The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks


Lightroom – The Moon


‘… a stirring and moving homage to the past and future of lunar exploration’

At the end of the 1995 feature film Apollo 13, Tom Hanks, playing astronaut Jim Lovell, speaks over a slow-motion scene of himself and his fellow cast-mates recreating the welcome of the returning voyagers to the USS Iwo Jima. ‘I look up at the moon and wonder,’ Hanks says in his familiarly understated but reassuring tone as the music of James Horner swells in the background, ‘when will we be going back and who will that be?’

Although, in reality, four more missions would reach the lunar surface between the ‘successful failure’ and December of 1972; when Apollo 13 came to theatres it had been twenty-three years since that last moon landing, and now half a century on from that last poignant step for mankind, the question posed in that final monologue is being answered.

In the next 3 years, NASA will launch a manned mission to the surface of the moon, comprising of Commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Christina Koch from NASA, with mission specialist Jeremy Hansen from the Canadian Space Agency, ushering in perhaps the next chapter of human discovery.

This event, the irrepressible enthusiasm of Hanks for space exploration, and a chance meeting with the CEO of Lightroom London, Richard Slaney presented a unique opportunity to not only celebrate the birth, (and act as a reminder) of the Artemis Program but to also look back at those small steps, and giant leaps that had come before. The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks which opened on 6 December 2023 at the Lightroom is a stirring and moving homage to the past and future of lunar exploration.

I can’t pretend to be a space geek, but I am a space fan, and so when I received an invitation from the thoughtful and charming, Alysa Beckner from the Borkowski publicity team to attend an early screening the day before opening to the public, I did not even contemplate passing up the opportunity. I chose to go.


Alysa and her team greeted everyone who entered with a generous smile, a branded tote bag with the specially produced guide to the show, and directed us to where we could find refreshments. The publicity team deserve a round of applause for their smooth handling of the event, and for prioritising guests they believed would genuinely enjoy the performance.

Walking into the foyer of the Lightroom, a visitor is immediately stuck by the elegant, but modern design of your surroundings, which harmonises with an almost old-time Hollywood glamour just noticeable in the outer facade and bold red lettering above the door. A gold, statement wall adorned with mission patches strikes you through a cloud of intricately constructed light-bulbs, fashioned with what appears to be crepe so as to conjure a stillness and tranquility. These float over the smooth outline of the central staircase which curls down to a space used for merchandise, a small selection of which, including the spectacular prints of some of the most iconic lunar photography, is available on the ground floor. To the left of the door is a well-stocked bar that also serves excellent coffee and cakes.

The foyer is a relaxing place, with a warm, comforting colour-palate to rest and have a snack, and look out at the cold grey city. The Lightroom is situated 8 minutes away from Kings Cross and rests at the edge of a swanky array of chic restaurants, shops and café’s called the Coal Yard, that could easily be included in a visit.

Like many venues that offer immersive experiences, each room transitions you from the real world outside the ample glass windows to a secret place far from the familiar. Winding passages that curve, rise and fall take you to the Lightroom stage, and nothing you’ve seen online can prepare you for the scale of the room. The dimensions are immense, as if someone had built a large cinema room, common to most multiplexes, but then scooped out the usual mountainous bank of seats to leave a sort of void into which, when I was there at least, seating is artfully arranged to create a sense of distance from the crowd. In the right angle between the back wall and the stair case that leads you onto the floor, was a wedge of benches, and the rest were spread out symmetrically towards the centre, strategically leaving room around the edges.

The lighting was subdued, and a few images were already projected on the left and right walls, while the large principal wall was filled with a capsule like image and a countdown. No one can leave that theatre and not come away with an understanding of why The Moonwalkers and the Lightroom were a perfect match.


‘There are not stars enough in the sky to rate this show’

Watching a feature in the Lightroom is an experience like no other, and as The Moonwalkers unfolds around you, it’s hard not to become immersed in the story, indeed you have no choice, as surrounded by the impactful music  and enfolded by projections that probably cover 90% of the available surface, you are literally a part of the spectacle. Even in the more world-renowned theme parks, where every effort is made to immerse a guest inside a story, there is nothing to match the scale of what the Lightroom can offer.

Unlike conventional cinemas, viewers are encouraged to get up and wander around the room so as to be able to take in the different perspectives around them, making it a viewing experience like no other, and perfect for the sort of info-tainment that Hanks and the collaborative forces behind the Lightroom created when they made The Moonwalkers. What better place to talk about the moon than in a multi-dimensional space, a place as immersive as this, a place almost as panoramic as the moon itself.

Production wise it is a genuine wow moment as the roar of the rocket engines travel through the floor and seats, contrasting almost violently with the serene vocals and harmonies of the score when the landing sites and lunar landscape are recreated, so that, if you have listened to the narrator’s story of the pool and the hose-pipe, and you use just a little imagination you might just think you’re there.

There are not stars enough in the sky to rate this show, and underpinning it all is the familiar, neighbour-next-door style narration of Tom Hanks, who switches from pathos, to simple enthusiasm with as much ease as Anne Nikitin’s tremendous score glides through movements.

‘… it is tremendous entertainment’

To walk around the theatre and take in the myriad of visuals playing across every wall is a bewildering but very novel experience, and though you tend to live for the big, picture moments, and to hope there aren’t too many excited children running around in the quiet ones, and even if it challenges the capacity of a single mind to take it all in, it is tremendous entertainment, and after all, who can say anyone who walked on the moon was truly able to take an earth-rise in either?

Spectacle aside, there is a rich substance to the show, not only is it Hanks’s own personal love-letter to the Lunar program, but it touches on a number of wider and greater themes. Humanity’s endless quest for discovery that began, as the narrator put it in one interview, when someone ventured beyond the confines of his cave, and left a footprint on a distant riverbank. The message of positivity, to individuals and to the whole, that there are answers to be found if we as people will only work together to solve them.

Lightroom – The Moon


‘a representation of Tom Hanks’s faith in the unquenchable optimism at the heart of lunar and space exploration’

The sense of standing on the edge of a new era is neatly presaged by some of the opening lines, in which Hanks declares that the moon has always been two things to us, and so harmonising with the central theme which asks us to look back at the Apollo era and at the same time look forwards to the beginning of Artemis, the sister of Apollo.

When I asked a fellow attendee, Dr. Fian Smithwick what he thought, he said that the show had reinvigorated his excitement about space, and that he was looking forward to watching the Artemis crew launch and make their own mark on the moon in 2024.

Above all, The Moonwalkers is a representation of Tom Hanks’s creator’s faith in the unquenchable optimism at the heart of lunar and space exploration, and a call to look once more to the stars as one people and to dream of a time when we might all, to paraphrase Gene Cernan before he left the moon in 1972, to live and work ‘in peace and hope.’

Hanks’s message, in truth is more than a reminder to get excited for another age of Moonwalks rather than Spacewalks, but is for us to recall our shared humanity at a time when it is easy to become dragged down by a multitude of factors that set us apart. To look at the moon, he says early in the show, is to look at an object that every human ever born has looked at and to wonder what the stars might look like from beyond the earth.

In leaving the theatre, one cannot help but wonder if he is right, perhaps if we set our eyes to that distant familiar point where mankind has so often looked for answered, and further, to the stars beyond we will be able to see hope for the future.

The Moonwalkers: A Journey with Tom Hanks will be playing at the Lightroom London, from 6 December to 21 April 2024. Please see the links above for ticket information.


Seven questions with Aztec Empire’s Paul Guinan.

Malinche was no traitor! Moctezuma was a cynic! The Spanish couldn’t have won alone! These are just three of the storylines that you’ll encounter in the epic graphic novel, Aztec Empire.

Historyland fired off seven questions to one of the creative team, Paul Guinan, and this is what they fired back. Highlighting some of the process that goes into visual storytelling and the key elements of this larger than life adventure.

Q1: Out of such a huge story that is mostly written down, what goes into choosing the best most narratively communicable scenes, the scenes that transform words into pictures?

Many of the cues are provided by dramatic moments that were recorded as history by both sides—those are obviously key scenes. For some other scenes that aren’t as well documented, I have to extrapolate more, based on researching each culture and consulting multiple sources. I also look for ways to show scenes and historical facts from a different perspective than other visual narratives have done. For example, our story opens in Tenochtitlan with the Aztec military leaders, which is a visually splendid scene, instead of starting with the Spanish perspective. 

On a more humanistic level, even though the Mesoamerican and Spanish cultures are so different, the people we’re depicting share some aspects of a universal human experience. There are emotional dynamics that we can still relate to 500 years later. Those can be key character moments that help bring the story alive.

Q2: Currently you have 5 episodes on the website, what do you think the end extent of the series will be?

It is planned as a 50-episode story, each episode being 10 pages—so around 500 pages, plus endnotes. It’s an epic story! We’re posting it free online to get the story out there and build an audience. Eventually it’ll be published in print. And there will absolutely be a Spanish edition!

Q3: In terms of scholarship the story can be interpreted in a few ways, obviously you are going with an relatively original and up to date interpretation to tell the story. Can you give us an example of how your interpretation will differ from one of the better known parts of the story?

Recent research and scholarship has changed our whole understanding of this story. As just a few examples: In our series, Moctezuma does not think Cortes is a prophesized return of the divine Quetzalcoatl, and the Aztecs don’t think the Spaniards are gods. Malinche (aka Marina), who was Cortes’ main translator, does not “betray her people.” The Spanish didn’t win out because of superior technology, but because of local alliances. There’s a lot of mythology to be deconstructed.

Q4: In researching these characters, was there anything about them that surprised you or that you realised you had taken for granted?

Yes, I found characters who have been completely ignored by history. Hugh Thomas wrote the “gold standard” book on this historical event in the 1990s, Conquest, and yet he doesn’t mention Moctezuma’s Council of Four. One of the Council was married to Moctezuma’s daughter! Thomas’ tome is extensive and authoritative, but it still took the prevailing Spanish-centric perspective. He gives detailed information about Cortes’ captains, but nothing about Moctezuma’s closest advisory group. In Aztec Empire, by contrast, we meet them in the very first scene.

Q5: Have you encountered any negativity so far resulting from long held stereotypes of ‘Noble Savages’ and ‘Black Legends?’

As you might expect, there have been a couple of hot takes about this series on social media, from people who didn’t understand the level of research that’s going into this project. Negativity has been blessedly rare, though. Anyone who takes a close look at the work, including my bibliography and extensive illustrated endnotes, will see I’m trying to be as fair-minded and inclusive as possible.

Q6: Is this novel being illustrated digitally or traditionally? And how did you decide which medium to use. 

I draw tiny “thumbnail” sketches of each page to structure the plot, done with a good old-fashioned #2 pencil on plain paper. I then do layouts, also in pencil, which I turn over to my co-artist David Hahn. He does most of his penciling traditionally, but does some of the architectural drawing using digital tools. He inks most of the pages physically or “on the boards.” After that, art corrections, lettering, and coloring are done digitally. We enjoy old-school techniques, but we use digital tools for expediency. 

Q7: If you could choose a moment of your novel to see in the flesh which would it be. Actually, I’ll be kind and ask for your top three moments to see in the flesh and we’ll wrap up the questioning. 

The three most significant events in this story have an epic tableau involving thousands of people, any of which I’d pay to see in person:

1- The first meeting of Moctezuma and Cortés in the kaleidoscopic city of Tenochtitlan. A massive procession on each side, all resplendent in their finest outfits. Tens of thousands of spectators surrounded the spectacle, most in decorative boats, since the Aztec capital was an island city.

2- The Spaniards’ frantic escape from Tenochtitlan, known by the Spanish as the “Sad Night” and by the locals as the “Night of Victory.” When the Aztecs finally rose up against the invaders, Cortés and his men tried to flee with as much gold as they could carry. Around a thousand Spaniards fought their way out of the city in the rainy night, under constant attack. Many of them were killed, and nearly all the gold was lost. 

3- The Battle of Otumba: The final chance for the Aztecs to defeat the Spaniards. Tens of thousands participated in this battle, which turned the tide for the Spaniards. After this success, they were free to lay siege to the Aztec capital. The end had begun.

Aztec Empire’s first five episodes is now available to read over at: Read the full review here:

See you next time for another Adventure in Historyland, Josh.

Farewell to the Generals and Princes and Peshwas and Rajahs.

(Or an ode to imposter syndrome)
Image taken from page 53 of ‘Every-day Characters … Illustrated by C. Aldin. British Library Flickr.

For clarity, the title of this blog refers to a book I have ‘written.’ I qualify this word ‘written’ because it isn’t the same as finishing a book. The details of which will be revealed closer to it’s actual completion. Today is a marker, which is more to commemorate and in a way exorcise the organisation of this book, and especially the imposter syndrome that goes along with it from my system.

In that spirit ladies and gentlemen :

To the Generals and Princes and Peshwas and Rajahs. To the Begums and Subedars, privates, sepoys, merchants and all those suffering bullocks. Even to the feared pindarries, and to the sowars, dragoons and horses. To lascars and gunners, to the cannons the fortresses. To the muddy rivers, green gats, and shimmering cities of legend and fable.

To the multitudes of camp followers, the hirracahs and their camels, to tumbrels and the limbers of the flying artillery. To Hindustan, to the Doab, to Malwa and even to the famine haunted plains of the Deccan. To the Afghan, Rohilla, Sikh, Jat, Rajput and Maratha, to the Ducks, Mulls and Quai Hais and Redcoats; yes to the Nabobs and Governors General as well, so too I address, John Company and the MP’s and mandarins in Whitehall but to India most of all. 

To these with whom I have kept solitary company for the better part of a year, unbidden, who have talked to me but never listened, and imparted their secrets to my dull ear. To them all I offer my thanks and bid them farewell, and hope they would look with remembrance on their story which I tell. I’m sorry beyond words that you got stuck with me as your latest storyteller. It was your bad luck, for there are many better.


My Birthday Fundraiser.

For 200 years the Gurkhas have never let Britain down, as soldiers or as allies, so let’s make sure Britain never let’s them down.

If you have ever wanted to do me a good turn for what I do online, please consider giving at least £1 to ensure that the Gurkha Welfare Trust can continue to care and look after veterans of this remarkable regiment.

Even if you don’t care about the history and traditions of the British army, I would ask that you please consider thinking about the people involved as there is more to every soldier than his uniform.

If not that then as a personal favour to me, please donate. If all of my followers gave just £1 this modest goal of £150 would easily be realised.
So on my birthday please do me the honour of honouring the Gurkhas.

The fundraiser will last for two weeks from today. Please follow this link to Facebook to donate:

For more information about the GWT go here.


Empire of the Sikhs.


‘Empire of the Sikh’s is a full circle journey, bathed in tones of gouache and gold, that opens a window to the past and brings us to the present’.

Short Review.

The Empire of the Sikhs exhibition at the SOAS, a major exhibition presented by the UK Punjab Heritage Association, will close in a few weeks but I highly recommend you visit before it does, it’s free, spectacular and well worth the time. The installation is found in the exhibition rooms of the Brunei Gallery, a straight walk from the gates of the University of London. There is something there for student, art lover, culture junkie and newcomer alike.

I spent just under two hours at the exhibition, at first moving quite slowly, and if you linger as I did at each exhibit, paying close attention and examining them closely, you would probably need three. So if you want to linger at each display, recall there are over 100 artefacts with their descriptions and several large information panels, and the nature of the objects fairly beg you to take your time with them.

The exhibition is expansive in scope but intimate in expanse, I imagine that it could become quite crowded at busy times, should you happen to arrive at such a moment I’d advise being patient. If you can manage it, browse the books, pick a bench outside for a little while, or drop back down Store Street and sit in one of its chic cafes for half an hour.

Instructions are well posted on the door as you come in. If you have a family, don’t worry. People were bringing their children in, and a small play area where the kids can colour-in is situated to the right of the entrance door. Additionally the Brunei Gallery has a small but well stocked bookshop in the building and inside the exhibition there is a wonderful selection of illustrated books, many published by the excellent people at Kashi House, being sold in the exhibition, as well as post cards and prints, all very reasonably priced and of good quality.

The Empire of the Sikhs is undoubtedly one of the brightest lights of London’s summer exhibition season, and not to be missed.

Opening Date: 12 July 2018: Time: 10:30 AM
Finishes: 23 September 2018: Time: 5:00 PM.
(Late Opening on Thursdays. Closed Mondays and Bank Holidays.)
Venue: Brunei Gallery.
Admission: Free.

Continue reading “Empire of the Sikhs.”

Chasing Snowflakes.

The early science of snowflakes.

Snow crystals, these pieces of visible magic, this cloth of dreams, which conjures up images of Christmas, of rosy cheeks, red robins, excitement and raging fires that would make the inside otherwise dreary. Like all magic, it can be somewhat malevolent. In proper quantities and in remote places it mocks humanity’s self assurance, and can try a soul to its limits. No other substance on earth, save perhaps it’s mother; water, is so inhospitable to life and yet so desired. Like all things that bring pleasure and pain, snow has fascinated all that have ever seen it. As a natural phenomenon, scientist and layman can derive something different from it. But most of all it is something that many of us discover as children, and those magical hours it allowed us to fill leave us chasing snowflakes for the rest of our lives. Continue reading “Chasing Snowflakes.”

Handle With Care, Revolution Inside.

As expected, Spain’s reaction to the unsanctioned Catalan vote for independence has been to rush to exert central authority and seems to be moving to repudiate the independence vote by removing the seditious government and holding new elections. Catalonia’s leaders, having successfully persuaded much of their state to throw in with their ideas has, in doing so, undemocratically excluded the rest of Spain from a crucial national decision, and have endangered the autonomy the Catalan people have enjoyed up to this point. Such is the risks entwined with the pursuit of liberty. Bear in mind, no matter what your politics today, that politically Catalonia was already part of the Crown of Aragon when Ferdinand married Isabella of Castile in 1469, the act that essentially unified Spain. Continue reading “Handle With Care, Revolution Inside.”

Spain has a Poor record of handling Revolutions.

Spain has a chequered history in dealing with independence movements. Almost all of them have resulted in terrible suffering and ultimate defeat. Image courtesy of the British Library Flickr.

With the possible exception of Great Britain, Spain probably holds the record for the largest amount of colonial territory lost through popular revolutions and conflict in the modern era. Continue reading “Spain has a Poor record of handling Revolutions.”

UK Remember the Alamo 2017 set to Break Records!

Alamo Church San Antonio
Alamo Church San Antonio. Wikipedia.

On 24 and 25 June at least 750 reenactors from all over the world will gather at Weston Park, Staffordshire to commemorate the Battle of the Alamo, historically fought on 6 March 1836 at San Antonio de Bexar, Texas.
When the subject of the pivotal battle of the Texian Revolution comes up, the lush green countryside of the west-country isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. The parkland of a stately home hardly conjures up visions of Spanish missions set on the wide prairie. Nor do people immediately associate Britain with the sort of enthusiasm for the subject that one might presume most Americans have.
Yet it turns out that there is as much enthusiasm for the legendary last stand on the “right” side of the Atlantic as there is on the “left”. Musician Phil Collins, a man born in Chiswick, London, freely admits to the Alamo being his obsession and as of 2014 owned one the largest private collections of Alamo memorabilia in the world.
“Alamo” Mo Jones, from Wales, was one of the principle founders of a website dedicated to the famous 1959 movie The Alamo, starring John Wayne, and since 2008 the accompanying discussion forum remains the only place on the internet principally oriented towards the history and popular culture surrounding the battle.

The influence of that movie should not be underestimated, it wasn’t an instant commercial success, but it proved a popular one and is calculated to leave an impression on a young mind. I was impressed with the VHS in the 90s so you can imagine what the big screen version must have done for the legacy of the siege.
We need not look very far therefore to find yet more cultural inspiration for the British wanting to play out this important moment in US history. Already Davy Crockett was an internationally recognised symbol of the old frontier thanks to Disney’s TV 1950’s series starring Fess Parker, and perhaps more importantly the naggingly catchy title song that a young Phil Collins performed at Butlins before he became famous.
By 1984, when the last Alamo reenactment was held in the U.K. Yes there have been others! Over 200 people dressed up, in what was then period accurate costume, and stormed a prefab fort, the one occurring this June will at the most conservative estimate have 4 times the manpower in the field.

So is Nostalgia the answer? It would be if all the participants were over 50. Although fond memories of childhood adventure heroes plays a part, the event is well timed. Firstly it comes only two years after the largest Waterloo reenactment in history. Over 6,000 people have been left with the taste of powder in their mouths, and access to a musket suitable for the Texas Revolution, about half of which wore a uniform in 2015 that with a little tampering can double as a Mexican one cutting costs in half.
Britain has a growing Napoleonic reenactment community, many of whom love the idea of such an original event despite not really knowing all about it. With so many participants the Alamo at Weston Park is set to be the biggest “horse and musket” reenactment in a hobby of which the large scale shows are dominated by the English Civil War.

Although when the project was announced in early 2016 some worried that everyone would want to be a Texian, it soon turned out that the Brits have no particular problem with playing the “bad guys”. By comparison it’s usually quite hard to muster a decent number of soldados to storm American Alamo’s. At some of this year’s Texas Revolution gatherings there was a distinct lack of Mexican opponents to fight. Yet it cannot be said that Americans are ignorant of the significance of the Alamo. Especially in the south it is one of the revered moments in the formation of the republic.
Why then is it so hard to muster even 50 people to reenact the Alamo in a country that hosts the largest reenactments in the world?
The answer is politics. And not just Republican and Democrat this goes beyond petty presidential elections. The reenactment scene in America is governed by several bodies, all of which construct events to their own rules and regulations, and won’t or can’t work with the others as a result.

The UK Alamo is being staged in honour of the 300th anniversary of the Grand Masonic Lodge of England, and the American Civil War Society of the UK was invited to form the core of each side. Although their Facebook page lists he group as the host, it is not an official ACWS run event.
Heading up the organisation of the event is Paul Barrass, who will be playing Santa Anna. Paul and his admin staff are firm in their resolution to keep this all about the history:
“All we ask is no politics or religion follow the safety rules and please leave your egos at the door”. Says Barrass, who confirms an “unprecedented level of cooperation in putting together this event”.
Author and longtime Alamo forum member Ned Huthmacher who is travelling from the US to be at Weston Park in June confirmed this opinion on the forum and Facebook: “One reason why there is so many reenactors being recruited into the Mexican army is they have no real connection-loyalty to the history of the battle, but just want to get in on a large scale reenactment. Also many of the recruits do/have already done Napoleonic reenactments.”

Ned is one of those generous souls who’s willing to share his enthusiasm and experience with anyone, and in the world of Internet forums, he and the old guard of the John Wayne the Alamo forum do the traditions of southern hospitality proud. When I asked why Britain and not America he replied that the most concise reason is “no infighting amongst all the different reenactor groups”. Terence Boniface wrote on Facebook “the organisers have selected the Alamo because no group reenacts that event here.”
And it has worked spectacularly so far, with a possible maximum turnout of 120 defenders and 1,000 Mexicans, some coming from as far afield as Inverness. Not too far from the original numbers at the battle in 1836 where on a cold Texas night in March 185-260 Texians (some of them Scots) were overrun and wiped out by 1,800 Mexican soldiers. It has been noted that this reenactment will be the biggest ever recreation of the battle outside of a movie production.
Strange as it may seem the events of 1836 have always had an interest value to the people of Britain. Coverage in the newspapers were reporting the fighting in Texas in the very year they were happening, with an understandable lag as the news crossed the Atlantic. Interest was resumed around the time of the Mexican American war, and it is well known that several Alamo defenders actually came from Britain. In the end we can only admit that Courage and sacrifice are International virtues that speak to us all, and that is why even Britain remembers the Alamo.

. I have no doubt that this recreation will inspire more interest in the story for new generations and offer a unique day out this summer.

If you’re interested in going or contacting the organisers, follow the links below.


A Eulogy to Quatre Bras Farm.

Saxe Weimar at Quatre Bras Farm.
Saxe Weimar at Quatre Bras Farm.

At on Friday the 16th of June 1815 a cavalcade of staff officers rode into the little village of les Quatre Bras, on the main road to Brussels. It was a small community of farms and coaching inns, serried along the chaussée and around the four branching arms of the crossroads from where the place derived its name. The four arms.

At the crux of the junction, fitting neatly into the northeast segment stood a typical Belgian walled farm. The adjoining buildings were constructed around a central courtyard that just about formed a rough quadrangle. Entrance to wheeled vehicles was through a box like gate right opening onto the road.
Mounted by this gate was a group of officers wearing the blue uniforms of King William’s Netherlands troops and the green of the Nassau Usingen contingent. The newly arrived riders drew rein and an exchange of bows and hat doffing ensued. Four men, two young and two old were soon in earnest conversation. The Young Prince of Orange, booted and braided with a cocked hat and a lavish hussar pelisse listened to his stern old chief of staff, Constant Rebecque, the baby faced Prince Saxe Weimar and severe old Baron Perponcher as they outlined their dispositions.
In the silent, softly undulating fields around the similarly walled farm of Gemioncourt 1,500 yards south of the crossroads waited the Dutch-Belgian troops of Perponcher’s Division. Covered by some artillery to their rear, and in the gloom of the Bois de Bossu, which stretched out from the west side of the main road was Saxe Weimer’s Nassau brigade. It was the calm before the storm.
As the Prince and his now enlarged staff toured the outposts French troops were on the march to take the crossroads before Wellington’s overextended forces could concentrate. The fate of the 1815 campaign was hanging in the balance.

The Battle of Quatre Bras raged all day, thousands were killed and injured in the chaotic and confused fighting that boiled at times up to the very verge of the farm where the Prince of Orange had met his senior officers that morning. The Nivelles-Namur road was held by the steady veterans of the British 5th Division, it’s right flank, in sight of the farm, being held by the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders, whose commanding officer was to fall within a stone’s throw of the gate. The Duke of Wellington was often to be seen in this critical area, as more and more troops arrived to bolster the defence, passing the unobtrusive gate in their thousands. One was the Duke of Brunswick, who would lead his men bravely until mortally wounded in the fields around La Bergerie, within sight of Quatre Bras.
With uncontested superiority in cavalry for the entire battle French lancers, Chasseurs and Cuirassiers were repeatedly seen to briefly overrun the crossroads. At one point chasing Wellington into the square of the 92nd. With daylight fading and thus hiding the horrors of the battlefield in shadow, the large collection of buildings around the four arms of the junction became one big hospital. The farm buildings at Quatre Bras were soon choked with wounded men, the courtyard filled up with casualties waiting for surgery. A steady stream of patients and dead crossed each other at the main gate.

Near contemporary sketches of the crossroads and the farm, prominent onnthe right. See link below for details.
Near contemporary sketches of the crossroads and the farm, prominent onnthe right. See link below for details.

There aren’t many buildings left that were present at battle, slowly they have been remodelled or left to decay. Gemioncourt alone now remains as the most untouched remnant. The monuments that came in the years that followed are markers rather than witnesses, and represent something very different to a site that was seen by people two centuries gone. As of 200 years later one of these landmarks, a neglected, crumbling and vandalised but yet somehow dignified farm complex remained at the crossroads. It should have stood as a testament to the passage of time, and the sacrifice of he soldiers who died around it in June 1815. Sadly it was not to be. Whereas the Chateau Hougoumont at Mont St Jean, on the battlefield of Waterloo has been carefully repaired and restored, there was no Project Quatre Bras to save one of the last pieces of what could have been the last battle of the 1815 campaign. After 8 years of gallant resistance to repeated attacks by commercial developers a proposal was slipped past the defenders. Despite the best efforts of heritage conservator Dominique Timmermans, the local Government accepted the new proposal before any impetuous could be gathered by the international historical community. On the 26th of October 2016 the last walls were photographed as nothing more than a pile of dismembered bricks.

Satellite image of the Former position of Quatre Bras Farm.
Satellite image of the Former position of Quatre Bras Farm.

A constant thought for humanity is the concept of what the world will be like when we are gone. In two generations who will remember if we don’t take steps to memorialise and preserve where we walked and why we walked there? The soldiers of Quatre Bras were there for a day and then moved onto become soldiers of Waterloo, leaving in the earth behind them men who would remain soldiers of Quatre Bras forever. Now a precious physical link that connected the present with the past has been removed from this old, mostly forgotten field. Reality has been disembodied from memory and a place that the soldiers of 1815; from Wellington and Napoleon down to the lowliest private or camp follower saw, touched and in some cases were taken to die, has gone forever. After 201 years, the old farm has fallen foul to the march of the great enemies of history; Generals Ignorance, Profit an their ally Marshal Progress. And I cannot help but wonder what will fall next?

An old and not topographically brilliant map of the action at Quatre Bras, but at 1, is the farm of Quatre Bras,
An old and not topographically brilliant map of the action at Quatre Bras, but at 1, is the farm of Quatre Bras, 2 is the sheep farm of La Bergerie, 3 is Gemioncourt and 4 is Pierrepont.

It is so ironic that this should happen a year after the bicentenary of the 1815 campaign. When for an entire year there was nothing but big talk about commemoration and conservation. People proudly proclaimed the triumph of restoring Hougoumont, the raising of new monuments and the opening of the new visitor centre at Mont St Jean. There was nothing but praise for the giant reenactment to honour the sacrifice of the fallen and the trials of the survivors. One might be forgiven for bitterly reflecting on how well the mound of rubble symbolises how much all of that was worth in the end. How so many of those high ideals are now reflected in the pile of bricks that now adorn the roadside.
Perhaps some people reading this don’t care about Quatre Bras as a moment in history. Perhaps it is the fate of lesser fields of slaughter to fade like the old soldiers who walked away from them. But today it is a piece of 1815 heritage that has been lost, tomorrow maybe it will be one from 1915, or 1945. Perhaps at the very least we can think on that and guard against future heritage losses, heaven knows there’s little else to be done.