Waterloo…the word is synonymous with Napoleon and Wellington. The men who fought and died in their name lie long forgotten, consigned to mass graves in the case of the French who fell on that battlefield. But now, one of those unsung heroes who gave his life on that momentous day has been recovered from the famous site.
On June 8, the skeletal remains of a soldier were unearthed a short distance behind what was then the British front line position, close to the Duke of Wellington’s Army Infirmary. Archaelogists believe the man died where he lay and that his comrades had hastily covered his body with a thin layer of soil.
It is a rare find. This is the first time that a body has been found in the Belgium battlefield in over a century and one which is virtually intact. Okay, there is the small detail of the skull, which was crushed by a digger when the body was initially discovered, but apart from that, a missing foot and some hand bones everything else is there…including the musket ball found in the chest area and the coins once held in the pockets of the uniform that has since rotted away.
Archaeolgists suspect the man was British; further tests on the final remnant of his uniform – the leather epaulets – might reveal his regiment and, quite possibly, his name, too, from the combatant records.
Initial analysis suggests he was 20 years old and 5’1 tall. His molar teeth had indents quite possibly due to the soldierly practice of biting and ripping the paper capsules used to hold musket powder.
The Battle of Waterloo took place on June 18, 1815. It’s almost 197 years to the day that one poor, frightened and hurt young man lost his life in a Belgian field. His bones will tell the experts something of how he lived and died, but for me at least his memory will endure – a foot soldier in the march to victory finally getting the attention he deserves.
Here is a link to a great website which also covers the story http://www.thehistoryblog.com/