Europe marks 200th anniversary of Waterloo
European royals and diplomats gathered in Belgium on Thursday to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, a turning point for the continent which still touches a nerve and stirs national passions.
The stress was on modern-day reconciliation and the sacrifice of some 47,000 dead or wounded soldiers on the fields around the small drab town just south of Brussels, the target of Napoleon’s ill-fated drive north in June 1815.
France and Germany however only sent their ambassadors to a ceremony that attracted kings and dukes from elsewhere in Europe, reflecting that fact that history still runs deep in a corner of the continent scarred by centuries of war.
Just as two centuries ago when the French emperor faced off against allied forces, it rained overnight and the skies were overcast for the ceremonies, carried live on Belgian television.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called for unity in a “European project” which faces modern-day challenges of conflict on its borders in Ukraine and economic worries.
“The enemies of yesterday are the allies of <g data-gr-id="20">today</g>” said Michel.
The solemn ceremonies began at 11:00 am (0900 GMT), the moment the first musket balls flew as Anglo-Dutch forces led by Britain’s Duke of Wellington engaged Napoleon’s famed and once invincible Grande Armee.
In Britain, the focus was on a special service at St Paul’s Cathedral attended by the heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.
On Wednesday, Charles had unveiled a memorial at the Hougoumont Farmhouse, where allied forces fought off repeated French attacks as Napoleon desperately sought to break their lines.