The Battle of Wavre

Most weekday mornings I pass through Wavre by train; I usually get the southbound service from our local station, and then change at Ottignies for the inbound train from Namur/Luxembourg/Switzerland, which conveniently stops just outside my office.

For military historians, Wavre is also the location of the other battle on 18 June 1815, the same day as the Battle of Waterloo. Here 17,000 Prussians held down twice as many French and succeeded in letting Blücher's troops cross the Dyle farther north in time to reach the main affair 16 km to the west. The Battle of Wavre ended on the morning of the 19th with a tactical French victory, but by then they had lost the war. The Prussian commander's chief of staff was Carl von Clausewitz; he started writing On War the following year.

With the 200th anniversary coming up next year, the re-enactors are out in force. Most weekends they congregate around Waterloo (understandably – it was more important and is easier for most people to get to), but this weekend they were in Wavre. I'm not hugely into wargaming these days, but this was an important sidebar to one of the most important battles of European history, so F and I went down to have a look this morning. Although the battle actually ranged between Limal to the south-west and Basse-Wavre to the north-east, a front of about 5 km altogether in length, the re-enactors sensibly constrained themselves to a couple of fields just beside the Walibi amusement park.

One has to be impressed by the care that has been taken to reproduce the uniforms, from the cavalry officers riding well-trained horses (there are a lot of very loud bangs) to the chaps sitting around a campfire with authentic-looking cooking implements.

Having said that, not all of the uniforms on display appeared to be Napoleonic:

I did get a strong sense that the participants – who had bravely bivouacked out the night before, despite thunderstorms – included a fair contingent from France, and indeed the French ambassador to Belgium made a speech at the opening of the event. The commentator also mentioned participants from the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. (Though not Germany, whose troops crashed over the Dyle again less than a century after 1815, and again in 1940.)

I also spotted (but failed to photograph) two people toting Scottish bagpipes; I'm not aware that these were used by either the Napoleonic or Prussian armies, so I guess they may have been re-enactors who normally bring them to Waterloo of a summer weekend, given that the Scots were pretty visible there.

Anyway, I imagine there will be a lot more of this sort of thing happening in the run-up to the bicentennial next year.