AN ANNIVERSARY that went virtually unnoticed his week was May 1st 1769, the birth of Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington.
Born in Dublin to aristocratic British parents, his first love as a boy was music. But his widowed mother anxious for her son not to be labelled a wuss, insisted he join the army where he was commissioned as a major, serving as the aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. A bloke about as popular with the Irish as St George at a dragon convention.
At age 26 he became Lieutenant Colonel in the 33rd Infantry Regiment of Foot, a rank he purchased with a loan from his brother, and was first bloodied in the disastrous Flanders campaign.
In spite of this failed attempt to put paid to the First French Republic, Wellesley acquired a taste for war and obviously thought to himself: “I’ll have some more of that”.
After returning home he soon left again for India where he covered himself in glory, not to mention curry sauce, and was awarded a knighthood for his efforts along with a promotion to the rank of Major General. In fact he was the very model of a modern major general.
A year after returning to England, he became the M.P. for Rye, and shortly after was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland.
But he continued with his military career despite his parliamentary duties and took part in campaigns in the Peninsular War where he was made army commander and promoted to Field Marshall.
But Waterloo is the one name above all others that is synonymous with Wellesley, who had by this time been granted a Dukedom.
The Prussians under the command of General Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher – a name that if mispronounced sounds like someone trying to cough up a fish bone – played a decisive role in the battle, and along with other coalition forces under the command of Wellington, they finally defeated Napoleon’s army on the evening of Sunday 18th June 1815.
If anything, Wellington is perhaps under appreciated. Apart from Waterloo and his status as Commander-in-Chief of the British army – a position he held up until his death – he also became Prime Minister twice and later a leading figure in the House of Lords.
He is still regarded as one of the finest military tacticians of all time and is truly one of the greats of British history.
Happy birthday Arthur!