Friday, October 21, 2005

Spain, Britain and France mark Trafalgar Bicentenary

A flotilla of ships, dignitaries from three nations and descendants of original combatants will gather today to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, where Britain’s Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated Napoleon Bonaparte’s combined navies.

Victory at Trafalgar by the Royal Navy secured Britain the world’s sea lanes and heralded more than a century of global maritime supremacy.

For Spain and France, it marked the end of sea power and predicted the eventual fall of Napoleon, who ruled both countries.

The architecturally elegant port city of Cadiz, launching point of many of Spain’s most audacious voyages of discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries, was chosen to host the event due to its proximity to the location of the battle.

It was from Cadiz that French Admiral Pierre Charles Villeneuve, aboard the Bucentaure, led a joint French-Spanish fleet of 33 warships - 18 French and 15 Spanish - out to sea on October 19, 1805, to attack British shipping in the Mediterranean. Offshore lay Nelson’s 27 ships.

The battle began shortly after noon on October 21, and by evening the shattered Bucentaure had surrendered, Villeneuve was a prisoner and the Franco-Spanish alliance had lost 22 ships, the British none. As the remains of Villeneuve’s force tried to disengage and limp to the safety of shore more bad luck was in store. The French ship Achille, which had caught fire, exploded and the rest of the fleeing fleet was hit by a savage storm that drowned many battle-weary survivors.

Direct descendants of Nelson, Villeneuve and Spanish admirals Gravina and Churruca are to be joined by naval officers, government officials, diplomats and other descendants in commemorative events throughout the day, culminating in wreath laying out at sea at the scene of the historic battle between countries now allied in the European Union.

Spain will lead the remembrance for the 15,550 dead and wounded in the battle from the aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias and the frigate Reina Sofia while Britain will be represented by HMS Chatham and France, by the frigate Montcalm.

Historic square-rigged tall ships Tenacious and Lord Nelson were sailed to Cadiz by young and disabled sailors to take part in another event aimed to link up with 28 luxury yachts in a mini-enactment of the battle.

“It might perhaps capture some of the flavour of that day 200 years ago, with the tall ships bearing down on us as we sail in line with our yachts," said Richard Matthews, who helped organise the event. We are to be joined by youngsters sailing Gypsy Moth IV, in which Francis Chichester sailed solo around the world for the first time in 1967," Matthews said.

The ceremonies are due to end when flowers are laid in the water at 4.30pm, the moment Nelson died from a bullet wound, knowing that victory was his.

‘Nelson Fever’

Meanwhile, Britain was gearing up yesterday to commemorate Trafalgar today, in celebration of Nelson’s historic naval victory. First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, who is due next week in Gibraltar said the occasion had taken on the shape of “Nelson fever" as final preparations for the weekend of festivities got under way.

“I was amazed how it has gripped the spirit of Britain across the country. It’s almost a Nelson-fever going on," Sir Alan said. He added he hoped the enthusiasm it had generated about maritime industry and the Royal Navy among the British public would keep going.

“I hope that the interest that will be re-engendered in the sea will continue. One will just have to keep up the pressure so people know how important maritime is to this country. Nelson the man and what he represented - that is an inspiration around the world. Nelson is a hero to every Navy in the world."

Sir Alan, who has previously spoken of his concerns about the reduction in the number of surface warships, said:

“I think Nelson always wanted more frigates. I suppose I could say that but you can only have what you pay for. Personally I would prefer more escorts but you’ve got to live within your resources."

At noon on Friday, bells on Royal Navy warships around the world will ring out to signal the start of the battle 200 years ago. In the evening, a nationwide chain of 1,000 beacons will be set ablaze with the first lit by the Queen beside Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory as the sun sets over Portsmouth harbour.

Other members of the royal family including the Prince of Wales will light principal beacons around the UK. The Queen will also dine in the great cabin of Nelson’s flagship to mark the bicentenary. Her “immortal memory” toast to Nelson will be televised live.

More than 6,000 events are taking place over the weekend including Trafalgar breakfasts, tree plantings and exhibitions. On Sunday, Nelson’s most famous victory and the battle that claimed his life will be marked with a remembrance service at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he is buried. The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke of York are among those attending.

There will also be a parade of Sea Cadets and the laying of wreaths at Nelson’s Column in the morning. The celebrations will culminate in Trafalgar Square in the evening when more than 10,000 people will gather under Nelson’s column. The Duke of Edinburgh will join them in watching the illumination of Nelson’s famous statue and to see a dramatised show illustrating the battle. During the engagement on October 21, 1805, the Royal Navy annihilated the greatest threat to British security for 200 years. Nelson lost his life in the ferocious battle, which is deemed one of the most decisive naval actions in British history. It established Britain’s supremacy on the high seas and freed the country from the long-held fear of invasion from Napoleon’s armies. The battle off Cape Trafalgar, near Cadiz, pitched the Royal Navy against the combined fleets of France and Spain. Nelson died after he was shot by a French marksman on the Redoubtable as he stood on the quarterdeck of HMS Victory.

The annual commemoration of Trafalgar Day is marked by the hoisting of the most famous naval signal in history;
“England expects that every man will do his duty".

‘No Place for Nelson in Today’s Royal Navy’

Modern day rules on disability would have prevented Admiral Nelson from taking part at Trafalgar if the battle was re-enacted today, a history professor said yesterday.

Professor Anthony Howe, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia in Norwich said at best Nelson would be behind a desk if the battle were fought again and Professor Howe, organiser of a historians conference on Nelson at the UEA next month, said the chances of a child of Nelson’s abilities growing up to be a naval leader in the 21st century were tiny. “Nelson had already received a pension for the injuries he suffered when he fought at Trafalgar," said Professor Howe.

“If the battle were fought again now I’m pretty sure he would have already stopped serving. It would be impossible in a much more professional navy for him to be allowed to do the job he did given his disabilities. At best maybe he would have been given a desk job.

The prospect of going to sea 200 years ago - especially for a child like Nelson who was born on the Norfolk coast - would have been far, far greater than it is now. I would guess if there is a child with Nelson’s capabilities around now he would possibly go into information technology or perhaps make a fortune in the City. Two hundred years ago going into the navy was seen as a way of making social advancement - it’s not like that anymore."

But Professor Howe said it was difficult to gauge whether Britain would triumph if the Battle of Trafalgar was fought today. “That’s a very difficult question," he said.

“The military world is very different now. I think the only thing you can say is that the last time the British navy was called upon was during the Falklands in the early 1980’s. It rose to the challenge and succeeded then so on that basis it probably would rise to the challenge today."

Gibraltar Trafalgar Commemoration

Royal Navy Warships on deployments around the world will mark the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar by the ringing of eight bells today, Trafalgar Day, at noon, supporting an international event co-ordinated by the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers in association with SeaBritain 2005.

An MoD spokesman said:

“The use of bells at sea to mark the time and to signify watch changes dates back to the early 15th century when personal timepieces were extremely large expensive and were impractical to take to sea. Bells would mark the hours of a watch in half hour increments. The seamen between decks would then know if it were morning, noon or night. The end of the watch is marked at 8 bells, hence the Naval saying “Eight Bells and All is well.”

Hundreds of bell towers in churches across the world will take part in ringing commemorative peals. Among those countries taking part are New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, USA, Canada, Hawaii, Malta and Gibraltar.

The ship’s bell on Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard will also take part in the event along with shore-based RN establishments equipped with ship bells. HMS Exeter will be ringing eight bells at midday in Gibraltar whilst HMS Sabre will be doing so at sea with Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks (Deputy Chief of Joint Operations from Northwood) and Commander British Forces Gibraltar, Commodore Allan Adair embarked.”


Related Links:

The Gibraltar Government website provides a number of .pdf files detailing the full programme of events. These can be found here

BBC Best Links - News - Trafalgar 200
Coverage of all the events marking the anniversary, with articles about the history of the battle itself .

200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar

SeaBritain 2005

The Battle of TrafalgarBattle of Trafalgar at Amazon.co.uk

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