All British soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Waterloo have been honoured for the first time with a new memorial dedicated to their actions 200 years ago.
As the relatives of Wellington, Napoleon and Blucher watched, the Prince of Wales, joined by the Duchess of Cornwall, unveiled a monument recognising the sacrifices made by the men and officers.
It was sited in the courtyard of Hougoumont, a Belgian farmhouse where British soldiers fought to keep out Napoleon’s troops and changed the course of European history with their actions.
At one point a Frenchman, a giant called Sous Lieutenant Legros, wielding an axe, burst through the farm’s north gate with 40 French infanteers, but the Coldstream Guards, led by Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell, managed to close the door behind them to keep the others out.
If the farm had fallen, Napoleon’s troops could have swept behind Wellington’s lines and such was its importance that he later said the outcome of Waterloo “turned on the closing of the gates at Hougoumont’’.
Other monuments recognise various regiments that fought at Waterloo but the simple artwork by sculptor Vivienne Mallock, showing two soldiers shutting the gates, is the first for all British troops.
The farm has been restored after a multimillion-pound facelift led by the Hougoumont Project which was established to save it after if fell into disrepair.
Barry van Danzig, a trustee of the project, said: “By closing the gates, Wellington ended 800 years of conflict between France and Britain and brought in 100 years of peace – it’s a cornerstone of European history.”
On June 18, 1815, an allied army of British, Dutch and Prussian troops defeated Napoleon’s forces.
The French leader had returned from exile that year and, in what he hoped would be a decisive blow, attacked British and Prussian Forces which had massed on the border.
Nearly 180,00 men fought for more than 10 hours in a battle which featured more than 35,000 horses and around 500 cannons in total used by both sides.
But in what Wellington described as “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life”, the Allies, commanded by the British leader and crucially supported by Blucher’s Prussians, won.
Camilla has a direct connection with the monument as her great-great-great-grandfather, John Whitehill Parson, served with the 10th Regiment of Light Dragoons and fought at Waterloo.
Mr van Danzig said the memorial artwork was also crucial: “The monument to the whole British Army is important – we all hear about Wellington’s victory but it was the guys on the ground that did it.”
The 9th Duke of Wellington, Prince Nikolaus von Blucher of Prussia and Prince Charles Bonaparte – descendants of the three commanders at Waterloo – took part in a symbolic three-way handshake.
Prince Charles, who is the great-great-nephew of Napoleon, said the 200th anniversary was a poignant time for his family – “Yes, it’s an emotional moment.”
But he suggested there might have been a more prominent French representation at the event: “They could have been represented at a good level.”
Prince Nikolaus said he was more concerned with the handshake of friendship than the military elements of the event.
He said: “I’m not military (minded) at all. I don’t enjoy so much the thing that was honouring the military – what I really came for was the handshake of the three.”
Earlier in the day, Charles and Camilla walked in the footsteps of Wellington and Napoleon when they were given a tour of the battlefield by the Duke of Wellington.