Second ever soldier from Battle of Waterloo unearthed ... with his teeth intact

Human remains were found in remarkable condition, with the fallen soldier having avoided the 'Waterloo teeth' phenomenon - chris van houts@me.com
Human remains were found in remarkable condition, with the fallen soldier having avoided the 'Waterloo teeth' phenomenon - chris van houts@me.com

The second ever full skeleton from the Battle of Waterloo has been unearthed some 200 years after the Duke of Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon, as archaeologists say it shows some soldiers were given proper burials.

For more than two centuries, his remains lay undisturbed while his former fallen comrades had their teeth plundered as gruesome souvenirs and their bones ground into fertiliser.

The human remains were found in remarkable condition, with the fallen soldier having avoided the "Waterloo teeth" phenomenon. After the battle, grave robbers and opportunists plundered teeth that were later sold in the UK as "heroes dentures".

Archaeologists say the discovery of the skeleton shows soldiers who died in the battle were given proper burials - chris van houts@me.com
Archaeologists say the discovery of the skeleton shows soldiers who died in the battle were given proper burials - chris van houts@me.com

That was until this week a team of British veterans and serving soldiers made the find during a dig at the Mont Saint-Jean farm, which served as Wellington’s field hospital, less than 500 metres behind the Allied front line.

It could be the first British corpse to be excavated by archaeologists since the end of the battle, considered one of the bloodiest days in the annals of the British Army.

Of the Duke’s 68,000-strong forces, historians say there were around 31,000 serving Britons, while Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers made up the numbers.

The only previous body discovered on the two and a half square miles of battlefield in the Belgian countryside was identified as a Hanoverian private, who was found alone beneath a modern-day museum car park.

British veterans and serving soldiers made the find during a dig at the Mont Saint-Jean farm in Belgium - chris van houts@me.com
British veterans and serving soldiers made the find during a dig at the Mont Saint-Jean farm in Belgium - chris van houts@me.com

Experts at the Mont Saint-Jean farm dig site, however, said it was too early to confirm the nationality of their latest find. Tests will be carried out on soldier’s teeth by anthropologists at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences to confirm his identity.

Waterloo Uncovered, with 20 veteran and serving soldiers, revisited the site after uncovering three amputated limbs at an excavation in 2019.

Alongside the skeleton, were the remains of at least three horses, wounded and ultimately killed during the brutal 12-hour battle to stop the French emperor’s rampage across Europe.

"This for us is an incredibly important discovery given that there is only one previous skeleton that has been excavated," Prof Tony Pollard, the archaeological leader on the project, told The Telegraph.

A set of teeth found during the dig at Mont Saint-Jean farm - chris van houts@me.com
A set of teeth found during the dig at Mont Saint-Jean farm - chris van houts@me.com

As many as 6,000 casualties, including French soldiers, are thought to have been treated at the field hospital during the battle.

The new findings cast doubts over historical claims that victims who died being treated at the hospital were unceremoniously dumped after the battle, along with some 500 limbs amputated during the fighting, and wounded animals.

Thanks to combat experience of the military veterans, experts on the dig were able to identify the site as an organised grave on the edge of the field hospital, rather than a makeshift burial.

One soldier was able to establish that wounded horses were moved to the burial spot before being euthanised on the spot.

The dig was organised by veterans’ charity Waterloo Uncovered, founded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Foinette and Captain Mark Evans, who both served in the Coldstream Guards, the oldest serving regiment in the British Army, which was involved at Waterloo.

"To my knowledge, it's the first grave site that includes multiple remains, the only previous body excavated was a single body," Prof Pollard added.

Experts at the Mont Saint-Jean farm dig sit, said it was too early to confirm the nationality of their latest find - chris van houts@me.com
Experts at the Mont Saint-Jean farm dig sit, said it was too early to confirm the nationality of their latest find - chris van houts@me.com

It is thought the soldier died before receiving treatment at the hospital as, even in 1815, field medics were largely successful with amputations, the only treatment for limbs crushed by musket fire.

“What we have here is something that was built, aimed at putting deposits inside,” Veronique Moulaert, a Belgian archaeologist, said, commenting on the discovery of the burial site.

“The full skeleton changes the way we see this deposit, before it was trash from the hospital. Now we can see they dug this big pit… they used quite an organisation - the horses are one one side, the limbs in the middle and on the other side the entire skeleton.”

Elsewhere on the battlefield, more signs of the huge battle for the village of Plancenoit, behind Napoleon's front line, between French and Prussian forces, were discovered, including multiple musket balls.

The fight for control of the tiny village, south of the Allied line, is often overlooked, but the arrival of the Prussians played a pivotal role in securing victory for the British, Dutch, Belgian and German troops fighting under Wellington's command.

The Duke of Wellington at the Battle for Waterloo - Lifestyle pictures / Alamy Stock Photo
The Duke of Wellington at the Battle for Waterloo - Lifestyle pictures / Alamy Stock Photo

Until the Prussian arrival, the fight to halt Napoleon's advance towards Brussels was hanging in the balance. The French hurled everything they had at the Allied line, including their elite Imperial Guard, but were ultimately forced to retreat, under fire from British artillery.

Wellington later described the June 18 battle as a "damn close-run thing".

Event helping veterans transition out of army

Some 20 veteran and serving soldiers were assisting British and Belgian archaeologists on the dig as part of the Waterloo Uncovered programme.

Founder Captain Evans, who left the Army in 2010 after being diagnosed with PTSD, said he hoped the event was able to help veterans transition to civilian life.

Kieran Oliver, a Coldstream Guard veteran deployed to Afghanistan just days after his 18th birthday and later diagnosed with PTSD, said: "It’s crazy how I haven’t been myself for many years and now I’m starting to come out and enjoy myself. I’ve been smiling most of the time and I haven’t smiled in a long time."

Ashley Gordon, a 1st Rifles veteran, added: "Five days after my 18th birthday, I was deployed to Iraq. I returned back, and very shortly after I experienced a lot of problems with PTSD. I've enjoyed the intricate trowelling. You’re so focused that you don’t think about absolutely anything else, just what you’re doing in that moment, which I find really therapeutic.”