Sailors and Marines enjoy unique celebration on HMS Victory as a thank-you for their efforts

Outstanding men and women from across the Naval Service celebrated the greatest sea victory in British history at a unique dinner aboard Nelson’s flagship.

Ninety-four sailors and Royal Marines were invited to join First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas and Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral David Steel for an all-ranks Trafalgar Night dinner on HMS Victory in Portsmouth as a reward for their efforts on the front line.

Trafalgar Night is typically celebrated each October 21 by the RN’s Officer Corps. Warrant officers and senior ratings have their own celebration around November 4, Pickle Night, marking the arrival of HMS Pickle in Falmouth with news of the victory and of Nelson’s death.

More junior personnel rarely have the chance to gain an insight into this part of the Royal Navy’s heritage so, as a small start to correcting this, the mixed-rank dinner was held aboard Victory in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.

It made me feel proud that I belong to something and made me realise that we have still the best Navy in the world and it is just as good as we had back in 1805.

LPT Oliver Perkins

Nominations to attend were received from commanding officers across the Service, with a final 94 being chosen for their hard work, determination and positive contribution to front-line operations.

Guests were treated to a tour of the 250-year-old man o’war, posed for a group photograph as a memento and then, after a Royal Marines bugler sounded the ‘Call to Dinner’, sat down on Victory’s lower gun deck for a traditional beef Wellington, followed by sticky toffee pudding for desert. 

“For a junior rate attending a dinner on HMS Victory was a real eye opener,” said LPT Oliver Perkins, physical training instructor on Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Duncan.

“It made me feel proud that I belong to something and made me realise that we have still the best Navy in the world and it is just as good as we had back in 1805.”

The Band of the Royal Marines Portsmouth provided a jazz quintet but it was when sea shanties, the Navy’s anthem Heart of Oak, Drunken Sailor and Rule Britannia that the gun deck came alive – thanks especially to traditional rivalries between submariners and Royal Marines; the latter were the loudest singers on the night, if not necessarily the most in tune.

The experience was, said logisticians LLogs(SC) Naomi Doyle, of Plymouth-based icebreaker HMS Protector, “truly overwhelming, with plenty of atmospheric emotions. I was honoured and privileged to have been awarded this opportunity to attend and I proudly raised my glass to one of the greatest war heroes onboard HMS Victory.”

AB(MW) Ollie Dodd, nominated by minehunter HMS Atherstone, added: “As a rating this is something that was totally alien and the privilege to not only attend such a prestigious event, but also to sit down to dinner next to the Second Sea Lord while listening to the First Sea Lord is something that I would not have envisaged happening during my Naval career.”

Vice Admiral Steel said that the 94 ratings attending “had an evening that I am sure they will remember forever and I am in no doubt at all that it will be the talk of the Fleet for a very long time to come.

“But, most importantly, it was a way for the First Sea Lord and me to thank them all personally for their dedication and commitment to the Naval Service. It was an absolute delight to meet some of the incredibly talented sailors and Royal Marines that the Naval Service is so very lucky to have.”

The event was made possible through grants from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and the Royal Navy’s Rebalancing Lives fund and the aim is to make the all ranks dinner an annual event in the RN calendar for the most deserving junior and senior rates.

Images by LA(Phot) Gary Weatherston