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Waterloo remembered: 'Recall past to cement Britishness'

26 June 2015


In procession: the standards, guidons, and colours of the Battle of Waterloo arrive at the anniversary service in St Paul's Cathedral, London, on Thursday of last week

In procession: the standards, guidons, and colours of the Battle of Waterloo arrive at the anniversary service in St Paul's Cathedral, London, on Th...

COMMEMORATING historic events such as the Battle of Waterloo helps to cement our Britishness, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said at a service marking the bicentenary of the Duke of Wellington's victory over Napoleon.

Speaking on Thursday of last week, at the service at St Paul's Cathedral, where the Duke is interred, Bishop Chartres said that acts of public remembrance "have always contributed powerfully to the coherence and sense of identity among groups or nations.

"Britishness cannot simply be defined by reference to abstract concepts, like tolerance or fairness. Admirable as they are, they cannot generate the energy required to sustain a civilisation. Civilisations die in the night when no one can remember why, once upon a time, they inspired self-sacrifice."

But he warned that, in the 21st century, there was a need "to weave new strands into the story of Britain, and to relate that story to a wider sense of an evolving global narrative. . . The deliberate attempt to forget or deny what we have been leads to corporate delusion and a vacuum which is too easily filled with glamorous cults of unreason and violence."

The congregation included the Prince of Wales, who, the day before, had unveiled a memorial at Hougoumont Farm, in Belgium, the site of some of the battle's fiercest fighting.

Also present were representatives of all the nations involved, besides many service personnel, some of whose ancestors had fought at Waterloo.

During the service, extracts were read from contemporary accounts of the ten-hour battle, which involved 180,000 soldiers. About 47,000 of them were killed or wounded.

A letter from Edmund Wheatley, a British officer in the King's German Legion, was read by the Revd James Bogle, a direct descendant of a brother officer who had fought alongside him. In it, Wheatley said: "Nothing could equal the splendour and terror of the scene . . . The clashing of swords, the clattering of musketry, the hissing of balls, and shouts and clamours produced a sound, jarring and confounding the senses, as if hell and the Devil were in evil contention."

A Waterloo commemoration service was also held on the same day in St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. The Primate of All Ireland, Dr Richard Clarke, said that closing gates on war would only ever be a sanctimonious cliché if it was not seen as carrying a serious price-tag.

It could not be painless if it was serious: "It will mean closing the gates firmly on all narrow nationalistic pride, on all that makes for the indignity and degradation of others, whether racially, economically, or socially."

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