Posted tagged ‘Waterloo’

A date in history

June 18, 2009

Today, as I suspect not too many people are aware, is Waterloo Day. On this day in 1815 the Battle of Waterloo was fought (near the small Belgian town of that name), between the French armies under Napoleon on the one side, and the Prussians and British on the other. Napoleon lost the battle, and was sent into exile on the South Atlantic island of St Helena, where he died in 1821. Waterloo was decisive in shaping 19th century European history.

A few years ago I was driving through a rural part of England with a colleague – we were going to a conference – when we passed under a rather splendid Regency era railway bridge. On the side of the bridge was an inscription that said that it was built in the year of the Battle of Waterloo. So when was that, I asked my colleague. He had no idea. And who fought and won the battle? No, nothing. He thought, eventually, that it involved the French.

We have got used to the idea of history not being just about monarchs, big battles and important dates. And yet, it seems to me that certain milestones in history should be known and remembered and understood, and I was, I confess, shocked at my colleague’s laid back ignorance in this case. The Napoleonic wars were about more than just battles and conquests, they were about political evolution and competing cultures, and the fall-out of the era continues to affect us nearly two centuries later. People should know about it. Indeed, it seems to me to be important that we do not entirely neglect the key dates and personalities of history.

After we had driven on a little I suddenly noticed that my colleague was whistling the tune of Abba‘s song Waterloo. At first that kind of irritated me, but then I pointed out to him that if only he had paid attention to the first line of the song his earlier answer to me would have been better. Maybe it’s not surprising he never sought another lift from me.