WATERLOO. HOW DID IT FEEL WHEN WE WON THE WAR?
I would have been watching hundreds of troops, some of them dressed in elaborate uniforms, either on foot or on horseback, attacking each other. The air would have been filled with the booming of pistols and cannons, the banging of drums, the screams of injured and dying men and horses, while a thick cloud of cannon smoke wafted around them.
Arrangements are in full swing for the Commemoration.
Buildings are being frantically renovated. (They’ve had 200 years to do the work, so why the sudden rush?!)
A lot of the work is being done by enthusiastic volunteers, which is marvellous. But some of the work reminds me of mature American women who’ve been under the surgeon’s knife. The signs of ageing can be attractive and sometimes it’s possible to overdo the smoothness, trying to turn back time!
There’s a temporary exhibition next door to the Wellington Museum. It’s divided equally between Napoleon and Wellington, displaying items from their private lives.
I found it fascinating, and I was surprised at how much the two men had in common – including two of their mistresses!
All of the items are on loan, with more than 40 from London.
(I’d hate to be the Insurance Company responsible for it all. The collection is absolutely priceless!)
There are over 124 places called Waterloo in the world. After the Battle, soldiers went abroad and named various places Waterloo.
ABBA has visited the Wellington Museum; no surprise there, I think!
I wonder if any of them will appear at any of the 200th Commemoration events?
Not far away is Hougoumont Farm.
This is one of the most important sites of the battle.
There are three trees at the back and they still have bullets embedded in the trunks.
Somewhere near the farm is a mass grave with around 5,000 French and 800 English bodies in it. It’s never been excavated.
The farm was sold in 1816, but as it had tenant farmers there, it has hardly changed.
It was bought from the owner’s family, who never lived there, in 2003.
What remains is the farm. The chateau caught fire and collapsed.
It’s all being renovated and will be a Gite with accommodation for a night or two.
Napoleon’s Last Headquarters is also undergoing frenzied renovations.
We were shown round, stepping over buckets and beams, and standing aside as workers rushed past with sacks of cement on their shoulders.
Our ‘Elf & Safety would have gone absolutely berserk, flapping clipboards around like 19th Century fans! No hard hats or luminous jackets, no steel-capped boots, no-one shouting, ‘Be careful!’ all the time; just our own brains and eyes. Wonderful!
I love being treated like a normal, intelligent Human Being!
Of course, this will all be cleared away when it’s open to the General Public.
At the end of the garden is a small hut with a metal grille at the front. It’s piled high with human bones. They’re all unidentified and it’s not known if they’re English or French bones. They’ve been collected from the battlefield, dug up by farmers and locals, and they’re stacked there, awaiting future archaeological progress.
God knows what collections are in local houses!
Our coach screeched to a halt as some of our group wanted to see La Belle Alliance, which was beside the duel carriageway.
Belle Alliance farm. West Facade Ouest along the N5 in 2012.
Blücher, the Prussian commander, suggested that the battle should be remembered as la Belle Alliance, to commemorate the European Seventh Coalition of Britain, Russia, Prussia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Sardinia, and a number of German States which had all joined the coalition to defeat the French Emperor. Wellington, who had chosen the field and commanded an allied army which had fought the French all day, instead recommended Waterloo, the village just north of the battlefield, where he himself had spent the previous night, commenting that it would not do to name the battle after the loser’s command post. Nevertheless in 1815 the Rondell plaza in Berlin was renamed Belle-Alliance-Platz to commemorate the victory.
The building is currently used on Friday and Saturday evenings as a night club
Actually, it’s a bit more than a nightclub. All the windows are blacked out!
Built on the Battlefield, the Lion Mount is a grass-coated pyramid with a statue of a lion on the top. It can be seen for miles in the flat Belgian landscape.
The Lion’s Mound (French: Butte du Lion, lit. ‘Lion’s Hillock/Knoll’; Dutch: Leeuw van Waterloo, lit. ‘Lion of Waterloo’) is a large conical artificial hill located in Waterloo, Belgium and raised on the battlefield of Waterloo, to commemorate the location where William II of the Netherlands (the Prince of Orange) was knocked from his horse by a musket ball to the shoulder during the battle. Its construction was ordered in 1820 by his father, King William I of the Netherlands, and completed in 1826. The prince fought at the preceding Battle of Quatre Bras (16 June 1815) and the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815).
It says that there are 226 steps to the top, but I beg to disagree.
I climbed to the top, pausing to get my breath after every 10 steps, and there are definitely 225 steps!
It’s a pretty steep upwards climb, but well worth it for the view. And I found it easy to come down again.
Just a few yards away from the Mound is the new 1815 Museum, which is mainly underground.
I was very privileged to be invited to the Official Opening.
It’s good to see that they’re all chums now!
In my job, I see a lot of museums. Some are old and impressive, although I can’t digest rooms full of paintings and sculptures for long. I get Artistic Indigestion.
But there’s a lot to do and see in the 1815 Museum, and it’s full of surprises.
There’s a replica of an 1800s balloon. You look out of the ‘basket’ and watch the battle below you. Then you get the feeling that the balloon’s flown higher, and it floats lower over another part of the battle.
It really feels as though you’re flying!
In the 3D Cinema, they play a 15-minute film of the battle re-enactment.
I put my finger over the end of Napoleon’s telescope, and the lady in front kissed a horse’s haunch as it trotted past her, although she wasn’t aware of it!
Absolutely mind-blowing was the verdict, and everyone applauded when it finished.
On its own is a glass case with the skeleton of an unknown soldier, found on the Battlefield.
He lies there in dignified death, and I’m sure that his family would be proud.
But oh no, there’s always one.
Someone (they know who he is) has been encouraging people to send hatemail about the skeleton to the Belgian Tourist Office, and they’ve had to waste a lot of time sorting it all out.
I suppose that a lot of people are little dictators at heart, thinking they can order everyone around, and they often have gullible followers, which is sad!
Waterloo was a Battle and thousands of men lost their lives.
The Museums are Memorials to Commemorate, not to Celebrate.
What do these people expect to see, Mickey Mouse?!
There are events from 12th-16th June, 2015, although some exhibitions will carry on throughout the year.
On Sunday 14th June at 10.30, there’s a Re-enactment of the Battle, with a 1500 Cast of different Nationalities, 20 guns and 60 riders.
We met some of the actors. They’re all volunteers. Their costumes are completely authentic copies, with the most amazing detail.
It will be an unforgettable occasion!
The Wellington Museum http://www.museewellington.be/
For the Waterloo memorial and other events and Napoleon’s last headquarters
The Waterloo restaurants in Waterloo were
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