Europe commemorates 200 years since Waterloo

The battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium will resonate to a huge sound-and-light show on Thursday as Europe marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's defeat. Although the French have been accused of snubbing the event.

Europe commemorates 200 years since Waterloo
People sit on the Lion's Mound, around the lion monument of the Battle of Waterloo during a re-enactment of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo

Thousands of spectators descended on the fields of Waterloo on Thursday to commemorate 200 years since British and Prussian forces defeated Napoleon’s French army.

Hundreds of performers will take part in the open-air evening event titled “Inferno”, which will have space for up to 12,000 spectators.

“Inferno will not be a re-creation but a personal vision, full of emotion and with a lot of the spirit of cinema,” said event director Luc Petit.

Up to 300 actors will take part in the show on a stage 150 metres long, with giant screens, pyrotechnics, dancers, classical musicians and local choirs promising a noisy experience.

A special battle reconstruction involving 6,000 actors  – twice the size of the annual Waterloo re-enactment will also staged by history enthusiasts over Friday and Saturday.

All in all 200,000 visitors are expected to at the site over the four days of commemorations.

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel was on the scene on Thursday afternoon. 

“Waterloo, the folly and the grandeur. The horror and the genius. The tragedy and then the hope,” he said in an opening address under leaden skies.
The French authorities have been less vocal and certainly less present on the scene. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was ambiguous at best about the ceremonies.
“I heard it said this morning that President (Francois Hollande) and myself should have been there so that we could shed our tears over this fearsome moment for our country,” Valls said.The Battle of Waterloo is considered to be one of the key clashes in the history of Europe and ended 20 years of war across the continent.

Around 50,000 men mainly from France, Britain and Prussia died on the battlefield.

Nearly 180,000 men fought for more than 10 hours, between 11am and 8pm.

While representatives from several European countries will attend the commemorations over the coming days, France has declined to send any high ranking official.

President François Hollande will be elsewhere leading a very different service in memory of an historic event.

Waterloo: Still a taboo for the French 200 years on

The head of state will preside over a ceremony at Mont-Valérien to mark the 75th anniversary of Charles de Gaulle’s famous appeal to the nation on the BBC, which is seen as the origin of the French Resistance.

Speaking on Thursday France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian dismissed the hullaballoo, (mainly in sections of the English press) around the lack of a French presence at Waterloo.

“History is behind us,” he told BFM TV before suggesting the real reason why many in France feel no need to remember the former Emperor.  

“Napoleon often led France down blind alleys,” he said.

The run up to the commemoration has been a little fraught for France. Not only has it been accused of snubbing the ceremony but neighbours Belgium provoked the wrath of French leaders by minting a special €2.5 commemorative coin.

On Wednesday evening Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall visited Waterloo to lay a wreath in memory of the British, Dutch, Prussian and Belgian soldiers who lost their lives.

The Prince was given a tour of the ground over which bloody battle took place.

He will also attend a ceremony in St Paul’s Cathedral, London on Thursday along with some descendants of those who fought at Waterloo.

Organisers say the service will not be triumphalist.

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Bodies of 200 Napoleonic troops found in Germany

The skeletons of 200 Napoleonic soldiers have been found during construction work in the German city of Frankfurt, officials said on Thursday.

Bodies of 200 Napoleonic troops found in Germany
The remains of some 200 dead soldiers of the Napoleonic Army of 1813, on the way back after the defeat of Napoleon during his Russian campaign, are expected to be found. Photo: AFP

“We estimate that about 200 people were buried here,” said Olaf Cunitz, head of town planning for the city, at a press conference at the site in Frankfurt's western Roedelheim district.

“According to our preliminary estimate, they are soldiers from the Great Army in 1813”, who were on the way back from Napoleon's Russian campaign.

They had fought battles that claimed 15,000 lives in areas near Frankfurt in October 1813, said Cunitz.

SEE ALSO: Everything you really need to know about Napoleon

The soldiers probably died from battle wounds or succumbed to a typhus epidemic that decimated their army at the time, said Cunitz. He said this was yet to be scientifically verified.

It was certain that the “tombs were erected in an emergency,” said Andrea Hampel, heritage and historic monuments director in Frankfurt.

The soldiers were buried in coffins, which kept the skeletons well-preserved.

They were aligned in a row, without funeral articles, in a north-south orientation, not an east-west axis as was common for European Christians at the time, suggesting they were buried in haste, said Hampel.

Over 30 skeletons have been excavated and work to dig up the rest was expected to take four to six weeks, said site manager Juergen Langendorf.