On This Day…

On the 21st October 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought


This was the last and the most significant of Admiral Nelson’s victories. The British fleet defeated Napoleon’s numerically stronger Franco- Spanish fleet off the coast of Spain and ensured the British control of the sea for the rest of the war and for much of the next 100 years.


Signalling and the Navy

The daytime signalling system used by the Royal Navy at the time was based on Lord Howe’s code which used a set of flags numbered 0 to 9 and about a dozen other flags with specific meanings. These were hoisted in combinations to transmit words, numbers, or messages listed in the Signal Book. Each letter of the alphabet was allotted a number, enabling words to be spelled out. The numeral flags could also be used to send numbers as such. Most signals were two-or three-flag combinations which referenced messages in the Signal Book. In 1799 there were 340 messages in the Signal Book.


Captain Sir Home Popham

In 1804 a new code was introduced that incorporated a vocabulary of some 2,000 words and 1,000 sentences devised by Captain Sir Home Popham. In this system, three- or four-flag hoists referred to words or phrases in the Signal Book. This type of hoist was preceded by the ‘telegraph flag’ that indicated that a vocabulary message was to be sent. The signal was ended with a finishing flag. Words not in the vocabulary were spelt out individually. The order in which flag hoists were read if there were several on different masts was: main, fore, mizzen, then starboard before port and upper yards before lower.


England expects…


Shortly before the fleets engaged Nelson decided to send a message showing his trust in his men. The planned message was ‘England confides that ever man will do his duty’ with ‘confides’ being used at the time as ‘trusts’ is done currently. However Lieutenant John Pasco the Signal Office suggested changing ‘confides’ which was not in the vocabulary with ‘trusts’ which was as this. This would avoid spelling out ‘confides’ and save time just before the battle commenced. The message thus was changed, for speed, from one that was clear to one that was ambiguous that could be either a display of trust or an instruction. Nevertheless it has remained one of the most famous of Naval signals. It was then replaced by the signal ‘ Prepare to anchor at the close of the day’ and then by the second famous signal ‘Engage the enemy more closely’.

Roger So Far

The Corps Centenary book ‘Roger So Far” celebrates many of the Corps’ achievements during its first 100 years.

This hardback, illustrated coffee table book is packed full of stories about people, units and events in the context of campaigns, technologies and equipment. RRP £30 with discounts for Regular, Reserve and Retired Corps members.

Buy now from the Royal Signals Museum Shop