Posted: 11/10/2008


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     Napoleon Bonaparte had been sent into exile to the Isle of Elba after more than 50 battles that had left the French Empire and the rest of the continent scarred by death and destruction from this maniac. He escaped to the French mainland with 1,000 men and marched up to Paris from the coast to take power once again.

     At the recent 'Treaty of Vienna' the Allies determined that he must be stopped. and plans were made for a French invasion and a naval blockade. The little general along with Marshall Michel Ney marched north to try and take Brussels in the Low Countries and 300,000 men from seven nations, 500 cannon and thousands of horses came together for a final solution. The night of 17th June, 1815 they were camped in undulating farmland 4 km south of the village of Waterloo and one of the most famous battles of all time was about to begin. I was in that spot a few days ago to visit the museum, the memorials and the memories. 

      I had been there before, but this time I took more time. You take the train for 12km south east  from Brussels to Braine-L'Alleud,(used as a post battle hospital village) and then the local bus to the Brussels-Charleroi motorway and walk 500 metres to the Lions Mound, 85 metres high with 226 steps(I counted them as I climbed to the top),built in 1823 to mark the place where William, Prince of Orange, one of the Duke of Wellington's allied generals was injured. He later became King William II of The Netherlands. There are now 124 Waterloo's world-wide and the reason for the name of the battle is that's where  Wellington wrote his post battle dispatches which he sent by courier and ferry boat to London, and which were published in 'The Times', of London on 22nd June.

     The French cannon had a range of 1,200 metres and so the shots were designed to land just in front of the Allies and then bounce, explode and kill and maim. The previous night's torrential rain made for a soggy ground and no bouncing. It was the first time that Wellington and Napoleon, both 47 years old, had met on the field of battle.  I visited the small museum with uniforms, arms and even Napoleon's death mask, watched a re-enactment movie and viewed a huge 360 degree panorama. You wonder about all these braided, fancy uniforms, polished buttons, saddles and boots and the horrendous carnage, the sound of the cannon and the screams of the dying, the thick, choking smoke and what was described as snow covering the battlefield with all the white paper that the millions of lead rifle shot were wrapped in, and then discarded. The body parts, entrails of horses and blood and gore all splattered in the mud. War is Hell!!

     I toured the battlefield on a huge converted truck with about 45 seats that drove through the sodden farmers fields where they were harvesting sugar beet, passing old farmhouses that were used by the different armies.  Wellington's forces had the high ground, and despite repeated charges from the French cavalry and infantry at the Allied 'hollow squares', they were not successful. The battle was joined about 11.30 am on Sunday June 18th and later in the day 72 year old Marshall Blucher stormed out of the woods with his Prussians, caught Napoleon in a pincers movement and the French troops retreated and ran. Napoleon had to abandon his carriage and leap on a horse and reach Charleroi by 3.00 am on the road to Paris. He left all the artillery and papers and most of his clothes, which had jewels sewn into them. Blucher took those as a prize of war.

       French casualties were 40,000, Britain and Dutch 15,000 and the Prussians 7,000 - all in an 8 sq km (3 sq mile) area, in just over 8 hours.

    Back in France he abdicated, Louis XVIII was restored to the throne, and Napoleon surrendered to the British navy and has taken to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.  Arthur Wellesey, 1st Duke of Wellington, was born in Ireland and later became a politician and Prime Minister and died in 1852 a national hero.

    Until earlier this year when they switched the terminus to St. Pancras station, all channel tunnel express trains arriving in London from Paris and Brussels brought French and other passengers to Waterloo station-a name synonymous with a crushing defeat.