We are to have a ‘stay in your front garden’ street party to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday, weather permitting of course. A nice idea given current circumstances and I am strangely enthused. Something different, but also an opportunity to escape from NHS fetish worship and celebrate instead two far greater ideals: (1) England, and (2) The British Empire. Seventy years ago, the terms England, Britain and the British empire were used interchangeably. Not because the English ‘marginalised’ others (why marginalise when you have already conquered) but because the imperial project was vivified by English civilization and the English spirit. Historians can argue the pros and cons of empire, but without the empire, without Britain’s civilising mission, there would have been no victory and no freedom in 1945.
So, to the burning question of which flags to display. Whereas the cross of St George symbolises all we hold most dear, our home and hearth, and flies majestically from our church towers, the Union flag better captures the spirit of England projected across the seas, of Britain and the empire. Probably best to fly both. Yet, sad to say, both flags have been devalued in recent times, the English flag through its association with football yobs and tattooed oiks, and the British flag through its rebranding as a symbol of multi-culture, inclusivity and diversity.
However, I think I have the answer. I have ordered a White Ensign and a Red Ensign, full size. Both combine the Cross of St George and Union flag (top left), thereby dispelling any unsavoury associations that the individual flags might evoke, and at the same time emphasising the historical and military significance of the occasion. The White Ensign only superseded the Red Ensign as the flag of the Royal Navy mid-nineteenth century, but Nelson, we are reassured to learn, flew the vice admiral’s White Ensign at Trafalgar. The Red Ensign is now the flag of the Merchant Navy, but is arguably the more eye-catching, and wholly admirable for its preponderance of red.
Extraordinary to think that only a couple of generations ago, four or five in the more demographically active parts of the country, Britain was still an imperial power. Now, ‘Global Britain’ signifies soft power, the export of conceptual art and rock music, and the provision of postmodern social science courses to tens of thousands of Chinese students who feel they are at home here being politically indoctrinated.
At least on Friday we can remind ourselves, our neighbours, and others, of what we once were. We might even recapture some of that old spirit.
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The Welsh Assembly is now to be known as the Welsh Parliament. Is there any possibility of England having its own parliament, too?
England’s place in the now profoundly unbalanced union with its three devolved parliaments was examined by a former Labour MP – John Denham – in a lecture at the Speaker’s House, House of Commons in 2018. A nation divided? The identities, politics and governance of England.
Mr Monteith, why are you prejudiced against the Blue Ensign?
In olden times, our navy (which no longer exists for any practical purposes) was divided into three squadrons, the Red, the Blue and the White, each of which had one Admiral, one Vice-Admiral and one Rear-Admiral. The three flags were devised in those olden times, and deserve equal honour nowadays.
Anyway, I have my doubts about celebrating VE Day. Wasn’t it the Victory in Europe of one kind of socialism over another kind of socialism, both being as bad as the other?
Why don’t we celebrate the unalloyed goodness of Trafalgar Day instead?
Good point PJR. I had originally thought of an Australian flag (blue ensign of course) but got carried away with the red and white of St George.
My mother’s first passport (Australian) dating from the early 50s has on the front, in large letters, ‘British passport’, and then in small letters underneath, ‘Australian citizen’. Inside it was signed by the then governor general Field Marshall Slim. Those were the days.
Maybe a blue ensign, then, Aussie-style, in time for VJ day.
Exhibit A) “Seventy years ago, the terms England, Britain and the British empire were used interchangeably”
Exhibit B) “the Union flag better captures the spirit of England”
A) is unsubstantiated, and certainly not by any educated person, and B) accurately reflects the credibility of the rest of this cobblers.
Good luck with your flags. Want any advice as to where you can put them? You’re not Irish by any chance? They love their ‘flegs’.
‘When the Oxford History of England was launched a generation ago, ‘England’ was still an all-embracing word. It meant indiscriminately England and Wales; Great Britain; the United Kingdom; and even the British Empire.’ (A J P Taylor, 1965, Preface to ‘English History 1914-1945’, Oxford History of England)
I strongly recommend reading the preface to this magnificent work, by one of our greatest historians. Taylor goes on to develop and justify the point.
Now, what was it you were saying about being ‘educated’?
what a nasty piece of work you are…what’s up, The Guardian had too many big words for you?
I’ll be flying the cross of St George. Proudly bearing my tattoes and driving my white van over the rotten red flag a d carcases of Notting Hill socialists like Sir Kier Stormtrooper and fat Lady Nugee.
Up the council house! Up the Council!! Up the Blonde Blancmange and his innumerable progeny!
But most crucially up Britain and the English!
“Seventy years ago, the terms England, Britain and the British empire were used interchangeably.”
And still are. We in Wales are tired of reading “We English”. If you want to exclude us then go ahead. I won’t read any further. I live in Britain, you live in England.
You can be as Welsh as you want and ignore what doesn’t suit you. I defend my right to Englishness to be an Englishman and to proclaim it.
No point getting chippy about history. No doubt you find Nelson’s flag signal at Trafalgar grossly offensive to the thousands of Welsh, Scottish and Irish sailors who served in the British fleet. But ‘England expects …’ it had to be.
Nowadays, the English are under the impression that they are the ones whose identity has been abolished in large part to avoid giving offence to the Welsh and Scots, who are in such constant danger of being excluded and marginalised. So much so that growing numbers of English would be delighted to see the Welsh and Scots go their own way.
I have no problem with you. No, or Nelson. I think that England not having a parliament is grossly unfair considering that the others do. Blair forced through the devolution thing. It would better to have one British parliament for all.
The population of Wales has remained just about static for a century because our biggest exports are actors and teachers – both to England. They are often not noticeable. I lived in London for eight years and no-one guessed I was Welsh.
I’m not getting chippy about history – whatever that means.
I simply wish to point out, and did, that the author of this article is unaware that “Seventy years ago, the terms England, Britain and the British empire were used interchangeably.” is still true – he is doing it. This magazine goes everywhere in Britain which he calls England. Can’t you understand what I am saying – that and nothing more – without trying to negate it?
Of course, Britain is not England. But merely by its presence England remains the central dominating influence. The root problem for this magazine is the forbidding of England by the ruling elite in England whose adopted ideology of multiculturalism and mass immigration entails the destruction of English culture and civilization in the name of ‘multicultural Britain’. The Scots and Welsh, by virtue of being designated minorities, have largely escaped this fate in relation to their own cultures.
Completely agree and well said indeed.