T42D: Trafalgar Day October 2020

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Rodders ponders legacy.


I amazed, at times, on quiz programmes how little people know about their own British history, in particular knowing significant dates and, for example, when monarchs reigned.

The noted philosopher George Santayana penned one of the great truths about human history: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

His observation echoes a somewhat more cynical version written earlier by the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”

Whilst studying at school for my GCE ‘O’ levels, I thoroughly enjoyed my history course and learnt masses of dates from the Tudor and Stuart period [1485–1714] I was studying, for history ‘O’ level.

It is not sometimes just remembering the year something significant happened but occasionally the date.

One of the important dates is 21 October 1805, when once a year, Britain celebrates the famous victory when Lord Nelson defeated the combined navies of France and Spain at the battle off Cape Trafalgar on the Spanish coast.

When only an hour into the battle, at about 1.15pm, Nelson was hit by a French sharpshooter’s musket ball as he paced Victory’s quarterdeck, directing the battle. Nelson died around 4.30pm when victory was assured. The news of Nelson’s death caused widespread sorrow in his fleet. The men’s joy at the victory — one of the most decisive in naval history — was overshadowed by the news of their admiral’s death. Many broke down and cried, so much had they loved him.

In Nelson’s personal diary this prayer was written by him on 21 October, May the Great God, whom I worship, Grant to my Country, and for the benefit of Europe in General, a great and Glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet. For myself individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may his blessing light upon my endeavours for serving My Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself, and the Just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.

In an age when a successful admiral might gain one victory in fleet or squadron action during his lifetime, Nelson gained three: at the Battle of the Nile (1798), the Battle of Copenhagen (1801) and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). The scale and significance of these victories was also unparalleled. His taking of nineteen French and Spanish ships off Cape Trafalgar — the “great and glorious victory” he prayed for — gave him more enemy ships than any of his predecessors had captured or destroyed in all their battles put together, and, more important, it secured for Great Britain command of the sea for over a century.

Nelson’s funeral was on such a grand scale that would normally only be reserved for the monarchy.

The service at St Paul’s was charged with emotion, marking the passing of the man who had delivered his country from a foreign threat. Thousands watched as Nelson’s coffin was lowered down and the Chief Herald read out the full titles of the dead man. He ended with the words, ‘The hero, who in the moment of victory, fell covered with immortal glory.’

Every year St Paul’s Cathedral holds a special ‘Sea Service’ on the Sunday closest to Trafalgar Day when wreaths are laid at Nelson’s tomb. Although this year the commemorations will be ‘virtual’ due of course to the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Nick Hine CB, led Trafalgar Day celebrations on board HMS Victory marking the 215th anniversary of the battle. The Royal Navy continued Trafalgar Day traditions, but adjusted in scale to meet Government infection control requirements.

Duncan Campbell wrote, “To me, it has been a source of great comfort and strength in the day of battle, just to remember that the secret of steadfastness, and indeed, of victory, is the recognition that “the Lord is at hand.”

Another important event on 21 October was in 1854, was when Florence Nightingale, with a staff of 38 nurses was sent to the Crimean War.

I came across another interesting fact about the date 21 October. A man was reading his morning newspaper. To his surprise and horror, he read his name in the obituary column. The newspaper had mistakenly reported the death of the wrong person for sure. He was shocked to read a news headline about his death. When he regained his composure, he read it to find out what people had said about him. The obituary included sentences like, “Dynamite King Dies.” and “He was the merchant of death.

The man was the inventor of dynamite and when he read the words “merchant of death,” he asked himself a question, “Is this how I am going to be remembered?” He decided that this was not the way to be remembered and he decided to change. From that day on, he started working toward world peace. Born on 21 October 1833 his name was Alfred Bernherd Nobel and he is remembered today because of the great Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize has been honouring men and women from all corners of the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for work in peace since 1901. The foundations for the prize were laid in 1895 when Alfred Nobel wrote his last will, leaving much of his wealth to the establishment of the Nobel Prize. He died on 10.12.1896.

Some time ago, I saw this poster on a notice board:

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?

Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?

These are the units to measure the worth

Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Not what was his church, nor what was his creed?

But has he befriended those really in need?

Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,

To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,

But how many were sorry he passed away?

So the Thought for Today is as we remember events surrounding the 21st October, and in particular Trafalgar Day, the question is what will be our legacy?

For when we stand before our Maker it will only be what we have done for Christ that will count in the end.

As the Apostle Paul wrote: But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3v13–14]

May that be our goal too.




strength for today; hope for tomorrow

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