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 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. 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.