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Lack of Waterloo knowledge bemoaned

Published 09/06/2015

Peter Snow has bemoaned the lack of knowledge of the Battle of Waterloo
Peter Snow has bemoaned the lack of knowledge of the Battle of Waterloo

The lack of knowledge of the Battle of Waterloo is a failure of the British education system, broadcaster and historian Peter Snow has said.

His comments come ahead of the 200th anniversary of the clash, which is one of Britain's greatest military triumphs and a defining moment in the history of Europe.

Research published last month revealed almost three in four people know little or nothing about the battle in 1815, in which allied forces, led by the Duke of Wellington, dealt French despot Napoleon a crushing defeat, finally bringing his imperial ambitions to a halt.

Mr Snow said it was a "shame" so few Britons knew about the battle, and blamed it on schools teaching pupils about Henry VIII and Hitler but skipping other crucial periods of British history.

The veteran broadcaster said: "It is sad that so few people know about the Napoleonic Wars, know about Waterloo, know about Trafalgar for that matter - I think probably more people know about the Battle of Trafalgar than about the Battle of Waterloo.

"The trouble is, of course, the education system - schools until fairly recently have tended to skip the Napoleonic Wars.

"And so you learn quite a lot for example about Henry VIII and his six wives, but you would then skip to the First World War, Second World War and Cold War. There was a lot about Henry VIII and Hitler - less about Waterloo and Napoleon."

Mr Snow has spent the past decade researching Britain's involvement in the Napoleonic Wars and has written a book with his son, TV historian Dan Snow, about the Battle of Waterloo.

He said the clash in present-day Belgium on June 18 1815 was "terribly important" as it was a decisive victory over Napoleon, who later died in exile.

In one day the allied forces defeated the French leader and established relative peace on the continent for the next 100 years, bringing to a close centuries of bloody wars as leaders vied for supremacy in Europe.

Mr Snow said the battle's significance is "as important in our history as the First World War is".

He said: "Waterloo in a single battle and the Napoleonic Wars were - in the reshaping of Europe after the horrors, battles and wars we had through the 17th and 18th centuries - very important.

"And we should learn more about it, we should be told more about it and I think that is a failing of the education system.

"In the general sweep of the population of the country, I think over the last few decades the problem has been that the curriculum has tended to leave out the Napoleonic Wars.

"I think most people now probably, many people certainly, don't know about it and don't know anything like as much about it as about the First and Second World Wars.

"And that I think that is a shame, and I think it is largely the result of the curriculum that certainly has been effective until I think quite recently."

The National Curriculum was overhauled around a year ago and it is now suggested that pupils aged 11 to 14 are taught about the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Waterloo in history classes.

However, it remains up to schools if they choose this module.

Mr Snow will speak at the unveiling of a new memorial for allied troops who died, were injured or went missing in the Battle of Waterloo, at London's Waterloo station, tomorrow.

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