And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

18 June

1815
Captain James Naylor,
soldier

‘We continued our retreat until we took position in front of Waterloo for the night, where we bivouacked during an incessant rain and without any refreshment or forage. Before daybreak we were on the alert but remained inactive till 11 o’clock when we formed in column of Squadrons. At 12 a general cannonade commenced by which we experienced some loss. We deployed and (I think) about 2 o’clock a charge was made by the Heavy Brigades through a line of the enemy supported by a line of Cuirassiers and a reserve of Lancers. Our attack was most completely successful, but our men were too sanguine in the pursuit of the fugitive Cuirassiers and at the moment our horses were blown we were attacked by a multitude of Lancers who did us considerable injury. Our attack was made under a very [heavy] fire of Artillery and Musketry. It was some time before we could collect our men. Turner with about thirty men joined the Brigade, he was wounded soon after by a cannon shot in the arm and I took the command of the King’s Dragoon Guards. A short time after Colonel Lygon’s horse being wounded he left the field and I remained (under Lord Edward Somerset) in command of the Brigade which at this time did not consist of more than a hundred men. About 7 o’clock I received a wound which compelled me to retire to Brussels where I met Macauly. I slept at the Hotel Grand Mirror.’

Roar of 400 cannon

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1815
William Gavin,
soldier

‘The sun rose beautifully. The artillery of both armies had commenced the work of death. The men were ordered to dry their clothes and accoutrements and put their firelocks in order, and the writer was sent with a party to a farm house, to seize on all the cattle that could be found about it. This was soon performed. Cows, bullocks, pigs, sheep and fowls were put into requisition and brought to camp. Butchers set to work, fires made by pulling down houses for the wood, camp kettles hung on, and everything in a fair way for cooking, when the word ‘fall in’ put everything to the route. Men accoutring, cannon roaring, bugles sounding and drums beating, which put a stop, to our cooking for that day. Our Brigade were ordered to advance to the brow of a hill and lie down in column. A brigade of the enemy’s artillery got our range and annoyed us very much. One shot made an avenue from the first company to the tenth, which killed and wounded sixty men. During this period, not being attached to any company, I rode down the line to the left, to where Sir Thomas Picton was stationed, and came up just as he received his mortal wound. About two o’clock a squadron of the enemy’s cavalry charged down on us, when the General ordered us to form square, which was instantly performed, and soon repulsed them. We were several times attacked in our advance by the enemy’s cavalry. At one time we had only the front of the square formed when a squadron charged us, but we soon had it complete, with Lord Wellington in the centre. In the confusion my hat fell off, and on recovering it put it on front part to the back, and wore it like this for the remainder of the day, not knowing it was so. In this charge Ensign Todd was killed, also Lieutenant Elwes mortally wounded. Lieutenant Lawe, who acted as adjutant to the left wing, and was mounted, was hit by a cannon ball, which passed through the calf of his right leg, through the horse’s body, and wounded his left leg.

The enemy began to retreat about seven in the evening. We followed them to Nivelles and took a great number of cannon. The road was actually blocked up with cannon and wagons deserted by the French.

We bivouacked this night outside the village, up to our knees in mud.

Our loss during the day was: 3 officers killed, 7 wounded; 24 rank and file killed, 160 wounded; 3 missing - loss of 71st at Waterloo.’

Roar of 400 cannon

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1815
William Tomkinson,
soldier

‘[. . .] At about half-past eleven they began an attack on Hougoumont with the advance of their corps under Jerome Buonaparte, whilst their light troops attacked and carried Papellotte on our left, which was not intended to be held. The attack on Hougoumont was very sharp. The wood in front of the chateau was carried by the enemy after considerable loss, and more than a common resistance on our part, from light troops holding a wood in front of a position. The enemy proceeded to attack the chateau and garden, in which they failed, and retired unsuccessful. The defence, as well as the attack, was gallant.

We (11th, 12th, and 16th Light Dragoons) moved from our bivouac about eleven, and were stationed on the left of the line, below the hill occupied by the infantry; the 6th brigade of cavalry was stationed further on our left, the 2nd brigade on our right, near the Charleroi road, possibly half-way to that point from the situation we occupied. The 1st brigade was immediately on the other side that road, with its left on it, the 3rd brigade a little further to the right, and the 5th brigade on the right again of the 3rd. We moved to the ground assigned for our brigade, and all being quiet on our front, dismounted.

We had not been long on our ground before the cannonade opened and became general along the whole line. Colonel Ponsonby, myself, and some others (my brother Henry was of this party) rode out in front to see what was going on, and standing together near a hedge, attracted a few of the enemy’s round shot. The enemy’s fire was directed against our whole line, and we lost a few horses in the brigade whilst dismounted. Having for some time remained in this position during the attack on Hougoumont on the right, we were ordered to mount, and moved in front of the position to check the enemy’s cavalry in pursuit of the 2nd brigade of cavalry, which had charged in advance of the position, and was on its return to our line. It appeared that the enemy, with the 2nd and 3rd Divisions of their 1st corps, under Count d’Erlon, had moved to the attack of the left centre of our position. They advanced in good order, coming close up to our line; at this moment they were attacked by the 5th Division with the bayonet, under Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, and driven back on their support in confusion. To repulse this attack, the 2nd brigade of cavalry moved to the charge; they went out of the position, charged, and completely upset everything opposed to them. It consisted of 1st (Royals) Dragoons, 2nd Dragoons (Scottish Greys), 6th Dragoons (Inniskillings). It was one of the finest charges ever seen. [. . .]’

Roar of 400 cannon

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1815
Daniel John Edgecombe,
soldier

‘[. . .] By this time the field of battle at all points had assumed a horrid aspect, the hills and ravines in every direction (but particularly the slopes of the hills along the front of our position) were so covered with the mangled corpses of friends and foes, that neither man nor horse could in some places pass without treading upon them. Those of the wounded who could not crawl from the groaning field, were in perpetual danger of being struck by the showers of shot firing over them, or trodden to death by the charging squadrons. The cries of these poor fellows were lost amid the clashing of arms, and roar of 400 pieces of cannon which spread death in every direction, and absolutely shook the ground: in some quarters the shots flew so thick that many of them must have struck each other before they reached the ground. The defeat which Buonaparte had just sustained had so deranged his plans as to cause a temporary suspension from these murderous attacks, during which however preparations were obviously making for a renewal of them, and the cannonade was continued without intermission. Not more than half an hour had elapsed before another terrible struggle commenced; the enemy’s infantry advancing in solid columns with their flanks protected by a large force of cuirassiers and lancers and an immense artillery, once more attacked the whole extent of our line, but after some terrific charges both of cavalry and infantry they were again sent reeling back upon their reserves. This dreadful work of destruction had now continued for the space of six hours, and on a space of ground not exceeding two miles in length, were heaped the bodies of more than twenty thousand victims: the loss of human life was, as usual, no consideration with Buonaparte, who knowing that his all was at stake had sent upwards of seventy thousand men into action at once, a force calculated to overwhelm all resistance: but every acre of ground was to be covered with slain before it was yielded, and then disputed for again. [. . .]’

Roar of 400 cannon

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1817
Allan Cunningham,
botanist and explorer

‘At daybreak we sent two others to the range of hills near us in search of water, with directions to continue in the course of Mount Barrow should they not be so fortunate as to find any nearer on the range or in the gullies proceeding from it. They returned with a small quantity, enabling us to distribute to each a pint for our breakfast. Our people who had been sent to bring up the horses reported that there was some good grass a mile and a half distant in a valley between the hills. Anxious to remove to a more hospitable spot where water would in all probability be found, sufficient for ourselves and horses, we proceeded forward with the most necessary and the lightest of our provisions and luggage, leaving five casks of pork, which we could send back for in the course of the day. About 2½ miles N. easterly over some rocky hills we descended to a fine rich valley of good grass and some holes of rain water in the gullies, enough for ourselves and horses. We accordingly pitched our tents in the valley and turned our horses out to feed. Mr. Oxley sent the strongest of our animals for the casks of pork left at our last resting place.

As a proof of the badly watered condition of the country we discovered a hole that had been made with great labour by the natives very recently, and containing a little dirty water. It is obvious that the gullies were dry three days since, and that the late rains have supplied these cavities with the water we now enjoy!! Our dogs killed a native dog, which was devoured among us! The natives had not left the valley many days, because their huts of green branches and remains of fires were so fresh.

Upon taking a survey of our dry stock of provisions in hand there appeared a deficiency of a considerable quantity of flour, which at first view could by no means be accounted for. It appears, however, from a little investigation that took place this afternoon, that when on the river our boatmen hauled up one of the boats too short - by her painter - to a tree on the bank, and in the course of the night the water had fallen a foot, leaving the boat resting on her stern whereby many casks were rolled out into the river and 300 lbs. weight of flour totally lost. It was an accident they were fearful to communicate to any of us till now by dint of cross-examination. This is a severe loss to us and will oblige us to be content with a half ration.’

In search of water

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1880
Walt Whitman,
poet

Calm and glorious roll the hours here the whole twenty-four. A perfect day (the third in succession); the sun clear; a faint, fresh, just palpable air setting in from the southwest; temperature pretty warm at midday, but moderate enough mornings and evenings. Everything growing well, especially the perennials. Never have I seen verdure grass and trees and bushery to greater advantage. All the accompaniments joyous. Cat-birds, thrushes, robins, etc., sinking. The profuse blossoms of the tigerlily (is it the tiger-lily?) mottling the lawns and gardens everywhere with their glowing orange-red. Roses everywhere, too.

A stately show of stars last night: the Scorpion erecting his head of five stars, with glittering Antares in the neck, soon stretched his whole length in the south; Arcturus hung overhead; Vega a little to the east; Aquila lower down; the constellation of the Sickle well toward setting; and the halfmoon, pensive and silvery, in the southwest.’

Whitman the diarist

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1947
Thor Heyerdahl,
ethnographer

‘Knut observed a snakelike creature, two to three feet long and thin, which stood straight up and down in the water below the surface and dived by wriggling down like a snake.’

The Kon-Tiki man

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1958
John Wieners,
poet

‘Miss Lollipop is full of pain this morning. Her wing bone in the back. Her legs are black and blue. She ran her hands over me showing me where the pain is. We sat up all night listening to jazz and then at dawn, rock and roll. Her history as far as I know it consists of 8 arrests, 4 husbands. Her father was chief of the narcotics bureau in Sacramento. She lives in the Broadway Hotel with an Armenian piano player. She bends her neck as one of her boys rubs his hands into her. She wears a black bra. She does not complain.

Miss Lollipop has one of the most rare diseases known to medical history. A form of low grade bacteria that causes her shape to change every day. One day pregnant and full of gas, the next shapely. As she puts it, “I’ve had a lot of trouble with my insides.” ’

I must forget how to write

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1985
Roy Strong,
historian

‘After a weekend of trying to cope with the V&A on the telephone picking up the debris, I returned to Monday’s Evening Standard, which had a whole-page spread on the theme ‘Has the Strong magic gone?’, lunging into the dreariness of the Museum, its sad displays, filthy restaurant, lack of signposting, et al. No one else attracts these pieces, and they could was easily have been written about the National Gallery, the British Museum or the Tate Gallery. In a way I’m not surprised, for there is no doubt that for the next eighteen months we have to go through a major dislocation in building terms in order to put things right. [. . .]

What irritates me is that it was about two years ago that this great series of works began: the Henry Cole Wing, the restoration of the Cast Court, the redisplay of the Dress Collection, the restoration of the Italian Cast Court and the front entrance hall. Then there is to follow in sequence, the Medieval Treasury, the Japanese Gallery, the Indian Gallery, the reopening of the vista laterally across the V&A. A new restaurant in fact opens in September. What more can I do?’

Happy Birthday Roy

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In general, these diary extracts are quoted as given in the published (book or online) source referred to in the reference articles. Each extract may be all, a large part of, or a small part of the complete entry for that day. I have tried to indicate where text has been removed from within a quote by the use of trailing dots in square bracket.

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