Bored British officers with the army in Belgium sometimes got themselves into trouble. Sergeant Wheeler, who was stationed in Grammont (Geraardsbergen) wrote home about an incident in early June:
In the great square, opposite the Guildhall, there is a fountain, in the middle stands a naked boy, apparently about four years old, his left hand rested on his hip, and with his right he held his little c------out of which the water flowed into the basin or more properly the well, for it is some twelve feet deep. One night some of our officers had been indulging themselves rather too much, they sallied out in quest of adventures, they managed to get a rope round the neck of the little urchin and pull him off his perch. He being made of lead, down he sank to the bottom of the well.
Fortunately the manneken pis was recovered unharmed and the incident forgotten.
Weekly horse races were held at Grammont for the entertainment of the officers. On Saturday 3 June the Earl of Uxbridge announced a gold cup worth 50 guineas to be competed for by officers riding their own chargers over 280 yards with sabre in hand. Half-way through the racing a torrential downpour forced the seventy officers taking part to retire to an old house where the Mayor of Ninove served ‘an excellent cold dinner, liberally lubricated with champagne’.
To find out what happened at - and after - dinner, see Further Information.
As one of the 18th Hussar officers dimly recalled, the officers then behaved like true English heroes:
In two hours, the whole lot had time to eat and get drunk together: I seem to remember that a bad character from the 10th Hussars standing on one of the tables, set out to break, with a large stick, all the plates and dishes, all the bottles and all the glasses; that the remainder of the company took part in this fatuous entertainment, and that, throwing themselves onto their horses, went back to the racecourse, half of them falling off on the way, and many of the horses galloping to the stables without their riders. The maddest rushed headlong into a race to the bell tower, across the fields, at night, and gave the peasants some idea of the independence of the English Hussars by shouting in the village streets ‘Long Live Napoleon!’
Last of all – and I should not forget to mention the fact, because the thing happened or I dreamed it, - they turned over two carriages and frightened the ladies inside into nervous fits, while charging their husbands and protectors in the true Cossack manner.
The following day they got the bill: 979 francs for wine, 730 for food and 90 for service, amounting to a charge of 50 francs for each officer of the brigade. A number of complaints had been made to the general, they expected that they would also face a bill for the damage they had caused and the mayor of Ninove declared that he would never have anything more to do with such a band of English Cossacks. One officer suffered an ‘apoplexy’ from which he never recovered.