The Death of Friedrich Brandt.
1 Brigade Kings German Legion consisted of 162 officers and 1,834 men commanded by Lt. Colonel George Charles Du Plat. They formed part of Lord Hill’s II Corps of the Duke of Wellington’s allied army at Waterloo. During the battle they were posted with the rest of General Clinton’s 2nd Division on the right flank of the army. Amongst their number was the 2nd Line Battalion KGL, 40 officers and 482 men commanded by Major Georg Muller. During the evening of the 18th of June, as the Imperial Garde launched its last attack, Du Plat was ordered forwards to the sunken lane that bordered the Hougoumont complex, they had already weathered the French cavalry attacks and artillery fire that typified the majority of the battle and the final advance, between 5 & 6 pm they had come under heavy musketry from enemy skirmishers, who were attacking the entire line in “Grandes Bandes”. They could not fight them off because they were still formed in square due to the menacing presence of the French cavalry. To form line would have been suicide and to withdraw might prompt the nearby Brunswick squares to retire also, so the brigade held its ground while the daring French Tiralleur’s took their toll, and increasing numbers of Hanoverians toppled into the mud and rye from the close packed ranks, never to rise again. These pesky sharpshooters who were eventually driven off by a supporting brigade under Sir Colin Halkett. When the order came, the 2nd advanced leaving a grim tidemark of dead behind them. The Brigade’s losses were, 8 officers and 70 men killed, 20 officers 318 men wounded and 69 men missing. The 2nd Line Battalion’s part of that was 1 officer 18 men killed, 2 officers 79 men wounded and 7 men missing. One of those 18 men they left behind during the final advance was a 20 odd year old man named Private Friedrich Brandt, likely killed by a French skirmisher at the height of the battle of Waterloo and carelessly interred in a battlefield grave, a long way from his home in Hanover.
This soldier was tentatively identified by Historian Gareth Glover, after the bones were discovered in 2012, as one of two men in the 2nd Line whose initials were FB. A further process of deduction made Friedrich Brandt the most likely candidate.
Whether or not this soldier is really Friedrich Brandt, is not really relevant. The real issue here is the treatment of fallen soldiers from long ended wars, no matter who they were. Are they mere archeological curiosities, or do they deserve the right of burial as a human being?
All things considered the dead at Waterloo had it rough. For half the 19th century human bones were known as a rich fertiliser, and the battlefields of Europe were shamelessly looted for this ghoulish type of soil enhancement, and indeed for the infamous “Waterloo teeth”. The very fact that this soldier was found en situ on the field were he was killed was a miracle, but even after all the tests, the skeleton many have come to call Friedrich Brandt has been denied his small measure of peace, after giving his full measure of devotion.
Peace For Friedrich Brandt.
Laid out as he died, with the bullet that killed him nestled amongst his ribs, on a red piece of cloth inside a glass case in the new Lion Mound Museum at Waterloo, lies the man presumed to be Friedrich Brandt. It is a grave he could never have conceived as being his last resting place, already denied a proper burial due to the perfunctory manner in which ordinary soldiers were entombed, it looks like his mortal remains are to forever remain nothing more than an exhibit, denied the honour of a proper resting place. Unless you can help.
The fittingly Anglo-Germnan alliance of Rob Schäfer and Andrew Thornton began the campaign to see that the last remains of this soldier be put to rest last week, and already many people have contributed. After the hashtag #PeaceForFriedrichBrandtwas launched on Twitter, and a Facebook page opened, a petition was posted urging the proper burial of the remains now exhibited in the museum. Military Historian Paul Reed, Battlefield Archeologist Tony Pollard, Historian Giles MacDonogh History graduate and comedian Al Murray, Military Historian Professor Peter Doyle, Major Nigel Pierce (7th Gurkha Rifles) and several noted historical Trust organisations have agreed so far.
Opposition from the Belgian tourist office makes Brandt’s fate uncertain, and opponents of the campaign have accused the main participants of disrespecting the fallen, national hysteria, and shameless self aggrandisement, citing the display of Egyptian Mummies and Bog Bodies as a reason why this soldier should remain in public view. These criticisms miss the point that war dead are not museum exhibits, and rather than trying to gain publicity for arcane reasons this campaign in fact celebrates a critical point of the Battle of Waterloo, the spirit of Anglo-German cooperation that men like Brandt died for in 1815.
For many years medieval skeletons that have been probed and examined have had casts made and put on display, such as Robert Bruce’s at Bannockburn. Only this year after exhaustive testing by the University of Leicester the supposed bones of King Richard III were not just reinterred but given a public funeral, attended my members of the City government, celebrities and the armed forces. Other British soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars have been recently interred after discovery, why is this one different?
As Major Pierce wrote in his excellent piece on Facebook, soldiers don’t fight for history, they fight out of loyalty to their comrades. The men who wear the same badge are a part of a family, and when the shooting starts that bond means everything, and so their fight is a very personal one, far removed from how a General fights a battle. This sense of privacy is what is at stake here.
Being someone who is uncomfortable with the showing of human remains in exhibit form I do find it quite extraordinary that the bones of this soldier, whoever he might be are being put on display to be stared at by the general public. We should remember that as onlookers we can learn nothing from the distant viewing of remains, and without the proper training we never will. In the case of this skeleton there is no unusual wound, nor anything of note to legitimise its display, only a slightly curved spine and the fact it was found where it was buried makes it stand out. Indeed the abnormality of the spine is more of medical interest than historical, and I doubt it is a peculiar case.
I cannot help but think that if it was necessary to display a skeleton, a cast of said remains would have been more appropriate and I wonder, would soldiers killed in action during the World Wars be treated as a museum display? Even those who had no records were buried as unknown soldiers, representative of all the others.
Up until the last few days, the fate of these bones has been kept a quiet secret, and very few newspapers reported what was to happen with them until the Independent and then the Daily Mail began reporting on the campaign. The significance of which is all the more vital when we consider that the remains of an anonymous French Hussar is also on display at the smaller museum at Le Caillou. So by getting Peace for Friedrich Brandt, we might just eventually get peace for this man too. Now with support mounting I ask all those who feel the same as I do to show your support on Twitter and Facebook, and sign the petition here.