"Royal Navy and
Maritime Book Reviews" PROVIDED BY - Rob Jerrard
Broadside Maritime Publications: Books Reviewed
Nelson Remembered - The Nelson Centenary 1905
Author: David Shannon
ISBN: 9780980 401202
Publishers: Broadside Maritime Publications
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title Information
The amazing story of how the Nelson Centenary of 1905 was celebrated around Britain and the British Empire in a period of high naval drama. Despite government suppression of the occasion (for fear of upsetting the French), nothing dampened the spirits of ordinary Britons who went ahead and celebrated the event anyway. This book documents those events and is richly illustrated, partly in colour.
Seven o'clock, on a fine sunny morning in late June 2005. The scene is the captain's cabin of the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean - one of more than 150 vessels assembled at Spithead for the International Fleet Review, the first event of The Trafalgar Festival. Breakfasting with the ship's commanding officer, Commodore Tony Johnstone-Burt and the commander of the French contingent, Vice Amiral Jean Mazar, I jokingly congratulate Amiral Mazar on his country's magnanimity in taking part in an event celebrating a battle in which France had been defeated. "But of course we are here!" he exclaimed. "We are cousins. Sometimes we may not like each other very much - but we come to each other's weddings!"
When my colleagues and I began work on the plans for The Trafalgar Festival, there were plenty of pessimists who told us that we would have a hard job. Political correctness, they said, would ensure that the events would be muted and that there would certainly not be any official celebrations, for fear of upsetting the French. In fact, as we now know, there were times during the summer of 2005 when all Britain seemed in the grip of what the Daily Mail (clearly somewhat surprised!) dubbed, "Nelson Fever." For four packed months, events were held all over the country, and indeed across the world. Over the Trafalgar Weekend itself (21-23 October) there were over 6000 events, ranging from dinners in village halls to an international peal of church bells that began in New Zealand and winged its way westwards across the world to Honolulu.
Another cry of the pessimists was that the 21st century British would be unable to match the patriotic fervour of those who organised the centenary celebrations in 1905. Again they were proved wrong - as this splendid book by David Shannon demonstrates. To take just one example: you will search in vain in these pages for any mention of a celebratory fleet review. Ironically, the 1905 government was worried about offending the French, with whom they had just negotiated the alliance known as the Entente Cordiale!
The 2005 organisers planned carefully to ensure that the Trafalgar Festival would leave behind a lasting legacy. Thanks to the Woodland Trust, there are now 33 new 'Trafalgar Woods' all over Britain - each one named after a British ship that fought in the battle. A permanent 'Trafalgar Way' has been created along the route taken from Falmouth to London by Lieutenant Lapenotiere, when he brought home the victory dispatch in November 1805. Most important, the academic output was significant: a series of groundbreaking conferences; a raft of exhibitions and an armada of bicentenary books about Nelson and Trafalgar. David Shannon's painstaking research has reconstructed those events in far more detail than was available before and, as a result, we are now able to compare and contrast the two great Nelsonian commemorations. Some interesting insights emerge.
The most striking difference is organisational. The 1905 events were concentrated into a few days around the actual anniversary and they appear to have been individually organised, on an ad hoc basis. There was no concept of a summer-long Festival such as 2005; nor any national committee to match the Official Nelson Commemoration Committee that did such a superb job of co-ordinating the 2005 events. Indeed, it is arguable that there were no truly 'national' events at all in 1905. Certainly there was nothing to match the National Maritime Museum's highly-acclaimed international exhibition Nelson and Napoleon; nor the moving national service at St Paul's Cathedral on Sunday 23 October 2005, attended by almost all the royal family. In 1905, the royal family were noticeably absent from the events. By contrast, their descendants in 2005 committed a great deal of time to the Festival - and on Trafalgar Night itself they were out in force, lighting celebratory beacons.
Another interesting, and significant, contrast between 1905 and 2005, is in the role accorded to Nelson. In 1905 he was central to almost every event and the other key players in the Trafalgar story received scant attention - Collingwood and Hardy were honoured in their own native counties, but most of the other captains were forgotten. In 2005, Nelson was still a key figure - but his comrades also received their due. Thanks to the work of The 1805 Club, the graves and memorials of all those who commanded ships at Trafalgar were located, and ceremonies held at them. A superb piece of original research - The Ayshford Roll - listed every man who fought at Trafalgar, together with his place of birth where known. As a result, communities all over Britain found that they had local heroes to honour, which gave a special personal touch to many of the events.
Now the excitement of the 2005 celebrations is past, it is this more personal element that remains strongest in my memory. And one key moment stands out. Once again, the scene is a cabin in a ship at Portsmouth but this time it is Nelson's own cabin in HMS Victory on Trafalgar Night itself. Dinner is about to begin, and around the long, polished mahogany table sit all the most senior admirals in the Royal Navy. First, however, the Lord High Admiral - Her Majesty the Queen - rises to propose the traditional toast. But instead of using the simple words 'The Immortal Memory' with which Nelson was remembered in 1905, Her Majesty reverts to words used when the toast was first drunk on board the Victory in 1846: "To the Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him."
And those who fell with him. That restored phrase is the perfect expression of the ethos of The Trafalgar Festival. And it sums up neatly why the 2005 celebrations were so much more true to the spirit of Nelson than those of 1905.
Director, Royal Naval Museum
(formerly Director of The Trafalgar Festival 2005)
David Shannon was,many years ago now, a guide in Nelson's Victory in Portsmouth. He never got tired of clambering on board to the smell of hemp and caulking, the unique acoustics, and the sheer history of it. A long serving committee member of The Nelson Society, Mr Shannon was at one time the Society's Vice Chairman before escaping to the warmer climes of Australia. He also edited The Nelson Dispatch for some years. Old habits die hard, because he is involved with The Nelson Society of Australia and runs a maritime publishing business.
Previous works by David Shannon:
Horatio Nelson: a catalogue of picture postcards 1987
Nelson:The Sussex Tradition 1994
Horatia Nelson Ward: A Factfile 1998
Nelsoniana: an anthology of notes and queries 1999
This is a small A5 size book, which concentrates solely on the 1905 Nelson celebrations with a Foreword by the late Dr Colin White who sadly died on Christmas Day 2008.
In the Foreword, Dr White tells us that there were those who were pessimistic about the 2005 celebrations for fear of upsetting the French: however we now know that once again the nation took Nelson to its heart.
Who would have believed it after 200 years, and yet it is right that it should be so. Why shouldn't the British shout about their triumph, every other nation does? Why are we singled out and frowned upon when we blow our own trumpet? Colin White raises the important fact in his Foreword and I agree wholeheartedly with him, in the importance of the toast in the cabin of HMS Victory, when in 2005 the original 1846 toast was drunk “To the immortal memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”.
The Royal Navy won at Trafalgar, the organisation succeeded because of prior training. Nelson was part of that efficient machine that was ready and up to the job, put in simple terms.
Being a Portsmouth lad and a man of Hampshire, I immediately turned to 'B' in the 'Britain' Chapter 3, because I was searching for Boarhunt in Hampshire.
On 4 July 1807 the first stone was laid of a granite obelisk monument to Nelson at the top of Portsdown Hill. This is near the village of Boarhunt. It was paid for by the Squadron, two days pay for every man and boy who fought at Trafalgar. It is this statue that would be closer to Nelson's heart - paid for by the men who fought alongside him and one of the first to be commenced. I would be surprised if in 1905 Nelson had not been remembered on this spot overlooking The Solent, not too far from the A3, the road to Merton. It's still a wonderful view and an improvement on London traffic.
The monument bears the legend 'Consecrated to the memory of Lord Viscount Nelson by the zealous attachment of all those who fought at Trafalgar to perpetuate his triumph and their regret 1805. Foundation stone laid July 1807'.
What a pity if people did not gather on this spot, the one monument paid for by his men.
David Shannon has put together a useful reference book to add to many already available on Nelson, his Officers and men.