LONDON: An online gallery marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo went live, showing off 200 relics from the time — including the Duke of Wellington’s famous boots.
Drawn from museums and private collections across Europe, the historical objects recall the events south of Brussels in June 1815, when Wellington led the British and allied forces to a final, decisive victory over French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Several items have never been seen before and evoke the lives of foot soldiers, hussars and high-ranking officers alike.
There is notably the original pair of polished black calfskin boots designed by the military leader.
Different versions of the boots have since become known as Wellington boots or “Wellies”.
There is also an Egyptian-style hooded coat worn by Napoleon the day before the battle that finally ended the Napoleonic Wars.
The gallery also boasts an artificial leg belonging to the Earl of Uxbridge, who commanded the British cavalry at Waterloo — plus the saw and bloodied glove said to have been used to amputate his limb wounded in the battle.
There are captured imperial eagles, the rallying point for all French regiments; a set of dentures made with teeth taken from the dead; Wellington’s telescope and a collection of miniature toy soldiers which once belonged to Winston Churchill, Britain’s World War II prime minister.
The gallery has gone online at Waterloo200.org which brings together events commemorating the battle and tries to explain its importance in European history.
The British Museum is staging an exhibition entitled “Bonaparte and the British: prints and propaganda in the age of Napoleon”, while the National Portrait Gallery is putting together the first gallery exhibition devoted to Wellington, entitled “Triumphs, Politics and Passions”.
St Paul’s Cathedral in London is hosting a commemoration service for the bicentenary, with a campaign under way to find descendants of soldiers who fought in the battle.
Meanwhile Windsor Castle, west of London, has put together a themed trail through the state apartments.
A re-enactment of the battle, featuring 5,000 participants in replica costumes, will take place in mid-June in Belgium.
Unlike the original battle, the official recreation will take place over two days: the first showing the French cavalry charge, the second the victorious British-led riposte.
Frank Samson, the French lawyer chosen to play Napoleon from a host of re-enactors, said: “The public will acclaim him and we have forgotten that he lost.
“In terms of public relations, in terms of his historical importance, it’s clear that he won at Waterloo,” he told The Times.
The newspaper took aim at the two-day set-up, saying it helped spread the impression that Napoleon had won the “greater victory over history itself”.
Its editorial joked that the two-day set-up was “both unfair and unsporting. And they call us perfidious!” — AFP
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