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Letter From America: Blame Landseer!

Ronnie Bray tells of a meeting which failed to take place - and all because someone chose the wrong lion!

One of Great Britainís most enduring monuments is the centrepiece of Trafalgar Square where Sea Dog Horatio Nelson stands in stone atop an immense column that pierces the sky above Londonís Trafalgar Square, a fitting tribute to one of our nationís greatest heroes, Admiral Viscount Lord Nelson who beat the enemyís plan to invade the British Isles and secure them for France.

Nelson led a British Fleet of 32 ships against a French and Spanish combined fleet of 38 ships with 4,000 infantrymen set on their ships as marksmen to cut down British crews on the shipsí decks. Nelsonís singular victory at the Battle of Trafalgar ensured that Britainís dominance at sea remained unchallenged for the remainder of the 10 years of war against France, and continued worldwide for another 120 years.

Nelsonís statue standing on the column is larger than life at seventeen feet, the column itself being 185 feet high, so that the top of Nelsonís hat is 202 feet above Trafalgar square. Although the Battle took place in 1805, the square and monument were not completed until 1841, having taken 22 years to complete.

The base of the column is supported by four giant lions laid at ease but watchful, each facing away from the column itself producing an imposing memorial to a remarkable British sailor whose seamanship and tactical genius saved a grateful nation from foreign occupation by an ancient enemy.

The size of the monument makes it hard to miss, and so two lesser well known figures from British Military History chose it as a meeting place one day late in 1952 when the British Fleet Air Arm and the British Army each decided that they could manage reasonably well without the services of Able Seaman Peter David Yull, an Air Frame Engineer, and Craftsman Ronnie Bray, a Vehicle Mechanic, respectively.

With quite as much cunning as Nelson between them they devised a foolproof strategy to meet in London and nominated Nelsonís Monument as their rendezvous.

Craftsman Bray was, as is his wont, on time, and chose to stand by the lion that faced towards Westminster. As time went by and the delegate from the Fleet Air Arm did not hove into view, the War Officeís Military representative considered what could have delayed his long time friendís arrival at the place of assignation.

Craftsman Bray reached into his uniform pocket to retrieve his sealed orders and check the details, but finding his pockets devoid of such orders he instantly recalled that no such instructions had been issued, and that he was on his own. A chilling moment!

Considering an hour and a half after the appointed time had passed was sufficient for the Fleet Air Armís arrival, even if it had to be towed, the British Army abandoned the scene, hoping the while that nothing untoward had been fired across the bows of his Aeronautical Naval comrade-in-arms.

With arms and backbone at the slouch, the disappointed Craftsman wandered off resembling the interrogative that spun around his mind. But, answer came there none. UntilÖ

Until the next day when both parties met up at the Mormon Servicemenís Conference they were in town to attend. The debriefing was hilarious. Both parties had been true to their promise and each had been at the appointed place at the appointed time. That they did not see each other could be laid on the head of Sir Edwin Landseer, for he was responsible for the beasts at the base.

Although the column was completed in 1841, it was not until 1858, after much rancorous discussion and in-fighting, including consideration of several more sculptors, that Edwin Landseer was commissioned, at the sum of six thousand pounds, to sculpt and cast four colossal lions couchant to placed on the radial pedestals at the base of Nelsonís column.

Our mutual failure to meet was the result of their being four lions instead of only one, and was further influenced by the fact that each of us chose a lion crouched at 180 degrees from the lion of choice of the other.

Had either of us chosen to loiter a circuitous course around the base to assuage the ennui of waiting in vain for the other to appear, we would have been successful in achieving our first avowed intent to meet and dine together at Londonís finest restaurant whose bill of fare could be enjoyed for around two-and sixpence. Alternately, all this could have been avoided if Landseer had fashioned but a single King of Beasts rather than four.

As far as we could tell, neither the Fleet Air Arm nor the British Army suffered unduly from our presence, although some might disagree, particularly those closely connected with Craftsman Bray and his basic toolbox.

The experience, apart from providing humour in its telling, did encourage me to make plans that are more detailed for all future assignations: a practice I still employ. It makes life much easier, wastes less time, and is less confusing. And, at a point in life when ease is a requirement, time is in short supply, and confusion become a standard part of normal life, anything that helps ease the load is more than a little welcome.

© 2011 Ė Ronnie Bray


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