The 18th of June, is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, a pivotal moment in European history. Don’t worry I haven’t been nearly so industrious as to have written a lengthy blow by blow account of the fight, hopefully I have been a little more original, So if you have a moment for commemoration please follow me.
If I typed the word “First World War” without capitalising it my computer will tell me there is a grammatical error. Curious I typed the word Waterloo without a caps lock and was pleasantly surprised to see it smartly autocorrected, then I realised I had written it as the first word of a sentence and was swiftly disillusioned.
If we were back in the days before the First World War we would probably refer to the 18th of June as Waterloo day. Seemingly bigger events have since occurred to put this tradition out of use, enemies have become allies and allies enemies and it is easy to forget that to many people of the past the Napoleonic Wars, or as they were simply called in those days “The Great War,” was as big an occurrence to them as the Second World War was to our grandparents. There is a sanguinary lesson to be learned by the legacy of Waterloo in that unlike World War Two people are often forced to ask the question “What is the Legacy of Waterloo?” or “Why was Waterloo fought?” Now what would Churchill say if we treated that great struggle as we have treated Waterloo, or perhaps worse, what would Wellington say?
“Who’s alive?” was what the powder stained hero’s asked one another after nearly eight and a half hours of battle. Half deafened with cracked lips and throats dry and painful from cartridge powder they walked stiffly to regiment to regiment to ask news, with blackened shoulders almost dislocated from constant firing. In the fading light of Sunday the 18th of June 1815, their ringing ears might have drowned out the heart rending sounds of the battlefield but sadly nothing could blind their eyes from the terrible sights that with every step, taken carefully so as not to step on the dead or wounded, brought them.
Over 50,000 of some 140,000 British, French, Prussians, Belgians, Dutch, Hanoverians and other Germans became casualties that day, and for the British, the survivors were identified in the record books by the ubiquitous stamp, WM, next to their name and in time a silver medal to wear on their coat.
Through the course of the future events, that indirectly they helped to bring about, has all but obliterated the great and small men who laid the foundations of modern Europe that day, it is still clear to some when they look at the ancient photograph of a bent old man and see the distinctive little disc shining on his lapel, or see the silent glory hidden in that proud two letter cipher that tells you that that very unassuming gentleman in that creased and yellowed picture was at Waterloo.
So without further ado, taken between 1844 and 1890s these are the faces of some of the last British survivors of the Battle of Waterloo, I present the Waterloo Men (Heroic music would have be really good here!)
Although it is very un-PC of me I have concentrated solely on the British and some of the French veterans of the battle. This is not a product of any Anglocentric nature on my part but rather my failure to find any photographs of German or Netherlands veterans, and a disinclination to flood the post with the many French ones which are more readily available to be viewed online.
(With thanks to Napoleonic Wars Forum Members OxfordMon and Andrew W. Field for their permission to post their pictures)
I hope you have enjoyed seeing the Waterloo Men. More info about Waterloo and the upcoming 200th anniversary can be found at Waterloo200.org. Thanks for stopping by, see you next time for another Adventure in Historyland.