'Politically correct' show marks Trafalgar battle

29th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PORTSMOUTH, England, June 28 (AFP) - Hundreds of ships from around the world gathered on Tuesday off the English coast to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, when the British navy defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet.

PORTSMOUTH, England, June 28 (AFP) - Hundreds of ships from around the world gathered on Tuesday off the English coast to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, when the British navy defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet.

More than 160 vessels from around 40 countries moored in the Solent channel off Portsmouth, the home town of Britain's Royal Navy, for the start of celebrations to mark battle off the southern Spanish coast on October 21, 1805.

Capping a day of lavish ceremony, replica 19th century ships used huge amounts of smoke and blazing pyrotechnics to stage a recreation of Admiral Horatio Nelson's famous victory, a battle in which he lost his life to a sniper's bullet.

Many thousands cheered from the shore as multi-masted wooden tall ships lined up opposite each other and fired simulated cannon broadsides, flashes of orange fire booming from their hulls.

The event culminated with a massive fireworks display, involving double the amount of pyrotechnics used at the 2004 Athens Olympics -- something too costly to even have been rehearsed.

The commemoration comes at another difficult time for Anglo-French relations, following bitter spats earlier this month over the European Union budget and competition to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

In a sop to national feelings, the recreation of the battle pitted 'red' and 'blue' teams of ships against each other, without explicit national symbols.

That decision has brought criticisms of excessive political sensitivity, with Anna Tribe, 75, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Nelson, calling the idea "pretty stupid".

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who led the celebrations, also heeded the sensitivities of the defeated countries by hailing Nelson's courage, seamanship and leadership rather than his victory.

Such qualities "are shared among our maritime community today," the queen said in a written message before carrying what was out the largest peacetime naval review in British history.

Atop the deck of an Antarctic survey ship, she inspected aircraft carriers, battleships, wooden tall ships, ocean liners, yachts and other vessels assembled off the southern port of Portsmouth.

Many among the 250,000 people who lined the shores of the Solent channel gave three cheers when the monarch, wearing a light-blue outfit and clasping a broad-brimmed hat in the breeze, set sail for the fleet review.

Peter Workman, chairman of the International Festival of the Sea which organised the ceremonies, admitted his plans for the events "got a little bit watered down" to avoid offending France and Spain.

It was a "shame not to be more upfront" with the commemoration, he said.

"It is one of those things where people were a little bit too sensitive to what the French might feel about it. This is a period in history where sensitivity is to the fore.

"This is a shared experience: there were heroes on every side at Trafalgar."

Tribe, the descendant of Nelson and his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton, was more blunt, saying: "I think the idea of the 'blue team' fighting the 'red team' is pretty stupid," she said.

In addition to the 67 British warships taking up position in the Solent, there were 43 foreign ships, from countries including the United States, France, Spain, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada, South Korea, India and South Africa.

It was just the first of a six-day festival planned for the port city.

The epic Battle of Trafalgar finished the threat of invasion by emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's France and established British naval supremacy for the next century.

The British did not lose a single ship, while 18 opposing vessels were destroyed.

Organizers of the commemoration said 624 British sailors and marines died and another 1,402 were wounded, while losses on the French and Spanish side were approximately 7,000.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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