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Author hails Nelson and the Admirals

PUBLISHED: 16:46 25 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:03 07 July 2010

Professor Andrew Lambert.

Professor Andrew Lambert.

THE nation's greatest Royal Naval son is Norfolk's Admiral Nelson. Now another son of Norfolk, who was brought up in Dereham, is doing his best to put naval history back in its place.

THE nation's greatest Royal Naval son is Norfolk's Admiral Nelson. Now another son of Norfolk, who was brought up in Dereham, is doing his best to put naval history back in its place.

Historian and author Professor Andrew Lambert is respected by today's Royal Navy for his wealth of knowledge about its history and what can be learned from it.

In fact he helps shape their strategy and teaches future captains and admirals about leadership.

But one of his bete noirs is our nation's lack of awareness of how much Britain was shaped by its great navy.

He found his sea legs at an early age, despite being brought up a relatively long distance from the coast, in Dereham.

Aged just three months he had his ritual dip in the North Sea on the Norfolk coast.

But it was the schoolboy's father's tales and photographs from his Royal Navy service in Korea in the early 1950s that really piqued the youngster's imagination.

Looking back, he says it astounds him that there was no teaching of naval history, despite its significance in the history of Britain, not least Norfolk, and in shaping the way the country is now.

He argues that the Royal Navy at its greatest was created in order for the country to carry out its world ambitions and that the creation of this great institution in turn shaped the way our country has grown and is.

And yet he says: “Apart from teaching on school holidays there was no schooling in naval history.

“The navy shaped the country we live in. As a nation we are ignorant of this. If you stand in central London you can't but notice a column with a statue of a man on top who happens to be a naval officer.

“What he is doing there rather escapes a large proportion of people. They do not get it. It is a tragic failure of education.

“The heart of our country was built around the navy.”

He is qualified to make such a comment. He is professor of naval history at King's College London, lectures worldwide on naval subjects, has served as secretary of the Navy Records Society and is president of the World Ship Society.

He is also a member of the Dereham branch of the Royal Naval Association.

Traditionally naval historians were only employed by the navy. While Prof Lambert does teach the navy, from the development of naval leadership to strategy, he also teaches university students.

And in his latest book, Admirals, due out in paperback in July, he aims to bring the lives of the careers of 11 admirals to a broader audience.

Their fascinating careers are told chronologically, often crossing over each other in career span, which means the book also gives a riveting overview of British naval history.

Many have been long overshadowed by Lord Nelson.

Two of his personal favourites are Admiral of the Fleet Sir William Parker and Admiral Geoffrey Hornby, “unexpected” characters, he said.

Both served during the 19th century, “when Britain was at its greatest”.

“The greatness was because they didn't have to fight. People didn't mess with a navy as big as it was,” he said.

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