An 11-year-old boy took part in the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. The Royal Navy awarded the boy a medal, it sold for £15,000.
The boy, Lieutenant William Pilch, joined the Navy at age ten as his family had close relations with Admiral Horatio Nelson.
William served as a first-class volunteer aboard HMS Bellerophon – a 74-gun ship nicknamed Billy Ruffian (Bellerophon).
Bellerophon at the Battle of Trafalgar
Historically, it was the first ship to retaliate against the French and Spanish fleets at the battle. The Bellerophon first took out the Spanish ship, Menorca. It then collided with the French vessel, Aigle, locking side-by-side for a one-on-one duel.
The French tried to capture the Bellerophon by ordering their men on Aigle to board the English ship. But Captain John Cooke motivated his crew, saying, “I see my situation, but I will die like a man.”
Captain Cooke personally led a counterattack that got him killed in hand-to-hand combat.
The crew of HMS Bellerophon fought firmly for half an hour until the Aigle steered away in an attempt to flee.
Tragically, the battle left 27 of Bellerophon’s crew dead and 123 wounded. However, amidst all that, William managed to emerge unscathed. On the other hand, Admiral Nelson, who was on-board HMS Victory, was killed by a French sharpshooter.
William after the Battle of Trafalgar
William, the youngest in battle, went on to fight at the Battle of Les Sables-d’Olonne in 1809. In his later life, Willian joined the Coastguard Watch. He served 50 years at sea. Hence, he was appointed as the Naval Knight of Windsor.
William died in 1864 at Broadstairs in Kent.
William’s medals, including a Naval General Service medal with a Trafalgar clasp, from his extensive service are being auctioned off by a private collector.
From London auctioneers Spink & Son, Robert Wilde-Evans said, “William was surely one of the youngest officers to participate in the Battle of Trafalgar.”
“Almost all Pilch’s life – through military and civilian service – was inexorably connected with the sea.”
“It’s been a real treat to research and attempts to do justice to his story.”
The medal went for £15,000, with buyer’s fees taking the final figure paid to £23,560.
Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement that occurred on 21st October 1805. It was a conflict between The Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies. The battle occurred during the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).
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As part of Napoleon’s plans to invade England, the French and Spanish fleets combined to take control of the English Channel. It was to provide the Grande Armée a safe passage.
Admiral Nelson was outnumbered – 27 British ships against 33 allied vessels, including the largest warship in either fleet, the Spanish Santísima Trinidad. To balance, Nelson sailed his fleet directly at the enemy’s battle line’s flank, hoping to break it into pieces.
His plan worked, leading The Royal Navy to win the decisive battle. The victory confirmed the naval supremacy Britain had established during the course of the eighteenth century. It has remained supreme since.