By JR on Sunday, July 03, 2011
The 200th anniversary of Waterloo, one of Britain’s greatest military triumphs, will pass with barely a murmur of commemoration, according to details slipped out by ministers.
There will be no national celebration of the battle in which Napoleon was finally overthrown to mark its bicentennial in four years.
Instead, there will be only ‘initiatives’ at army museums and ‘some commemorative activity’ at former homes of the Duke of Wellington, who led the British into battle.
The decision to play down the anniversary in June 2015 contrasts with the major events organised to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007.
They included a memorial service at Westminster Abbey and an apology on behalf of the nation by then prime minister Tony Blair.
It also appears to be a retreat from the attitude to the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005, which was widely celebrated.
Yesterday MPs and peers condemned the failure to mark the Waterloo anniversary. Lord Laird, the crossbench Ulster peer who drew the admission from ministers, said: ‘I am disappointed. There should be a national event about Waterloo. It would be good for tourism and teaching history.
'People who don’t understand history are like children, doomed to be always going round in circles.’
Waterloo, fought a few miles south of Brussels on June 18, 1815, marked the final destruction of Napoleon’s army and the end of his bloody 16-year reign as dictator of France and much of Europe. Often regarded as the
British Army’s greatest victory under its greatest general, it led to a generation of peace in Europe and kept Britain free of war on the continent for a century.
Baroness Rawlings, a junior minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is in charge of marking the anniversary, told peers: ‘Initiatives are being organised by a number of national and regional military museums to mark the occasion, including the National Army Museum and relevant regimental museums, which come under the remit of the Ministry of Defence.’
She added: ‘There is also likely to be some commemorative activity at associated heritage sites such as Apsley House, the home of the Duke of Wellington, and Walmer Castle.’
Critics of the low-key approach believe underplaying the significance of the event may be influenced by apprehensions over the reaction in France and modern-day Brussels, where some regard Napoleon as a champion of European unity.
Education expert Robert Whelan, from the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘Waterloo is a battle of the most immense importance, not just for the Britain, but for the whole of Europe.
‘Britain was fighting a dictator who had conquered Europe with a loss of life comparable to that in the Second World War. If we had not resisted, history would have been very different.
‘Why are we not thinking of building something like the Millennium Dome to mark the event? You can hardly overstate its importance.’
Tory MP and former Army officer Julian Brazier said: ‘The French co-operated in the celebrations of the Trafalgar anniversary. Sometimes people who think the French do not like us to commemorate our military victories mistake the psyche of that nation.’
A spokesman for the DCMS said: ‘A Government-endorsed Waterloo 200 committee, which includes historians and other interested parties, has been established for a number of years and is considering how the anniversary might be marked.’