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Issue 77 - Les Terribles Chevaux Gris

Scotland Magazine Issue 77
October 2014


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Les Terribles Chevaux Gris

Charles Douglas encounters the ghost of Ensign Ewart and remembers the Battle of Waterloo

Two hundred years have passed since four hundred grey horses charged into the valley at Waterloo in Belgium to finally crush the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's ambition to dominate Europe.

To the cries of “Scotland forever!”, the charge of the Royal Scots Greys, described by the Emperor himself as “Les terrible chevaux gris”, devastated the French infantry and led to the victory of the Duke of Wellington's Anglo-Allied army.

Out of the ranks rode a remarkable Scots soldier, the Kilmarnock-born Sergeant Charles Ewart, dispatching three escorts and the bearer to seize the Eagle Standard from a French Lieutenant of the 45th Infantry, known as The Invincibles. So impressed was his commanding officer that he instructed his sergeant to stand down and Ewart was later promoted to Ensign on the direct orders of the Prince of Wales.

The valour of Ensign Ewart was celebrated in folk memory, and his remains are interred in a special tomb on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. The captured Eagle has pride of place in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum within the castle, and Ewart's portrait by the artist Richard Ansdell hangs in the great banqueting hall. His name is further immortalised by the nearby pub, “The Ensign Ewart”, at the top of Castle Hill.

Scotland's only cavalry regiment, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (formed by the amalgamation of the Royal Scots Greys and the 3rd Carabiniers in 1971), has continued the example of its antecedents in modern day conflicts such as in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, trading in the grey horses for the crushing might of Challenger tanks.

These, in turn, have been replaced by Jackals, which can move at the speed of lightning, and were first tested in Afghanistan.

Also famous around the world is the regimental pipe band's recording of Amazing Grace which topped the British Hit Parade for six weeks. Now the regiment, founded three hundred and thirty six years ago, is at last returning to Scotland in 2015 to a new home at the former RAF Leuchars airbase in Fife.

Introducing the ghosts of “Ensign Ewart and his horse Jock” at an event at Edinburgh Castle, Brigadier Melville Jamieson, former Producer of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, said, “He was one hero among hundreds but his actions made him a legend. He was feted by the whole country. He fought for his comrades, his regiment and his country and the cap badge worn by the Scots cavalrymen of today still features the captured French Imperial Eagle.”

Drawing parallels between Ewart's actions and the contemporary heroism of the 21st century, the Brigadier introduced Sergeant Keith Mitchell from Glasgow who has been awarded the Military Cross for outstanding bravery in Afghanistan.

“No soldier ever considers himself a hero,” observed Sergeant Mitchell. “We go into action determined to get the job done and to protect ourselves and comerades in the process.”

The Anglo-Allied Victory at Waterloo brought peace to Europe for almost one hundred years, and during the commemorative events in Belgium in 2015, a troop of greys will re-enact the famous Union Brigade charge on the battlefield where it actually took place.

There will also be parades of marching bands, pipes and drums through Scotland's major cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and Dundee, and in Ensign Ewart's home town of Kilmarnock in Ayrshire.

To honour the achievements, conquests and successes of the victorious Duke of Wellington, an event with pageantry, music and fireworks will be hosted by the Marquis of Lothian at the Wellington Memorial near Jedburgh on 28th June 2015.

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