• France's news in English

History buffs lap up Napoleon battle remake

AFP · 20 Oct 2013, 16:44

Published: 20 Oct 2013 16:44 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Fifes and drums played in the background as men in the brilliant green, red, light blue and grey uniforms worn by Napoleon's army tended to their cannons and muskets.

A historical commission spent years perfecting the scenario for the bicentennial re-enactment, and some 6,000 enthusiasts turned out to stage the Battle of the Nations, also known as the Battle of Leipzig.

"I want to show the history for our young people," said re-enactor Peter Bach, 59. "Otherwise they could only read about it in the history books."

Bach, from nearby Erfurt, is playing a two-star general in the service of the Duke of Saxony. The gold-braid trim on his uniform and his feathered, two-corner hat attests to a certain status on the battlefield.

Ahead of the re-enactment, however, he had no idea where his unit would be moving.

"We want it to be like reality, so I wait to get my orders from the big chief," Bach said, happy to be kept in the dark.

"It's good, it's real. I was in the German army, and it's the same," he said with a laugh.

Fighting for Napoleon's army, though, one thing is certain: "In the evening, we are all in heaven," Bach said. "It's no problem, though, we are all friends."

Weakened from a campaign through Russia, Napoleon suffered a decisive defeat here in 1813 at the hands of allied forces including Prussia, Russia, Sweden and Britain.

The battle is known as the bloodiest in Europe before World War I, claiming one in six of the 600,000 troops who were mobilised.

On Sunday, re-enactors from 28 countries were on the field. In drills ahead of the event, orders were barked above the din in a host of languages.

"The winks and nods are helpful," said Robert Smith, 41, an American whose English-speaking unit was getting its marching orders in Polish. Smith translated orders for his unit, while also relying on the international language of hand gestures and head nods to tell his men where to go.

"There are six languages in this battalion," said Mark Koens, like Smith clad in a Prussian-blue coat and grey wool trousers.

Koens, 43, travelled from faraway Sydney with a handful of other Australians. He was drawn to re-creating the Napoleonic wars because so many veterans emigrated to Australia after the fighting, settling there and shaping the infant land.

Story continues below…

"It changed the Australian landscape," Koens said. "Areas are named after battles: towns, streets, pubs (such as) Lord Nelson, Hero of Waterloo."

Both Koens and Bach say the best part of such an event is spending time with a veritable United Nations of re-enactors in the evenings leading up to battle.

"Mostly it's about the camp, cooking, singing, sewing, everyday activities," Koens said. "Nations that were once at war come together to share and commemorate about that loss, which is great."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

UK border must move back, says 'next French president'
Photo: AFP

If favourite Alain Juppé is elected, Britain and France are in for some difficult negotiations.

Homeless man does a runner from France's top restaurants
Photo: Prayitno/Flickr

"A man's gotta eat," he told police, after racking up gigantic bills in some of France's plushest restaurants.

Underwater museum hopes to make a splash in Marseille
A similar underwater museum piece by Jason deCaires Taylor. Photo: julie rohloff/Flickr

Don't forget your scuba gear...

Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Photo: Jacme/Flickr

Move over Paris...

And France's top chef of the year is... 'Monsieur Idiot'
Alexandre Couillon might have an unfortunate name, but he can sure cook!. Photo: AFP

Look beyond the name. He's the man who turned his family's humble "moules frites" joint into one of France's best seafood restaurants.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
Want to drive a scooter around Paris? Here's what you need to know
jobs available