WATERLOO 1815 ‘ENSIGN WILLIAM SMITH, 2ND LIGHT BATT. K.G.L.’
Low on ammunition and suffering severe casualties, the legendary defence of La Haie Sainte against overwhelming odds by green jacketed, rifle armed companies of the Light Battalions of the King’s German Legion, was crowning point of this distinguished corps service. Although the defence of Hougomont tends to gain the limelight in Britain, possession of La Haie Sainte that was far more important due to its central position on the battlefield. Initially defended by six companies (378 men) ofthe 2nd Light Battalion, they were later joined by two companies of the 1st Light and one of the 5th Lineand later still about 150 Nassau troops but due to mounting casualties they never totalled more than 550 men. These men held back 7,000 French, who assaulted the farmhouse with great determination and bravery for 5 hours.
Major Baring who commanded at La Haie Sainte, mentions the Officers left inside the farm during the initial action when the companies holding the positions outside the farmhouse were engaged with French infantry. After being literally ridden over by French Cuirassiers and suffering many casualties, these companies were forced to retreat into the defences of the farm itself. Young Ensign Smith is not amongst those named and therefore must have been in one of those companies that were outside the farm and forced to retreat inside. After heroically defending the farm against repeated attacks and practically out of ammunition,
Baring finally ordered a withdrawal of what was left of his command. Leading his men to cut through their assailants with the bayonet, a small number finally made it to the main British lines at
Mont St. Jean.
Out of the 378 men from the 2nd Light Battalion who started the action, only 42 remained after to be mustered! This figure was later adjusted after men thought missing, retuned to the Battalion. However the revised numbers still give a 47% casualty rate, one of the highest figures throughout the Army. Ofthe 19 KGL Officers of the 2nd Light Battalions present, 3 were killed, 4 were seriously wounded, 3 wounded and 2 prisoner. Ensign Smith would have been one of the few Officers left standing at the end of the battle and one of the few to see the battle from beginning to end.
An excellent account of the defence of La Haie Sainte can be read in the book; ‘The Longest Afternoon: The 400 Men Who Decided the Battle of Waterloo’ by Brendan Smith
Ensign William Smith, aged 18 joined the 2nd Light Battalion King’s German Legion on 7th February 1814, taking part in the Netherlands campaign of 1814; the campaign of 1815 and the battle of Waterloo. He was discharged when the King’s German Legion was disbanded in 1816 and gives his place of residence as Westmorland, London on his Officers papers in 1829. There were a number of British Commissioned into the King’s German Legion but few could lay claim to have played such an important role at the battle of Waterloo.
It is worth noting that although there are only just over 400 2nd Light Battalion medals on the Waterloo medal roll, you can only be 100% they were at La Haie Sainte itself if mentioned in accounts, this is especially true of Officers. However Major Baring lists all the Officers who actually defended the farm and therefore these 19 Officers (of 39 Officers on the medal roll) and the odd other NCO/Man, are the only men who’s medals are 100% related to this important action. Ensign William Smith is confirmed as such on Major Baring’s list.
Condition GVF, attractive dark age toning, fitted with original
steel clip and contemporary brass clip ring. Ribbon quite possibly original, certainly not modern. With copy Officers service. Previously sold at; Sotheby 1904, Glendinings 1918, Sotheby 1971.
A superb and rare medal, medals to Officer defenders rarely coming up for sale, indeed only two for 2nd Light, including Smith’s are currently recorded as extent!