I have always been intrigued by the reaction of those on the spot when a great figure of history says or does something which becomes memorable.
One of the lieutenants aboard HMS Victory wrote the following about Lord Nelson’s famous signal made immediately before the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, in which Nelson was killed in action.
His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, ‘Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY’ and he added ‘You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action.’ I replied, ‘If your Lordship will permit me to substitute expects for confides the signal will soon be completed, because the word expects is in the vocabulary, and confides must be spelt,’ His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, ‘That will do, Pasco, make it directly.’
This became one of the most famous signals in naval history. But those on spot didn’t quite think so. Remarked one British captain to his officers, “Why does Nelson keep signaling, we all know what to do don’t we?”