Saturday, 7 May 2016

Wargames Nostalgia – Waterloo


Waterloo released in October 1970

In 1970 we were living in Germany and had been wargaming for a year..   We had experimented with ancient wargames, using Airfix Romans and Ancient Britons.  But had agreed that our preference was for Napoleonic wargames.

At that time for me the Napoleonic period was really just Waterloo.   I had heard of the Peninsula Wars and various battles in Italy, Germany and Russia.   But my particular interest was Waterloo.

This was because most of the few books I had access to were about Wellington and Waterloo.   So I was more than pleased when we heard that there was a new movie all about our favourite battle.

We first saw it in a local German cinema, and of course the soundtrack was in German.   At that time we spoke very little German and understood even less.   However it was easy to follow the story line and the visuals were fantastic.   Rod Steiger was OK, but Christopher Plummer speaking German was quite strange.

A few months later it was shown at the local service cinema and we watched it again.   Eventually I would get a video of it and now have it on CD.   It is still my favourite movie of all time.
Waterloo: A Near Run Thing by David Howarth published 1968

This was the first book I had read about Waterloo.  I had borrowed it from the garrison library and enjoyed it so much that I bought my own copy.  It is one of the most entertaining books about the battle that I have read.  It is a potted history of the battle told in the words of soldiers who had taken part.   There is a map of the battlefield showing where each story took place.  This was to prove very useful when we visited the battlefield in 1971.  To read, in their own words, the experiences of those who took part whilst in the same location was quite an experience.  

Wellington at Waterloo by Jac Weller published 1967

My second book about Waterloo was very different.    This is a detailed description of the battle with a mass of useful photographs and maps.  Many of the maps are aerial views of the battlefield.   There is also an order of battle which I found useful.   I believe many of the current “experts” dismiss Jac Weller, but this book will always have a very special place in my affection.   It is the second book which accompanied us on our visit to the battlefield.  
Jan at the Waterloo museum and wax works 1971

It is only 253 miles (or 384 km) from Osnabruck to Waterloo, so it is not surprising that our summer holiday for 1971 was two weeks exploring the battlefield.   It was our first holiday where I drove by car.  It was the first holiday which I arranged entirely myself.  It was the first, of many, holiday exploring a battlefield.
 
The battlefield was much less developed than it is now, and the photographs proved very useful in finding our way around.   Reading aloud the detailed description of each phase of the battle also provided a good excuse for a break and a picnic at critical points around the field.  

I used Jac Weller’s book to plan and explore the battlefield.  The battlefield was much less developed than it is now, and the photographs proved very useful in finding our way around.   Reading aloud the detailed description of each phase of the battle also provided a good excuse for a break and a picnic at critical points around the field.   On one sunny day we sat on the top of the Lion monument and I read Jan the chapter concerning the French cavalry charges.   When I finished I turned around and found a group of strangers listening to the description.

The area around the Lion monument contained a collection of buildings much in need of a little care and attention.   We were impressed to find a cinema showing The Battle of Waterloo, which we though was the newly released Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer version.  So we were very disappointed to find that it was a very old black and white silent movie version!

The wax works was a little better, particularly this fine figure of an Old Guard grenadier at the entrance.

I read extracts from “A Near Run Thing” as we walked around the battlefield.   Sitting in Hougoumont and reading about the fight to close the gate, or the British infantryman locked outside and exchanging fire with a French skirmisher is the stuff of memories.

I have written a series of blogs about our visit to Waterloo.  You can find them here http://walkingwaterloo.blogspot.com.es/

4 comments:

Sun of York said...

The Waterloo movie is what got me properly into wargaming. There was a novel based on the movie (which I have somewhere I hope) and a uniform type book from the movie which I recall seeing but not owning. I still enjoy watching it and the charge of the Greys is magical.

thistlebarrow said...

I have not watched the movie for some time, but I would agree that it was excellent. Many years ago I bought the video when it was first released, and I often watched it on the small screen. So doubt it is available on DVD now. I don't remember the book about the movie, but I also had the uniform type book. I have not seen it for many years. As I recall it was paper back, so it probably just fell apart!

Jonathan Freitag said...

Enjoyed the movie Waterloo very much when it was released. To me, Steiger WAS Napoleon!

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Jonathan

I completely agree about Steiger. Everytime I have seen another actor playing Napoleon I always compare him with Rod Steiger, and they always come a poor second. On the other hand Christopher Plummer was an adequate Wellingon, but always strikes me as being a caracature of Wellington.

regards

Paul