Hearts of Oak
Next week I will go to the Thatcher funeral and on the Friday with half a dozen friends have a celebration breakfast in Smithfield. Three cheers.
But London is a ceremonial city where the funeral of the great and the good are part of its tradition, part of its history and part of the metropolitan culture.
One of my first memories was of the funeral of George VI in 1952. The grey coated guards with their towering busbies, the rifles pointed towards the ground, the sadness and dampness in the air. For a young lad of six, no doubt in his Clarks shoes and snake belt, creased short trousers, long socks, possibly a belted Mack, freckles, no doubt in the dense crowd holding grimly onto his Dad ,it is a memory that in all its vagueness has stayed. Did I hear the band or did I put the sound track on later? Did I see ladies with black veils or am I am confusing this with another film?
I have just watched the Youtube film and it was raining and it was sombre and slow moving, so this is one memory that has played few tricks.
1965 and the funeral of Winston Churchill is one of my greatest regrets. A pimply undergrad at Keele in Staffordshire, why would I want to go down and see some antiquated stiff, well past his sell by date being ferried around town. How wrong I was , this was the funeral of an Empire, the stately laying in state of the triumphant era of our country and to have missed the pure and total symbolism of that moment ,the thanks and the tears, I can only put down to pure folly.
Princess Diana’s funeral and its aftermath have been written about ad nauseum. If Churchill’s was the end of the stiff upper lip, heroic, zipped up Britain; Princess Di’s was the birth of the touchy feely, in touch with our feminine side ,real men cry , multi cultural nation. Such was the madness and the desire for symbolism, ritual and sainthood that Cardinal Hume(bless) would state that the funeral marked the end of the Reformation in Britain. Dream on Basil.
The madness at the time was such that I was convinced some grief crazed citizen was going to commit suttee and throw themselves under the funereal cortege. Some how we got through it and the rivers of tears did little but clean the streets.
Not being a racing man or a someone likes spirits I never got the Queen Mother.
But the funeral I would have gone to would have been Nelson’s full ceremonial on 9 January 1806. While Thatcher will have her 700 servicemen representing the main units who triumphed in the Falkland’s, Nelson had 10,000 escorting his specially built(to look like a ship) hearse in which rested his coffin created out of the wood of one of his prizes. By the time the first servicemen were arriving at St Pauls the last were just leaving the Admiralty. The only sound outside of the fifes and drums, playing the Dead March, was the wave like sound of a grieving nation taking off their hats as their God of War passed on his way to Valhalla.
But the unscripted climax came when the sailors from the Victory who had been proudly carrying the bullet torn flag from that great ship were scripted to fold the flag on the coffin. They couldn’t. They ripped it to pieces , a blood soaked souvenir .
Hearts of Oak are our Ships ,Jolly Tars are our Men. Steady boys Steady. Margaret Thatcher showed that the oak may be old and does not grow in such abundance ,but, its still there. On Wednesday I will weep. North Korea threatens.