We should all follow the example of St George
In an exclusive article for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark St George’s Day, Sir Bob Russell MP explains what St George’s Day means to him, and why he thinks more people should celebrate it.
Sir Bob Russell is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Colchester.
When I was growing up, I recall that few people celebrated St George’s Day or flew the flag of St George even though he is England’s Patron Saint.
Yes, as a Boy Scout there was the annual St George’s Day Parade. And when I was elected to Colchester Borough Council there was the annual Civic Service. But I think that was it.
Indeed, casting my mind back to 1966 when England hosted the World Cup it was not the Flag of St George that was used but rather the flag of the United Kingdom.
The mascot “World Cup Willie” had a waistcoat of the Union Flag, and the plaque at the old Wembley Stadium featuring the flags of the 16 nations in the finals also featured the Union Flag.
So when did the flag of St George of England become more popular? My belief it was the rise of nationalism in the three other nations of the United Kingdom – notably Scotland and Wales, and in Northern Ireland with the “troubles” between Unionists and Nationalists – that prompted a greater awareness of “Englishness”.
A significant change of attitude, I believe, was in 2002 when a World Cup coincided with The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. We had the Union Flags for the latter; the flag of England for the former.
So who was St George? He was not English, and never came here!
He was born in the Middle East and lived during the time of Roman Emperor Diocletian, but he has gone on to become not just the Patron Saint of England but of many European countries and regions such as Georgia, Egypt, Portugal, Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, several parts of Spain, Rio de Janeiro, and Moscow. He is also, of course, the Patron Saint of the Scouting Movement. This is a testament to the enduring worth of the values he embodied.
As a Queen’s Scout, St George’s Day has always been of great importance to me. I can still remember my first St George’s Day Parade – some 57 years after it took place!
Lord Baden-Powell, Founder of Scouting, saw St George as the embodiment of the Scout virtues of faith, courage and perseverance and said: “He is…the Patron Saint of Scouts everywhere. Therefore, all Scouts should know his story. St George was typical of what a Scout should be!”
My time as a Scout, and my long involvement with the Scouting Movement, played a part in my formative years and thus the value of the virtues shown by St George and of the need to follow his example of service to others.
In recent years I have joined calls to make St George’s Day a national holiday, in the same way that St Patrick’s Day is celebrated by the Irish. I believe that we should be proud of our Patron Saint and fly his flag, the English flag, from public buildings across England. I fly the flag of St George outside my office every year on 23rd April.
Whilst St George never set foot on English soil, it is his acts and the values he represents that led to his position as our Patron. Although most will have heard the mythical story of his slaying a dragon, the true origins of his fame lie in his death.
Ordered by Emperor Diocletian to abandon his faith and collude with the persecution of fellow Christians, he refused. This led to his execution and immortalisation in Christian tradition. A single generation later saw the Christian Constantine become Emperor in the East, leading to Christianity becoming the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Constantine’s mother was Helena, St Helena – who is the Patron Saint of Colchester!
The persecution of Christians by Diocletian has a significance to my own home town and constituency of Colchester. Medieval histories tell of King Coel of Caer Colun (thought to be Colchester), who rebelled against the persecution, killing the then King of the Britons and taking his place. The Roman Senator sent to negotiate with him is said to have married his daughter Helena (later known as St Helena) who gave birth to the future-Emperor Constantine.
The legends of St George and of King Coel intertwine to give Colchester a strong connection to our national Patron Saint and so we here have a special reason to mark 23rd April.
Just as St George gave up his life rather than persecute fellow Christians, we should follow his example and show tolerance to others, protect those who need protection, and through our actions show our commitment to help each other.
It is in this spirit that I will be celebrating St George’s Day this year, as I do very year. With the European elections on 22nd May sure to see much divisive rhetoric and pseudo-patriotism, we should remember that our Patron stood for the exact opposite – his Christian courage, faith, and beliefs led him to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of others. This he did in the hope that the division and conflict that afflicted his homeland could be healed.
Although there will always be clashes of ideas and views, we must use every opportunity possible to find things that bring us together and unify us. St George’s Day is just such an opportunity.
Published: Wednesday 23 April 2014
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2014
Photograph: © Copyright of Sir Bob Russell MP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.