Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Trafalgar Day

Hello.  Thank you for the kind comments and messages you left for me after my last post.  October is turning out to be a difficult month, but I am able to enjoy the beauty of the mists and mellow fruitfulness.  Today, however, I'd like to talk about something different.  Allow me, if you will, to take you back to 21st October 1805: King George III was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the kingdom had been at war with France for twelve years (on and off) and by this time, the threat of invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte and his forces felt imminent.  If you like, think of Horatio Hornblower and Richard Sharpe.  This was the day that Admiral Lord Nelson led twenty-seven ships into battle against thirty-three French and Spanish ships in the Atlantic Ocean just off the southwest coast of Spain, west of Cape Trafalgar, and destroyed twenty-two enemy ships without losing a single one of his own.



Nelson's masterstroke was to divide his fleet into two parallel columns and sail them perpendicularly into the enemy line.  At the head of one column was HMS Victory, led by Nelson himself, and at the head of the other, HMS Royal Sovereign, led by Admiral Collingwood, but I do not intend to give you a history lesson here.  I reckon that most of you know the outcome, that although Admiral Nelson won the battle, he lost his life there that day, shot by an enemy musket, and has been feted as a great British hero ever since.  No, I shan't go into battle tactics.  Instead, I wish to take you further down the line of eleven ships headed up by HMS Victory, to the ship at the back, HMS Spartiate, a 74-gun (for which read "cannon") ship of the line under the command of Captain Sir Francis Laforey, Baronet.  

On board HMS Spartiate were sailors and and Royal Marines, identifiable by their scarlet jackets as they stood on deck and shot at the men aboard the French and Spanish ships. One of these Marines was twenty-nine year-old Private John Rendle who had joined up four years earlier, lying about his age because men had to be under the age of twenty-five in order to enlist.  They also had to be unmarried, perhaps because the work was so dangerous that any wife was likely to be widowed before too long?  John was born in 1776 in Washfield in Devon, a rural, scattered parish a couple of miles outside the town of Tiverton with only a few hundred inhabitants.  Employment opportunities were few and he earned a meagre living as an agricultural labourer before he went to Tiverton on 9th October 1801, took the king's shilling and donned the scarlet coat.  And now here he was, playing his part in the Royal Navy's most famous battle.

The Fall of Nelson by Denis Dighton

By the end of that day, five of Spartiate's crew were dead and twenty wounded, including one Marine...but it was not John.  The ship, according to The Trafalgar Roll, "had her foretopsail yard shot away, and her masts, yards and rigging in general were a good deal damaged" and she returned to Plymouth for repairs.  John stayed in the Royal Marines until September 1814 when, aged thirty-seven, he was discharged because of chronic rheumatism - which, I think, is hardly suprising after thirteen years spent on wooden ships. And his pension after thirteen years of service?  Twenty-one days' pay.  That's all.  He returned to Tiverton and found work as a labourer.

There are many memorials to Lord Nelson in the UK.  One of them, known as The Nelson Monument, was raised on Portsdown Hill, just north of Portsmouth Harbour, in 1807.  Do you know how it was financed?  The Royal Navy took two days' pay from every man who fought at Trafalgar to pay for the monument.  So, not only did these men risk their lives, they paid for the privilege of doing so!  There doesn't seem to me to be much glory in that.

So, today I am raising a glass to Private John Rendle, my great, great, great grandfather.  The Royal Navy may not have honoured him, but I do.


Happy Trafalgar Day


Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 




12 comments:

  1. I too will raise a glass, actually a cup of tea but the sentiment is the same.

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    1. Mine was really a cup of tea, too! And thank you. x

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  2. Here we celebrate Admiral Nimitz from the WWII naval battles.

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    1. I'd never heard of him so I just had to Google him - wow! x

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  3. I didn't realise that it was Trafalgar Day. A great way to commemorate it! xx

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    1. Thank you, Amy. I don't think the date is generally on the radar, but I was once passing the Nelson Monument on Portsdown Hill on Trafalgar Day and they were holding a ceremony, which pricked my interest. I have since discovered that they do it every year and I would like to attend one year (bucket list!). x

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  4. You've brought it all to life. It's amazing what people went through in those days. Great post Mrs T. x

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    1. Oh thank you, Karen. It's comments like yours which make it all worth it. x

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  5. Fascinating and how wonderful to have an ancestor who was part of it all. I remember being taken on HMS Victory as a child and seeing where Admiral Nelson died. Later saw a play on a school trip about Nelson called 'The Hero Rises Up' so I've always been quite interested in him. Thanks for this post:)

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    1. Thanks Rosie. I think he was a real hero. x

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  6. Thank you for bringing to life these heroic deeds of long-gone soldiers. How interesting that you had an early relation on one of the ships!
    Wendy

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    1. Wendy, I can't tell you how proud I am to be descended from someone who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar! x

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