June 18 2015 marks the bicentenary of one of the most important landmarks in British and European history – the Battle of Waterloo. The centenary of this event was barely recalled as we were embroiled in the First World War and allied to the French!
The war with Republican and Napoleonic France was a long and bitter struggle (1793-1815). The nation spent £1600 million financing it and we lost a larger proportion of our manpower (2.5 per cent), than in the 1914-18 conflict. Waterloo was the second costliest single-day battle in the whole war, with around 55,000 killed wounded and missing men. After the war, Europe was remoulded and, aside from the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), there was no pan-European conflict for 100 years.
Waterloo200 is the official charitable body set up to co-ordinate the commemorations/celebrations. (Waterloo200.org) A website incorporating learning material, images, videos, articles and high resolution photos of 200 iconic artefacts will be launched later this month. The committee is keen to involve and trace descendants of Waterloo combatants. Also, we have produced not only learning material, but also will involve children in identifying Waterloo soldiers from their area and writing about them and/or Waterloo relics. Successful entrants will gain admission to a service of remembrance in St Paul’s Cathedral on June 18.
A massive re-enactment is to take place at Waterloo and battlefield trips are already filling up. The battlefield area is being regenerated, with Chateau Hougoumont being restored, the panorama redecorated, a new museum and visitor centre also, the development of the large farm that served as a field hospital. There is to be a re-run of the famous journey of the Waterloo Dispatch, written by the Duke of Wellington with news of the victory, which was carried across the Channel to London. In Britain, apart from the service at St Paul’s, there will be Waterloo-themed events at tattoos, concerts and conferences.
It is important to remember the contribution made by Scots to Waterloo – significantly greater than its population would suggest! Seven Scots regiments, one of them cavalry, the famous Scots Greys and seven infantry battalions, took part. Of around 11,000 British army casualties, 2300 (about 20 per cent) were from Scottish regiments. The Director General of the Army Medical Department, Sir James McGrigor, was a native of Aberdeen and the Principle Medical Officer on the field of Waterloo was Sir James Robert Grant, from Forres. Interestingly, of around 300 medical staff at or arriving shortly after the battle, 87 were Scots or received their degree in Scotland. Scotland had played its part at Waterloo.
Michael Crumplin FRCS is Education Lead for Waterloo200