Category Archives: English History

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae is remembered for what is probably the best known and most popular of all First World War poetry.  It is believed that he was so moved by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmet, who had been killed by a shell burst, and inspired by the profusion of wild poppies he could see in the nearby cemetery, that he wrote In Flanders Fields. Sadly, John McCrae did not survive WW1; he died from pneumonia whilst on active duty in 1918.  He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Wimereux Communal cemetery.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We live, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold on high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army (1872-1918)

My mother’s father was involved in this war and served in many areas of conflict – but not in Flanders.  He died in the mid-1930s and, according to my mother, the doctor said it was because of what he did in the war.

 

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What Guy Fawkes could have done!

I just can’t leave the following alone.  It was in the ‘Daily Mail’ of Saturday 28th October 2017 in their ‘Weekend Magazine’ supplement.  It reads:

‘If Guy Fawkes had managed to blow up Parliament on this day – Saturday 5th November 1605 – it has been calculated that the 5,500lbs of gunpowder would have also destroyed everything within a 500-metre radius – and that that would have included Westminster Abbey!’

 

A king that changed England

Anne became Queen of England on Wednesday 8th March 1702 and, on Sunday 1st May 1707, under the Acts of Union, two of her realms, the kingdoms of England and Scotland, united as a single sovereign state known as Great Britain.  Seven years later, on Wednesday 1st August 1714, she died in Kensington Palace in London.

Let us roll forward now to Saturday 20st October 1714.  By the terms of the Act of Settlement, at her death Queen Anne, who had no surviving children, was to be succeeded by her second cousin; George, Elector of Hanover who was to be crowned King George I on this day in Westminster Abbey.  However, the service was less than smooth!

George could not speak much English so the ceremonies had to be conducted mostly in Latin as his ministers could speak no German!

He was also not a choice of most people in the country and, on the Coronation day, banners mocking the new king were displayed throughout the country. When loyalists celebrated the Coronation they were disrupted by rioters in over twenty towns in the south and west of England. In addition to this, the Tory aristocrats and gentry absented themselves from the Coronation, and in some towns they arrived with their supporters to disrupt the Hanoverian proceedings.

Things were happening across parts of Britain on the night before the coronation.

In Taunton one Francis Sherry said that “on the morrow we must take up Arms against the King”.

In Birmingham a local rioter, John Hargrave, said they must “pull down this King and Sett up a King of our own”.

In Dorchester rioters attempted to rescue an effigy of the Catholic James Stuart, who had a strong claim to the throne, that was to be burnt by Dissenters and asked: “Who dares disown the Pretender?”.

The Anglican clergy mainly kept a low profile but at Newton Abbot the minister removed the bell-clappers so that the bells could not be rung in celebration of the Coronation.  All in all it was a very unusual Coronation.

During George’s reign however, the powers of the monarchy diminished and Britain began a transition to the modern system of cabinet government led by a prime minister. Towards the end of his reign, actual political power was held by Robert Walpole, now recognised as Britain’s first de facto prime minister.

George died of a stroke on a trip to his native Hanover, where he was buried.

Wednesday 20th September and the Victoria Cross:

The Victoria Cross was introduced in Great Britain on Saturday 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Its ‘role’ was to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. The VC takes precedence over all other Orders, Decorations and Medals and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.  The first presentation ceremony was held on Thursday 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in Hyde Park.

The Battle of the Alma took place just south of the River Alma and is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War. It was on this day – Wednesday 20th September 1854 – at that Battle, that Edward Bell & Luke O’Conner of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and John Knox, William Reynolds (the first private to be awarded the VC), James McKechnie & Robert Lindsay of the Scots Fusiliers Guards each earned their Victoria Cross. All survived the war.

63 years later, on Wednesday 20th September 1917 Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin of the 9th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiments won his VC during an attack east of Ypres in Belgium. He took command of two companies and led them forward under very heavy machine gun fire. He then went to assist a neighbouring battalion. In the process he cleared and captured a series of ‘troublesome’ dugouts and machine-gun posts, some on his own and some with his men’s assistance. He personally killed several of the enemy and forced others – about fifty in all – to surrender. His Victoria Cross citation concludes ‘Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under close-ranged sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so. The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieut. Colvin’s leadership.

An extract from ‘The Diary of Beatrice Webb volume one – 1873-1892.’

I have read many of Beatrice’s diaries and find them fascinating.  I wonder how many of us have sat and thought something similar to this that she recorded on Saturday 21st July 1888.  She writes:

‘I wish I could rid myself of self-consciousness and ambition in all its forms.  Life is so short and there is so much that needs doing that it is a sin to waste a thought or a feeling on self.  Some days I seem to rise above it, to look down on my own struggle, failures and little successes as something too small and insignificant to be noted, to see it all in proportion to the great currents of life, of all kinds, that surround one.’

Published by Virago in association with the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Not a new King – just a new family name

It was on Tuesday 17th July 1917 that the British Royal Family formally adopted the name ‘Windsor’ in the place of ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’.

‘The Cornishman’ carried a typical statement of the facts with the heading:
THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR
RENUNCIATION OF SAXE-COBURG.
A Proclamation was signed at the Privy Council at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday that the British Royal Family henceforce be styled “The House of Windsor.”

The Western Gazette carried a similar outline but added: ‘M.P.’s AND ENEMY DUKES: Mr Swift McNeill, on the second reading of the Titles’ Deprivation Bill (Lords), in the House of Commons on Tuesday, said the Bill aimed at the Dukes of Cumberland and Albany, who still retained their high British titles. Why had it taken the Government three years to eliminate traitors and introduce this measure? He hoped German influence would be a thing of the past, and there would be no more presents of fortresses like Heligoland to the German Emperor.’

The Waverley Novels

‘Waverley’ is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott that was published anonymously on Friday 8th July 1814.  It was Scott’s first publication of straight forward prose fiction and is now often regarded as the first historical novel of its kind.  The successful impact of the book led to his later novels being advertised as “by the author of Waverley” and to his following, similar, books being known as ‘The Waverley Novels’.

The stories are based on the Jacobite uprising of 1745 when supporters set about restoring the Stuart dynasty to the throne in the person of Charles Edward Stuart, known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and tell the story of a young English dreamer and soldier, Edward Waverley, who was sent to Scotland that year.

Here is not the place to expand further on the story but, suffice to say, Edward has many ups and downs in his time in the Highlands.  Why not have a look in your local library and find out more about Baron Bradwardine, the beautiful Flora Mac-Ivor, the Battle of Prestonpans and Edward’s meeting with Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.

 

An event that will not happen this year

The Order of the Garter is the most senior, and oldest, British Order of Chivalry.  It  was founded by Edward III in 1348 and consists of the King and twenty-five knights to be reserved as the highest reward for loyalty and for military merit. Like The Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), the other founder-knights had all served in the French campaigns of the time, including the battle of Crécy – three were foreigners who had previously sworn allegiance to the English king: four of the knights were under the age of 20 and few were much over the age of 30.

The origin of the emblem of the Order, a blue garter, is obscure. It is said to have been inspired by an incident which took place whilst the King danced with Joan, Countess of Salisbury. The Countess’s garter fell to the floor and after the King retrieved it he tied it to his own leg. Those watching this were apparently amused, but the King admonished them saying, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (Shame on him who thinks this evil). This then became the motto of the Order. Modern scholars think it is more likely that the Order was inspired by the strap used to attach pieces of armour, and that the motto could well have referred to critics of Edward’s claim to the throne of France.

The patron saint of the Order is St George – the patron saint of soldiers and also of England – and the spiritual home of the Order is St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Every knight is required to display a banner of his arms in the Chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate. These ‘achievements’ are taken down on the knight’s death (and the insignia are returned to the Sovereign), but the stallplates remain as a memorial and these now constitute one of the finest collections of heraldry in the world.

Every June the Knights of the Garter gather at Windsor Castle and the new knights take the oath and are then invested with their insignia.

First a Chapter meeting is held in the throne room of the castle, at which The Queen invests new Companions with the Garter insignia.  The Queen is accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent, with Knights Companions and officers of the Order.

After the meeting, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entertain members and officers of the Order to lunch in the Waterloo Chamber before the Queen and the other members of the company assemble in St George’s Hall, marshalled by one of the heralds, before walking through the upper, middle and lower wards of the castle to St George’s Chapel.  All wear the Garter’s traditional flowing blue velvet robes, hoods of red velvet worn over the right shoulder, and black velvet hats with white feathers.

A lunch follows in the Waterloo Chamber, after which the knights process to a service in St George’s Chapel.  They, wear their blue velvet robes and the badge of the Order – St George’s Cross within the Garter surrounded by radiating silver beams – on the left shoulder and black velvet hat with white plumes. The Queen, as Sovereign of the Order, attends the service along with other members of the Royal family in the Order, including the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Queen’s daughter, the Princess Royal.

A fanfare of trumpets announces the arrival on foot of the main procession, led by the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle and the Military Knights of Windsor.  Bands of the Household Division play as the procession passes dismounted squadrons of the Household Cavalry, lining the route in their scarlet ceremonial uniforms.

After the chapel service, which is relayed via loudspeakers to the crowds, there is an open-carriage procession back up the hill.

The Garter Service for 2017 has been cancelled to allow the State Opening of Parliament to take place on Monday 19th June 2017 following the results of the General Election held on Thursday 8th June 2017

The next Garter Service will take place on Monday 11th June 2018.