Monday, October 19, 2015

A Tribute to Lord Nelson

Very soon now we will be remembering the famous Battle of Trafalgar, and the victory of the British Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, and his unfortunate death. The historic date: October 21st, 1805. 

The battle took place off the Spanish coast at Cape Trafalgar. Using revolutionary tactics, Nelson planned the attack, having waited for the Spanish fleet to leave Cadiz. He achieved his greatest victory, annihilating the enemy and basically ending the long war between the French and Spanish against England. And yet, it was at greatest cost, a shot fired from on high from a French marine aiming at Nelson on the deck of Victory, Nelson's ship of the line. The bullet entered Nelson's left shoulder, going through his lung, and lodging in his spine between the fifth and sixth vertebrae. Four hours later, he was dead. Nelson was England's greatest hero. Personally, a flawed man, but historically accepted, one of the greatest commanders in all history.

One of the interesting things about naval battles from that time is that one must be carried on the wind and tide. There are no engines to rev up, no brakes to hit, no coming at the enemy going forward. One is at the mercy of the natural elements! That being said, the thing to do was to position the side of one's ship at the enemy, firing broadsides along the enemy' side, or better still, raking the stern with gunshots. This not only opened a gaping hole in the stern, but could take out the rudder, leaving the wounded ship no ability to steer.

So, the effect commander had to be one that "ANTICIPATED" the battle scene, trim sails ahead of the engagement to slow or speed progress, to judge the angle of the winds, the currents, etc. Nelson was a master at this, and proved it time and again. Now he was gone.

As Nelson's life slipped away, his vice-admiral Thomas Hardy, his loyal naval officer, stayed with him, having him removed from the decks, placing a handkerchief over his face to avoid alarming the crew. He was made comfortable, fanned and brought lemonade as he stated he was hot and thirsty. He asked that the Navy look after his beloved mistress Emma and his child by her, Horatia. His last words were "Kiss me, Hardy".  He knew he was dying, and wanted a departing kiss from his faithful officer.

His body was placed in  cask of brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh, and lashed to the Victory's mainmast, and a guard placed. Victory, sustaining some damage, was towed to Gibraltar after the battle, and the body was put into a lead-lined coffin filled with spirits of wine.

It is a good thing for us that the navy kept a log, and the history is documented. Eventually, Nelson was brought back to England. There was an enormous state-style funeral, most usually reserved for royalty. A mighty procession headed first up the Thames from Greenwich to Whitehall, then Whitehall by horse-drawn procession to St. Paul's Cathedral where he was buried in the famous crypt below the church. He was brought by six black horses, adorned with black plumes, the coffin mounted displayed on the horse-drawn carriage resembling the Victory.

Every year, the Cathedral holds a special 'Sea Service' on the Sunday closest to Trafalgar Day, when wreaths are laid at Nelson's tomb. He is remembered each year; unfortunately Emma, Lady Hamilton, was not provided for, but that's another day's story.

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