Battle of Waterloo anniversary: Soldier who saved Napoleon’s horse

Napoleon's horse Marengo was rescued from the Waterloo battlefield
Napoleon's horse Marengo was rescued from the Waterloo battlefield

This is the story of Lieutenant Henry William Petre.

After the musket and cannon fire died down and the allied forces emerged victors at Waterloo, Lt Petre looked across at the battlefield where half of his brigade had fallen.

Among the dead and injured soldiers he spotted Napoleon’s great silver-haired horse, Marengo, lying injured but alive.

Lt Petre, who fought in the Union Brigade’s 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, rescued the Arab stallion from the looters already scouring the battlefield and devotedly nursed him back to health.

Marengo had earlier carried Napoleon to victory in many clashes across Europe, including the Battle of Austerlitz – one of the Emperor’s greatest military triumphs in which he crushed the far larger Austro-Russian army.

After Waterloo the great 14-hand stallion was shipped to Britain where he captured the country’s hearts and was proudly paraded at Pall Mall along with a carriage once used by Napoleon.

Lt Petre’s great-great-grandson, Desmond Clarke, said: “It seems that after the Battle of Waterloo was won he identified Napoleon’s charger because it had the Napoleonic cipher on its buttock.

“The horse had been wounded and he nursed the horse’s wounds and saved it from the looters and he took it back.

“He was allowed to keep the charger which he then had shipped back to England to his family.”

Like the Duke of Wellington’s horse, Copenhagen, Marengo was immortalised in many paintings from the era.

And after his death his skeleton went on display first at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and later at the National Army Museum in Chelsea.

Two of his hooves were removed. One was turned into an inkwell and kept in the Petre family, while the other became a snuffbox which to this day is placed daily before the Captain of the Guard at lunch in the Officers’ Mess at St James’ Palace.

Mr Clarke said: “Both Marengo and Wellington’s horses were of course painted. They became probably the first ever celebrity horses.

“But of course when he captured him, he had no concept that this horse would become a celebrity.

“When I was a cadet at Sandhurst in those days Marengo’s skeleton was actually displayed there.

“A friend of mine reminded me the other day that Marengo was our neighbour. So I feel like I’ve grown up with him.”