AN unprecedented search for up to a million Britons whose ancestors fought at Waterloo is being launched ahead of the 200th anniversary of the battle.
Hundreds of thousands of people living in the UK are estimated to have forefathers who took part in the fighting in 1815.
Experts believe many are “totally unaware” of their relatives’ involvement in the battle and are calling on people to research their family histories to see if there is a link.
The campaign is part of a number of events planned to commemorate the battle in the months before the anniversary in June.
Waterloo saw the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and marked one of the most crucial events in European history.
Those with verified family connections will be given the chance to appear at one of the highest-profile events later this year.
James Morrow, honorary secretary of Waterloo 200, which is overseeing the commemorations, said there are thought to be a total of between one and two million people around the world who are descended from those involved in the battle. A large proportion of them are believed to be living in Britain.
He added: “A very, very large number of people are totally unaware that they had an ancestor at Waterloo.”
About 350 people have come forward to register the details of their ancestors, with a number submitting accounts of their forbears’ involvement in the battle on 18 June 1815.
“We are not aware that this type of search has been attempted before,” said Mr Morrow.
“The momentum has picked up and we are thrilled that we are getting bombarded with people’s stories about their descendants.
“One of the very raw emotions I have discovered is the pride that people living today have shown when they are talking about their illustrious ancestor who fought on one of the bloodiest battlefields at that time.”
Organisers hope the campaign will help as a tool to revive flagging interest in and understanding of the significance of the battle. Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter, chairman of Waterloo 200, described the event as a “defining moment in European history”.
“It was, I think, one of the most decisive battles of all time,” he said. “A very distinctive, important battle that had defining consequences for years to come – a truly significant landmark event in history. It was the battle that made Europe.
“Yet today many people think of Waterloo as merely a train station or an Abba song.
“The level of understanding is low. We want to help people to understand its significance in both European and British history and what it means for us today.”
Waterloo 200 wants to trace anyone in the UK or overseas whose relatives fought in the battle.
Those who can show their family connection to the British, allied or French armies will then be given the opportunity to apply for tickets to attend a commemoration service at St Paul’s Cathedral on the 200th anniversary.
It is expected that a senior member of the royal family will be present at the service and organisers also hope that at least one Waterloo descendant will give a reading.
Those wanting to investigate whether they have a family connection can see the names of the 39,009 British Army officers and men who took part at www.findmypast.co.uk. Details of the Waterloo 200 campaign can be found at www.waterloo200.org.