14th Regiment of Foot
The 14th (or Buckinghamshire) Regiment of Foot raised a 3rd Battalion in 1813, mostly young and inexperienced men, and was the only British 3rd battalion present at Waterloo.
At the peace of 1814 they were about to be disbanded but, not for the last time in their short history, they were reprieved.
On the 21st of March orders were received to hold themselves in readiness for embarkation to the Continent. Napoleon had escaped from Elba and the 3rd /14th were one of the few battalions near the south coast that were able to embark at short notice.
Ensign George Keppell joined the regiment on the 4th of April 1815 at the age of just 16, and he was not impressed with his new colleagues and subordinates:
“The third battalion of the 14th Foot, which I now joined, was one which in ordinary times would not have been considered fit to be sent on foreign service at all, much less against an enemy in the field. Fourteen of the officers and three hundred of the men were under twenty years of age. These last, consisting principally of Buckinghamshire lads fresh from the plough, were called at home ‘the Bucks,’ but their un-Buckish appearance abroad procured for them the appellation of the ‘Peasants.’”
On the morning of Sunday 18 June at half-past four the drummers beat reveille, it had only just stopped raining.
The men climbed to their feet, covered from head to toe in mud and spent the first hour after sunrise cleaning and drying their arms. The morning thereafter became dull with the battalion unable to see any of the action from their position in a ravine on the right of the battlefield but at about three in the afternoon they received orders to advance and marched into an open valley with the hill opposite fringed by French cannon. They occupied their new position amid a shower of shot and shell on the crest of a gentle eminence that looked down upon a crop-field that had been ‘been beaten down into the consistency and appearance of an Indian mat’.
The inexperienced 14th went on to confound their critics. When ordered to form square they did so despite being under pressure from waves of French cuirassiers and they drew strength from the realisation that disciplined infantry could repulse such a formidable force.
“The French Cuirassiers rallied, and appeared inclined to charge the 14th again, but were intimidated by the steady and determined bearing of the battalion.”
Elsewhere, towards evening, the final attack of the Imperial Guard was being broken and with the arrival of the Prussians the battle was all but over. The exhausted 14th at the end of the day, found themselves close to the western side of the Chateau of Hougoumont and there, with the dead all around, they bivouacked for the night.
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Illustration by David Higham