On this 21st day of October, 2005, one who was an English schoolboy fifty years ago cannot help thinking of the great sea-battle which took place just 200 years ago south of Spain, a little to the west of the Straits of Gibraltar: the battle of Trafalgar.
In that battle, as every English schoolboy used to know, two things happened. Firstly, the British Navy, under its popular and beloved Admiral, Horatio Nelson, administered a crushing defeat to the joint French and Spanish navies, thus putting an immediate end to Napoleon Bonaparte’s hopes of invading England with a land-army, and ensuring for Great Britain mastery of the seas for 100 to 150 years, until the United States Navy arose to take over that mastery.
But secondly, the price of the victory was the death of Admiral Nelson who about half an hour after his ship, the H.M.S. Victory, engaged in fierce combat with the French ships, was struck in the shoulder and spine by a mortal bullet from a French sharp-shooter high in the masts of the “Redoutable”. Taken immediately below desks, Nelson died about three hours later, in time to know that 17 enemy ships had been captured, more than half the enemy fleet, but less than the 20 ships he had hoped for.
Every English schoolboy used to know at least three quotations of Nelson from the battle. Just before the battle began, he signaled to his fleet – “England expects every man to do his duty”. And as he lay dying, “Kiss me, Hardy” – Nelson was a man of human needs and affections (not a homosexual!), and Hardy was the Captain of the H.M.S. Victory who had been walking with Nelson above decks when Nelson was struck. Finally, as Nelson knew victory was certain, “Thank God I have done my duty”.
Of course every nation needs – or used to need – its heroes, and Nelson has remained a popular hero of the British people for now 200 years. In his own day he received high honors from many nations of Europe because he so successfully limited Napoleon’s plans of Revolutionary conquest.
Nelson was a slight man, perhaps 5 feet 6 inches high, but he was a great warrior, “a poet in action”, who sparkled with life as he engaged in combat. He was an inspired leader of men, and had what was known as “the Nelson touch”. He did not crush initiative on the part of his subordinates, on the contrary he expected them to take their own decisions according to the immediate circumstances of combat which only they could know. At the time of the Battle of Copenhagen, one of his great sea-battles prior to Trafalgar, he was not the Commander-in-Chief of the British fleet, but with his own pact of the fleet he attacked the enemy so daringly that his Commander-in-Chief signaled to him with flags to pull back. Told of this, Nelson proceeded with his one arm to lift his telescope to his blind eye, and saying “I see no such signal”, went on to win a great victory!
And how does this all seem 200 years later? Ah, my dear friends, the nations are no longer what they were. As International Catholicism, or Christendom, was broken by loss of the Catholic Faith into pieces, or warring nations, so now, justly, those warring nations are, in their blindness, seeking to re-unite in International Anti-Catholicism, let us call it Globalism. That is why in all the nations national heroes are now being discredited and schoolboys are being fed instead with virtual or electronic heroes, like those of “Star Wars”. And from a world of virtual heroes is growing up a world of hollow men.
Yet real reality is all the time imposing itself, and martyrdom draws day by day closer for Catholics who seriously wish to get to Heaven, and not just to the top of a column in London’s Trafalgar Square. To prepare us for martyrdom, we need leaders with the Nelson touch, but in the Faith. Archbishop Lefebvre, a “Frenchy”, as Nelson would have called him, was certainly one such. Let us join in praying for many more, because only God can raise such leaders, through the intercession of his Most Holy Mother. Help of Christians, pray for us.