Empire Day

From Historical Hastings

Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the UK saw the birth of a series of national events celebrating the pride of Britain's Empire taking place on her birthday, the 24th of May. In 1916, this was recognised as a national event and many towns had parades leading to a flagpole flying the Union Jack where patriotic songs would be sung with inspirational speeches being given and tales of derring do from across the Empire.[1] Empire Day was a "symbol of that unity of feeling . . . to those ideals of freedom, justice, and tolerance for which the British Empire [stood] throughout the world"[2]

In 1927 as many as 90,000 people were recorded celebrating Empire Day at Wembley Stadium.[3]

Local Celebration

The first officially sanctioned Empire Day celebration in the town took place in 1906 with a drumhead service in Alexandra Park[4]. This was attended by the Mayor and an estimated 10,000 people in spite of the inclement weather, with the service being led by the rector of the Upper St. Leonards Church.


By the 1950s however, the Empire was in decline and dissenters often used the celebrations to attack British Imperialism. Eventually, political correctness stepped in, and the day was re-badged British Commonwealth Day by Harold MacMillan in 1958[5][3], being further renamed in 1966 to just 'Commonwealth Day'. The date was also changed to the 10th of June, Queen Elizabeth II's official birthday. A further date change happened in 1977 when it moved to the second Monday in March.[1]

Associated Phrases

The phrase associated with the day faded with these changes, however there may still be a few who recall the chant 'Remember, Remember Empire Day, the 24th of May.'[1]


References & Notes

  1. a b c Historic UK
  2. Hansard
  3. a b https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_Day
  4. Hastings and St. Leonards Observer - Saturday 26 May 1906
  5. Per Brian Lawes - Historical Hastings Facebook