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Friday, July 24, 2015
DYI: The Lion of Waterloo
Did You Know? The Lion Mound of Waterloo:
There is a hill near Waterloo, upon which stands a lion. It was built between 1826 and 1830, first the hill from the dirt that surrounded it, then the statue cast in nine bronze sections and assembled. There are 226 steps from the base to the top. From the top you can see what once was the battlefield called Waterloo, where nearly 150,000 men fought each other two hundred years ago.. But this is not a British monument to that battle. It is Dutch.
Only a handful of events in human history have captured our imaginings for all time; so many among those are battles. Thermopylae. Hastings. Agincourt. Gettysburg. Normandy. At or near the top is Waterloo. Often portrayed as a British victory against heavy odds, the truth is that Wellington commanded an army of allies against a mostly French army of almost equal size. Reports vary, but Napoleon commanded around 77,000 men. Wellington’s force numbered 73,000, of which 20,000 were Dutch. The Dutch commander was the Prince of Orange, oldest son of the newly crowned King William I and destined to become King of the Netherlands upon his father’s voluntary abdication in 1840.
Napoleon escaped his captivity in exile early in 1815, allegedly by inventing a palindrome to win a bet and his freedom: “Able was I, ere I saw Elba.” He immediately drew great support in France and launched a new campaign to regain all that he had lost three years before, and shatter the peace that had followed that exile. A strong force of allied forces amassed as quickly to oppose him, comprise mostly of British, Prussian and Dutch troops.
The Princes of Orange time and again had proven to be formidable military leaders, and this young son of William I was no different. Two days before the critical battle, Dutch forces ignored a command from Wellington and engaged the French left flank at Quatre Bras while Wellington, shocked at the speed of Napoleon’s advance, quickly reinforced the Allies. But with defeat imminent, but before Napoleon’s main army could reach Quatre Bras, Wellington pulled all his forces into a strategic retreat to a defensible position just south of the village of Waterloo. On June 18, the two armies clashed head on, fighting a grave battle until the French were routed. Over 40,000 soldiers were killed or wounded on that single day. Among the wounded, young Prince William of Holland caught a musket ball with his left shoulder. He would never have full use of his left arm again. In 1826, his father ordered a monument built to honor both his son and the heroic Dutch troops both at Quatre Bras and Waterloo.
Napoleon was finished. He later was exiled to an even more remote island, Saint Helena. He died there in 1821. To this day he is remembered as one of the greatest and most powerful men in human history, but Waterloo ended his final attempt at claiming dominance over Europe. It also stilled European lust for war, at least for a while.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..