The island of Menorca, also known as Minorca, has long been a favorite among holiday travelers, so much so that the island is nicknamed, ‘The Holiday Island’. Anyone familiar with the novels of author Patrick O’Brian, who wrote “Master and Commander”, a recent movie starring global heartthrob Russell Crowe, knows that Menorca is a prime location setting for his high seas adventure novels.
These days however, Menorca is known for her sun-speckled beaches, incredibly blue waters, native attractions and exotic foods. The small island, which spans a mere 35 miles long and wide, is located in the Mediterranean Sea. Under Spanish control, the island has long been known, and visited, by travelers from around the world who wish to see two thousand year old, giant megalithic stone monuments as well as to absorb its rich pirate history. Pirates no longer use Menorca as a haven from Romans seeking them, but Menorca is just as popular as it always has been due to its beautiful landscapes, sheer cliffs, mysterious caves, sea life and laid-back vacation atmosphere.
However, the island, despite its gentle appearance, has a history rich in battles and military history. The British have long found Menorca to be one of the most popular holiday spots, though few know of its illustrious, if somewhat dubious, military history. Following recent incidents involving the British Royal Navy, the British people, proud of their military history and participation in the defense of freedom, may not be surprised to discover that another incident which involved the Royal Navy persists to this day, the roots of the incident rooted deep in the sands and ruins of British occupation on Menorca.
In 1757, a British sea admiral by the name of John Byng was shot by a firing squad because, according to his British peers, he failed to “do his utmost” to defend St. Phillip Fort against attack by French forces. It did not seem to matter to his peers, snug in their homes in England, that he was undermanned and commanded ships already damaged during previous skirmishes, nor that he probably saved the lives of his crewmen by sparing them battle which would most probably have hastened them to their doom. Byng was court-martialled, labeled a coward and executed on March 14, 1757.
Despite the passage of 250 years, Admiral Byng’s descendants have attempted to gain a posthumous pardon for the Admiral, who seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, a time when sound judgment passed for cowardice during the traumatic Seven Years’ Wars fought between 1756 and 1763. Byng is buried in Bedfordshire. His epitaph reads, “To the perpetual disgrace of public justice, the honourable John Byng, admiral of the blue, fell a martyr to political persecution on 14th march in the year 1757, when bravery and loyalty were insufficient securities for the life and honour of a naval officer.”
Menorca, a favorite holiday destination, is filled with historical memories and lessons to be learned if we but care to remember and listen to the voices and legacies of those who stepped on her hot, white sands before us. Visiting Menorca provides not only prime holiday favorites; sunshine, glistening ocean waves and warm, luxurious sands, but an opportunity to explore history, up close and personal.
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