The Battle of Trafalgar is usually celebrated by commissioned officers of the Royal Navy by holding a Trafalgar Night dinner in the Officer’s Mess. Other interested parties also hold Trafalgar Night dinners in commemoration of the battle and Lord Nelson.
There is no fixed menu for this occasion, but the following dishes could be used:
Breaking the Line – Smoked salmon and lemon with capers
Cannon Balls – Melon balls
Trafalgar Duo – Roulade of salmon and sole
Fleet Broadside – Beef Wellington with Port wine and shallots
Mizzen Main Course – Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding
Victory Dessert or Dessert Hamilton – Poached pears
Hardy’s Finale – Cheese and biscuits
Caribbean coffee and Gibraltar mints
However, other dishes can be accommodated and named with Nelson/Trafalgar connections. It should be remembered that after the meal, port is usually drunk and passed to the left.
The tradition of toasting, in the sense of offering a dedication to a shared round of communal drinking has ancient roots. In various cultures it was not uncommon to pour off the first bit of a drink “for the gods” or to offer a libation in the form of pouring some wine onto an altar. So, where does toast fit in?
In England it was common to flavor wine with a bit of browned or spiced toast. In the early 1700s a poet wrote of a lady whose name would “flavor a wine like spiced toast”. This seems to be the origin of associating a specific individual or institution with the ceremony of “toasting”.
Unless there are foreign visitors in the wardroom it is forbidden to propose any toast prior to the Loyal Toast to the health of the British Sovereign. If there are foreign officers present it is considered good manners to drink to the health of their head of state first.
Never clink glasses. If a glass is heard ringing it is said to herald the death of a sailor. If you stop the ring the bad omen is converted to the death of two soldiers. That is not considered to be much of an issue.
On shore non drinkers may politely drink a toast in water. But aboard ship this is bad luck, and suggests that the object of the toast will die by drowning.
The Loyal Toast
STAYING SEATED THROUGH THE LOYAL TOAST – A NAVAL TRADITION
There are numerous stories reputed to have started the naval tradition of officers having the privilege of sitting during the loyal toast to the Sovereign. Many cannot be substantiated, but remain current to this day.
1. Charles II : King Charles, on his return from exile in Holland, in May 1660 was aboard the Naseby, re-named Royal Charles. He is reputed to have bumped his head on a low beam in the cabin when responding to a toast. He is reputed to have exclaimed: “When I get ashore, I’ll see that my naval officers run no such risk, for I will allow them from henceforth to remain sitting when drinking my health.
2. Restoration: The Navy had a large influx of gentlemen volunteers who formed a considerable mess. As they were not seamen by upbringing, they would have had great difficulty keeping their feet.
3. George IV: As Prince Regent, while dining aboard a warship is reputed to have exclaimed as the officers rose to drink the King’s health, “Gentlemen, pray be seated. Your loyalty is above suspicion.” The Prince was at constant variance with the King and favoured the Whig Opposition, but it is a matter of speculation as to whom their loyalty was directed. The Navy generally consider that loyalty to the person of the Sovereign takes precedence over political ties.
4. William IV: While he was Duke of Clarence, he was dining on a man-of-war and is also reputed to have bumped his head on a deck beam when he stood up. Probably more realistic are the following:
5. It was impossible to stand upright “between decks” except between the beams, so consequently only every third person would have been unable to stand erect.
6. The table was often fixed to the deck against a settee, so it would have been impossible for half the officers to stand with any degree of dignity.
All officers must stand if the National Anthem is being played during the toast.
Officers of the Royal Yacht also stand as a distinction of the honour serving on the Yacht.
In 1966, the Queen extended the privilege to Chief and Petty Officers of the Royal Navy.
Other Royal Naval Toasts
The Toasts of the Royal Navy are a set of traditional drinking toasts.
Day – Toast
Sunday – “Absent Friends”
Monday – “Our Ships at Sea”
Tuesday – “Our Men”
Wednesday – “Ourselves” (As no-one else is likely to concern themselves with our welfare!)
Thursday – “A Bloody War or a Sickly Season”
Friday – “A Willing Foe and Sea-Room”
Saturday – “Wives and Sweethearts” (May they never meet!)
The words in brackets are understood but unspoken, though often those not toasting will say them in response. By tradition, these toasts were proposed immediately after the loyal toast, on the relevant day of the week.
While most of these toasts are self-explanatory, “a bloody war or a sickly season” refers to the desire and likelihood of being promoted when many people die: during war or sickness.