Mum pulled out a couple of boxes tonight, with all our old documents: old letters, cards, wedding stuff, school stuff, both hers, dad’s, and mine. We’ve spent a lovely evening reminiscing, the pair of us, and I came across a story that I had written at school, which mum carefully copied out. Its not dated, but it is signed by me, and from the style of signature, I think I must have been about 11 or 12. So… to hear from my 11 year old self, a story set on the ‘Victory’, the famous ship that Horatio Nelson died on at the Battle of Trafalgar.

“I was on the ship “Victory” on October 21st, 1805. In the morning of the day, everyone was very glum and quiet. No man laughed, no mouse squeaked. Every man, every boy was saying his prayers. A few talked quietly, but not many. Everyone knew that when the drummers started drumming, the battle would begin.

I was all tensed up, wondering if i would come out alive from the battle. There were many men, some from Spain, Italy, and men from all different countries. There was one man, called Joshua, a black man who I liked the look of. But he came from Africa and no one could understand what he said.

‘Lunch!’ cried someone, probably an officer and we were all handed a piece of pork. This was a treat as we only used to get oats with maggots in.

There was a lot of shouting and singing and I enjoyed myself tremendously. The only drawback was the thought of battle.

‘Drrrrrrrrruuuummmm!’ … ‘Drrrrrrrruuuuuum!’ came the sound of the drums. Everyone instantly jumped jup and started to load the cannons. It was hard work and the balls were heavy and precious. If you dropped one it would break through the wood and the water would come rushing in. Then the ship would sink. One man dead. Two men dead already. Would I ever come out of this alive? Three men dead. All the guns were loaded and it was time to fire. It was my job to pull the cord.

‘Fire!’ … ‘Fire!’ … ‘Fire!’ and so on. When it was our cannon’s turn to fire, I pulled the cord and jumped back. As we were loading the cannon again, someone was carried through, and I got a glimpse of the face. It was Lord Nelson.

‘The Lord Nelson!’ I shouted above all the rumbling noises. In fact I was so busy, I didn’t notice that the cannon was loaded.

‘Wake up, Billy!’ a friend shouted in my ear, and I got ready to pull the cord.

‘Fire!’ … ‘Fire!’ … ‘Fire!’ once again. I was so busy wondering what had happened to Nelson that I forgot to jump back.

‘Ahhhhhhh!’, I yelled. ‘Quick, get it off!’ I was carried into the cockpit. It was my turn soon.

‘You are lucky’, the surgeon told me. ‘We can save your leg. You will only have to lose two toes.’

‘Oh No!’, I thought. ‘How long will I be able to bear the pain?’ Then I passed out and I knew nothing more.

When I woke up I found myself on the floor. I wanted to see the sun, so I crawled up to where the guns were firing. I looked out of the window, but what did I see? No beautiful sun, just clouds, wreckage, and a pig swimming through the water.

Then, as a ship blew up, a splinter went through my head and I fainted, thinking I was going to die, and I quickly said some prayers. In my heart I suddenly knew I was going to die…..

What’s interesting for me, reading back over this, is both the holes in the story (I fainted AND said my prayers? and there are no windows on board ship!) and the way that things are not explained, is also the groping towards good writing techniques.. and the imagination! I remember visiting the Victory during a school trip, so I would have learned some things from that trip, but honestly, where does the imagination pull a pig swimming through the water, or a black man on board? What’s interesting is that i learned recently from a television programme that there were often black men (slaves) serving aboard Royal Navy ships of the time, and a ship consisting of mostly black men served with honours at Trafalgar, and what happened afterwards to the men who survived was very sad. But I’m not sure my 11 year old self would’ve known all this. How fascinating…

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