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Hodder History Expert Blog

Waterloo 200, part 1
By Michael Crumplin
08 Jul
Somewhat paling beside the shadow of the First World War commemorations - a far more recent, terrible and tangible cataclysm - we can easily forget other momentous events that shaped Britain and Europe.
After the bicentennial celebrations for the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005, when Britain recalled a large naval action and the demise of a charismatic, controversial and great sea commander with his ultimate sacrifice for the nation, a small committee met to decide upon the ultimate tribute, commemoration and celebrations for the final significant act of conflict at the end of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars - the Battle of Waterloo. Although focussing on the battle, the interest engendered in these two wars (1792-1802 and 1803-1815) could be significant for both young and old students.

The late Dr Colin White advised this small committee of the successes and challenges, for the now named Waterloo200 Committee that he had encountered in Trafalgar200. Reaching schools was remarked upon as having been difficult, since there was a limited history curriculum and little enough time to teach these subjects. Having received official status recognition from the government and MoD, the W200 committee resolved to try and penetrate schools in Britain to the best of its ability. An education group, consisting of teachers and historians, was set up and following a convocation in 2010, at London’s East India Club (where the news of the victory was brought to the Prince Regent), we discussed strategy, designed a website, (www.waterloo200.org) and, to gauge interest, ran a few pilot presentations to some primary and secondary schools.

Since 2010, efforts have focussed on sending contact details and offers of support to teaching schools in England and Wales and contacting some schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Advertising via the Historical Association, with significant assistance from Alfred Wilkinson and attendance at various meetings, e.g. the Schools History Project, HA and HMC conferences, which has helped to raise awareness of our work. We have a series of monetary prize essays (on the campaign and battle) for Key Stages 3 and 5, running each year up to, and including 2015. We have established useful links with the Wellesley House School in Broadstairs, ‘Hungry for History’ campaign, the National Army Museum, Culture 24, Project Hougoumont, Euroclio and the Peninsular War200 committee.

Since the National Army Museum is closed for a major refurbishment in 2014/15, there are several museum regional ‘travelling’ events planned for 2015. W200 and the NAM have received an HLF grant to evolve an enhanced website, which will carry all the current material, including some classroom learning material and also, 200 iconic Waterloo-related objects, collected from around the country, with appropriate descriptions. This project should be ready by the beginning of 2015.

Interesting projects for the bicentenary include, in Britain, a service of commemoration at St Paul’s Cathedral, Waterloo themes in various historical events, such as the multi-period history event by English Heritage at Kelmarsh Hall, various regional re-enactments, the Edinburgh Tattoo, battle proms, balls, etc. There will also be a fine re-run of the original Waterloo Dispatch, written by the Duke of Wellington after the battle (full details on the waterloo200.org website). Linking with Belgium and running carriages, carrying the dispatch and two captured French eagles, from Waterloo via the channel through Kent and London to arrive at St James’s Square on 21st June 2015. Here the dispatch will be received and around the square and surrounding area there will be a regency fair with military bands etc.

In Belgium (where there are already many battlefield visits planned), there will be a dedication of the reconstructed Hougoumont farm, two large re-enactments (the biggest ever!), a new state of the art underground museum, the refurbished Demoulin Panorama and other local celebrations, including a reconciliatory meeting of the descendants of Wellington, Napoleon, BlĂ¼cher and the Prince of Orange - on the field of battle.

In Britain, we hope to encourage many community activities around the bicentenary, street parties, dinners, dances, fund-raising efforts for military charities, bell ringing and other events. We shall be posting a Community Activities Pack on the web before long.

Finally, we hope to engage more people in an appropriate commemoration for this national effort and sacrifice that has never before properly taken place (difficult in 1915!). Please help and support our project. 
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