Empire Day in Rishton.

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24TH MAY - EMPIRE DAY....for Queen and Country!

The very idea of a day that would …“remind children that they formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious Empire.”, and that “The strength of the Empire depended upon them, and they must never forget it.”, had been considered as early as 1897. The image of a motherly Queen Victoria, Empress of India, as its paramount ruler would be shared by an Empire spanning almost a quarter of the entire globe.

However it was not until after the death of Queen Victoria, who died on 22nd January 1901, that Empire Day was first celebrated.

The first 'Empire Day' took place on the 24th May 1902, the Queen’s birthday. Although not officially recognised as an annual event until 1916, many schools across the British Empire were celebrating it before then.

Empire Day in Rishton
Empire day in Rishton, on the Council yard on Cliffe Street and Brook Street, which was to become a Tennis Court in later years, then Bungalows.

Each Empire Day, millions of school children from all walks of life across the length and breadth of the British Empire would typically salute the union flag and sing patriotic songs like Jerusalem and God Save the Queen. They would hear inspirational speeches and listen to tales of ‘daring do’ from across the Empire, stories that included such heroes as Clive of India, Wolfe of Québec and ‘Chinese Gordon’ of Khartoum. But of course the real highlight of the day for the children was that they were let off school early in order to take part in the thousands of marches, maypole dances, concerts and parties that celebrated the event.

In Britain an Empire Movement was formed, with its goal in the words of its Irish founder Lord Meath, “to promote the systematic training of children in all virtues which conduce to the creation of good citizens.” Those virtues were also clearly spelled out by the watchwords of the Empire Movement “Responsibility, Sympathy, Duty, and Self-sacrifice.”

Empire Day remained an essential part of the calendar for more than 50 years, celebrated by countless millions of children and adults alike, an opportunity to demonstrate pride in being part of the British Empire. By the 1950’s however, the Empire had started to decline, and Britain’s relationship with the other countries that formed the Empire had also changed, as they began to celebrate their own identity. Political parties of the far-left and pacifist dissenters had also begun to use Empire Day itself as an opportunity to attack British imperialism.

Political correctness appears to have 'won the day' when in 1958 Empire Day was re-badged as British Commonwealth Day, and still later in 1966 when it became known as Commonwealth Day. The date of Commonwealth Day was also changed to 10th June, the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. The date was again changed in 1977 to the second Monday in March, when each year The Queen still sends a special message to the youth of the Empire via a radio broadcast to all the various countries of the Commonwealth.

A now largely forgotten anniversary, perhaps only your grandparents will recall the chant "Remember, Remember Empire Day, the 24th of May".

Only your grandparents and several million loyal Canadians that is, who still celebrate Victoria Day each year on the last Monday before 24th May.