And now, even the flag has flown

A sad day in history: The last known surviving Union Jack to be flown at the Battle of Trafalgar has been sold to a private American collector after the National Maritime Museum dropped out of the bidding.

Here's a personal story.

Spencer Eastick looked down at his bloodied left hand and took out a handkerchief with his right, with which to wrap it. A moment's distraction whilst sharpening his sythe. He was used to it. The sun was not shining that day. Two years of bad harvests and the small bit of land his family rented had yielded only enough, just enough to feed himself, his sister, his mother and the old man who helped him.

Relaxing later at the inn, Spencer took out three pennies and ordered one more tankard of ale. It tasted bitter and stale, but he got a slice of bread and a piece of cheese into the bargain. It was quiet in the Inn. There was no mail coach to set the place a flutter. No clamour from the men after the harvest. That evening, the only other inhabitants was old Jem, who was mad, and a quiet travelling man who had been thrown from his horse and who had ordered three chops to eat and some burgundy.

The door of the inn was thrown open wide. Spencer looked up, somewhat drowsily and his blood ran cold enough to bring him straight to his senses.

"We are here in the King's name", said one. "And you, young man will take the King's shilling".

Spencer knew there was no point in fighting them off, no point in pleading. He was tired. Tired of struggling to live, tired of the burden of responsibility that had been thrust upon him at the age of fifteen, two years earlier when his father died. And so it was that he went quietly with the press gang to their muster point. A ship was anchored at Yarmouth, which he boarded. That day was the last on dry land for 11 months and when he finally made landfall, it was in a different world. By that time he could meet his cousin John and mock him gently for being a Marine and not a proper sailor.

Spencer's life in His Majesty's Navy was not all bad. He was popular and capable, and the rank of Able suited his character. Spencer Eastick was indeed able. He became strong on the enormous quantities of food on board; huge lumps of meat, stewed for hours on end, hard biscuits,poultry, ale, rum and suet pudding - the likes of which he had only seen at home at Christmas and during the good years of the harvest.

He shared life on board the Achilles with 520 other souls - a 74 gunner that measured less than One hundred and forty feet long by forty five at its very widest.

Nelson's reputation preceded him. Everyone in the Wooden World new when he was in charge. As always, the trepidation and fear that arose naturally out of the approach of battle was at least in part assuaged by this little, one-armed, one-eyed, hero of the Nile. Men smirked when his name was mentioned because he lived openly with his mistress, but they had confidence in him and felt proud to serve him. Whilst waiting for battle, a crew sewed a huge Union Jack together, out of pieces of ship's bunting. It would go into battle and show the enemy what they were made of.

As battle commenced, Spencer crouched ready by his gun and thought of home, of the Fens, of Norfolk and the life he had left behind. He knew he might be lucky, he knew he might not. He looked up at the flag and under his breath, piped, "for England, then".


Two of my ancestors served with Nelson.

The Battle of Trafalgar, took place on 21st October, 1805. On the Bellerophon there was John, rated as Private, Marine. On the Achilles there was Spencer, rated Able.I do not know their fate, but on the Bellerophon,74, there were 27 killed and 123 wounded, and on the Achilles, 74, there were 13 killed and 59 wounded.

1 comment:

Norton Folgate said...

Great piece of writing!