Eugenio Jelmini: “The remains of great-grandfather in the coffee”

A recent study sheds light on the fate of the bones of the tens of thousands of soldiers who died at the Battle of Waterloo, which were massively used by the Belgian sugar industry as filters to refine and bleach sugar.

by Eugenio Jelmini

More than a year after the celebration of the bicentenary of his death, we return to talk about Napoleon Bonaparte who gave the “fatal sigh” of which Manzoni wrote, on a remote island in the South Atlantic where he was exiled after the defeat at Watrloo. That final decisive battle is the focus of a newly presented study that sheds definitive light on the end of the bones of the tens of thousands of soldiers who died that day. And which indirectly brings back what Ernesto Ferrero – author of “N.” novel about the last years of Napoleon’s life in S. Elena – defines “a multifaceted character, oversized, marked by enormous contradictions. A little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, on the one hand an organizational genius, builder of the French state, skilled curator of all the details to make the empire work well. On the other hand, almost bulimic conqueror. He hopes for a single government for all mankind.”

On the Belgian plain of Waterloo, the Anglo-Prussian armies of the Duke of Wellington and Marshal von Blücher got the better of Napoleon’s army. It was one of the bloodiest battles in history with a death toll of 25,000 French, 20,000 British and 4,000 Prussians. Over the entire interval of about ten hours, with Napoleon’s famous cry of “La Garde recule,” the guard retreats, signifying the rout of the unbeatable Old Guard of Cambronne and the inexorable defeat.

Research by some archaeologists has confirmed that very little remains of the fallen. Between 1834 and 1860, bones first from horses and later from soldiers were dug up, ground and charred, to be used extensively by the Belgian sugar industry as filters to refine and bleach sugar. A practice known at the time so much so that a German traveler, after visiting these places, had ironically written in the Pragrer Tagesblatt: “Using honey as a sweetener will avoid the risk of dissolving the remains of your great-grandfather in coffee”.

Having cleared up even the last mystery, Napoleon can finally rest in peace. At his death an artillery captain said: “He was an extraordinary genius. As a citizen I blame him, as a Frenchman I respect him, as a man I pity him, as a soldier I mourn him”.

Leave a Comment