21 October is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, when the British Navy defeated the combined French and Spanish Navies. It was a battle fought within the Napoleonic Wars that took place from 1803 to 1815. Of course, being a History teacher I would know that, wouldn’t I?
Then again – why would a History teacher need to know everything that ever happened? For one thing, our brains just can’t hold all that information and second, we do not teach this battle, nor the Napoleonic Wars, to mainstream classes. Perhaps at Advanced Level but certainly not for the younger children. Why is that? It was a battle that demonstrated the naval supremacy of the British led by Admiral Lord Nelson, who displayed his strategic skills in going against orthodox tactics to gain victory. Lord Nelson’s statue stands atop his own column within Trafalgar Square in London. His ship, HMS Victory, is now docked in Portsmouth and serves as a tourist attraction and reminder of how Napoleon’s planned invasion of Britain was thwarted. Art has captured the battle and his deathbed, the BeeGees and even Star Trek have found inspiration in the Battle of Trafalgar and Lord Nelson.
So why are children prevented from learning about such a landmark event in their History?
The same reason why this current generation thinks that Churchill is that nodding dog from the car insurance advert. Great wartime leaders, especially British ones, are seen from those above (by this I mean government education bodies) as a little bit embarrassing. As a nation we do not condone violence or celebrating it. Well, I’m certainly in favour of that. Despite the fact that I constantly write about battles and warriors, I do not like violence.
However, I do not like going to the dentist or hospital either. But sometimes we have to indulge in unpleasant or painful things in order to get better. I consider myself a pacifist – yes, really – but in all of these cases we have to look at the consequences. If I refused to get that tooth filled it may have led to infection, abscesses, erosion of my jawbone and even death. Pharaoh Rameses II died of a tooth abscess. So if Sir Winston Churchill did not declare war against Hitler and Germany and Nelson did not win against Napoleon we could be speaking a different language by now. Both of these men fancied world domination and Britain stopped them.
Of course we don’t want our children thinking that Britain is some kind of supreme nation as in the days of the British Empire. What we need to teach them is that we have to stand up to tyrants and bullies. Children can identify with that and understand that it is not an easy thing to do.
Having said all that, I am now trying to forget Admiral Lord Nelson and HMS Victory as I prepare for my cruise to Italy and the splendours of Rome and Florence.