Friday, October 21, 2011

A Tribute to England's Greatest Hero

On this day, October 21, 1805, we remember the victory of the British Royal Navy against the French and Spanish Navies at the Battle of Trafalgar, the decisive sea battle of the Napoleonic Wars 1803-1805. It established the supremacy of the British Royal Navy as the premier tacticians at sea, with Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson in command of the fleet. Nelson, in HMS Victory, won the battle by departing from the standard tactics of the time, and employing new vision by engaging his ships in single line parallel to the enemy to facilitate signaling and communication during the action, maximizing field of fire and target areas. Though he fought against a larger enemy force, he won the day!
Of course, as the story goes, it was a victory at a very great cost.
Nelson was mortally wounded by a sniper from a French ship, a musket bullet entering his left shoulder, through his spine, lodging between the sixth and seventh vertebrae. He was taken below decks where he lay dying, with his surgeon, his chaplain, his faithful Captain Hardy and other officers nearby. He murmured, " Thank God, I have done my duty", and his final words were, "God and my Country."

Nelson remains to this day England's greatest hero. His body was placed in a cask of brandy, camphor and myrrh, and lashed to the Victory's mainmast to head home. Upon the Victory's arrival in Gibraltar, the body was put into a lead-lined coffin with "spirits of wine" (again most likely brandy). On its way to London, the body was placed into another lead-lined coffin, and further placed in a wood one made from the mast of the L'Orient, Napoleon's flagship of the French at the Battle of the Nile, 1798. (Nelson was victorious there, too.) There was a three-day viewing in Greenwich up the Thames, and then the enormous funeral procession to London, a special ceremony following at St. Paul's Cathedral where his body lies in the church crypt to this day. I have made the pilgrimage there with my daughter to pay homage. Of course, we also saw the famous Nelson Column, a memorial to him, located in Trafalgar Square in London.
 A great old classic black and white movie, That Hamilton Woman, 1941, with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, tells the tale of Nelson's notorious affair with the beautiful Lady Hamilton. Fun to watch, even if not exactly accurate.  Hollywood loved to take liberties with history, but enjoyable none-the-less. But today, though, we honor the military leader. Nelson: Courage, Commitment, Charisma!

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