellington to break up the French Army’s advance and that is exactly what it did.

14,000 French soldiers advanced on Hougoumont farm, but it was surrounded by heavy armaments and a high ridged wall with gates. Coldstream Guards’ Corporal James Graham quickly shut and secured the main gate while under heavy fire in order to ensure the French troops could not gain access to the compound. From here, behind the security of the farm’s walls and shut gates, the Allied troops were able to fend off the French advance, The Telegraph reports.

The Hougoumont farm battle caused Napoleon to send more and more troops that way, this was away from Wellington’s right-flank and protected his communications arm which was located there. It is thought that both Napoleon and Wellington believed Hougoumont was vital to the battle, and Wellington is quoted as saying that the closing of the gates at the farm determined the success of the battle.

Evans says that every new Coldstream Guardsman is told the story of Hougoumont farm.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE