Waterloo? Wasn’t King Arthur involved - or was it Churchill?

English Heritage historic property steward Jennifer Watling cleaning one of the lights in the Waterloo Gallery in Apsley House in London
English Heritage historic property steward Jennifer Watling cleaning one of the lights in the Waterloo Gallery in Apsley House in London
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IT was decisive showdown between two military giants which brought to an end 20 years of European conflict.

But, 200 years after Napoleon and Wellington faced one another in muddy fields in Belgium, the Battle of Waterloo is largely forgotten in a fog of ignorance.

The Portuguese centerpiece in the Waterloo Gallery in Apsley House in London, part of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo exhibitions.

The Portuguese centerpiece in the Waterloo Gallery in Apsley House in London, part of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo exhibitions.

Though it was defining moment in history, almost three in four people quizzed in a poll knew little or nothing about the fighting in June 1815.

One in five either knew nothing about the battle or had never heard of it, according to the survey by the National Army Museum. Only just over half knew that the Duke of Wellington led the British Army to victory.

The other 47 per cent were either unaware of who was in charge or suggested other figures such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Winston Churchill, King Arthur or even Harry Potter’s wizardry mentor Albus Dumbledore.

One in seven believed the French won, with levels of knowledge particularly low among young people.

Possessions  belonging to Lemuel Shuldham, a junior cavalry officer who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo

Possessions belonging to Lemuel Shuldham, a junior cavalry officer who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo

Janice Murray, director-general at the National Army Museum, said: “Despite the Battle of Waterloo being an iconic moment in British history, UK public awareness is dramatically low.”

The museum is seeking to “bridge this knowledge gap” by creating pop-up events and exhibitions.

Wellington’s handwritten orders from Waterloo and a pair of the original “Wellington boots” are among items going on display in two exhibitions.

English Heritage is putting on displays at Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and nearby Apsley House, the London home of the first Duke of Wellington, who commanded the victorious allied army in 1815.

Sarah Lambarth, an English Heritage Collections Conservator unpacking a pair of the Duke of Wellington's boots

Sarah Lambarth, an English Heritage Collections Conservator unpacking a pair of the Duke of Wellington's boots

At Apsley House, visitors will be able see the Waterloo Gallery as it was when Wellington hosted annual banquets to commemorate the battle.

Josephine Oxley, keeper of the Wellington collection, said visitors would be able to find out about the man behind the battle and also the scale of the banquets which took place every year from 1820 until the duke died in 1852.

At the Wellington Arch, built between 1825 and 1827 to mark Wellington’s victories, a new exhibition aims to tell the story of the duke and Waterloo.

Items going on display include a pair of the original Wellington boots, his sword and handwritten battle notes.

There are also personal items from a junior cavalry officer, Lemuel Shuldham, of the Scots Greys, who died in the fight, including a letter to his family.

The ninth Duke of Wellington, who still lives at Apsley House, said: “We will be honouring and commemorating one of the most important battles in European history; the principal legacy of the battle was the long period of peace in Western Europe.”

Bernard Cornwell, author of Waterloo: the History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, said: “The importance of Waterloo is that it brought to an end 75 years of rivalry between Britain and France, and marked the beginning of the ‘British century’.

“For me, as a storyteller, Waterloo is also the most magnificent and compelling story; a story of horror and bravery.”

The two properties with the new exhibitions reopen on Saturday.

* Many men from Yorkshire fought and died at Waterloo, including those who served with the 33rd Regiment of Foot, which recruited in the West Riding area and the 51st Regiment of Foot.

Men of the 33rd were heavily involved in fighting around the Quatre Bras crossroads where they suffered significant casualties from cannon fire and cavalry.

The 51st played a minor role on the right flank overlooking a farm. At least seven men were either killed.

The website www.nam.ac.uk includes details of men who served, among them Private Joshua Seaton, of Leeds, who was killed in action at Waterloo. The Regiment did not award him a posthumous Waterloo Medal.