Napoleon Bonaparte: England's Prisoner by Frank Giles. Hardcover book published by Carroll & Graf 2001, 206 pages with some black and white illustrations.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Napoleon (click here) and it probably wont be my last. I’m sitting here wondering how much do I really know about the short bloke with the funny hat (not pictured above)? Not a lot. At a few points in my life, I have crossed paths with Napoleon… not him personally, but more his legacy and the memory of his achievements and failures. I’ll start off with a visit to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, East Germany (now Germany).
My father was from a small village in Germany and on my first visit to Europe I took it upon myself to visit my ancestral homeland. Leipzig, being the closest big city, was the starting point for my explorations and any visit to Leipzig wasn’t and isn’t complete with a visit to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. It’s a large imposing memorial to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig and commemorates Napoleon's defeat. In a park nearby there was a small museum (it might still be there) containing a large replica battlefield… sort of like toy soldiers on a large table. Personally I found the Völkerschlachtdenkmal and it’s dramatic appearance impressive, the little museum was a little boring although I guess it did serve a purpose. There is something about standing on a former Napoleonic battle field that is a little strange to someone born in Australia. I guess it has to do with the lack of large scale warfare on Australian soil.* Needless to say, I did get the point that Napoleon had been there and it’s obviously something I haven’t forgotten. (I had lunch at a nearby East German workers cafeteria after the visit… which is also something I haven’t forgotten.)
Now for the absurd. A few years after this visit and I was working in a disturbingly quiet retail business where things at times got incredibly boring during the disturbing quietness. One of my co workers decided that we needed to spice up our lives and bring a little bit of history to work. So, he suggested that we each bring a Napoleonic fact to work once a week and discuss. Looking back, I can’t believe that I agreed on something as stupid as this, although at the time I thought it was a crazy enough idea to go along with it. This is the sort of thing that you don’t forget about a job and the people you work with. What I have forgotten is all the Napoleonic facts that we discussed. They must have been good.
From experience there are quite a few books about the Little Corsican (… less books about East German workers cafeterias). Of the two books that I’m meant to be writing about here, one is directly about him and his time as a prisoner of the British on St Helena which is not the St Helena prison island off the coast of Queensland but rather the Volcanic island in the South Atlantic (… I’m sure the South Atlantic weather is not as nice as Queensland). Apparently Boney thought he was going to be living peacefully in the English countryside. Boy, was he in for a shock. From the minimal Napoleonic facts that I know (or remember), this time that he spent on St Helena is an important part of the Napoleonic legend and I guess that’s why Frank Giles decided to write a book about it.
“Charging Against Napoleon” is a look at Napoleon from the other side of the battlefield and is historically a little bit earlier than the other book. Three officers of the 18th Hussars (British) wrote letters and kept diaries that Eric Hunt has carefully compiled into one readable volume. These guys (excluding Eric Hunt) were there at Waterloo and at the occupation of Paris of which the significance is fairly obvious. Even if like myself you don’t have all the Napoleonic facts, this is impressive. I like the fact that this book is based on first hand accounts and if a near Napoleonic virgin like myself is impressed, one can only assume that any au fait Napoleonic reader will get excited by it.
I enjoyed finding these books, they are a nice thing to sell… when they sell. Based on my past experience they will sell but possibly not on line.
* Excluding the conflict with our indigenous people and brief attacks against Australia during WWII.