A Happy St George’s Day

On this day 100 years ago in New York more than 300 members of the city’s St George’s Society came together for the 127th annual St George’s Day dinner. Held at the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Society revived an old song for the occasion; it was one that members had always sung prior to the American Revolution:

And here to our King.

And O Long May he reign.

The Lord of those Men who are Lords of all Man;

While all the contention among us shall be To make Him as happy as We are made free.

Loyal expressions to the royal family were by no means uncommon, documenting the strong links that were maintained between the English in the United States and the old homeland even after the US became independent. In fact: loyalty to the Crown was a crucial connector on St George’s Day for many of the English who gathered together abroad to celebrate England’s patron saint. Or as another speaker, Walter H. Page, the American Ambassador to England, observed: ‘Our race on both sides of the sea keeps its youth well and keeps its youth better by remembering its common immortal inheritance of men of great deeds and men of noble speech.’

Banquet given by Order Sons of St. George, St. George Day, 23 April 1904, Auditorium, Chicago

Banquets on St George’s Day had been held in many cities in North America since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but they became more numerous when English societies and clubs began to  flourish in larger numbers, spreading throughout the US and Canada from the mid-nineteenth century (learn more here). Further north, in St John, New Brunswick, the local St George’s Society had organised a dinner and also a church service in 1913. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Sons of England and the English Counties Association assembled for a luncheon in honour of St George, for which ‘[e]very man present wore a rose … and the gathering bubbled over with patriotic sentiment.’ A.J. Andrews proposed the toast of His Majesty, and then read a number of telegrams from kindred societies. One of the telegrams had been sent by the Royal Society of St George in London saying ‘England is watching.’ Another came from the President of the Ottawa St George’s Society, and there were further greetings from the St George’s Societies of Hamilton, Ontario, and Regina in Sasketchewan.

The sending of telegrams on St George’s Day was a central feature of annual St George’s Day celebrations all over the world, and the St George’s Society of New York too sent greetings to several sister societies in the United States, as well as to the Royal Society of St George in London. The Society replied that it was ‘honouring England’s Day in English fashion’, and that it ‘most heartily and fraternally welcomed the sentiments of love and loyalty to England and to England’s King.’ The dispensation of greetings was crucial to maintaining the global tradition of St George. Substantial communication networks were in place to facilitate the exchange of greetings on St George’s Day; channelled through associations, these greetings united otherwise unconnected peoples as a single identity expressed through England’s patron saint.

This was the case even more so for the English who came together in the remoter climes of the formal and informal British Empire. In Singapore in 1913 a special dinner was held at the famous Raffles Hotel, while in Queensland in Australia well over 250 people came to together for the celebrations of the Brisbane branch of the Royal Society of St George. Further inland, at Barcaldine, sports were organised by the local St George’s Society and there was a good attendance at the social – perhaps like there had been a few years earlier in c1905. Elsewhere, in Adelaide, the dinner seems to have been more of an elite affair. In Warwick, a procession was organised through town.

Back home in England it was the Royal Society of St George that played a major part in promoting the 1913 St George’s Day celebrations that took place throughout the country. It was at the behest of the Society, as the Manchester Courier reported, that the the motto ‘“Wear the rose”’ was issued. And it ‘was liberally observed … and many thousands of loyal Englishmen sported the red national flower in every part of the country.’ (Manchester Courier, 24 April 1913.)

In that same spirit we hope that you will all have a happy St George’s Day this year. If you are in or near Newcastle, join us later tonight for our final Icons of Englishness talk.


Links and further reading

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