A Triumph of Plain Speaking

After the terrible losses they suffered at Waterloo, it must have brought great joy to the British soldiers to restore to the French people just what they had always wanted: a fat king named Louis.

In The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes, edited by Max Hastings, we hear the uplifting account Private William Wheeler of the reduction of Cambray, in my view a real triumph of plain speaking.

The city had raised the tricolor [a sign of resistance] and the British had had to scale the walls and take possession of the gates to let in their troops. The French troops retired to the fortified citadel.

“We were, as was usual, received by the people with vivas, many of whom had forgot to wash the powder off their lips caused by biting off the cartridges when they were firing at us from the wall.

“Pickets were established at the citadel , and about dusk the remainder of the division were marched out of town and encamped. We had picked up some money in the town, or more properly speaking we had made the people hand it over to us to save us the trouble of taking it from them, so we were enabled to provide ourselves with what made us comfortable.

“The 25th we halted,” Private Wheeler continues, “and his pottle belly Majesty, Louis 18th, marched into the loyal town of Cambray. His Majesty was met by a deputation of his beloved subjects who received their father and their king with tears of joy.

“Louis blubbered over them like a big girl for her bread and butter, called them his children, told them a long rigamarole of nonsense about France, and his family, about his heart, and about their hearts, and I don’t know what…

“No doubt the papers will inform you how Louis the 18th entered the loyal city of Cambray, how his loyal subjects welcomed their beloved king, how the best of monarchs wept over the sufferings of his beloved people, how the citadel surrendered with acclamations of joy to the best of kings, and how his most Christian Majesty effected all this without being accompanied by a single soldier.

“But the papers will not inform you that 4th Division and a brigade of Hanoverian Huzzars were in readiness within half a mile of the this faithful city, and if the loyal citizens had insulted their king, how it was very probable that we should have bayoneted every Frenchman in the place.

“The people well knew this, and this will account for the sudden change in their loyalty or allegiance from their Idol Napoleon (properly named) the Great, to an old bloated poltroon, the Sir John Falstaff of France.”

[Falstaff is a drunken blowhard in several of Shakespeare’s plays.]