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
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."