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Ministers refuse to mark Waterloo: Campaigners say Government do not want to celebrate 200th anniversary in case they offend France
- The battle ended tyranny of Napoleon and ushered in peace across Europe
- But the 2015 landmark is getting no official support
- In stark contrast, Belgium is spending £20million on events
By Ian Drury
PUBLISHED: 19:45 EST, 13 June 2013 | UPDATED: 19:45 EST, 13 June 2013
It is often regarded as the British Army’s greatest military victory.
Led into battle by the Duke of Wellington, UK troops routed Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, a triumph ushering in almost a century of peace and stability in Europe.
But the Government is refusing to mark the battle’s 200th anniversary in 2015 amid suspicions it does not want to offend France.
That decision is in stark contrast to Belgium - where the clash took place. The government in Brussels is spending at least £20million on commemorative events, including restoring the battlefield.
A painting of the Battle of Waterloo, which will celebrate its bicentennial in 2015. The government has pledged little support to the occasion
Instead, there will only be ‘initiatives’ at military museums and ‘some commemorative activity’ at the Duke’s former homes.
The decision also contrasts with the major events organised to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 which involved an apology on behalf of the nation by then prime minister Tony Blair.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has told the bicentenary campaign group Waterloo 200 that he will not help. The Government has also declined to hand over a single penny for any events.
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has told the bicentenary campaign group Waterloo 200 that he will not help.
James Morrow, secretary of Waterloo 200, which is organising commemorations including a service at St Paul’s and a re-enactment of the Waterloo Despatch, where British troops travelled with three captured French troops to London to tell the King of victory, said he was ‘disappointed’.
He said: ‘The Government has given us its blessing but it is difficult to know why they are not being overly supportive.
‘They have encouraged us but they have not got behind us.
‘The Belgian government has spent millions on events to commemorate the battle but we have been given zilch, zippo, nothing. I think it’s very disappointing.
‘The Battle of Waterloo was a milestone in European history which ended over 20 years of conflict in Europe.
‘We can’t let the 200th anniversary pass without marking it and learning lessons about why it was so important.’
Ian Fletcher, editor of the Waterloo Association’s journal, said: ‘When you look at some of the crazy ideas that the Government wastes money on, you would have thought they might have found some for the Waterloo commemorations.
'It’s an appalling indictment of where their priorities lie.’
David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘This is very unsatisfactory, especially if the reason is not to insult the French or because celebrating the victory would be seen as bad or triumphalist.
‘It appears to be ludicrous hyper-sensitivity.
‘Waterloo was a battle of the most immense importance. Britain was fighting a tyrant who had conquered Europe. It was a momentous moment that should be commemorated. We should be shouting it from the rooftops.’
In a message to Waterloo 200, the 8th Duke of Wellington said: ‘I am often asked whether we should not now, in these days of European unity, forget Waterloo and the battles of the past.
Napoleon Bonaparte, French Emperor, whose power was broken at Waterloo thanks to the British forces, led by the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian force
‘My reply is, history cannot be forgotten and we need to be reminded of the bravery of the thousands of men from many nations who fought and died in a few hours and why their gallantry and sacrifice ensured peace in Europe for 50 years.’
Waterloo was fought a few miles south of Brussels on June 18, 2015.
Wellington described his own troops as ‘very weak and ill-equipped, and a very inexperienced staff’.
Britain and its allies had 68,000 men, and were joined by about 45,000 Prussians on the evening of the battle. The French had 72,000 troops.
Heavy rain had turned the battlefield into a swamp. The scale of casualties was staggering - around one in four men were killed.
But the victory brought about the final destruction of Napoleon’s army and the end of his bloody reign as dictator.