The morning of June 18 1815 saw 180,000 men, 60,000 horses and 500 pieces of artillery crammed into 2½ sq miles of Belgian countryside. In the nine frantic hours that followed, a quarter-century of central European warfare was brought to a close, leaving more than 44,000 dead, dying and wounded on the field. It was an extraordinary event.
Waterloo may have been “the nearest run thing you saw in your life” – as the Duke of Wellington famously described it – but it was also the turning point in the history of modern Europe, bringing Napoleon Bonaparte’s rampage across the continent to an end and ushering in one of the most peaceful centuries of history. Two hundred years later, it is right and fitting that we should remember a battle more brutal and more fiercely contested than any that had gone before.