Why I have written Waterloo: A Layman’s Guide
On Sunday 18th June 1815, nearly 200,000 men faced off on a tiny parcel of land barely two and a half miles square to fight was has now become known as the Battle of Waterloo. Nowhere, either before or since this battle, have that many men got together on such a tiny piece of earth to have a fight. Not surprisingly the battle was brutal and bloody and casualties were high, but in the end with an Allied victory headlined by the Duke of Wellington, it ushered in a prolonged period of peace and prosperity across Europe that hadn’t been seen for a long, long time.
The Battle of Waterloo really was the catalyst for the greater good during the nineteenth century (unless you were French, in which case the name Waterloo carried a much more sombre meaning). In the UK the victory was duly celebrated and thousands of roads, buildings and monuments were named after the battle and the British commander who masterminded the victory – the Duke of Wellington – who was one of the most popular people of the time. One of the most famous places named after the battle is London Waterloo train station – used by millions of commuters each week to get in and out of the city. So I thought it would be a good idea on a wet and windy Sunday in March 2015 to ask some of the commuters if they knew the meaning behind the name of the station they were standing in…
I asked 200 people (well, it is the bi-centenary) and tried my best to pick out a mixture of individuals – although I did resist the temptation to ask the huge group of Japanese tourists that were congregating outside one of the fast food restaurants on the main concourse. The results, albeit very anecdotal and not really statistically significant, were nonetheless very interesting:
Only 39% of the people asked knew that London Waterloo was indeed named after the Battle of Waterloo.
Given a choice of either Nelson or Wellington, 63% of the people asked thought Nelson was in charge at Waterloo.
Only 36% of the people questioned knew that Britain and the Allies fought Napoleon at Waterloo.
Just 21% knew that 2015 was the two hundred year anniversary of the battle.
Yet again I come to the conclusion that despite the millions of pages that have been written about this battle and the arguments that have raged between academics about the tiny details of why Napoleon didn’t do this or that… they have forgotten that their main purpose should be to educate and inspire the general public.
That why I have written this Layman’s Guide.
Following in the style of the other Layman’s Guides’ this is a relatively short narrative that is more like a chat over a cup of tea rather than a heavy historical text. I have tried to make the story flow naturally albeit without mountains of detail. The chapters here are purposefully written to be short, sharp and to the point, perfect for dipping in and out of whenever the fancy takes you.
I know that one tiny little book written my me isn’t going to transform the population into Waterloo experts, but I do hope this short book helps a few thousand people understand the general why/where/when/how/who of the battle and inspires them to explore further reading across this incredibly important part of European history.
Waterloo: A Layman’s Guide is available in Kindle format right now on Amazon sites worldwide: