Thursday 18 June 2015

200 years ago....

"It had rained all night. At dawn, in the fields of rye along the southern edge of the forest of Soignes, you could hear a murmer like the sea on a distant shore.This was the blended voices of 67,000 men, grumbling, yawning, shivering, stretching cramped limbs, joking as people do when they share discomfort, and arguing about what would happen next: not about what Napoleon would do or what the Duke would do, but about more pressing problems: where to find something dry to light a fire, where to look for the wagons with the gin rations, and whether there was anything for breakfast. It was the dawn of Sunday, 18 June 1815."

So begins A Near Run Thing by David Howarth, published by Collins in 1968. It is one of the most influential books in my library and even now, after some forty odd years and countless rereading it still has the power to enthral.

Although my wargames tastes have evolved since those halcyon days of pocket money priced boxes of Airfix figures and the inevitable magazine inspired conversions reading this book is sufficient to transport me back to when my games were simple, uncluttered and above all, fun.

The book is not a detailed blow by blow account of the battle - there are only a few basic maps and not a single order of battle - but what it lacks in technical analysis in makes up for in the human dimension. From the words of some of those who were there - Wellington, Napoleon, Lord Uxbridge, Captain Kincaid, Corporal Dickson, Colonel Ompteda, Lieutenant Graeme, Sergeant Morris, Sergeant Lawrence, Lieutenant Gronow, Captain Mercer, Sergeant Wheeler, Ensign Leeke, Private Clay, Cadet Larreguy, Captain Robinaux, Lieutenant Martin and Marshal Ney - come the voices of history, immortal and inviolate and our understanding of those momentous events is the richer for it.

For myself I know what the Battle of Waterloo has meant to me in terms of my hobby and the path it has followed but it would be wrong if the intervening 200 years dimmed the human dimension of those cataclysmic days - of the lives lost or changed by injury or the political repercussions of the outcome decided on a small Belgian field - and the words and memories of those that were there were allowed to recede into history.

How ever you choose to honour the day, be it via a game based on the battle, watching Waterloo again, listening to the soundtrack, painting some figures, discussing the campaign or visiting anything that features the anniversary - even raising a glass of J.W.Lees Victory at Waterloo bitter (and very nice it is as well!) spare a thought for those thousands of people that took part in history all those years ago and smile to yourself as you do. Time and distance should never lessen the impact of their story.


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...


What an excellent blog entry! It sums everything up so well.

All the best,

(Who will be raising a glass to the memory of all those who took part in the 100 Days Campaign later today)

MSFoy said...

Agree wholeheartedly about the Howarth book - excellent. It was my introduction to the warfare of the period (a present from my Aunt Monica!), and - though I have replaced the original ruined paperback with a later, hardback edition, it is still in the bookcase, and I recommended it just a week ago to a friend who was looking for a digestible introduction to the subject of Waterloo. Oh yes - I also recommended the Rod Steiger film, by the way - I may have no class, but I have my finger on the pulse of the mainstream...

arthur1815 said...

My battered old paperback copy of Howarth remains an inspiring read, just as it was when I first purchased it, and I share your affection for it.
Enjoy Waterloo Day!

David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

Many thanks for your kind words! I had planned and discarded a whole host of gaming ideas to mark the anniversary - at one point I was even thinking of going to Belgium for the occasion - but instead settled on rereading David Howarth's book.

I am glad I have started this again and will raise a glass myself as well.

A near run thing indeed.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi MSFoy,

Even after some 40 odd years this book can still stir my soul! A simple idea - using actual accounts threaded with a fairly basic narrative - but wonderfully executed. I also had a disintegrating paperback version at one point!

Waterloo the film is a magnificent spectacle 'based on' the battle and with more historical holes than a sieve but who cares? Rod Steiger as Napoleon for me captured the essential magnetism and brooding genius of the man.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Arthur,

It is like a nicely worn pair of slippers - you can pop in to it at anytime and still be instantly immersed in the action. It is one of my favourite military books.

Enjoy the day as well!

All the best,