I’m no military historian, and though I was once a defence correspondent for a short time I claim no great expertise about military matters, either now or in Napoleonic times. THE NEWS FROM WATERLOO none the less required me to write a summary account of the battle itself and I did my best. This meant navigating through or around some of the many historical controversies now associated with that day.
I was reminded of what a minefield this is when I attended some of the sessions of Southampton University’s sixth Wellington Congress on Saturday 11 April. The papers I heard revealed the extraordinary depth of knowledge there is about this battle. We may not quite know what all of the 200,000 or so soldiers were doing at every minute of the day on 18 June 1815, but it appears that we have a good idea of what most units were doing in any period of, say, 15 minutes.
There is still plenty of room for argument, and for myth-making. Among the talks I heard was one by Gareth Glover, the author and also the great editor and publisher of Napoleonic War documents. He spoke about myths and misunderstandings. Later I heard John Peaty talk about Waterloo and the cinema, devoting quite a lot of time to mistakes and cock=ups on the big screen.
It was an uncomfortable reminder that it will be difficult, even in the very short space I have given to the battle itself, to avoid treading on a mine or two. More encouragingly, the conference also demonstrated the huge appetite for knowledge and insights there is among Wellington scholars.