8 October 2015
Today Year 5 set out with Louise and Stefan on what promised to be a smashing trip to the HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. On the way there we chatted excitedly at the prospect of the adventure to come. Once there, we jostled along a rickety metal plank to board the ship and found ourselves on the lower gun deck. Colossal black guns crouched there like malevolent panthers.
The smells of old timber and salty seawater wafted through the ship. We slumped down on worn wooden benches in the stern and listened to our guide talk us through flag signals and how to reload a gun. We became Powder Monkeys who put sacks of gunpowder into canisters ready to reload the ship's guns. In real life the Powder Monkeys could have been boys of our age, whose parents could no longer look after them. Thankful that our lunches were not salty, rotten or full of maggots, we ate heartily and talked over the trip so far.
After lunch we ascended to the Forecastle – the open front deck of the ship – and found a tiny bronze plate. 'Here Nelson Fell' it read in beautiful ornate letters. This was the place where such a great man was struck down in battle at Trafalgar by a French sniper. It made me feel solemn. I pictured the smell of gunpowder, the noise of roundshots striking ships and in my mind the ship filled with brave warriors.
Like the wounded men in battle we descended to the Orlop. It was dank, dark and dingy. It would have been even darker without the dim glow of the ship's lanterns. This is where the surgeon carried out his grisly work amputating the arms and legs of injured sailors. Nelson was taken here when he lost his arm at the Battle of Copenhagen. Remarkably, Nelson was the only man to survive his amputation on this particular boat. The others would have died of infection or blood loss.
Even lower, even darker, the spooky depths of the Hold were full of shadows and reflections. It gave you the unnerving feeling that the men of the past were still haunting this ship. There were no lanterns here so you could barely see your friend even if they were standing next to you. Rats infested this area where food was stored in wooden boxes. The smell of dried meat and salty preservatives still lingered in here. This is where they dragged the barrel from, into the Orlop for Nelson's body to rest in.
It was a wonderful trip that made me consider the past and the lives of the men aboard this vessel. I would recommend it to all.