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Waterwho? One in Five Brits Know Nothing About the Battle of Waterloo

  • Survey shows that one in five know absolutely nothing about the battle
  • Just half (53%) of Brits know Wellington led the British Army at Waterloo
  • Churchill, Drake and even Albus Dumbledore have been named as alternative leaders
  • Young people associate Waterloo with the station and Abba’s Eurovision hit before the battle
  • A quarter of people (28%) have no idea who won the Battle of Waterloo
  • 14% believe the French were victorious over the British
  • Two thirds (67%) are unaware that 18 June 2015 is the bicentenary of Waterloo

New figures, released by the National Army Museum just weeks from the 200-year anniversary, reveal that three quarters (73%) of Brits have little or no knowledge of the Battle of Waterloo – arguably one of the most important events of the 19th century.

The survey shows that one in five know absolutely nothing about the battle and just half (53%) know the Duke of Wellington led the British forces to victory. The other 47% of participants said they either didn’t know, or that the man in charge was either Sir Francis Drake, Sir Winston Churchill, King Arthur or even Harry Potter’s wizardry mentor Albus Dumbledore.

The new research exposes the nation’s shortfall in Waterloo knowledge. To address this, the National Army Museum, together with Waterloo 200 – the organisation approved by the government to support the anniversary – and other cultural organisations, are bringing Waterloo to life with a host of stunning exhibitions and displays including:

To support those who want to learn more about Waterloo, the National Army Museum has partnered with Waterloo 200 and cultural publishing organisation Culture24 to launch an online space for everything Waterloo. From bite-sized nuggets of information to more in-depth features, Waterloo200.org is the perfect place for lunchtime learning. Highlights include timelines, event listings and an online exhibition of 200 iconic artefacts related to the battle, which draws on the individual stories of those who involved.

The figures also shows that 14% of Brits believe the French actually defeated the British during the conflict with a further third (28%) not knowing who triumphed at all. Two thirds of people (67%) are unaware that 18 June 2015 will see the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

While the research reveals a relatively low level of knowledge about Waterloo across all age groups, young people showed a particular lack of awareness. In total 84% of those aged 18-24 said they had little or no knowledge about Waterloo, and more than one in 10 (12%) said they had not heard of it at all.

When young people were asked what came to mind when they thought about the Battle of Waterloo, they showed greater recognition of both Waterloo Station in London (54%) and the song ‘Waterloo’ by Abba (47%) than they did about the battle (39%). Almost as many people in this age group (38%) thought about the BBC series ‘Waterloo Road’.

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 National Army Museum is seeking to bridge this knowledge gap through the creation of a series of innovative pop-up events and regional exhibitions around the country making the dramatic story of the battle accessible for all.’

The Battle of Waterloo took place on 18 June 1815, when the British and Prussian forces, under the command of Duke of Wellington, halted the advance of French Army in Belgium. The bloody battle claimed the lives of 65,000 of the 200,000 men that took part, and saw the defeat of Napoleon, ending his reign as Emperor of France and ushering in a period of peace following years of war in Europe.

The National Army Museum’s Waterloo Lives programme is created with support from The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of its Building for the Future project. Waterloo200.org is supported by the HLF along with a number of other parties.

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