ABSTRACT

These documents show the ways that Lord Meath’s influence was felt in the popular realm. Meath (1841–1929) was educated at Eton College, later becoming a diplomat and a prominent Conservative member of the House of Lords. By means of the Empire Day Movement (EDM) and the Duty and Discipline Movement (DDM), the attempt was made to shape children as imperial citizens. Earlier in his life, in publications such as Social Arrows (1887), he had shown an interest in the provision of outdoor play space for children that had the aim of making fitter citizens. He then turned his attention to imperial concerns, although there was of course some connection between physical fitness and preparedness for imperial defence as the 20th century arrived. Empire Day was marked through the Edwardian era into the 1920s and 1930s, before finally disappearing in 1958 when Harold Macmillan renamed it Commonwealth Day. The overall success of these initiatives is subject to debate. Some children simply enjoyed Empire Day but did not pay much attention to the message. The DDM had a membership of 4,200 in 1917. It is reasonable to suggest that these movements and their value systems were at their peak in the period between 1900 and 1914, although they continued well into the 20th century. During the 1920s, the BBC and its radio broadcasting had some impact of the marking of Empire Day, moving it into the home, where once it had been a largely public celebration. The article by Cyril Norwood, headmaster of Marlborough College at the time of writing, notes the ways in which by the mid-1920s the imperial outlook was now combined with an internationalist outlook. The more militaristic and jingoistic aspects of Empire celebrations that were sometimes visible before 1914 had dissipated in the aftermath of the grim carnage of the First World War.