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The man who saved England

BY ROBERT HARLAND

Every October, British communities around the world, including the Philippines, celebrate a remarkable naval battle — one, which made a French invasion of England impossible.

In 1805, the First French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, was the dominant military power on the European continent and England was under real threat of invasion.

But on October 21 in that year a brilliant English admiral, Lord Nelson, put paid to Napoleon’s invasion plans when his fleet of 27 British ships decimated a combined fleet of 33 French and Spanish ships off the southwest coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar.


Nelson’s fleet was outnumbered and outgunned, but such was the mastery of his tactics the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 ships, while the British lost none. A notable Spanish loss was the Santísima Trinidad, then the heaviest-armed ship in the world.

It was one of the most decisive naval battles in history, and it cemented Nelson’s reputation as Britain’s greatest naval hero. Sadly, the victory cost Nelson his life. At the height of the battle he was shot by a French sniper as he paced the deck of his ship HMS Victory.

Rather than bury Nelson’s body at sea, it was preserved in a cask of brandy and sent back to England. His funeral in London was a tremendous occasion with the streets lined with thousands of weeping people. He is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

From 1793 until his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 Nelson had scored a number of outstanding naval victories against the French. He suffered serious injury during these years, losing the sight in his right eye and his right arm.

During his long and distinguished career Nelson gained a reputation as a brilliant tactician. He was often able to surprise his enemies by audacious tactics.

In 1793 he met the woman who was to become the great love of his life, Emma, Lady Hamilton. She was a great beauty with a voluptuous figure and a rather shady past. Eventually in 1801 Nelson abandoned his wife and lived with his ‘dearest Emma’.

In London’s Trafalgar Square can be seen the country’s memorial to the most inspiring leader the British Navy has ever had. Nelson’s Column, erected in 1843, stands 51.6m high and is crowned with a statue of Nelson.

Interestingly, German dictator Adolf Hitler planned to take Nelson’s statue back to Berlin as a trophy “once he had conquered London”.

To commemorate Nelson’s great victory, Trafalgar Day is marked as a public day each year in Britain. On October 21 commissioned officers of the Royal Navy celebrate the victory by holding a Trafalgar Night dinner in the officer’s mess. Similar dinners are held each year around the world.

In the Philippines, the Manila British and Commonwealth Club, the oldest membership club in the country dating back to before 1877, hosts an annual Trafalgar Night gala dinner in Makati. It’s one of the social highlights of the year for the British and Commonwealth community.

This year’s Trafalgar Night dinner will be held at the New World Hotel on Saturday, October 13. Guest speaker will be LTCR Patrick Panjeti, US Naval Attache at the US Embassy, Manila.

At each Trafalgar Night dinner the guest speaker ends with a toast to “The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”.

Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship in the world, has been preserved and is on show in a dry dock in Portsmouth Naval Harbor in the south of England. The ship is major tourist attraction with more than 25 million visitors since she entered dry dock in 1922.

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