Battlefields have a strange attraction. Gettysburg had an impact on me which was all the more powerful for being so thoroughly unexpected. The humanity of it all was perversely rammed home by understanding the sheer scale of the slaughter. In the case of Gettysburg the preservation of the slaughter-yard otherwise called a battlefield adds to the weight of the experience.
In the case of Waterloo there was little about the battlefield that had the same impact. In fact it was hard to “walk the ground” and get an appreciation of how the battle was conducted when dropped into the middle of the area is a visitor centre and very large, nicely laid out earthen mound capped off by a rather regal, British lion surveying all it could see – in the case of the day I visited not very much under a bleak, scudding, grey Belgian sky. I shouldn’t complain, there was no mistaking where we were! Local Belgians with whom I was travelling told me with some mirth the raised tail of the lion meant it pointed a certain sphincter at France. I refrained for a short period of time but in the end had to tell them it was not pointed at France at all. They barely paused as they got their bearings, insisted it was a fine Belgian tradition they were not going to let go of that easily, and in any event the lion was probably getting around to pointing his posterior at France – he was just checking his own bearings as well!!
The Waterloo battlefield is rolling farming country, out of which rises this hundred foot mound and its proud lion. There is an excellent museum in town and you always want to do your homework before visiting a site as significant as this. Relying on the mound to tell you the significance of Waterloo would be a mistake – it is a memorial that probably had more relevance to those who raised it. Today it seems an oddity, maybe even an irrelevance altogether. At best it gives you a view of the area Wellington would have given his left arm for. And reminds you that the winners can parade around all they like raising memorials like this to themselves once the deed is done. Oh, but it does of course give the dour Belgians something to laugh about, even if they are not too sure in which direction France lies.
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