Thursday 29 December 2011

Knights of Malta Christmas Concert with Rupert Everett / Polish Air Force tribute

Earlier this month, a special Christmas carol concert was held at the historic Church of St. Clement Danes (Central Church of the Royal Air Force) in The Strand, London. The concert was organised by the Polish Order of Malta Volunteers (UK) in support of the fundraising initiative to support the Knights of Malta's highly successful oncological clinic in Poznan, Poland. Each year the clinic's 60 volunteers diagnose and treat, at no charge, over 5,000 patients. Medical departments include oncology, radiology, cardiology and surgery.  
Rafe Heydel-Mankoo discussing the history of the Polish Air Force
and its contribution to the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain

Rupert Everett
The guest readers at the evening were the award-winning actors Rupert Everett (My Best Friend's Wedding, Pygmalion etc.), Sophie Thompson (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Gosford Park, Eastenders, etc. and sister of Emma Thompson) and Phyllida Law (Peter's Friends, Dixon of Dock Green, Rumpole of the Bailey etc. and mother of Emma Thompson).

Sophie Thompson

Phyllida Law

The concert consisted of a selection of Polish and English carols sung by Britain's foremost Polish choir, the Ave Verum Choir, accompanied by a string quartet.

This historic church of St. Clement Danes, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force, whose walls are scarred by the marks of shrapnel from the Blitz, provided the perfect setting in which to celebrate not only a Polish Christmas Night but also to mark the continued friendship between the British and Polish peoples. For St. Clement Danes also contains an important memorial to the Polish Air Force, including the badges of the 16 Polish squadrons that valiantly fought in the Battle of Britain and throughout the Second World War, and without whom victory might have been far from certain. During the Battle of Britain, the Polish 303 Squadron was the most successful Fighter Command unit in the Royal Air Force and one of its pilots was the most successful pilot in the entire Second World War.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh (later Lord) Dowding, whose statute stands outside the Church of St. Clement Danes, would later write: "Had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squardrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, I hesitate to say that the outcome of the Battle of Britain would have been the same."

Consequently, a special ceremony of commemoration was held during the concert. Colonel Andrzej Jeziorski, a former Second World War fighter pilot and past Chairman of the Polish Air Force Association, processed down the nave of the church with a young boy, representing British youth, to place a candle on the Polish Air Force Memorial, in tribute to the Poles valiant contribution to the fight for freedom. The memorial contains the same inscription as that inscribed upon the main Polish Air Force memorial which was unveiled in Northold in 1948: "I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."

Colonel Andrzej Jeziorski, former WWII fighter pilot and past Chairman of the Polish Air Force Association
processes to the Polish Air Force Memorial with Alex Meeson, representing British youth.

Polish Air Force Memorial at St. Clement Danes

Saturday 24 December 2011

70th Anniversary of Churchill's Christmas Speech at the White House

70 years ago today, on the 24 December 1941, less than three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom stood shoulder-to-shoulder by the Christmas tree on the lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. Recognising that the future of Western Civilisation depended on the unity of the English Speaking Peoples and an alliance between the British Empire and the American Republic, Winston Churchill and Roosevelt combined their Christmas greetings with words of inspiration for the populations about to embark upon the long and arduous road to victory. To mark the anniversary I post the fully White House Christmas Tree ceremony below. Churchill's 5 minute speech commences at the 16 minute mark.

A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, Christmas Eve, King's College Chapel, University of Cambridge

"A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the Christmas Eve Service held in King's College Chapel at the University of Cambridge. The Festival was introduced in 1918 to become a more imaginative approach to worship." lt was firsat broadcast in 1928 and has since become a global tradition and is broadcast to millions of people around the world." I well recall listening to the serene sound from far and distant Canada.
"The service includes carols and readings from the Bible. The opening carol is always 'Once in Royal David's City'" Source:

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Baroness Trumpington demonstrates the Blitz spirit.

And in lighter news... It is well known that a gentleman should never refer to the age of a lady (or, indeed, "Lady") ... but perhaps some Lords need to be reminded of this strict rule of etiquette.

In this short video clip (which may be viewed by clicking on the image below) Baroness Trumpington, the last member of the House of Lords to have served in the Second World War (she was a code breaker at Bletchley Park), takes particular exception to former Cabinet minister Lord King's reference to her age -- resulting in Her Ladyship's uniquely British response.

Reflecting on the incident and her colourful gesture Baroness Trumpington said "to my horror [Lord King] suddenly said, more or less, even the people who worked in the last war are starting to look very, very old. I thought 'to hell with that'...I did actually raise two fingers and I tried to pretend my hand had slipped but it was going to be quite obvious that my hand had not slipped and I meant it."

The formidable Baroness Trumpington has a royal connection: she was a member of the Royal Household as a Baroness-in-Waiting and was appointed a DCVO in 2005.


Thursday 15 December 2011

All Hallows-by-the-Tower -- London's "Canadian Church"

[This post is written to mark the anniversary of the visit to All Hallows-by-the-Tower of HRH The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) on 15 December 1923, following his tour of Canada.]

Founded by the Saxon Abbey at Barking in 675 (and long known as All Hallows Barking), All Hallows-by-the-Tower (so named for its proximity to The Tower of London), can rightly claim the status of "Canada's Church in London".

The Church of All Hallows-by-The-Tower, is one of London's least explored gems, with its extant roman foundations, atmospheric crypt, tiny underground chapels and historic associations -- from "hatch" (baptism of William Penn) to "match" (marriage of John Quincy Adams) to "dispatch" (burial of Archbishop William Laud). It was from the spire of All Hallows that the famous diarist Samuel Pepys briefly watched the Great Fire of London. Destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, All Hallows' restoration was due to tremendous assistance from Canada.

British Columbian wood was used in the construction of the spire of All Hallows, whilst the carillon of 18 bells was donated by J.W. McConnell of Montreal. The pews were donated by Canadian Pacific and the Province of Manitoba, whilst the Building Products Council of Montreal supplied the floor tiles.

The Lady Chapel of the Church, which is located at the north of the church, bears what is probably Britain's only stained glass reference to the University of Toronto. The window was erected by Canadian friends of Dr. Hugh Hornby Langton (1862-1953).

The window depicts Dr. Langton's arms along with the following inscription:

"Doctor Hugh Langton of Toronto University died 1953 a benefactor of Toc H 11 Toronto. His brother-in-law Major Edmund Street, D.S.O. was the first officer to enter Talbot House, Poperinghe, on 14th December 1915. His sword was brough back and laid up within this Chapel by HRH The Prince of Wales, on the 15th day of December 1923 after his Canadian Tour. This panel was given by Canadian Friends."

Dr. Langton, a graduate of the Unviersity of Toronto, was also its first full-time Registrar (1887-1892) and, upon retirement, became its librarian (1892-1923). A prolific author he also wrote a history of the "University of Toronto and its Colleges" and was the editor of the Chronicles of Canada and of the Review of Historical Publications Relating to Canada (which became the Canadian Historical Review)

I would encourage any Canadian visiting London to make the effort to visit this historic church, easily located approximately 90 seconds walk from Tower Hill underground station.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Death of His Eminence Cardinal Foley, Grand Master Emeritus of the Order of the Holy Sepluchre

H.E. Cardinal Foley as Grand Master of the Equestrian
Order of the Holy Sepulchre
It was announced today, December 11th, that His Eminence, Cardinal John Patrick Foley, Grand Master Emeritus of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Cardinal-Deacon of S. Sebastiano al Palatino and former President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, has died aged 76 at the Villa St. Joseph in Darby (where he was born) outside Philadelphia, PA.

Cardinal Foley will be fondly remembered by Americans as the "voice" of the annual televised broadcast of the Midnight Mass from the Vatican, a role he performed for 25 years.

Elevated to the cardinalate in the 2007 consistory, Cardinal Foley was an archbishop for 27 years and a priest for 49 years -- H.E. would have celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his entry to the priesthood in 2012. Appointed a Knight with the Collar of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 1991, Cardinal Foley was appointed Grand Master of the Order in 2007, retiring as Grand Master Emeritus in 2011.

Cardinal Foley was also a Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Northern Star (Sweden), a Grand Cross of the Order of Bernardo O'Higgins (Chile) and a Grand Cross of the Order of the Liberator General San Martin (Argentina).  R.I.P. -- Abiit ad Plures

The Heraldic Achievement of Cardinal Foley.
 His Eminence's arms, which are quartered with those of
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, are also resting upon
the Cross of the Order.

Britain & the EU threat - Margaret Thatcher relives Churchill's "Wilderness Years"

There are so many reasons to admire and respect Churchill, but, for me, his defining period was his "Wilderness Years", isolated from his party and the general public, increasingly unpopular and out-of-step on India and his willingness to back Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis. Churchill was dismissed as yesterday's man. Yet it was at this time that he, almost uniquely, recognised that the greatest threat to European security was Nazi Germany. His speeches in the 1930s made for sober reading in the 1940s.

Churchill sprang immediately to mind when, today, I chanced upon some of the speeches delivered by Lady Thatcher (then Mrs. Thatcher) in the 1990s.  Listening to Thatcher denounce the European Union and its dream in 1992, 93 or 94, I couldn't help but reflect on the prophetic similarity with Churchill.  Like Churchill, Thatcher was disdainfully dismissed as an out-of-date confrontational reactionary. Twenty years later, her comments sound extremely prescient and entirely prophetic.

I post two such examples for your consideration, the first contains her inflammatory speech at The Hague in 1992 in which she spookily forecasts precisely what we are experiencing now: high unemployment and national resentment. 

In the second interview she attached the system of European diplomatic negoation (for which direct comparisons may be drawn to the negotiations that took place during the recent EU summit) and why they are wrong and she is right: 

80th Anniversary of the Statute of Westminster, 1931

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, the Act of the United Kingdom Parliament that established legislative equality between the UK and all of the self-governing dominions within the British Empire. Although Canadians (1867), Australians (1788) and New Zealanders (1840) claim different years of foundation and choose to celebrate their national "Dominion/Canada Day", "Australia Day" and "Waitangi Day" birthdays on the anniversary of this foundation date (Canada - 1 July, enactment of the British North America Act, a.k.a. the Constitution Act, 1867; New Zealand - 6 February, signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; and Australia - 26 January, the proclamation of British sovereignty upon the landing of the British First Fleet in Sydney Cove) the more accurate "Independence Day" for these nations is today, 11th December (although it should be noted that, whilst the Statute automatically applied to Canada, South Africa and the Irish Free State, it had to be ratified separately by the parliaments of Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland).

As has been discussed previously on this blog, the Statute was also a landmark document in terms of the Succession to the throne, enshrining the principle of the unity of the Crown and outlining, through its (albeit unenforceable) preamble, the importance of cooperation and unanimity between the realms in order to successfully enact any changes to the succession. This principle was tested less than 5 years later, during the Abdication Crisis of King Edward VIII. Although the Statute's continuing relevance is greatly reduced (and in many cases non-existent), by granting full independence to the self-governing dominions it is arguably the most important piece of legislation of the twentieth century.

Alas, despite such fundamental importance, the anniversary of its enactment has always been a non-event -- this is regrettable, as its annual celebration could have provided yet another visible and unifying link between the Commonwealth realms.

Nevertheless, since 1965 Canada, that Most Loyal Realm (MLR), has flown the Royal Union Flag (which remains an official flag of Canada to be flown on specific dates throughout the year -- where physical arrangements allow, i.e., there is a second flag pole) on 11th December in commemoration of the signing of the Statute of Westminster.  The Union Flag has been an official flag of Canada since 1904, indeed, it was the Union Flag and not the Red Ensign that was the official flag until the introduction of the Maple Leaf in 1965. The Royal Union Flag's current official status is as a symbol of membership in the Commonwealth and allegiance to the Crown, as decreed by the Canadian parliament on 18 December 1964.

Previous Canadian governments have treated this protocol requirement as something of an embarrassment and the date has often passed unmarked. I know many a staunch monarchist who has glumly reported various government buildings with unadorned second flag poles.

To its credit, and in keeping with its clear policy of celebrating Canadian heritage (including the Monarchy, etc.) the current Harper government has formally decreed that to mark the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Statute of Westminster, the Royal Union Flag WILL be flown from all public and government buildings today.

To quote:

Anniversary of the Statute of Westminster (1931)
In accordance with the rules for flying the Canadian flag and other flags in Canada, where physical arrangements* make it possible, the Royal Union Flag (known as the Union Jack) will be flown from sunrise to sunset on Government of Canada buildings and establishments across the country on Sunday, December 11, 2011, to mark the anniversary of the Statute of Westminster.
*"Physical arrangements" means the existence of at least two flag poles. The Canadian flag takes precedence and is not to be replaced by the Union Jack. Source:

Congratulations to the Government of Canada for recognising the significance of this anniversary and for ensuring that it is appropriately commemorated across the country. I encourage all interested Canadians to look at their public and government buildings today and see if they can spot the Royal Union Flag.