Remembering the Battle of Trafalgar
On the duver at St Helen’s stands the tower of St Helen’s Old Church. At about eye height near the base of the tower is a smallish plaque. It reads:
‘On Saturday 14th. September 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson boarded HMS Victory lying anchor off St. Helens near to this spot. HMS Victory with HMS Euryalus in company, sailed the following morning, Sunday 15th. September, to join the Fleet off Cadiz prior to the Battle of Trafalgar. 21st October 1805.’
At this time of year my thoughts always turn towards the great Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s victory at which marked Britain’s dominance in world affairs for the next two hundred years.
The plaque is also a reminder of the very close links that exist between the Royal Navy and the Island. The Current Second Sea Lord, for example, is Island born and bred. Recently I was honored by being appointed one of a small number of Honorary officers in the Royal Navy and this has brought home to me even more strongly the connection that exists.
Very recently there was a moving ceremony to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on Ryde seafront. In Nelson’s day great ships of the line would anchor in the lee of the island, the purser would land and obtain provisions and water for the hundreds of mouths that needed feeding. Shore parties would come and press local men into service, many of whom would never see their families again.
Nearer our own time a designated point off the south coast of the Island was the central meeting point for the D-Day landing craft to meet before making passage to the Normandy coastline. For a long time Cowes was a centre of naval ship building and maritime innovation.
Then, as now, the Island provided a welcoming sight to returning sailors. For Nelson’s navy sight is all they would have had because often they were not allowed to leave their ship for fear that they would not return. In more recent times sailors often catch a ferry across from Portsmouth for a day out or come and make their home among us.
The modern Royal Navy still anchors its ships in the lee of the Island, welcoming the protection it affords and reminding us that there remains a strong bond between us and the Senior Service.