Rector's Letter - Remembering Trafalgar
The Rectory - November 2005
It is Trafalgar Day. And it is one of the foulest days weather-wise that we have had for months. So the kind invitation from the Commanding Officer of TS Orion, the excellent Colwick-based Sea Cadet Corps detachment, to join them this evening for their Parade, Twenty-One Gun Salute and Beacon-lighting took on a rather different colour from what any of us had been hoping! I arrived there in a howling gale and driving rain, and although the rain slackened from time to time, it remained inhospitable throughout the evening.
That did not deter the cadets, or their committed officers and NCOs. The parade continued, and whilst the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, a number of other councillors and special guests sought minimal shelter behind a wall, the parade (and a bulkhead baptism to boot!) went ahead. The young people, in their No1 uniforms were immaculately turned out, the specially built beacon was lit successfully, and the Twenty-One Gun Salute, (using what amounted to rather large caps, with all the unpredictability that I remember from my childhood toy guns) was completed with dignity. A March Past to the recorded tones of the Royal Marine March 'For a Life on the Ocean Wave', demonstrated the skill and commitment of instructors and cadets alike. I confess that the wine and refreshments at the end, on the (covered) Bridge, came as a great relief to the landlubbers amongst us!!
So thank you to all at TS Orion for a brief reminder of what life on the ocean wave might be like! By the time you read this, there will have been a great service of celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in St Mary's, for the whole District of the Sea Cadet Corps, and it is fortuitous that I was able to invite Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury to preach at it, as he was here to give the Friends of St Mary's Annual Address, this same weekend.
I confess, however, that when we started out on the trail towards this celebration, I really wasn't sure what we were celebrating, nor the spirit in which we should offer it. It would be wholly wrong, in every way, to make it a sort of bombastic, nationalistic event celebrating victory over the French. And the extraordinary, barbaric and cruel suffering of those who took part in sea battles in those days makes it difficult to rejoice at any part of the event itself. And yet... firstly there was remarkable courage shown by all involved, on both sides. The depths which can be plumbed by human beings in the face of battle between right and wrong (wherever they may be perceived to lie by combatants) is something to remember if not with thanksgiving, with admiration. And then there is Nelson himself. Anyone who knows their history will know little bits of his story. His brilliance, that saw him a Captain by the time he was twenty; his courage which ensured that despite awful personal injuries, he still led the English fleet to victory in 1805; his chequered personal life, remembered mainly in the figure of Emma, Lady Hamilton; but most significantly the gift that singled him out from most other famous military leaders, his humanity that clearly grew from a profound Christian Faith. He treated all his men, of every rank and none, as human beings, and in doing so he inspired in them that loyalty and courage that made all the difference. So, we can remember Nelson, we can remember Trafalgar, as we go on during November to remember those who have given their lives in war especially in the twentieth century, not in order to glorify warfare. No-one in their right minds does that. But because in times of trial and suffering and of evil, the remarkable riches of the human soul can be discovered amidst everything else.
As we approach Advent once more, the challenge laid down for us is equally to plumb the riches of our faith, to immerse ourselves in the deepest truths that we have inherited, to remember, literally to call into the present, the gifts and blessings of God's grace through the ages in order that Christmas might be a real celebration of the Majesty of God born in a stable so bare.
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