Commemorating Waterloo - Memorial Observances at Waterloo
The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo took place in the midst of the First World War, and there were no observances on the field, which was deep inside German-controlled territory.
As the 150th anniversary of the battle neared, the Belgian government invited the various nations that had taken part in the campaign to join in holding commemorative observances on July 18, 1965. Although France (then under the presidency of Charles de Gaulle) refused to take part, some thousands of people gathered on the appropriate date. Several countries sent military contingents, some in period costume, and there were elaborate military ceremonies and parades, wreath layings, and speeches about European unity.
Observances for the 175th anniversary of the battle were even more elaborate, and ran from June 15 through June 18, 1990. About 50,000 spectators took part, in addition to military contingents from several countries, including France. About 3,000 re-enactors also took part, among them 300 cavalrymen, hailing from Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, both East and West Germany, the U.S., and even the Soviet Union. Since then there have been small gatherings at the battlefield more or less annually, and larger ones every five years.
Planning for the 200th anniversary observances began several years ago. A great deal of money has been spent to restore parts of the battlefield that were damaged, altered, or merely deteriorated with age. This included refurbishing various monuments and landmarks. The Belgian government, various battlefield preservation groups, and an international committee headed by the current Duke of Wellington raised $53.38 million toward the effort; just restoring the Hougoumont Farm to its 1815 condition cost about $3.5 million. Proposals to remove the highly intrusive “Lion's Mound,” an artificial hill erected in the 1820 to hold the Netherlands monument, were rejected.
Surprisingly, the British government had to be prodded into supporting the observances, as some officials were fearful of offending France, which is odd, since the French were perfectly happy to help commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, ten years ago. The French are issuing a commemorative coin to mark the occasion, and have not objected to Britain’s plans for a non-circulating £1.00 commemorative coin showing Wellington and Blucher meeting after the battle, but were so highly critical of Belgium’s plans for a memorial €2.00 coin for general circulation that the proposal was been dropped, but the Belgian clevery resorted to a lookhole in EU money regs to issue a €2.50 coin, about which the French can’t do anything but bellow about being insulted.
In addition to ceremonies in London, Brussels, and elsewhere, the actual battlefield observances will begin on June 15, 2015. There will be ceremonies over several days, including parades, speechifying, demonstrations, encampments, and re-enacments to commemorate particular parts of the campaign (the Battles of Ligny, Quatre Bras, and Wavre, as well as Waterloo), and finally a major parade by re-enactors on the 21st. Some 5,000 reenactors are expected to take part, including 300 cavalrymen and 100 pieces of artillery, from about a dozen countries.
The human disaster that took place in and around Waterloo in mid-June of 1815 now provides the sleepy little village with an excellent living.