Thursday, 21 October 2010

Today is Trafalgar Day, we're told

October 21 is Trafalgar Day, according to an old sea salt friend and reader. It is a celebration of the victory won by the (British) Royal Navy over the combined French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The battle was the most decisive British naval victory of the war. Twenty-seven British ships of the line led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line under French Admiral Pierre Villeneuve off the south-west coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost. The celebration, however, is not so much about a victory over Spain or France, which had been taken over by Napoleon (see a related item here) but rather of the fact that the battle served to halt Napoleon from taking over Europe and a good part of America.
The battle was also where Nelson was shot through the spine by a marksman from the Redoutable, a French ship. He died in the arms of Captain Hardy of HMS Victory three hours after being shot.

HMS Victory made her way to Gibraltar for repairs, carrying Nelson's body. She put into Rosia Bay, Gibraltar, and after emergency repairs were carried out, returned to England. Many of the injured crew were brought ashore at Gibraltar and treated in the Naval Hospital. Men who subsequently died from injuries sustained at the battle are buried in or near the Trafalgar Cemetery, at the south end of Main Street. Nelson's body went back to Britain, where he was buried in ceremonies accorded to the hero he had been, particularly in this battle, where he emplyed unconventional methods to win, and at which he made the famous signal to his fleet: "England expects every man to do his duty."

The cemetery was consecrated in June 1798, seven years before the battle of Trafalgar. It was then known as the 'Southport Ditch Cemetery'. The majority of gravestones in the cemetery memorialise the dead of three yellow fever epidemics in 1804, 1813 and 1814 in Gibraltar. Also buried here are victims of other sea battles of the Napoleonic Wars - the Battle of Algeciras in 1801 and actions off Cádiz and Málaga in 1810 and 1812 respectively.
Cape Trafalgar is just minutes away from almost anywhere in the Campo de Gibraltar, between Conil and Barbate (See map below). There is no commemoration plaque that we could find, nor any other indication that just to the left (sorry, West, or right in the photo) one of the battles that changed the course of European history took place 205 years ago.

The sad thing is that, according to our old sea salt friend, in a study of 2000 British children, 16% think that the Armada is a kind of TAPAS.

No comments: