Standing up for the anthem

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Recently, there has been a brief correspondence in The Times on this subject. Inevitably, someone raised the question of whether or not to stand up in one’s own home when, rarely, The Anthem is played on the radio or TV. The writer held up such an absurdity to ridicule. I am not one to write to The Times but I was reminded of my own experiences.

In January 1944, I was a very newly commissioned officer and had weekend leave which I spent in London. I obtained two tickets for the usual Sunday concert in The Albert Hall. This concert was by Major Glen Miller US Army Air Corps and his BIG BAND. I had not difficulty in persuading a companion to use the second ticket. The Hall was packed mostly by British and US service men in uniform in roughly equal numbers. The Big Band Sound was shattering. I am convinced that the roof rattled (no mushrooms in those days). The last item on the programme was The Star Spangled Banner and the British element of the audience, almost to a man, stood up and stood still for the National Anthem of our ally. Our allies, almost to a man, stood up, collected their bits and pieces and headed for the exits. The light was beginning to fade as my companion and I emerged and set off on foot across Hyde Park. We became aware that, in the bandstand ahead of us, a British Army small band was coming to the end of its concert. While we were some 100 yards away, I heard the drum roll that preceded God Save the King. I stepped off the path and, on the first note, came to Attention and saluted in my best Young Officer manner. A noisy group of GIs was passing and, thinking I was saluting them, made a show of returning my salute! For the second time that afternoon, I was mortified.

Some years later, I was stationed in Jubblepore in Central India for a few months before India was die to become independent. Some of the Sahibs would go occasionally to the local cinema, where God Save the King was always played after the film. Needless to say, the Sahibs stood to Attention until the last note while the local members of the audience headed noisily for the exit. This time lapsed gave them just enough time to sabotage our bicycles in several tiresome ways. The day came when India became an independent state with its very own National Anthem called, I think, Jai Hind. A few days later, a group of Sahibs, went to the cinema adopting what we judged to be a suitably low profile. As we expected, Jai Hind was played at the end of the film. The Sahibs stood to Attention while the locals hurried for the exits. The playing time of Jai Hind was much longer than that of God Save the King which allowed for much more extensive sabotage of our bicycles, so everyone was happy.

I think that the last time I attended the Jubblepore cinema as I was on my way to Blighty. A few weeks later, I attended my first London theatre for three years. I was surprised that The National Anthem was not played at the end. On enquiring, I got the reply “Where have you been since the end of the War? It’s never played now because everyone ignored it.” I was a little sad but thought that it was probably for the best. My father did not agree. Until the end of his days he struggled to his feet for the National Anthem at home or anywhere else. When the struggle took so long that the moment had passed, he would say, “You do it for me”.

During the next few months, I am sure we will hear God Save The Queen played more regularly than for many years. Let us make a point of standing for the anthem and standing still, perhaps even singing the words. If anyone is going to be embarrassed by what we do, let it be those who do not conform. I no longer have the problem of saluting as I no longer wear uniform, but I shall not hesitate to say loudly:

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN

Contributed by Denys Wood