Battle Honour 'WATERLOO'.

Sun, 06/18/1815
Waterloo 27th Battle Honour
French cavalry attack the 27th Inniskillings in their 'square' battle formation.

The Battle Honour WATERLOO is emblazoned on the Regimental Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot was the only Irish infantry regiment of the British Army that fought at the Battle of Waterloo.

The Imperial French army under the command of Emperor Napoleon was defeated by the combined armies of the Seventh Coalition, an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington combined with a Prussian army under the command of Field Marshal von Blücher. It was the decisive battle of the Waterloo Campaign (15 June - 8 July 1815) and Napoleon's last. The defeat at Waterloo put an end to his rule as Emperor of the French and marked the beginning of the end of his 'Hundred Days'. Failing to gain political support in Paris, Bonaparte was forced to abdicate on 22 June in favour of his son, and when attempting to flee France, had to surrender to the British on 15 July 1815.

Of the 27th Inniskillings, the Duke of Wellington many years later (1838) remarked, '... they saved the centre of my line ... .'


The Inniskillings, commanded by (Brevet) Major Hare, arrived in the village of Waterloo at around 0600 hours on 18 June and eventually moved to a position some 1,200 metres behind the Allied lines, just to the west of Mont St Jean, arriving there around 1100 hrs. Forming into columns of companies, the exhausted men lay down and slept - despite the cacophony of the nearby battle. The 6th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Lowry Cole, with the Inniskillings in its 10th Brigade, was being held with Wellington's Reserve. The Regiment's proximity to the fighting resulted in stray rounds wounding some men and inflicting several fatalities. During the morning and early afternoon, formations holding the key cross-roads north of La Haye Saints in Wellington's centre were so battered by French artlllery, cavalry and infantry actions that they were gradually rendered ineffective.

Reserves were therefore called forward just after 1500 hours and Major Generl Sir John Lambert’s 10th Brigade, that included the Inniskillings, moved forward to the vital ground where the road from Brussels to Charleroi crossed the Allied line behind La Haye Sainte. There the Regiment formed Columns of Companies at quarter distance with its left flank facing the French threat. The 4th Regiment was on the Inniskillings' right and the 40th Regiment on its left, both to its rear and somewhat protected by the slope rising before them, whereas the Inniskillings, on the slope's ridge, were in a location exposed to direct fire. The only advantage offered was that a sunken road, forward and below the ridge, did deny an approach for French cavalry attacking from the immediate front or the right flank; it did not prevent the enemy from circling behind the Inniskillings to attack from the rear.

For the rest of the afternoon there was no respite from attacks as the Inniskillings varied their formation from being in columns of companies at quarter distance or, in response to 'Prepare for Cavalry', forming a square. A cannon of that time was a direct-fire weapon and the French artillery was able to fire a number of cannon directly into the Inniskillings' lines and squares. As soon as French cavalry broke away from an attack, it was the opportunity for French cannon to inflict maximum damage as the Inniskillings, tightly grouped in square formation, made a dense target before it could move back into open columns. It was the cannonading of the Inniskillings throughout that late afternoon that inflicted the most horrific damage and casualties as French cannonballs bowled through the ranks, dismembering and destroying men and disrupting their battle formations. When the farm buildings of La Haye Sainte were eventually overwhelmed by the French around 1830 hours, it released enemy units previously engaged in its seige. These skirmished forward to the high ground opposite the Inniskillings that offered cover for their Tirailleurs (sharpshooters) to engage the 27th's exposed ranks with musket ball. The 95th Rifles, although forward of the ridge, occupied the sunken road below the Inniskilling's exposed position and therefore suffered far fewer casualties.

By that evening, the 27th Regiment's casualties were apparently considerable for all to see and an officer of the 95th Rifles later wrote that, 'the twenty-seventh regiment were literally lying dead, in square, a few yards behind us'. When Wellington ordered the general advance around 2000 hours, there were, despite such descriptions, sufficient survivors to enable the Inniskillings to move forward to La Haye Sainte. Perhaps it was there that a captured French General was first reported as saying, 'I have seen Russian, Prussian and French bravery, but anything to equal the stubborn bravery of the regiment with castles I never before witnessed'.

The 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot's killed and wounded amounted to almost 500 out of a total of 747 - amongst the highest casualties of British regiments. In this number were sixteen out of the nineteen officers and twenty-three of the thrity-four Colour Sergeants and Sergeants, all killed or wounded. When, during the battle, only one officer remained standing, the neighbouring 40th Regiment offered to lend officers, to which Major Hare, commanding the 27th, replied, 'The Sergeants of the Regiment like to command the companies and I would be loathe to deprive them of the honour'. Major General Sir James Kempt, commanding the 5th Division following Picton’s death, declared that the Inniskillings ‘... behaved nobly and suffered exceedingly’.

Since that time, traditions have evolved to reflect the history of the day, an example being command of the Battalion on the Waterloo Day Parade by a Major who later becomes the only officer on parade when the remainder fall out. As he marches the Battalion off parade, the Company Sergeant Majors command their companies and the Sergeants assume the role of the junior officers. Later, The Colours are marched from the Officers Mess and loaned to the Warrant Officers and Sergeants Mess for the duration of their traditional Waterloo Dinner Night when they celebrate the honour of their forebears commanding companies of the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Waterloo.

[Author: Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Ted Glover]