Ensign Christie of the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot defending the King’s Colours at Quatre Bras 16th June 1815
On the 16th of June 1815, the 2nd Division of the 44th East Essex Regiment of Foot found themselves at the cross roads of Quatre Bras. They faced the left wing of Napoleon’s army under Marshal Ney. While still in line formation the regiment was charged from behind by the 5e Lanciers belonging to Comte Piré’s 2nd Cavalry Division.
The commanding officer of the 44th was Lieutenant-Colonel John Hamerton, and he quickly grasped that it would be impossible to form square in time so he promptly ordered the rear rank to face about. The ‘East Essex” were Peninsular veterans and kept their heads. They obeyed the order smartly and the men stood in two lines back to back. As the French lancers drew near the men in the rear line levelled their muskets and poured a devastating volley into their ranks.
During the engagement, a French lancer broke through the line and is said to have ‘gallantly charged at the colours”. He severely wounded Ensign Christie with a lance thrust which entered his left eye and penetrated his lower jaw. The lancer tried to seize the King’s colours, but Christie clung to them. As he and the colours fell, the Frenchman tore off a piece with his lance point but he was soon cut down with shot and bayonet by the soldiers of the 44th. and the fragment was retrieved.
Despite his injuries, Ensign Christie survived the battle and was promoted to Lieutenant after Waterloo in recognition of his bravery.
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Illustration by David Higham