Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Waterloo and Its Creation of the British Myth

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Waterloo and Its Creation of the British Myth

Article excerpt

Byline: ROBERT FOX

WENT THE DAY WELL? WITNESSING WATERLOO by David Crane (William Collins, PS20) DEPEND upon it, he who pretends to give a general account of a great battle from his own observation -- believe him not," wrote the horse gunner Cavalie Mercer some years after Waterloo. "He can see no farther (that is, if he be personally engaged in it) than the length of his nose." There will be many general accounts of the Battle of Waterloo in this bicentennial year -- but it will be hard to match the sheer verve and brilliance of David Crane's evocation of Britain and the landscape south of Brussels on June 18, 1815.

It was a Sunday -- and as Crane remarks, the battle was one of the most bloody acts of Sabbath-breaking for the times. Hour by hour through that day we are shown the communities that sent their boys and men to spill blood at Quatre Bras, the chateau at Hougemont, the farmstead of La Haye Sainte and in the corn and rye fields between.

Frame by frame, like a great stopmotion film, we see the Methodist congregations enduring hours of serial worship, Highland communities on the brink of extinction, the impoverished workers of Altrincham on the edge of the moors suffering the ravages of early Industrial Revolution recession. Heroes, villains, the innocent, the fortunate and damned, and the merely damned lucky, are picked out in a string of individual portraits running throughout the story. The privates and corporals are celebrated as much as the great captains of Wellington's scratch army. Most vivid is Corporal Jack Shaw of the Life Guards, prize-fighter and heroic artist's model in his spare time, who goes down after slashing and slaying a dozen at La Haye Sainte.

If Waterloo was a close-quarters brawl, then Jack Shaw was your man. "In a battle so utterly devoid of finesse, variety, tactics or movement -- a stand-to 'milling' of 'hard pounding' in which the only qualities were courage, strength and endurance -- the Jack Shaws of the army came into their own. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.