Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Aftermath of Cawnpore

Although we always talk about the Cawnpore massacre, there were actually two separate massacres: the massacre at the boats and the massacre of the women and children at the Bibighar. At the time, there were no formal laws of war but there were tacit understandings of what was and was not acceptable behaviour. Massacre of troops who had been promised safe conduct was, of course, outside of these. It was the massacre of the women and children, though, that truly horrified the British.

How Europe viewed the killings at the Bibighar
(not a terribly accurate representation)

In any rebellion in the 19th century, those on the losing side could expect to suffer, but after news of the Cawnpore massacre spread, the suffering of Indians was on a horrific scale. A relief column reached Cawnpore only days after the women and children had been killed and immediately took vengeance on any men who were (or might have been) involved. Prisoners were forced to clean the blood off the floor and walls of the house where the murders had taken place. Many were ordered to lick it off. Muslim prisoners were forced to eat pork and Hindus to eat beef. Then they were executed.

The scale of British reprisals was almost unbelievable. British columns delayed reaching their objectives to take the time to annihilate the adult male populations of entire villages. Trees along the line of march were decorated with the hanged bodies of any men who couldn't conclusively prove that they had had no involvement with the insurrection.

The bloodletting went on for months, largely supported by people in Britain. This cartoon by Tenniel (from Punch magazine) reflects the popular mood.

No one knows how many people died in the reprisals, referred to as 'The Devil's Wind' by Indians. It was a wind that probably cut down 100,000 Indian soldiers but there are no records of civilian casualties, which probably exceeded this figure.

It was not until July 1859 that Lord Canning finally issued a proclamation officially declaring peace in India.
"War is at an end; Rebellion is put down; the Noise of Arms is no longer heard where the enemies of the State have persisted in their last Struggle; the Presence of large Forces in the Field has ceased to be necessary; Order is re-established and peaceful Pursuits have everywhere been resumed."

Friday, 17 July 2015


A hundred and fifty-eight years ago British forces in India were fighting an insurrection which became known in British history as the Indian Mutiny.

The mutiny started at Meerut on 10 May 1857, rapidly spreading to nearby Delhi. Mutinies of Indian troops and outbreaks of rebellion by local leaders soon spread across the whole of north-west India.

In June, the rebellion reached Cawnpore. The events that followed are the subject of what was my second novel, Cawnpore, which was republished by Accent Press earlier this year.

The tiny British force stationed in the town was commanded by General Wheeler, a man coming to the end of a long military career. He had not seriously considered the possibility of the Indian troops and the local leader, Nana Sahib, turning on them. They had made totally inadequate provision for defence. Wheeler’s force consisted of around sixty European artillery men with six guns, eighty-four infantrymen, and about two hundred unattached officers and civilians and forty musicians from the native regiments. In addition, he had seventy invalids who were convalescing in the barracks hospital and around three hundred and seventy-five women and children. They were surrounded by hugely bigger Indian force, supported with cavalry and artillery from 6th to 25th June, the British forces were under continual bombardment by day and sometimes by night. They nevertheless managed to hold out until they were offered safe passage in return for their surrender.

The Indian forces, under Nana Sahib, reneged on the terms of the surrender and attacked the British as they boarded the boats they had been promised would take them to safety. The massacre (and massacre it was, as almost all the soldiers who had survived the siege were killed at the boats) was bad enough, but terrible things happen in war. It was what came next that made Cawnpore a byword for horror for almost a century and was used to justify appalling acts of retribution by the British after the real fighting in India was over.

The European civilians had taken shelter with the army when mutiny broke out at Cawnpore. The men fought alongside the soldiers and were massacred with them. There were, though, around 375 women and children who were also trapped in the siege. It was concern about the safety of these civilians which was a principal reason for the surrender. Many of the women and children were killed at the boats, but after the initial bloodshed, those who survived were taken prisoner. They were kept in a private house. The house was said to have once belonged to the mistress (or 'bibi') of a British officer, and it was therefore called the Bibighar. Around 180 women and children were imprisoned there.

Conditions in the Bibighar were, to put it mildly, poor, but some effort was made to ensure that the prisoners received food and medical attention. They were even occasionally allowed to take the air outside the house – an important concession in a jam-packed building in the summer heat.

It seems likely that Nana Sahib didn't really know what to do with his prisoners. There were those in his court (notably his adoptive father's widows), who demanded that he show mercy to the women and children. Others, though, had a different agenda. As the British forces sent to relieve Cawnpore drew close to the city, the latter group gained the upper hand.

A little before 5.30 in the evening of 15 July, the women of the Bibighar were told that Nana Sahib "had sent orders for their immediate destruction". The soldiers ordered to do the killing refused, most firing instead into the ceilings.

In the end, five men (two of them butchers) went into the Bibighar with swords and cleavers and set about hacking all those within to death. Their leader hacked with such a combination of enthusiasm and incompetence that he twice broke his sword and had to send out for new ones.

The next morning, the bodies were removed and thrown down a nearby well. It emerged that not all of them were dead, but the wounded were thrown in anyway. Three or four children, who had survived uninjured, ran helplessly around as the bodies were disposed of. Once the adults were all in the well, the children were killed and tossed in after them.

Cawnpore looks at the historical facts from the perspective of a European who finds himself fighting alongside the Indians. He sees the horrors committed by both sides. Decent people are doing terrible things as they are caught in a clash of cultures and civilisations. It is a story without heroes and where there is little chance of a happy ending. Unsurprisingly, it is not my best selling book, though it is the one I am most proud of (and it has had some lovely reviews).

A hundred and fifty-eight years after the massacre, it is worth reminding ourselves of where the ideals of British colonialism (and there were idealists amongst the colonisers) could all too easily end up.

Friday, 10 July 2015

On being an expert

Last week’s blog post explained why I spend so much time talking about war. June marked the anniversary of Waterloo and this month is the 158th anniversary of the siege of Cawnpore, which is at the centre of my book, Cawnpore. I’ll write about the siege next week, but I thought that this week I’d get away from wars and back to the whole question of researching historical novels. I’ve written about this before, but I’m giving my blog over to Kirsten McKenzie, whose book, Fifteen Postcards, has been gathering praise since it was published by Accent in May.

An Expert in Antiques?

My first book, ‘Fifteen Postcards’ has just been published by Accent Press. It’s a novel incorporating three continents and traversing two centuries: historical fiction written from a modern perspective. I like to describe it as a blend of ‘The Far Pavilions’, with a touch of ‘The Time Traveler's Wife’, rolled together with a smidgeon of the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. But I haven’t always been an author.

Nine years ago I was working as a Chief Customs Officer with the New Zealand Customs Service. It was a career I adored, and one I appeared to be particularly good at, according to my performance reviews and peer feedback. Then unexpectedly my father died, leaving my mother a widow without an income.

My brother and I quit our jobs. Someone needed to run Antique Alley, the business my father started in 1971. My brother worked full time, whilst I went part time, as my first daughter was born six months after Dad died. The timing was brutal.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ states that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill requires practicing, correctly, for around 10,000 hours. I’ve roughly estimated that since my father died, I’ve worked in the shop for 5,616 hours. I don’t work full time, and I’ve had two children in the past nine years, but I do know that I now have roughly 5,000 hours of additional knowledge of antiques. With that, I thought I had enough knowledge to sit down and write a novel about a girl who works in an antique shop. So I did.

I sat down, with my MacBook one day, and started writing, with no idea of where to go, or how the story was going to evolve. Who it was going to involve, or what the future plan for my writing was. But damn it, I knew antiques, I liked writing, so it shouldn’t be that hard, right?

First off, I started writing about postcards. One of Dad’s passions. He collected them personally. We sell them at the shop. I know that real photo postcards are more collectable than others. That Tuck’s postcards are highly sought after. And that... That’s when I stumbled. What else did I know about postcards? Highly embarrassing, but I had to turn to Google, to the library, to the reference books at work. Those 5,000 hours may as well have been 5 hours, or five minutes watching the Antiques Roadshow for all I knew about postcards. Fortunately William Main had published an exquisite book titled ‘Send Me A Postcard’ which had somehow appeared on the bookshelf at home. Fate? Google is great, but nothing beats a beautifully illustrated piece of research. And so it continued.

Green stone adzes (axe heads), made by the early Maori in New Zealand? I’m a New Zealander, born
and bred, albeit with a British passport as well, I know everything there is to know about Maori adzes. Ah, no. Just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, I knew nothing. A research trip to Auckland’s world class War Memorial Museum proved how little I knew. These are just two tiny examples of the level of research I did for my novel - the one which was meant to be easy because I knew at least half of all I (thought) I needed to know about antiques.

I can hear your readers asking why I bothered with all that research. Surely ‘Fifteen Postcards’ is a fictional account of Sarah Lester’s life in her antique shop in London. It’s not an autobiographical account of Kirsten McKenzie’s life in an antique shop in Auckland. I’ll tell you why. Because my father would have known.

My father was a walking encyclopedia of back stamps, and hall marks, of fakes and reproductions. He knew gemstones from glass with barely a flick of his eyepiece. He would have been mortified if I’d placed a Victorian dining chair in a Regency setting (I didn’t). I also expected that people who read historical fiction probably knew as much, if not more, about some of things I wrote about. Given that my father won’t ever read my book, I didn’t want to upset the readers who will. It was embarrassing enough when my editor David Powell highlighted that I’d used the wrong currency to describe when Sarah is counting her coins in her bedroom suite in the Savoy in London. His words are burnt into my brain when he gently pointed out that Sarah probably wouldn’t be using George V coins. But that’s what editors are for, and I am eternally grateful.

I wanted every description to not only be beautifully written, but I wanted them to be accurate. That ormolu on the edge of the table? I needed the reader to be able to see it as it was then - in 1860s India, not how its presented in some poorly funded TV commercial for tea bags.

So instead of pumping out an 80,000 word novel in a few months, I wrote a 130,000 word novel over a period of one and a half years, edited it, had it accepted for publication by Accent Press, where it was edited again (and again) and here we are. I’m writing a blog piece for another historical fiction author, one who understands and appreciates the quest for historical accuracy in his research for the Burke series.

I leave you now to carry on with my next manuscript, where I’m immersed in colonial New Zealand just prior to the outbreak of the Maori wars in the 1860s. Wish me luck.

Fifteen Postcards: History shapes those who travel through it

Following the unexplained disappearance of her parents, and in a last ditch attempt to save the antique store she has inherited from financial ruin, Sarah Lester takes on a deceased estate. Amongst the estate is a collection of fifteen vintage postcards.

Sarah is unprepared for what these postcards hint at about their reclusive former owner, and soon they complicate her life in unimaginable ways.

Traversing three continents and two centuries, where tiger hunts and ruby necklaces are irrevocably entwined with murders and mysteries, auction houses and antiquities, Sarah is drawn into the enigma that could solve her parents' disappearance.

Buy it on Amazon:

Kirsten McKenzie has worked in her family's antique store since she was a toddler, where she's gone from being allowed to sell 50c postcards in the corner of Antique Alley, a literal treasure trove, to selling $5,000 Worcester vases. This is her first novel, which traverses London, India and New Zealand over two centuries. She lives in Auckland with her husband and two daughters.

Friday, 3 July 2015

War! What is it good for?

When I was at school we learned our history the old-fashioned way. Lists of battles were dutifully memorised. I remember exams in which we had to mark each of the main incidents of the Peninsular War on a map of Iberia. When it was over, I had no idea why the British had been fighting in Spain, or what the importance of the campaign was in terms of Napoleon's ultimate defeat.

Nowadays, we have put this approach behind us. Children are taught to imagine the lives of "ordinary people", especially if these people are women, poor, or otherwise disadvantaged. There's an emphasis on social history; a move away from kings and queens and those interminable lists of battles. It's a humane response to an idiotic way of teaching history.

So why, then, was I talking about Waterloo a couple of weeks ago, the Crimea last week, and, in the weeks to come, will I be writing about the siege of Cawnpore during the Indian Mutiny?

I've written five historical novels. Three are about a spy in the Napoleonic wars, so I imagine that some degree of military action was inevitable. The other two, though, are about issues of colonialism in the mid-19th century. They are essentially about misunderstandings between cultures – misunderstandings that, in theory, do not have to end in bloodshed. The fact is, though, that each of these books includes acts of horrendous violence. This cannot be explained simply by saying that the history of British colonialism is a history of military conquest, for my account of Cawnpore centres on the military aggrandisement of an Indian princeling.

I write books that centre on conflict. Some literary theorists would say that this is true of all books, but my conflicts are more explicit than some others. In the case of the books about James Burke, the conflict is there principally to provide adventure and excitement for the reader, so you could argue that, for example, the battle of Waterloo inevitably features because if you want excitement in the Napoleonic wars, the field of Waterloo is an obvious place to find it. However, in the first of the series, Burke in the Land of Silver, the conflict is the struggle for Argentinian independence, a struggle waged principally between the people of Argentina and the government of Spain. Yet the battle that features in this novel is waged by Britain. It's even less obvious why a story about the dynamics of ruling a small country in Borneo (The White Rajah) should climax with a battle involving the British Navy, especially as the country that the Navy was acting for was not even a British colony.

Brooke's and HMS Dido's forces attacking pirate stronghold 

Part of the problem, I think, is that since the end of World War II we have come to think of armed conflict as an aberration. Economic or political crises should be settled diplomatically. After all, nobody is suggesting that the Bundeswehr is going to march into Greece to demand that it give the Germans their money back. Historically, though, this is arguably an unusual state of affairs. Bismarck famously said that war was the continuation of diplomacy by other means and the idea that disputes between nations should be settled militarily is much older than the concepts of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Arguably, our modern notions that history is not about battles are about to be set aside. It is interesting to see the difficulty that the international community has in trying to discuss the future of Ukraine whilst carefully ignoring the reality that that future has already been decided by the presence of Russian tanks on Ukrainian soil.

This does not explain, though, why Britain invaded Buenos Aires at a time when the principal conflict in the area was between the Argentinian people and their Spanish rulers. Nor does it explain the intervention of the British Navy in a conflict between the rulers of Sarawak and a tribe of marauding Sea Dyaks. To a degree, of course, the British were taking advantage of a period of uncertainty in order to strengthen their political and military position. I think, though, that this does not imply that these were calculated moves. There is a lot of truth in the aphorism that the British Empire was acquired mostly in moments of absentmindedness.

When there is cultural or political conflict, there is a tendency for people to resolve the situation with force. Violence is often a response to political or economic upheavals, even when the violence does not in any way address the factors that created it. Thus, there is a clear correlation between economic conditions and the number of lynchings in the southern states of America, although those lynched were more likely to be accused of a sexual crime or a lack of respect rather than anything related to the economy.

It seems, perhaps, that my teachers were at least partly right. History can be taught as a series of military conflicts. However, I do not think that it makes sense to see military achievements as shaping the course of history. Rather, it is that periods of great change are punctuated by military adventures. Waterloo, for example, did not initiate the end of a revolutionary era and bring peace to Europe. After decades of war, Europe was ready for peace and the Great Powers had united to end revolution. The military defeat of Napoleon was an inevitable consequence of social and political change at the beginning of the 19th century: the changes that followed 1815 were not caused by Napoleon's defeat but were the product of the movements that had destroyed him. History can only be understood by looking at social and economic changes, but to pretend that these are not accompanied by violence and conflict is to ignore reality. War is the punctuation of history and to teach the history of an era without teaching about the military campaigns that took place at the time is to present the student with a book in which sentences and paragraphs are run together.

I do not want to spend my life writing about war, but I'm fascinated by the drama of periods of radical change in history and the clashes between different ways of looking at the world. It is not inevitable that writing about these issues will always mean writing about battles, but I suspect that I haven't seen the last of war in my stories. Fortunately, armed conflict, however terrible in reality, can always be turned to good account in fiction. As pedagogue in fashions change, I hope that it might also find its way back into the teaching of history.

Friday, 26 June 2015

The truth behind Jack Lark

Time to put Waterloo behind us and turn to another battle, later in the 19th century.

A few weeks ago I reviewed Paul Fraser Collard’s novel, ‘The Scarlet Thief’ which tells the story of the Battle of the Alma in the Crimean War (1854). It’s told from the point of view of Jack Lark, a common soldier, who has stolen the identity of an officer and now finds himself leading a company against Russian troops. I looked at some other reviews and saw that many people were uncomfortable with the central idea that a regular soldier could pass himself off in this way. It's an interesting question for two reasons.

Firstly there's the whole issue of how realistic fiction needs to be. I have had criticism of ’The White Rajah’ on the grounds that my narrator, like Paul Collard’s hero, is unrealistic, because an illiterate sailor could not have learned to express himself so well on paper. But both Paul and I are using our character as a sort of "Everyman" to allow more insight into the events they are describing. It's a well-established technique in fiction where, strange to say, not everything the author writes is absolutely true. That, after all, is what fiction is.

Secondly, and rather importantly, it's not always clear that these "unrealistic" characters are all that unrealistic at all. I had that problem in ‘Cawnpore’ where my European protagonist disguises himself as an Indian. It is, as I’ve explained on this blog, not nearly as unlikely as some critics claim. Today, though, I’m handing over to Paul Collard to explain why Jack Lark isn't necessarily as unrealistic as you might think.

The Epaulette Gentry

Jack Lark is an imposter. I make no bones about it. He steals other lives, taking them as his own, and these assumed identities plunge him into adventures that he could never have dreamt of experiencing when he was just an ordinary redcoat serving on garrison duty in a quiet English town.
To some the notion of such an imposter is mere twaddle, the premise so wholly unlikely that Jack’s stories are just not credible. I do not agree with this accusation. For one, it plays to stereotypes, something that I do not like one bit. It assumes that all officers of the period were highly educated gentlemen from a world unrecognisable from that lived in by the men under their command. It also assumes that the men in the ranks, the fabled British redcoats, were uneducated brutes, who had no idea how to pass the port, or how to talk about fox hunting, or any of the other things that a stereotypical upper class officer would clearly have talked about at all times.

The Battle of the Alma

Neither of these two assumptions is necessarily true. I worked hard on Jack’s story, taking the time, and thought, to give him the skills he would need to succeed as an imposter. I am happy to say this part of Jack’s story now forms a central part of the three short stories that are being published alongside the main series, and it was a real treat to be able to show more of where my Scarlet Thief came from.
You see, not every redcoat was an uneducated ruffian, and rudimentary reading and writing skills were more common than some may imagine. Around one in six redcoats were literate, a number shocking by today’s standards, but not perhaps, as scarce as the stereotype requires. These skills were essential for any redcoat looking to progress up the ranks, and many regiments actively encouraged their acquisition. It would be true to say that the education of the men in the ranks was largely dependant on the mindset of the regiment’s colonel, but many regiments had libraries, albeit stocked by the colonel himself and likely to reflect his thoughts on what was suitable for his men. Soldiers deemed worthy were given the chance to use these facilities to acquire the clerking skills they would need to progress to a higher rank, but there would often be an older soldier happy to help in their education that could be as broad as many found in a school of the period. Many redcoats would have become quite as educated as their officers.
We should also consider what manner of man became a British army officer at the time Jack carries off his scandalous imposture. Would they really be cut from such a different cloth from the men they commanded, that a ranker pretending to be an officer would really be as noticeable as a peacock in a henhouse? We must remember that this is the period where no qualification was required to become an officer, and there was no formal military training provided outside of that given by a new officer’s regiment. Quite simply, if you could afford to buy your first commission then that was deemed the only qualification needed.
It is true that a number of officers would hail from the upper classes, especially those who purchased commissions in the fashionable guard and cavalry regiments. But what about those regiments with a little less dash, those humble line regiments that came from the counties of Britain? Many of these regiments were officered by the epaulette gentry; men from respectable enough backgrounds, but for whom their purchased commission was really their only evidence of belonging to some notion of gentry. Such men hailed from a world surprisingly close to that inhabited by some of the men they would command.
I believe that these younger sons of country squires, clergymen or successful tradesmen, would not be so vastly different to a man with a keen mind and the brains to use his time in the regimental library to acquire some degree of learning. In such company Jack would hardly have stood out, his time as an officer’s orderly giving him an insight into the officers’ world and the opportunity to learn, and then ape, their ways.
He is given time to practice his imposture, the long journey to the Crimea offering him the opportunity to play his assumed role in the company of his fellow travellers, but not in the familiar setting of an officer’s mess where perhaps his deception would be revealed all too quickly. Once in the Crimea, there is little time for any to doubt him, the start of the campaign against the Russian Empire consuming every officer’s energy, and surely enough of a distraction to let them put aside any concerns about a fellow officers manners or accent. In battle, social distinction means nothing, and Jack’s true talent as an officer comes to the fore. It is there that he demonstrates the courage and leadership that his men need so desperately in the maelstrom of battle.
So perhaps he does stand out after all. He is a fighter and a leader of men, traits rare in any period of history. His education may be lacking in parts, but he has the vital ingredients that any officer requires.
For me, and for my story, that is enough.

Paul Collard

Paul's love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. At school, Paul was determined to become an officer in the British army and he succeeded in winning an Army Scholarship. However, Paul chose to give up his boyhood ambition and instead went into the finance industry. Paul stills works in the City, and lives with his wife and three children in Kent.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Waterloo summary and a request

So, finally, the Battle of Waterloo is behind us.

Two hundred years ago, things weren't quite over. Despite what Abba tells us in the song, Napoleon did not surrender at Waterloo. He left the field and fled south in a carriage. After Waterloo, though, the dream of a return to power was over. Despite a heroic final stand by French soldiers north of the capital, Paris fell to the Prussians and was soon occupied. Napoleon headed west, believing that he would fare better as a prisoner of the British than if he fell into Prussian hands. Eventually, of course, he did surrender to the British who, despite calls for his execution, allowed him to live, but exiled on St Helena.

Last week I blogged on the battle of Quatre Bras, the Battle of Waterloo, and the aftermath of the battle. I also had a guest post on Antoine Venner's "Dawlish Chronicles" blog, which discusses the implications of Waterloo for today. On my own blog, there was a discussion of the importance of Waterloo to British history published in April.

So there you are, over 5,500 words telling you everything you need to know about Waterloo. And all free, thanks to the wonders of blogging, Which makes this an obvious point at which to mention that my work on the facts of Waterloo was background for my novel Burke at Waterloo. It's a spy story, starting in Paris with British agent, James Burke, hunting down Bonapartist spies. (There really were an awful lot of them about.) The pursuit moves north and, when Napoleon escapes from Elba James Burke finds himself fighting alongside Belgian troops, so he sees the Battle of Waterloo from the perspective of the Belgian cavalry. It's an exciting read and will give you an idea of what Waterloo and the buildup to the battle would have felt like. It's only £2.99/$4.59 on Kindle and also available in paperback. If you have enjoyed reading the blog posts, you might well enjoy the book. In any case, you might like to buy a copy if you are appreciated my efforts here. Thank you.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Aftermath of Waterloo

It's the day after Waterloo and anything I write is going to be an anti-climax, but I feel that if were going to celebrate the battle, we have to remember the consequences.

Nobody really knows how many people died at Waterloo. Wellington's dispatch gives the, frankly ludicrous, figure of 1,759 British dead. In fairness it adds 5,892 wounded. Given the medical treatment available at the time, most of these will have died too. Elizabeth Longford estimates Wellington's total losses at close to 15,000. This would include Netherlanders and Hanoverians. She claims the French lost 25,000 killed and wounded and the Prussians over 7,000. Most modern commentators seem to agree that close to 50,000 people would have lain dead or wounded on the field at the close of the battle. Remembering that the area was quite small. The battlefront was about two and a half miles long, with the armies drawn up just over a mile apart. By the end of the day, this relatively small area was covered in the bodies of the dead and dying.

The French had, as usual, attacked in columns. This meant that the flanks of the columns were most exposed to enemy fire and, after the battle was over, their path of advance could be plotted by the parallel lines of dead French soldiers. At every point where they paused in their advance, a horizontal line, like the rung of a ladder, joined the parallel corpses of the flanks as those standing at the front had been mown down by Allied fire.

Generally the bodies of the infantry were in groups, marking the places where the fighting was most intense. There were particularly large numbers of corpses around the Hougomont, where at one point the French were climbing on the bodies of their dead in their attempts to scale the walls. The bodies of cavalrymen, by contrast, were scattered across the field, as were the bodies of their horses, whose bulk proved a substantial obstacle to those trying to clear the dead in the days that followed.

In my research, I came across this contemporary account of the condition of the field that night. The tale is told by a private trooper who was (like so many others) out to plunder the dead.

... the ground, whithersoever we went, was strewed with the wreck of the battle. Arms of every kind, cuirasses, muskets, cannon, tumbrils, and drums, which seemed innumerable, cumbered the very face of the earth. Intermingled with these were the carcasses of the slain, not lying about in groups of four or six, but so wedged together that we found it imposible in many instances to avoid trampling them, where they lay, under our horses' hoofs ; then, again, the knapsacks, either cast loose or still adhering to their owners, were countless. I confess that we opened many of these, hoping to find in them money or other articles of value, but not one which I at least examined contained more than the coarse shirts and shoes that had belonged to their dead owners, with here and there a little package of tobacco and a bag of salt; and, which was worst of all, when we dismounted to institute this search, our spurs forever caught in the garments of the slain, and more than once we tripped up and fell over them. It was indeed a ghastly spectacle ...
Whilst the Allies did attempt to remove the casualties and give them medical care, the sheer scale of the exercise meant that people lay in the open for days. The French had a proper system for clearing casualties with dedicated sprung carts that were used as ambulances, but the French had fled. The English approach was less organised. it took three days to clear the wounded – by which time, of course, most of them were already dead. Only after the Allied troops had been cared for did the British turn to the French. An anonymous Staff officer who was there wrote:
I have reason to believe it was not till the fourth day after the battle that the last of the French were taken up; and it is painful to think of the suffering they endured from pain, cold, and even hunger, during so many weary days and nights, – numbers of them, doubtless perished who would have survived had they been taken care of. Neither does it appear that any food was regularly supplied to them ...
The dead, of course, were the least of anybody's problems, but the sheer quantity of corpses created an obvious health risk. The same Staff officer wrote:
The bodies of the killed were all completely stripped in an incredibly short time, and many in the course of a few days became horrible objects; such as lay exposed to the sun turning nearly black, as well as being much swollen ... Entirely to clear the ground of dead men and horses occupied period of ten or twelve days ... The human bodies were for the most part thrown into large holes, fifteen or twenty feet square ...
The idea that the bodies should be treated with respect seemed alien at the time – although there were efforts to bury officers with some measure of dignity. Over the years that followed, the bodies were routinely dug up and their bones crushed for use as fertiliser.

Battlefield tourism is not a new invention and English visitors to Brussels was soon at the site of the battle, but so horrible was the scene that, even in those days, it proved too much for the visitors to take and they were quick to turn around and ride back to town.

Strangely, there seems to have been no memorial to the Allied dead. (The Lion's Mound honours the Prince of Orange). This was rectified only in the past week or so, when a small plaque was erected at Waterloo station. It bears the words of the Duke of Wellington after the battle.
My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won.