It’s the fourth day of this April’s blog challenge and my prompt comes once again from Kate. Her suggestion for ‘D’ is “DRAGOON”.
This one was a bit of a head-scratcher, if I’m honest! I had a few ideas flit in and out of my mind as I pondered this word, but none of them seemed to want to stick around. Here is what did decide to cling on. I hope I did the word justice.
By Adam Dixon
“Interesting thing about the Battle of Waterloo is that nobody’s sure about what time it began,” Albert said, gazing off into the distance, as he so often did when he was thinking. Debbie smiled and shook her head. She should have known that her granddad would start rattling off his impromptu history lessons as soon as they got going. Debbie was taking Albert to the theatre, and he looked very fine in his old grey suit. Albert had joked that evening that the grey “really brings out the white in my hair!” and Debbie had laughed and laughed. Shame about the silly tie, though, Debbie thought, casting a critical eye over the canary-yellow monstrosity. They were sat on a busy carriage on the Tube, and upon pulling out from Waterloo station Albert had begun his lesson.
“Is that so?” Debbie said as she settled into her seat. She loved to hear Albert talk about history; he did it so much better than any of her lecturers.
“Indeed it is, m’dear,” Albert said, nodding slowly as he continued to stare at nothing in particular. “It was fought on 18th June 1815, a Sunday, if you’re interested, in what’s now Belgium. They know all that stuff, but no-one is exactly sure of the time the French attacked. You see, Wellington’s dispatches say that ol’ Napoleon marched at ten o’clock that morning, but others say it didn’t start ‘til half-past eleven. It’s always bothered me that they never recorded somethin’ so important to the history of it all.”
“Do armies usually record the time battle begin, granddad?” Debbie asked.
“Oh yes!” Albert said eagerly, focusing his rheumy eyes on Debbie at last. “Each battle is a piece of history, m’dear! What good is it if history isn’t properly recorded, eh?”
“I think more people are interested in the fighting itself, to be honest, granddad,” Debbie replied, smoothing her blue dress and checking her cream handbag. She’d chosen the handbag because it had belonged to her grandmother. Albert laughed and slapped his knees, causing several nearby commuters to jump and gape at him in astonishment.
“Oh, I expect you’re right about that, Debora!” he chuckled, winking at her. Debbie smiled; Albert was the only person who called her Debora. “I know that I always used to! I was always askin’ my history teachers about the armies and the fightin’ when I was just a lad! Earned me a canin’ or two, it did, all ‘cos I didn’t want to hear about the politics! By the way, did I ever tell you that one of your ancestors was actually at Waterloo?” Debbie shook her head and leaned forwards, interested. A few of their ruffled fellow passengers glanced up too.
“Well, he was,” Albert grinned proudly and adjusted his huge jam-jar glasses. “His name was Thomas, and he was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather. He was there that day two hundred years ago, facin’ down Napoleon with his comrades. I looked him up a long time ago; he’s mentioned in the records!” Albert’s eyes glittered with infectious excitement.
“That’s amazing!” Debbie said, returning his grin. “Was he a soldier then?”
“Yep,” Albert nodded. “He was a dragoon, actually, one of those who fought on horseback. He must’ve been quite a good’un too, ‘cos he was part of the King’s First Dragoon Guards. Nice bit of family history there, m’dear!” Albert winked at Debbie, who gazed at him in wonder.
“Wow…” she breathed. “What did the King’s Dragoons do? Were they important to the battle?”
“Oh yes, in their own way,” Albert answered thoughtfully. “They were part a larger cavalry Brigade who were part of a huge charge against the French early that afternoon. They played their part, fightin’ in various places through the day, but many of them died before the battle was over. Our ancestor, Thomas, included. He was killed by cannon-fire, accordin’ to the records.”
“Oh…” Debbie didn’t know what to say. She felt a little sad and strangely proud of this hitherto unknown family member who had fought in a war that her generation cared so little about.
“Yes, it’s a shame,” Albert said, rubbing his nose with a liver-spotted hand. “But it doesn’t stop me enjoyin’ the story. Why, when my ol’ grandfather told me that when I was a nipper, I’d spend hours out in the garden playin’ at being a dragoon like Thomas.” He smiled at the memory and laughed a little.
“I’d gallop round on my imaginary horse and pretend I was fightin’ alongside Wellington all day long! I’d bully my younger brothers into bein’ French infantry, and I’d ride them down and lay about them with a stick! I used to get such a wallop from my mum when I’d get too into it an’ knock one of them over!” Albert broke off, laughing, and Debbie lent her own giggles to the sound. Some of the passengers nearby were smiling as they pretended not to be listening.
“That does sound like you, granddad!” Debbie said, laying a hand on his leg and giving it an affectionate squeeze. “I bet you’d have made a fine dragoon, too.” She added with a smile. They travelled the rest of their journey in a happy silence, and their thoughts were filled with scenes from old battle and of a familiar-looking man galloping amongst it on a magnificent horse. Debbie imagined that he looked a bit like her granddad, and that he waved his sabre bravely as he galloped down the hill towards the French infantry as the cannons fired upon them. She promised herself that she would learn more about the Battle of Waterloo after that night was over. She would go to her university library and borrow some books on the subject and she and Albert would pore over them together. He’d love that, and she’d urge him to tell her all the other stories he knew about the Battle. She could hardly wait.