Read the moving speech given just a few moments ago by the First Sea Lord at a climactic dinner on HMS Victory.
The First Sea Lord addressed the Queen, Prince Phillip and a host of international naval dignitaries at a dinner on HMS Victory at around 8.30pm tonight, the culmination of a year of events marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Here is the full unedited version of his speech:
“Your Majesty, your Royal Highness, brother and sister officers.
This very night 200 years ago, still unknown to the nation, a great sea battle had been won. The architect of that victory, a man adored and admired throughout the land, was tragically struck down and lay dead below in this his flagship – killed at the moment of his greatest triumph. We dine here this evening in the Great Cabin of HMS Victory, home to Nelson for all but a few days of the final two years of his life as he strove to bring the French Fleet to final decisive action.
200 years ago this cabin, which looks splendid tonight, would have looked very different. Nelson’s furniture and this wonderful table would have been struck below and this space and the great guns that filled it would have shown the scars of bloody battle. Victory, at the head of her column during the approach to the French and Spanish line, was engaged in close action throughout the battle and took enormous punishment. By the time the guns fell quiet at the end of the day, Victory lay wallowing in the long swell as the clouds gathered of the storm that would lash her for 5 days until she was brought safely to Gibraltar. Her rigging was shot away and she was left with only a part of her mainmast and only a stump of her mizzen mast. Below decks the pumps could barely cope with the inrush of water and she was close to sinking. 20 of the enemy’s 33 ships were destroyed or captured that day or the next for the loss of no British ships – a remarkable feat.
Your Majesty, I have this evening received a signal from HMS Chatham which reads “I am honoured to report that at 1720 local this afternoon Her Majesty’s Ship Chatham, in company with the Spanish Ships Principe de Asturias and Reina Sofia, and the French Ship Montcalm, laid a wreath on the site of the Battle of Trafalgar in memory of all those who fought and died on that historic day.”
In comparing 1805 and 2005, Nelson would recognise the role of the Royal Navy today, the importance of the sea to this island nation and the continued relevance of the sea to our day to day lives. With global markets and world energy supplies utterly dependent upon the free movement of maritime trade, maintaining the security of the maritime domain is as important now as it was in Nelson’s day.
Your Majesty – we are delighted that you and His Royal Highness are able to join us here tonight on this special occasion. As Lord High Admiral you know the Royal Navy well. I thank you for the role you continue to play and the deep interest you continue to show in maritime matters. It comes as no surprise – your grandfather, father, husband and two sons were naval officers. Yours, and that of your family, is a faithful service to the nation. History will show that you have resolutely guarded the vital role of the Crown in the Constitution of our country, being ever calm, wise, patient, sympathetic and strong. There has been no greater and finer reign than yours in a world more complex than it has ever been.”