The Wounded at Waterloo by Bronwen Evans
Waving hello from New Zealand, where I spend my time writing Regency historical romances. In my current Regency series, The Disgraced Lords, several of the characters, their friends, and siblings, fought at the battle of Waterloo.
As 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo 18-20th June 1815, in Belgium, I thought I’d learn a little bit about the epic battle. The battle was considered a monumental event in the early 1800’s. The impact on families from across Europe, and through the spectrum of classes, was huge.
When you read about the troop numbers (67,000 men under Wellington’s command and 72,000 under Napoleon) you begin to understand how the battle generated over 55,000 men either wounded, killed or missing in action.
I work part-time as Executive Director for a surgical society in New Zealand, and when I saw the enormous numbers of wounded I immediately wondered how many surgeons they had available, who treated what sort of injuries, and what skills did the surgeons actually have? I can’t imagine their equipment, or drugs, were conducive to pain free attention.
Essentially the medical services were organized into three parts:
- Army Medical Department
- Ordnance Medical Department (for the artillery)
- Separate establishment for household troops
How did these medical departments work during the battle?
If a soldier fell wounded in battle, no help came. They had approximately 180 army surgeons. If a wounded man were lucky his colleagues or friends would carry him to a first line dressing station situated over the ridge near the battle. Close friendships formed in regiments, and you needed to know that the man beside you would help when required. Friendships played a key role in the saving of my hero, Christian Trent, Earl of Markham who is badly burned in the battle at Waterloo. Read how he got his burns in a FREE prequel on my website – the book is A Kiss of Lies.
As the hostilities progressed, medical assistance had to be moved back to Mont-St-Jean and Waterloo and other buildings well away from the battlefield. Therefore, the wounded had to either walk, be carried on stretchers, placed in country carts, or they sometimes used the royal wagon trains.
Often the wounded were moved to the general hospitals at Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, and Ostend. There is no doubt that these hospitals would have been overwhelmed with the numbers of badly wounded men who descended on them.
Just how effective were the regimental surgeons in alleviating suffering and saving lives? With so many men to treat, it’s hard to say. Treatment was hampered by a lack of proper facilities, the terrible wet conditions (it had poured with rain the night before), lack of medical supplies, and fresh, clean water.
As it is today, it’s also likely that the proficiency of the surgeons varied considerably.
Fear of infection and death often meant limbs were amputated immediately and lead to some men losing limbs that could have been saved. Bloodletting was still thought to be of use, and a way to stop gangrene. Unfortunately, the practice did see those with serious injuries go into shock due to blood loss.
Diluted spirits and some opiates were all they had for pain relief. Assistant surgeon, James wrote in his journal, “Our work behind lines was grim in the extreme, and continued far into the night. It was all too terrible to commit to paper, but this I will say, that the silent heroism of the greater part of the sufferers was a thing I shall not forget.”
Many a story has been told of bravery and fortitude in the face of adversity. For example, it has been recorded that not a word left Lord Raglan’s mouth as his arm was amputated, until he called out in his usual casual voice, “Hello. Don’t carry away the arm until I have taken off the ring.”
At the end of the battle, the surviving men were so tired, it took over fours days to remove all the wounded to hospitals. Thankfully many of the locals, especially the women, helped care for the wounded,. Many men were left in the streets because the hospitals could not cope with the numbers of men needing attention. Treatment took weeks to months, with some patients not returning to England until early 1816. Those lucky enough to return to England were sent to the York Hospital in Chelsea to recuperate.
The British cleared the battlefield of their dead and buried them in consecrated ground in mass graves. The French dead were left on the field for days and the bodies were often looted. Finally they were buried in mass graves and burned with quicklime. The British soldiers, who are buried in mass graves in Belgium, were not forgotten. Many a promise was made to a dying soldier.
My hero in A TOUCH OF PASSION, Grayson Devlin, Viscount Blackwood, tried to help his friend, Robert, as he lay dying on the battlefield. When he couldn’t save Robert, he promised to look out for Portia, Robert’s sister. That promise sees him be lead a very frustrating, sensual, and dangerous journey to his happy ever after.
USA Today bestselling author, Bronwen Evans grew up loving books. She writes both historical and contemporary sexy romances for the modern woman who likes intelligent, spirited heroines, and compassionate alpha heroes. Evans is a two-time winner of the RomCon Readers’ Crown and has been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. She lives in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand with her dog Brandy.
Or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bronwenevansauthor
Or Twitter: https://twitter.com/bronwenevans_NZ
 Source: British medical services at the Battle of Waterloo. By M R Howard
Latest posts by Charlotte Russell (see all)
- Pauline Bonaparte’s Missing Treausre by Cerise DeLand - August 16, 2016