Only ‘cos I can’t add a pic to a reply . . .
You know, it just hadn’t occurred to me? Could be a bit embarrassing. After all, a bit like Churchill, the Duke might have been fine for a war, but was a reactionary disaster in peace.
A few years ago, we were driving near the Belgian border, and stopped in a village where we saw a procession of men dressed in early 19th century uniforms, complete with muskets. On a weekend anniversary of 1815. So we stopped and watched. It was clearly Napoleon’s troops v. the English. But after a few minutes, as Napoleon’s lot dragged a cannon to the top of a street for a good field of fire, it suddenly dawned on me this wasn’t working out quite as we were thinking.
I whispered (in French!) “I think we’re on the wrong side here!” There was a girl nearby with an obviously pro (well-worn, expensive zoom lens, bit battered) camera, i.e. journo, I reckoned (been there, done that) so we asked. She was from a local paper, and she explained this was an annual re-enactment of how the villagers, with the help of Napoleon’s troops, ‘rescued’ the statue of the local saint from the church and carried it through the village to hide it, repulsing the attacks of the heathen English who were obviously going to despoil it and lay everything waste.
We didn’t utter a word of English until we were back in the car . . .(I noticed they seemed to be pointing that cannon directly at us . . .perhaps that was just coincidental). We’d just been to the Waterloo memorial (it’s not actually very interesting: Belgian museums have a lot to learn about explanations, graphics and interactivity and so on) so this was a bit of a surprise.
But I did finally understand that the ‘fog of war’ is in fact all too literal. There weren’t that many musketeers (about twenty on each side) and only one cannon; and the musketeers didn’t fire in volleys like the English did. But the amount of smoke was incredible. It was really hard to imagine what it must have been like when you had thousands of muskets and hundreds of cannons going off.
I grasped then what I hadn’t at school, what with neat diagrams of battle lines and historical paintings, how it could be that lines of soldiers could, apparently quite calmly, basically simply walk in step quite slowly towards each other. After the first volley or two, I imagine you simply wouldn’t see what, or who, was in front of you until you were so close it was one man’s bayonet against another man’s sabre, or whatever.
That’s not the only village or town to have that kind of celebration either; there’s at least one other in the Pas de Calais somewhere. And there’s a strain of thought in Belgium that wants the Waterloo memorial (and especially the lion on top) got rid of, on the grounds that it celebrates an invasion (by the English, not Napoleon) and is a symbol of British imperialism. They tend rather to ignore Belgium’s own decidedly worse history in the latter, btw.
[Can’t remember, exactly now, but I think there were no more than half-a-dozen field guns in Hyde Park, and that photo was probably taken after no more than a dozen firings at the most. The other guns are in a line in that smoke somewhere. I remember I ran through a whole roll—remember 35mm film?—in about ten seconds using a motor drive hoping to get a shot of the flame from the muzzle, but I didn’t.]