Battle of Waterloo v2010
Waterloo, where the famous battle of 1815 was fought between Napolean and the Allied forces, is located in present day Belgium and close to Brussels. The actual battlefield is, however, a little further away from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battle has been preserved as an European heritage and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
The battle in 1815 had ended on June 18 with Napolean’s defeat and is considered as one of the most significant events in the history of Europe. To commemorate this important event, each year the scene of the battle is re-enacted at this site on June 18.
The battle is re-enacted by a large group of history enthusiasts who come from diverse backgrounds and different countries. The passion for history and zeal to keep it alive, is the common thread binding most of these participants. Among them are also people who pursue it as their full time vocation. When not re-enacting events, they are engaged in researching the history and disseminating their knowledge to preservers and pursuers of history like museums, educational institutions, etc. However there are also people who participate just for the adventure and to experience something different.
Typically the actual battle of June 18, 1815 is re-enacted on the weekend closest to June 18 each year. This year the event started with a one hour light and sound show of pyrotechnic battle on June 18 from 10pm. This display was organized at the foot of the Lion Mound. Lion Mound was constructed between 1823 and 1826 as a memorial to the war. It is an artificial hill created by dumping earth from the battle site with a cast iron statue of a lion on top of the hill.
During the re-enactments, the participants live in camps called bivouacs. These camps are setup like they were way back in 1815 and the participants live a life like that of troops in those times. They try that each detail of the event is as accurate as possible. These camps are also open to the visitors who can get a feel of the life of soldier in those days. On June 19, these bivouacs were open for visitors between 10am to 5pm. In the evening between 6-7pm, a battle is re-enacted at the square of the village called Plancenoit.
The main battle of June 18, 1815 was re-enacted on the day of June 20 this year starting from 10am until noon. I had attended the event of June 20th only and have collected information of the previous two days through my online research and interactions with other visitors. It is said that about 70,000 people saw this battle re-enacted by about 3000 participants undeterred by the cold, windy and rainy weather that day. People of all ages, from toddlers in prams to seniors, were seen among the audience. We too were a big group of about 25 from Leuven and thanks to Tomas for organizing this trip.
The troops began moving to the battle site around 9-9:30am from their camps. They marched in battalions and it was nostalgic to see them dressed up in uniforms and carrying weapons like that in 19th century. It felt like a scene out of hollywood movie :). The battle was fought in the fields at the foot of Lion Mound. The audience could stand around the periphery of the battleground, or sit in the stands setup or place themselves at the slopes of the Lion Mound. Although we arrived well before 10am, the place was already full and the best spots already taken :(. Tomas and other seasoned photographers there had carried small stairs or stands to get a better alleviation.
The battle started sharp at 10am and continued until noon. I could not follow the battle exactly because I didn’t get a good spot to see and shoot the battle. What I understood was that they re-enacted a few important episodes from the real battle. Nevertheless it was action filled 2 hours both on and off the battle field. On the battle field there were gun shots, cannon fires, war cries, galloping horses, marching soldiers, smoke and fire. And off the battle field, there was the struggle to find spots and gaps to take pictures, bear the rain and the wind, and to sustain yourself and the camera in the big crowd :).
The battle ended around noon and the troops began returning to their bivouac. The Allied bivouac was about 800m from the battlefield and that of French was about 2 Kms. We took the easier choice and visited the Allied bivouac :). The scene at the bivouac was again straight out of some movie. I felt as if I was transported back in time and I am actually standing in one of the real army camps of 19th century. Rows of white tents were setup. Most of these tents were small and meant for a single person. I peeked inside one of them and saw bed made out of straw, blankets, wooden boxes, light lamps, etc. There were also tents which were used for dining and meeting place. These were much bigger with wooden chairs and tables in them. Fire was built outside these tents for cooking food.
All around there were different sights to be seen. Apart from male troops, one could see a good number of women and quite a few children. The women mostly ran the kitchen. Outside few tents one could see the troops sitting around the fire drinking tea/wine and discussing the battle. Outside some other tents, the troops were having their food. Some tents looked like board meeting rooms where strategies were being discussed. Some troops preferred solitude and some had already called the day off. Also one could see soldiers cleaning their guns and artillery.
Overall it was a delightful sight and the place was full of life. We spent about 1.5hrs in the camp and then left the place. We hiked for about 9 kms through the fields to board the train for Leuven at Lillois. Although we were quite tired and drained out by then, the hike through the beautiful fields with friends and fellow hikers was worth it. We missed the train for Leuven by a few minutes and had to wait for 1 hour for the next train.
So, this was the Battle of Waterloo 2010 :). An experience which I would recommend to others as well. I am looking forward to attend it again next year and I will make sure to carry stairs for a better view and more zoom for better pictures :). However thanks to Tomas for letting us use his stairs and we did rounds on his stairs to take pictures.