NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99

NE99

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Forget-me-not 83 T he Boer War brought the British Empire many defeats. Britons grew used to disasters. But the news that distressed the whole world beyond Britain's far-flung colonies came on 22 January 1901: An 81-year-old woman was dead on the Isle of Wight. Victoria, Queen and Empress, the sovereign who had perfected a new form of autocracy, the constitutional monarchy, was gone after 64 years on the throne. True grief overflowed. It seemed she'd always been there. Most people living just couldn't remember a time when she hadn't been Queen. It was the end of the era to which she'd given her name. "We all feel a bit motherless today," that world-traveler, American novelist Henry James, wrote, "mysterious little Victoria is dead and fat vulgar Edward is King," The "Great White Mother," as she was known to Canada's native people, had 37 grandchildren alive around the world when she died. The last monarch of the House of Hanover, she had married her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha. She had borne him nine children. She was the grandmother of the eratic Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. And most of the crowned heads of Europe were her in-laws, nephews and neices, or were otherwise closely related. Thus with the death of the Widow of Windsor, as Rudyard Kipling called her, a vital link, the cement upon which rested the peace of the world, was broken. The Pax Britannica, peace around the world with the Royal Navy as its policeman, had already been rocked by the tenacity and success of the two tiny Boer Republics that had twisted the lion's tail and got away with it. Now will o'the wisp alliances based on kinship with Britain's queen had vanished with a puff of air. Germany was building battleships as a matter of the law of the land.The United States, recently victorious in its war with Spain in Cuba and the Philippines, was now a world power with its own impressive navy and a yen to acquire colonies. A rapidly-industrializing Japan had created a modern army and navy and was casting envious eyes overseas, especially towards the Asian mainland where Britain and France held such valuable foreign possessions, and had for centuries. But the splendid isolation of a self-reliant British Empire without entangling foreign alliances was at an end in a final act that was deeply-felt both at home and abroad with death of the great lady. The Queen spent her last hours being moved among three temperature-controlled water-beds in a room into which pure oxygen was pumped. She was given no stimulants other than brandy and champagne. Her las words were: "Oh that peace may come!" (The Boer War still had a year to run). The bad news took two minutes to reach Canada, via the Atlantic cable. The five million Canadians went into mourning. All across the country the Union Jack flag was lowered and bells were tolled. Nine cities fired 101-gun salutes. Under Major Caines Kingston's "A" Field Battery at Fort Henry fired 81 guns, a minute apart, one for every year of the dead queen's life. And to Master Gunner Stroud went the honour of firing the final five-pound gunpowder charge. Frontenac County Council cut short its regular Tuesday night meeting in "profound sorrow." Classes at Queen's University and The Royal Military College were cancelled for the rest of the week. On Wednesday, Kingston mayor Robert Kent called a special meeting of "the loyal council of the loyal city" to pass a motion of sorrow and to authorize a public memorial service to be held on Saturday 2 Feb 1901, the day of the state funeral in England. Seconding the motion Alderman Shaw said: "We saw in her a true woman, a noble queen and a loving mother, who has now passed to the other shore, to shine forever and ever as the stars of heaven." Alderman Farrell added that Victoria's reign had been "a blessing to the whole world." He said "Her life is a pattern to her people that is highest and noblest and best in woman, he said." Col M.H. Twitchell, an armless U.S. Civil War hero and the local American Consul said: "She was a wife without fault, a mother most careful, a sovereign loving peace and deploring war." And at the opening of the Kingston Historical Society's monthly meeting, Dr. E.H. Smythe spoke of sorrow at never again being able to sing "God save our Queen." Public buildings, churches, schools, saloons and businesses closed. People vied with each other to be the first to lower their flags and hang up heavy black drapes and red, white and blue bunting. The Brock Street fire hall was said to be "prettily draped." Army officers were ordered to wear mourning. Bagpipes skirled laments. Choirs sang and the bands of The Princess of Wales' Own Rifles and the 47th Frontenac Volunteer Battalion played dirges. The Daily British Whig newspaper sold copies of "the most beautiful of bound books," an illustrated work entitled The Queen's Reign. Queen's Principal George Grant, a fierce proponent of Empire, speaking on the Saturday of the funeral to a crowd of some 7,000 at the all-faiths memorial service at Kingston armouries, made a long speech. He said that the dead queen was mourned around the world because of her dedication to religion. She looked upon her army and navy as "foreign police," he said, "whose duty it was to see that nations kept the peace." Remembrance Vol.4 THE END OF AN ERA By Terence Cottrell BA(Hons), MA, JD.

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