A suggestion for a talk to secondary school pupils about the Battle of Trafalgar

State funerals are very rare. Usually when someone dies their family and friends go to a local place of worship, or to a crematorium, for a short and quite private funeral service.

But just occasionally, when someone very greatly respected dies, we have a state funeral. People such as a king, or a queen (like Victoria) or a great statesman and soldier like the Duke of Wellington.

In England state funerals are always held in London in either St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Before the funeral. the body of the dead person lies in state in a splendid hall. People queue up to walk past to pay their respects. On the day of the funeral there is a magnificent procession. People crowd into the streets to watch it.

Two hundred years ago today a man died who was great enough to have a state funeral. Who was he? He was Horation Nelson, the Admiral who commanded the British fleet when it won the Battle of Trafalgar.

Today is 21 October. Nelson's funeral was on 9 January 1806. That's more than two months later. Why? Nelson died at sea, off Cape Trafalgar on the coast of Spain. In those days ships depended on the wind and their sails for movement. Think of the time it would take to bring the body back to England.

It took a long time for news of the victory at Trafalgar and of Nelson's death to reach England. The Times newspaper - the major national paper of the day - gave news of the victory and of Nelson's death only on 6 November.

There were no telephones in those days.

In fact Nelson's funeral took two days altogether! His body lay in state at Greenwich from 5 to 7 January. It was then taken on 8 January in the state barge, in a great procession of barges on the river, up the Thames to Whitehall Stairs. From there it was taken in another procession to the Admiralty.

The next day, 9 January, there was another great procession through the streets of London from the Admiralty to St Paul's Cathedral. It was quite late in the day when it reached St Paul's. There was a service by candlelight before the body was lowered into its tomb.

The processions provided the opportunity for many thousands of people to line the streets and to pay tribute to their hero. In the days before the funeral the Times newspaper carried a lot of advertisements from people who owner buildings on the route of the procession, offering a view from their windows - at a price.

The service gave the opportunity to thank God for the life of a brave seaman who had helped to save Britain from the might of Napoleon Bonaparte.

We can still give thanks for Nelson and other heroes like him today.

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