You may have guessed by the title of this post, well, those of you that recognise ABBA lyrics, that today is the anniversary of The Battle of Waterloo. Yes 199 years ago today the British Army defeated Napoleon to end a century of Anglo-French political power struggle and more specifically what can be argued as the first truly global conflict that we call The Napoleonic Wars. The battle was so famous that they named a bridge, a road and a railway station after it in what is now a eponymous district in the borough of Lambeth, which in turn lead to songs such as The Kinks Waterloo Sunset, a song that was originally called Portaloo Sunset but released with the more poetic title. Similarly Simon and Garfunkel’s timeless classic was originally called Trouble over Bridgwater before they saw sense, but I digress. I was chatting earlier today with a friend of mine in Dublin about the battle and he raised the very interesting point that although the battle is seen as one of those important dates that British patriotism seems to use as a beacon, such as The Battle of Hastings (when third generation Nordic settlers in France defeated assimilated Germanics on the south coast) and The Battle of Bannockburn (when French speaking nobility from England defeated French speaking nobility from Scotland…and don’t give me all that Robert The Bruce rubbish, his name was Robert d’Bruce) it was actually an example of European unity.
The British army that ranked up to fight our cause consisted of not only British troops, with a significant contingent of Irish, Scottish and Welsh serving within, but German speaking troops from Hanover, Brunswick and Nassau, troops from Holland and Belgium and even French monarchists who had deserted to the allied side. Add to this the Prussian army under Blucher who arrived to turn the tide of the battle and you can see that it was indeed a joint effort. Indeed the whole of the Napoleonic era was one of military co-operation, whilst the British and Portuguese armies were trying to dislodge French forces in Spain, Russian and Austrian armies were doing the same across central Europe.
The point we were getting around to was what the likes of right wing political pressure groups such as Britain First would make of all this. Their flag waving and jingoism that goes along with such commemorations is actually celebrating a united coalition of allied countries trying to dislodge a perceived dictator from it’s midst and in terms of troop numbers, English speaking British troops made up only a small percentage of the numbers pitted against Napoleon’s France. We may have been part of the force that dealt the final blow, but we certainly can’t claim to be the army that won the war.
So when you see these right wing, knee-jerk comments from people that don’t read their history, remember that most often the military victorys that they use to promote their patriotism is more likely an example of countries uniting in common cause, are the result often of age old allegiences that may have roots in older cultural links, ethnic migration and assimilations and if anything stand for the unity of like minded countries, of coalition mentality and of common political goals successfully played out at the highest level. Now that really is something to shout about.