Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Was the Duke surprised at Waterloo?

Lord Braybrooke's stories do not abound in names or dates; the following was quite without, but seems little to want, that recommendation. The Duke finding himself near some garrison town in England, received a visit from the commanding officer, who made a speech from the regiment on the subject of their anxiety to show him any possible respect, ending with their regret that their mess dinner could not produce anything worthy of being offered to him, and that it would, be ridiculous to invite him to it.

'Why?' said he. The day was fixed by him ; some of his old friends and 'companions were got to meet him. He came in high spirits and good-humour, and began talking over his campaigns and old stories with his comrades. Growing pleased with the deep attention with which the younger officers listened to him, he became more communicative, and at last said that, as nothing gratified him so much as a spirit of enquiry in young soldiers as to every subject connected with their profession, he begged that any one present would question him as to any point of his military history on which they wished for information, promising that, unless he felt it inconsistent with his duty, he would answer fully and fairly.

Upon this, an officer present ventured to ask whether it was true that Napoleon had surprised him at Waterloo ? He said he was as far surprised as a man can be who knows he is to expect attack; he knew that Napoleon would march towards Brussels; that Blucher was coming to his relief; he had a frontier of many hundred miles to defend ; he could not possibly foresee on what point the attack would be first made; and certainly the speed of the advance of Napoleon exceeded what he could have expected or believed possible.*

Editor's note
* The question of the young officer has been frequently repeated; and perhaps as good an answer, or rather retort, as any was that of the late Professor Wilson on some one asking -whether the French did not surprise Wellington at Waterloo. 'Yea; and didn't he astonish them ? '


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