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200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo

June 18, 2015

Yesterday, I went to the dentist for my 6-month check up. I’m lucky to have a good dentist and to live in an era when people can have healthy teeth and repairs on decay. Even people unlucky enough to lose all their teeth have the benefit of strong, plastic dentures – false teeth that are made to fit perfectly. I never think about this without remembering ‘Waterloo teeth’ and how that thought inspired a poem. Here is the background. (STOP READING now if you don’t like gory stories – or scroll down to read the poem first!)

If you were a child 200 years ago, you might well have been afraid of The Bogeyman. So were many adults, as this was a nickname – as well as ‘Boney’ – for the brutal and tyrannical Napoleon Bonaparte. He and his forces had already invaded many countries across Europe, and Britain was in grave danger of being the next. The process of defending our shores over many years became known as the Napoleonic Wars. 200 years ago today, on 18th June 1815, a decisive and bloody battle took place in Belgium to overthrow Napoleon. After waging war on much of Europe for so long, at last he was defeated. At the end of the battle 10,000 soldiers lay dead, and as many horses. The Duke of Wellington, who led the British forces, forbade any looting to take place after battles. The punishment for a British soldier caught stealing was death by hanging.

It is unlikely, then, that it was they who stole teeth from the bodies that lay across the battle field. But that is what happened. Hundreds of teeth were stolen from the bodies, so that the living toothless could benefit from good teeth of the dead. Of course, the thieves made money from their gory robberies; they didn’t steal for the ‘fun’ of it! These teeth filled a few gaps before the days of modern false teeth. I wrote this poem because I couldn’t get the thought of ‘Waterloo teeth’ out of my mind and began to imagine how they might be advertised … Here it is, illustrated by Michael Leigh:


Lost your teeth?
Find it hard to chew?
Ugly gaps left you defaced?
No problem –  Fresh from Waterloo
Have your teeth replaced:
Guaranteed fit for the task;
Will not rattle!
Neat, discreet, no questions asked;
(Fell off the back of a battle).

 poem © Celia Warren  illustration © Michael Leigh Waterloo Teeth illustration © Michael Leigh

from Vikings Don’t Wear Pants (tho’ they did!) – Roger Stevens & Celia Warren, KEP, 2001

Meanwhile … here’s a great poetry writing competition for children.

Pop over to Roger Stevens’ Poetryzone to check out the details:



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