The contributions of the units of Dutch and Belgians have often been forgotten, during the battle of Waterloo the men of Bjitlandt's Netherland brigade, already under powered from the fighting at Quatre Bras which they had taken a large role in, were placed on a slope where artillery could fire upon them while the British troops were laying down safely behind the hill. They were in this position because no British officers were willing to have their brigade be the left flank so Bijlandt took a position on the left flank, ahead of the British lines. When French infantry attacked, the battered but unwavered Dutch-Belgians fired upon them with pounding volleys. Lieutenant Hope of British 92nd Foot writes, "The Belgians were assailed with terrible fury and returned the fire of the enemy for some time with great spirit." After a protracted and effective fire fight at a range of no more than 25 meters apart
the Brigade, outnumbered and already battered from Quatre Bras and the Artillery bombardment, fell back to the British lines except for one battalion of Belgians, the 7de, which kept up an intense fire fight with the French infantry before retiring to the rest of the brigade. The Prince of Orange soon led the Brigade in a counter-attack which threw the French infantry off the ridge for good.
Belgian infantry at the time wore coats of dark blue with white facinges and wore the 'Belgic shako.' The facings on the shako varied in color, white for center companies, red for grenadier companies and gren for flanquer companies. And they wore grey pantaloons and most wore gaiters as well. Netherlands infantry at the time used the British Brown Bess musket except for a few who were equipped with French muskets which would eventually become the standard small arm of Netherlands infantry under the name 'Model 1815'. Men in Grenadier and Flanquer companies had shoulder rolls on their coats but the center companies did not.
One of the best Netherland infantry units was the 7de Bataljon Infanterie Van Linie (7th Line Infantry Battalion). Especially the officers were excellent. Commander F. C. Vandensande served in the French 112th Line Infantry Regiment, and was awarded with Légion d’Honneur. Captain L’Olivier served in the French 7th Line Infantry Regiment as commander of grenadier company. Captain Nieuport served in the French 13th Tirailleur Regiment of Young Guard. Lieutenant Nieulandt served in the 1st Regiment of Honor Guard. Lieutenant Scheltens served in the famous Grenadiers of Old Guard.
Men like Sibourne or Lord General Uxbridge would downplay the role of the Dutch-Belgians, calling them "cowards with no stomach to fight" yet Wellington praised them and their valiance. The 2de Belgische Karabiniers, acting on their own initiative, pursued the retreating French cavalry all the way off the field, led personally by their Crown Prince, William II. The 8ste Belgian Hussars took 65% casualties yet they fought on with "insane gallantry" when they charged into French lancers to cover the retreat of fleeing British heavy cavalry. And none can forget the glory that took place when Major General Trip's Dutch Heavy Cavalry Brigade consisting of the 1ste (Dutch) 2de (Belgian) and 3de (Dutch) Karabinier regiments, counter charged the massive French cuirassier attack on the allied left flank.
English officer, Captain Batty of the Grenadier Guards, declared that he saw 'a Belgian cavalry regiment fight valiantly with the cuiassiers in a manner never to be forgotten.'
The words describing the Netherlands and French setbacks of failures are expressive :
- "utterly routed"
- "fled in complete panic"
- "fleeing left and right"
- "whole formations broke"
- "...the carnage was awful..." - Jac Weller
- "the terror stricken masses" - Siborne
- and my favorite: "French officers were brought up
from the hollow in great numbers, delivering up their swords."
British setbacks are described in either dry or mild words:
- "retiring to safety in an irregular manner" - an NCO, British Foot Guard
- "taking a better position in the rear"
- "falling back rapidly"
- "moved to the rear"
- "tactically out manoeuvred"
- and my favorite: "an advance to the rear in force"
In short, the Dutch and Belgian units who fought at Waterloo showed that they would fight like madmen to protect their country and their freedom but due to a long British-Dutch rivalry and British nationalism, the role of the Dutch and Belgian units was played down to make them appear as cowards but it is entirely untrue.