Napoleon to March on Waterloo Once Again
PHOTO: Some 5,000 re-enactors will descend on the farm lands of Waterloo this June. (Courtesy of Waterloo 2015)
In March, the eighth Duke of Wellington, Arthur Valerian Wellesley, passed away at the age of 99 with just six months to go before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, when his illustrious forbearer, the first Duke, gave the title its most illustrious day by defeating Emperor Napoleon in the Wallonian farmland that the world knows today as Waterloo. According to friends, the late Duke had been following the preparations of the upcoming Waterloo Bicentenary with great interest. So are many others.
Wallonia, the French-speaking, southern part of Belgium, where Waterloo and many other battles took place, including the Bulge (WWII) and the Ardennes (WWI), is expecting an army of some 2 million visitors this year. Waterloo’s commemoration may be overshadowed by the biggest Wallonian draw in 2015, as Mons presides as the European Capital of Culture (ECC) this year.
More than 300 events, 5,000 artists, 400 organizations, 22 partner institutions and 17 other participating towns and cities are all part of the ECC celebration. The Waterloo Re-enactment hopes to attract about 120,000 visitors.
On June 19 and 20, the town of Waterloo, about 10 miles south of Brussels, will host a re-enactment with more than 5,000 volunteer actors registered to take part in the battle with Frank Samson, a lawyer originally from Orleans, playing Napoleon. Samson has been playing the role of Napoleon since 2005 and has participated in a hundred or so re-enactments. He assumed the role of Emperor during the commemoration of Napoleon’s coronation at the Basilica of Boulogne in 2011 and again during the re-enactment of the Battle of Leipzig in 2013.
And in the other corner will be Alan Larsen as the Duke of Wellington. Larsen is a historical events consultant from Derbyshire, England. Larsen has played many roles, including that of William the Conqueror during the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings (1066) in 2012, where he commanded more than 100 Norman cavalrymen on the original battlefield. He has also taken part in major re-enactments in France, Spain, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, South Africa and the USA. In Europe, one man can play an endless chorus line of kings and conquerors, while it takes hundreds to play Elvis on any given night in Las Vegas.
The real Battle of Waterloo brought nearly 200,000 Dutch, French, Belgian, Prussian and British combatants into a killing field of about three square miles. It all began in the March of 1815, when Napoleon escaped from the Island of Elba where he was being held prisoner. Before long he had reassembled his army.
Wellington arrived in Belgium in April to take command of the Anglo-Hanoverians and their Dutch-Belgian allies. General Blücher von Wahlstadt, who plays the pivotal role in the battle, was in charge of the Prussian army. The battle began on June 16 June, at about 3 p.m. On June 18, Wellington faced Napoleon and was declared victorious by 10:30 in the evening.
This year two re-enactments will go into the total commemoration: The French Attack at 8 p.m. on June 19 and the Allied Counterattack from 8 p.m. onwards on June 20. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 18-20, visitors can tour the Bivouacs for a look at the daily life of the regiments as they waited to go into battle. The Bivouacs will show the rhythm of artillery exercises, how weapons were maintained, the mealtimes, the changing of the watch, the care of the wounded and the training of young recruits.
By last July, in the first four months of ticket sales for the Re-enactment, sales have been brisk, with 28,000 enthusiasts already signed up. So far about two-thirds of the ticketholders are Belgian and some 29 other nationalities have also purchased tickets.
The website Waterloo 200 lists exhibitions and events all around the U.K that are dedicated to the battle’s 200th anniversary. Windsor Castle, for instance, is hosting a special exhibit, Waterloo at Windsor: 1815-2015, a collection of paintings as well as objects presented to George IV from the battle of Waterloo. The exhibition runs through Jan. 13, 2016.
More by James Ruggia
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