…today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, with events and commemorations planned in the UK and Belgium. The main event in the UK is a service in St Paul’s Cathedral.
But yesterday in Belgium, with collaboration from the four communes around Waterloo, the restored Hougoumont Farm was opened and a monument unveiled. The Ceremony involved an historic tripartite handshake between the successors of Wellington, Blucher and Napoleon. In addition, Belgium organised an official national commemorative ceremony with senior international participation attended by HRH Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall together with Princess Astrid of Belgium; Prince Pieter-Christian; the Grand Duke of Luxembourg; and the Duke of Wellington.
Our focus for this anniversary is on Commemoration, not Celebration; on Peace, not Triumph; and on Respect not Rivalry. We remember past battles “to honour those who served; to remember those who died; and to ensure that the lessons learnt live with us forever.” There has been a long history of British action in Belgium. For the freedoms we cherish today, British soldiers have often fought and died on battlefields in Belgium. Hougoumont will also rectify an historic oversight. There are memorials to the British officers who died at Waterloo (in Evere in Brussels) and to individual regiments, but until now there has not been a British memorial on site to all the other men who fought and died at Waterloo.
Waterloo itself was a turning point in European history. The Battle was and is the inspiration for great art, literature, poetry and music. And after 1815, Europe saw roughly a century of stability. Waterloo ended a bloody and devastating war that had been waged for years; it created the conditions for a long period of relative international peace in Europe and a new model of international diplomacy (inaugurated at the Vienna conference).