Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Empire Day in Kempston

Z1306/67/72, Procession down Bedford Road, featuring Kempston Primitive Band of Hope, postmarked 1906
(Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service)
Thursday 24th May 1917: Kempston marked Empire Day in a more unusual way this year. Rather than the customary morning celebration at schools, followed by a half-day holiday, celebrations involved the whole town over the course of the day. A parade involving approximately 900 children took place through the main streets of Kempston, led by the Boy Scouts Band. Most of the girls were in white and nearly every child had a flag. Many carried coloured posters encouraging food savings. Following the march, a gathering took place in Bedford Road school grounds, the children in front and the parents behind. The children sacrificed their usual half-day holiday to attend the ceremony. A Royal Proclamation on food saving was read out and parents were encouraged to sign a pledge to economise. The boys were then called upon to salute the flag and cheers rang out for the Royal Family, the Empire and soldiers and sailors. The gathering was then asked to salute the dead. There were many women in the audience who had lost husbands and sons and who had tears in their eyes.

The boys and girls were told by one of the chairs, Mr Carruthers, that they were the most important audience members because they were the men and women of days to come, who would inherit the Empire. He reiterated that those at home could do a great deal to bring about the end of the war by economising on food – if the people of Kempston could leave the table a little bit hungry they would be the better in health for it. Not to appear hypocritical, Mr Carruthers declared that he himself was eating a third less than he used to do and did not think he looked the worse for it!

The day was deemed a great credit to the War Savings’ Association, schools, and the urban & parish councils.

Source: Bedford Record 29/5/1917

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