When we first heard the King’s speech on the wireless, it was really a celebration of the Empire and its reinforcement, tightening the ties. My first recollection of Empire Day, although I know it was celebrated in most schools in England, was when it was celebrated in Livingstone. Unsurprisingly it was a ‘great day’, which started with some form of
military ceremony presided over by the Governor of Northern Rhodesia, followed by presents, games, and finishing with a bun fight for the children.
There was no doubt the early indoctrination of patriotic ideals and the strength of the bond between most of the population and the Crown was a feature of English life before the war, and never more so than in 1935 when we had The Jubilee, the Royal Funeral and then the Coronation of George VI. On the actual days of celebration there were sporadic street parties, and all the towns and villages were decked out. The papers had a field day with special editions and school children were involved up to the hilt. All the Crowned Heads of Europe and the potentates of the Empire were assembled and London was agog. Souvenirs were on sale everywhere and the London County Council (LCC) gave every child a commemorative EPNS spoon and an embossed or painted mug for both occasions and, in the case of the Jubilee, there was a separate parade by the King and Queen and all the panoply down The Mall at about midday especially for the children.. Public transport and special coaches brought the children there. Stalls, toilets and first aid stations had been erected in the Park and the youngsters had to be in place quite early. I was there, in the front row halfway down the Mall and constantly there was something to watch. For the first hour the excitement was enough but then we would see troops of soldiers on horseback, police on horseback and other people passing and re-passing, and each time a cheer would go up. The trees, lamp standards and the streets were decorated with flags and bunting from the real celebration and the atmosphere was electric. For whatever reason, patriotism was tangible.
On a purely personal level I regret the advice given to the Royals to come off their dais and try to meet the commoners on the same level. Their own history should have warned of the pitfalls awaiting them, and if they had only followed the progress of the Continental Press, after all they are fluent in the languages, they would have seen where it would all lead. Changing course, no matter how or when, will never retrieve what, in effect, we have all lost. The Dutch achieved the change, but I suspect their press is either more controlled or less aggressive.
The Severely Maligned London County Council
Londoners prized the LCC because of its Avant Garde approach to community care in all senses and aspects. The parks in Greater London, which were generally called ‘The Common’ by the locals, were valued and widely used. Well before ’33, when I sat the examination , the LCC had introduced a form of the Eleven Plus into the Public Elementary School system and I believe the general public were delighted and thought the LCC was advanced in its educational policies. There was no concern for the children being subjected to strain, everyone was only too glad to get the opportunity to have a chance of subsidised further education, instead of leaving at fourteen to become apprenticed, to work behind a counter or lean on a shovel. That it introduced segregation and consequently another category to the class system was evident, possibly resented by a few of the relegated, but accepted as a necessary ill by the majority. I still believe the LCC was right. In retrospect, there is no doubt that there was stress, there were times when tears were the order of the evening, when rows developed over nothing more serious than the answer to a homework question, but those times returned again after the Eleven Plus, they had to for all but geniuses. It is automatically part of the examination ethos and assessment is unlikely to convince an employer of an applicant’s ability An interesting highlight on this last view was the widely held notion among candidates for professional posts, right up until the ’80’s that appointment boards throughout the country, were more impressed by the number of institutions a candidate belonged to rather than either his experience or the quality of those same institutions. It seems that examinations have a psychological effect on employers. I think the LCC were first to use occupational psychology. About 1937/8 I attended aptitude tests, intelligence testing, the solving of problems and practical tests such as reassembling a mortise lock. They decided I was suited to Architecture – I became a Civil Engineer – close!