By H. M. BAGNALL
Let me remind you first why this day, May 24th, was chosen for the Festival of the Empire. It was Queen Victoria’s birthday, and when she died it was chosen that she might be commemorated always with the Empire which grew to such greatness in her long and wonderful reign. The Colonies had long kept it with enthusiasm as Victoria Day; slowly we have risen to the appeal to join them in making it a yearly Commemoration of the Empire. This year, 1916, for the first time, even the Government is keeping it, and the flag is to fly on all Government buildings.
Salisbury has kept it several times, before the war broke out, but last year it was not kept, on account of the war. Why, then, keep it this year? Just because we have a clearer sense of the tremendous emergency, and we know we must rally every ounce of will and faith and hope to carry through what we have undertaken. Our great Poet of the Empire, Rudyard Kipling, sends us a message this morning.
“When Germany challenged us nearly two years ago to uphold with our lives the ideals by which we professed to live, we accepted the challenge, not out of madness, nor for glory or for gain, but to make good those professions. Since then the Allies and our Empire have fought that they may be free, and all earth may be free, from the intolerable domination of German ideals.
“We did not foresee the size of the task when it opened. We do not flinch from it now the long months have Schooled us to full knowledge, and have tempered us nationally and individually to meet it. The nations within the Empire have created, maintained, and reinforced from their best the great armies they devote without question to this issue. They have emerged, one by one, as Powers clothed with power through discipline and sacrifice, strong for good by their bitter knowledge of the evil they are meeting, and wise in the purchasable wisdom of actual achievement.
“Knowing as nations what it is we fight for, realising as men and women the resolve that has been added to us by what each has endured, we go forward now under the proud banner of our grief’s and losses to greater effort, greater endurance, and, if need be, heavier sacrifice, equal sponsors for the deliverance of mankind.”
There it is. The whole British Empire knows to-day that it is in for a struggle of life or death; that we must stand shoulder to shoulder, all the world round-our men in the front line, we women and girls supporting them by every means at any cost.
And our rallying flag is The Flag that is flying all round the world to-day: the Flag that
“Has braved a thousand years
The battle and the breeze”
The flag of LIBERTY – shown BY the blue of the sea and the air, the freest things we know: and the flag of LAW – the law of self-restraint for the sake of the liberty of others: for the red and white Crosses lie over the blue.
It is so delightful that our School motto means just those two things’ for which our Empire stands – “Franc,” that is free, “Leal”, that is Loyal, law-abiding.
How glad we feel when we see our flag flying to-day, that it does not display an Eagle, Mighty and relentless, keen and terrible. a bird of prey!
And how inexpressibly sad it would be to have a motto like that of the poor misguided men who have caused such bloodshed in Ireland! “Sinn Fein” – “ourselves alone,” what a hopeless and ill-omened war-cry!
But our Flag displays the Cross, and the Cross is “I” crossed out, myself ignored. It is life poured out, first by the Great Captain of our Salvation, then by all who have followed in His train – St. George of England, St. Andrew, St. Patrick, St. David, and all the noble host of heroes and heroines who have given their lives, down to those whom we ourselves have known and loved.
This is what our Empire has to stand for as a province in the Kingdom of Christ – sacrifice for the cause of brotherhood and union. The arms of the crosses of our flag stretch to all points of the compass, and they all meet in one centre. Our Empire stands to bring “more life and fuller” for all peoples, and our flag is a perpetual reminder that that can only come through sacrifice.
In the stirring words at the end of a leading article in to-day’s Daily Telegraphy, “let us not forget that there come great crises in the lives of individuals and of States in which it is rood to be alive. The sacrifice may be heavy, but the privilege is greater still – the privilege of showing ourselves men, the sacred trust which is put into our hands of saving not only ourselves, but humanity at large. Empire Day is a time for high resolves, for unflinching courage, for obstinate endurance, for all those virtues which, giving us a foremost place in the records of civilisation, fortify our stability and safeguard our future.”
That, then, is the call of Empire Day. In the Market-place down below you will stannd with some 2000 other boys and girls – most of them so much poorer than you in the things that make life easy and jolly, and, as we say, “worth having” to you, and yet they too are giving for the great cause their fathers and brothers. Lots of them are saving their pennies by going without sweets, or giving up a visit to the Pictures, which is the gretest pleasure they have. There is no question of “classes” in this war
“Groom fights like noble, squire like knight,
As fearlessly and well,”
and we stand or fall together, we here at home, our men at the front, and our fellow Britons over seas too.
The flag we shall salute in the Market-place was sent to the children of Salisbury by the children of an Australian Salisbury, and a flag which Godolphin helped to send has been flying to-day at a school in New Zealand. We are one to-day in sacrifice under the flag of Liberty and Right; and as we salute it let us renew our vows to be worthy of it – remembering those other great words of Kipling:
“No easy hopes or lies
Shall bring us to our goal,
But iron sacrifice
Of body, will, and soul,
There is but one task for all,
For each one life to give.
Who stands if Freedom fall?
Who dies if England live?”