04 July, 2015

The Battle of Waterloo

From 1997 to 2008 Patricia and I participated in four extensive tours of Europe. During our first tour we quickly realized that as tourists we were gaining a piecemeal insight into the history of the countries we were visitng. And so it was on all the tours.

In June 2000 I was guest of an email friend in Belgium. Armand took me to  the site of the Battle of Waterloo. We visited the farm where Napoleon made plans for the battle (Napoleon's headquarters is now the Musée du Caillou), and a museum which provides information and graphic details of the battle. We then climbed a man-made hill, adjacent to the museum, to a position from where we looked in the direction from which the French made their attack on Duke of Wellington's armies of the Seventh Coalition. Above the lookout point stands the statue of a lion pointing in the same direction of our view of the battlefield. The lion is the heraldic beast on the personal coat-of-arms of the monarch of the Netherlands, and symbolizes courage. Its right paw is positioned upon a sphere, signifying global victory. It commemorates the location on the battlefield of Waterloo where a musket ball hit the shoulder of William 11 of the Netherlands (the Prince of Orange), and knocked him from his horse during the battle.

Click on photos for larger version

The reader may be interested to know that the battle didn't take place at Waterloo, but rather on an expanse of farmland near Waterloo. Waterloo was the location where the Duke of Wellington resided before the battle. The battlefield is located in the municipalities of Braine-l'Alleud and Lasne, about 15 kilometres south of Brussels, and about 2 kilometres from the town of Waterloo.

During our tour of England we visited Walmer Castle. It was there that the Duke of Wellington resided in the capacity of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (Robert Menzies, a former prime minister of Australia, was also awarded the same title). The castle contains Duke of Wellington's memorabilia, such as the iron bed on which he slept prior to the battle. On our visit to St Paul's Cathedral, while walking through the crypt, we looked with interest at the tombs of the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson.

I am currently reading Hugo's novel Les Misérables, which contains a potted version of the Battle of Waterloo. While reading the novel, I learned that there was to be a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium from 18 to 21 June 2015.

Given my visit to the site of the Battle of Waterloo, and, thanks to Hugo's novel, I renewed my interest in the Battle of Waterloo by subscribing to a video reenactment of the French attack and the allied counter attack. For an understanding of the historical details of the battle go to:

The commentators of the reenactment provided comprehensive details about the battle. One significant fact was the carnage generated by the battle:

Waterloo cost Wellington around 1,500 dead or wounded and Blücher some 7,000 (810 of which were suffered by just one unit: the 18th Regiment, which served in Bülow's 15th Brigade, had fought at both Frichemont and Plancenoit, and won 33 Iron Crosses). Napoleon's losses were 24,000 to 26,000 killed or wounded and included 6,000 to 7,000 captured with an additional 15,00 deserting subsequent to the battle and over the following days.

Ref: Wikipedia

"22 June. This morning I went to visit the field of battle, which is a little beyond the village of Waterloo, on the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean; but on arrival there the sight was too horrible to behold. I felt sick in the stomach and was obliged to return. The multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger, as the Allies were, of course, obliged to take their surgeons and wagons with them, formed a spectacle I shall never forget. The wounded, both of the Allies and the French, remain in an equally deplorable state".

Ref: Major W. E. Frye After Waterloo: Reminiscences  of European Travel 1815-1819(Wikipedia)

The commentators stated that after the battle the farmers had the macabre task of clearing the farmland by burning and cremating bodies and carcasses.

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