It’s Trafalgar Day so you’ll forgive me a brief historical excursion.
205 years ago the British navy inflicted a comprehensive defeat on the combined fleet of France and Spain. It did so by executing a bold plan with rigorous professionalism. And all in the face of odds that would make most think twice.
At this safe remove it’s hard to imagine what that day must have been like. The slow inevitable closing of the fleets. The British ships unable to bring their guns fully to bear for an hour or more in which they were targeted by the Franco-Spanish fleet. The strange anticipation of danger that while remote gets closer with every passing second.
Of course the facts of the battle are well-known. Less so is what then happened to the broken and bloodied fleets. After all the man-made carnage and mayhem Nature decided to have a go too.
After fighting the most decisive naval battle up to that point in history, with ships shattered by gunfire, masts reduced to mangled stumps, steering shot away and many thousands of men (and women) horribly wounded. The family like ships’ crews shattered by the death and injury of so many colleagues. Berths empty. Stations without their guardians.
After all that came the storm. Hurricane-force winds threw ships around like corks. It’s hard to imagine the feelings of the survivors of the battle. Men who had faced death with calm acceptance during the battle later admitted to being terrified by the storm. I suppose it’s the arbitrary nature of forces beyond your control.
Sailors from both sides fought the storm together. British sailors risked their lives taking wounded enemy sailors off their shattered ships in seas that would daunt even the hardiest modern lifeboat crew. But when the wind finally abated only four of the twenty French or Spanish ships captured in the battle reached Gibraltar.
For me the story of Trafalgar is incomplete without thinking about the storm too.
Thinking of all this draws me inevitably into thinking about the position public servants find themselves in this morning. If yesterday was the battle. Today brings the start of the storm.
Looking through the documents issued alongside the CSR statement yesterday suggests to me that for some organisations and communities the winds they’ll face will feel storm force. The fact the overall percentage figure for the cuts is slightly less than feared will be of small cheer. Storm force not a hurricane is not really a cause for celebration.
Public services depend upon the professionalism of all of those who deliver them. But professionalism is, like courage, sometimes exhaustible. Today public servants, who unlike me don’t yet know their fate, will have one eye (at least) on whether they will be one of the 489,999 – I’ve taken me out – public servants to lose their job. The challenge now for those people and the people who lead them is how the storm gets navigated.
Good luck on this Trafalgar Day.