To borrow someone else's phrase, the challenge of constructing a diorama of Waterloo is really a question of scale. To keep to 20mm scale requires a model One Centimetre to the Metre, but unless one has a big enough space and enough figures for every soldier present on the battle (some 180,000), this is simply impractical.
However, to condense the model too much is to fail to convey the distances involved on a Napoleonic battlefield: even for one as compact as Waterloo, distance explains many otherwise illogical parts to the story - the neglect by Napoleon of Hougoumont, the hidden fight at Papelotte, the difficulty of knowing what was happening on Wellington's reverse slope, the length of time it took to realise the mortal threat posed by the Prussians at Plancenoit.
For these reasons, I have always found the Winchester model unconvincing from a military perspective, even if it provides a splendid spectacle. By contrast, the Siborne model in the National Army Museum is too square and has too much empty space in the corners - it fails to give visual impact even if it is a triumph of topographical exactitude.
So in order to strike a balance between accuracy and impact I have produced an octagonal plan showing the battlefield without the empty corners:
Dark blue = 140m grid line; light blue, 130; green, 120; yellow, 110. I have removed the four corners and will compromise with the positions of Papelotte and Plancenoit, pulling them slightly to the west to fit them in. The plan is then gridded with each rectangle equal to one of my existing blocks.
Then, taking advantage of some winter sunshine, I put my four existing models (Hougoumont, La Haie Sainte, Papelotte and La Belle Alliance out and then deployed my various squares.
The results are somewhat underwhelming and serve to show how much more has to be done, but what it does achieve is a sense of scale.
|Hougoumont in the foreground|
|From roughly where Plancenoit will be|
|La Belle Alliance with Hougoumont at ten o'clock and La Haie Sainte at two o' clock|
|La Haie Sainte looking west with squares behind|
|La Haie Sainte towards Papelotte|
|La Haie Sainte south to La Belle Alliance|
|Papelotte towards La Haie Sainte|
|La Belle Alliance north to La Haie Sainte|
|La Belle Alliance towards Papelotte|
|La Belle Alliance towards Hougoumont|
This has been a useful planning exercise for me, but I can't claim it will win many plaudits for excitement - the overriding impression is of a lot of lawn in winter. Fortunately it didn't rain, which looked a distinct possibility at one point! As with any good Napoleonic commander, a telescope would have been handy.