It happened today - June 18, 2016
On this date in history Napoleon met his Waterloo. The original and decisive. On June 18, 1815, the combined forces of the “Iron Duke” of Wellington Arthur Wellesley, and Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher defeated Buonaparte’s final lunge for supreme power in Europe and he was packed off to St. Helena, ushering in the long and beneficial Pax Britannica.
Perhaps the threat of Napoleon seems remote today, and France too exhausted by decades of war to exploit a victory at Waterloo had they won one. But Wellington himself said the battle was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life” and the Allies were tired too. It is not impossible that an Allied defeat would have driven Prussia out of the war and British forces out of Europe and the First Empire might have lasted longer than both combined did in fact and been far more formidable in the late 19th century than the farcical one led by Napoleon III.
Would European history have been worse? Might both world wars have been avoided? We cannot say. We are not given such foresight that we can permit tyranny to triumph now to forestall worse tyranny later. Sufficient unto the time is the evil thereof and men must rally when it comes.
It is therefore sobering, and at the same time inspiring, to reflect that it was almost exactly a century from Waterloo to the outbreak of World War I, and almost exactly as long again to our own day. The men who flocked to the colours in 1914, in Britain and here, felt themselves to be the heirs of those who marched in Wellington’s ranks. And I hope we today feel ourselves the heirs of those who fought at Vimy and at Waterloo, facing tyranny in our own time as they did in theirs.