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A Great Commander – and a Bit of a Lad

Historian June Purvis gives her very personal reflections on attending the ceremonies on HMS Victory on Trafalgar Day 2005.

Britain in October 2005 was gripped by Nelson fever, with some 6,000 events taking place to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. On October 21st, 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson had won a stunning victory over the combined French and Spanish fleet. In so doing, he not only prevented a French invasion of our shores but also confirmed British control of the seas.

The battle lasted five-and-a-half hours; 1,247 British sailors and marines, including Nelson, were killed. Casualties on the French and Spanish side were far more terrible, some 7,000 men losing their lives. As is well known, Nelson in full dress uniform, his medals clearly visible, had been standing on the quarterdeck of his flagship HMS Victory when a marksman’s bullet pierced his spine and lodged in the muscle under his right shoulder. He was carried below to the orlop deck, where he lingered on for over two hours. The obscure parson’s son who had longed to be someone, passed into history, an icon in his own time and a legend for today.

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