Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Don't Mess With Britannia


The picture above once again features my great Aunt Maud, of 'Where Was Maud?' fame, and last week's 'Two Shades of Blue'. You'll remember her as my mother's kindly spinster aunt with the photography hobby. She also taught at her local Sunday School in Nottingham and the picture above appears to be connected in some way with this association. I'm not sure of the event being celebrated, but it could be Empire Day. Maud is seated in the centre of the group, dressed as Britannia, a figure which always fascinated me as a child, because she appeared on the pennies in my pocket money.

Empire Day was popular from 1902 until the 1950s, by which time Britain's relationship with the diminishing Empire began to change. It later became Commonwealth Day, after going through several metamorphoses. Listen to this short clip of a twenty year old Princess Elizabeth on Empire Day 1946 commending the common ideals of 'freedom, justice and humanity' to be found in every corner of the Empire. These days The Queen still sends a radio message to the youth of the Commonwealth. As a former Primary School Headteacher I can attest to the fact that the average schoolboy or girl today wouldn't even know what the word Commonwealth means, let alone anything about its history. Next year a new National Curriculum for History comes into force, after much fierce debate, but I don't think schoolchildren and students will be any wiser about the notion of empire, other than that of the Romans, who after all were our conquerors, and gave 'Britannia' her name in the second century AD, when she was personified as a goddess, with armour and a Corinthian helmet. When schools have festivals and dressing-up days, children usually go as their favourite sporting or pop star, or dress as a character from a book; any little lady dressing in a flag and a helmet and wielding a trident would be met with quizzical looks. What a pity as it's a great costume.

This Pathe news clip from 1933, when my mother was a girl, gives a flavour of some of the ceremony and fun they had on Empire Day.




This week's Sepia Saturday prompt was of a young lady dressed as 'Boadecia, or Mother England', an image that is close enough to Britannia I think. She is wearing a breastplate, shield and helmet and wielding a large stick, rather than a trident, and there is no Union Flag, but she certainly looks as though she means business. Why not visit us there to see what other Sepians have made of the prompt?


22 comments:

  1. Your pictures (and stories) never fail to impress me! I still have a few coins with 'Britannia' on the back. Safely tucked away, of course!

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  2. Isn't that clip of the Empire Day procession charming? I particularly like the panning shot of the large group of children waving the flags, a taciturn Britannia staning at the back. I'm going to be on the lookout for Empire Day postcard shots now - I'll bet there are plenty around, although they possibly haven't been labelled as such.

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    1. I was staggered at how many pictures there are on the web. Just google Empire Day and scroll happily through many more charming pictures, some with recollections attached.

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  3. Maud must have been a character from a very early age.

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  4. I didn't know Britannia was a person as well. Walking around with a trident isn't populair these days I guess.

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  5. A fascinating post with a lovely picture and video clip. I remember my aunt telling me about her Empire Days at school and I recall something in the 1950's at my primary school and making a poster on a commonwealth country to go on the wall - I chose Canada. Coming from a teaching family and being a former history student, I appreciated your comments on today's curriculum.

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  6. Perfect for the prompt. My Canadian uncle told me years ago how disappointed he was when the King came to visit and he saw that he was just a person. I don't think he very felt the same about the whole thing.

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  7. Dressing in a flag and wielding a trident would be (to me at least) so much fun. A radio message in a computer age is just charming!

    Hazel

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  8. When was Empire Day celebrated? I have a memory that it was around the 24 May - is that correct? That is such a beautiful photo Nell - you are very very lucky. It's so clear.

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  9. Interesting but a bit disturbing to realise that I have never been involved in Empire Day of Commonwealth Day events. I didn't know till now that Commonwealth Day is now commemorated on the second Monday in March. That Empire Day news clip is marvelous - thanks for including it. How times have changed.

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  10. That sure is spot on for the theme .Well done. Empire building is frowned upon these days, I guess that is why it is not in the history curriculum. That is the trouble with all history . It is written from the authors point of view.

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  11. Yes times have changed some better some worse, but I guess that's us. It is also said history is written by the winners; it seems they all had some fun on Empire day playing their part; children love to dress up, mine loved cowboys and indians, which is also not IN anymore!

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  12. Sometimes overseas people ask me what accent I have, and why its not a Derby accent, and I explain to them that I speak "Queen's English". Listening to that clip I think I will have to find another explanation!!

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  13. I like the other costumes the children are sporting too. esp. the gilr on the right with a crown.

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  14. I can just bet Maud was quite the interesting woman to know and love! This photo is precious. At first it appears as oh just another group of students, but the closer you study each child, the more and more curious one becomes. Such great costumes and hats. I must check more out about the Empire Day, after I finish my visits. I'll be back, so happy you included a link.

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  15. It's interesting how the history books minimize that which is not en vogue and emphasize that which is. It is a shame. I do so love this photo. Fortunately for us, the school our daughter goes to has a "Frontier Day" event and the kids are encouraged to dress the part. I'm looking forward to that with her.

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  16. That really is a wonderful photograph. Once enlarged, all those faces have such an amazing range of expressions.

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  17. Aunt Maude in costume! Excellent post!

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  18. Full Marks for this post! Maud seems a perfect model for Britannia.

    But what are the other characters. The explorer? The gypsy? The puritan mother? And lots of cloaked fairies? What's that about?

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  19. Oh that Maud!!
    She seemed to be a delightful character to have around.
    That vid was quite funny,
    especially because of the two girls in the rear,
    totally lacking synchro...
    :D~
    HUGZ

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  20. I really appreciate your observations about what students know of their own country's history. It's the same here in the US. Students don't know the difference between the Revolutionary War and Civil War, and when I was teaching I often heard students refer to the 1940s as "slave times." Sigh.

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