Massed Youth for the Empire: the Royal Review of Youth Movements in Belfast, 1937

HMY Victoria and Albert which their Majesties travelled upon from Stranraer to Belfast to attend the rally. Source: Wiki Commons.

In July 1937 their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth paid a state visit to Northern Ireland as part of the celebrations to mark the Coronation of the new monarch. Arriving at Thompson’s Wharf in the port of Belfast aboard HMY Victoria and Albert, the Royal procession travelled from Donegal Quay along the High Street to the City Hall where an address was given to a lively crowd of spectators and servicemen.[1] After luncheon was taken, the King and Queen, along with the thousands of spectators in attendance, witnessed a commanding display of strength from the masses of children from the variety of uniformed youth organisations in Northern Ireland.

The Royal Review of an estimated 20,000 – 24,000 members of youth movements was held at the Balmoral showgrounds on 28 July, 1937. The scale of the review offered an expression of both the strength of the British Empire and the importance of disciplined young people in Northern Ireland. The arrival of the Royal car to the showgrounds was greeted with a fanfare by the trumpets of the Boys’ Brigade band and was followed by rapturous cheers from the crowd of spectators.[2] In the course of the afternoon displays were given by the various youth organisations in attendance, with each exhibiting their own individual characteristics. The rally opened with a display of Irish folk dancing by 120 members of the Girl Guides and was followed by a display of PT exercises by the Boys’ Brigade.  In addition an exhibition of a ‘camp scene’ by the Scouts was given, which included a display of fire-lighting and other scouting activities. The performances were well received by their Majesties in what the King described as “the largest Rally of the kind at which he had been present”.[3]

The Royal Review in Belfast was one of many held in large cities in Britain during the course of the 1930s. These included a rally of 15,000 Scouts at Crystal Palace in June 1932, the 8,000 strong Youth Pageant in Belfast in 1935, and the Scout’s Jamboree at Raby Castle in 1936.[4] These were preceded by the Scout and Guides Imperial Jamboree of 1924 in London which offered a clear demonstration of the important role of youth movements in the programme of empire-building.[5] In addition, John Springhall wrote that “The Boys’ Brigade possessed a strong flair for attracting public attention in the 1930s”, with the Jubilee celebrations of the movement in Glasgow in 1933 the largest of these public displays, with over 130,000 in attendance at Hampden Park in September of that year.[6] These all provide a powerful indication of the strength of the values at the heart of the British Empire at home, as well as illustrating the physical weight of the masses of controlled and disciplined youth during this decade.[7]  With an emphasis on citizenship, and a concern for the future, these large-scale displays of youth movements during the 1930s, in cities at the heart of the British Empire, are a clear manifestation of their significance to the ways the Empire was viewed at home and overseas.

 

Notes

Thanks to Jamie Canavan, NUI Galway, for her assistance with the research behind this blog post.

[1] “King and Queen in Belfast”, The Manchester Guardian, 29 July, 1937,  9; “Royal Visit to N. Ireland”, Cutting from Girls’ Life Brigade Chronicle, 1937, The Girls’ Brigade NI HQ Archive, G.L.B Scrapbook, nd.

[2] Ibid; William R. Kelly, Firm and Deep, (Belfast: The Boys’ Brigade Belfast Battalion, 1978), 56.

[3] Ibid.

[4] P. B. Nevill, Scouting in London, 1908 – 1965, (London: London Scout Council, 1966), 186; “Youth Pageant”, Cutting from Girls’ Life Brigade Chronicle, 1935, The Girls’ Brigade NI HQ Archive, G.L.B Scrapbook, nd.

[5] John M. MacKenzie, Propaganda and Empire. The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880 – 1960, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), pp. 109 – 110.

[6] John Springhall, Brian Fraser, and Michael Hoare, Sure and Stedfast. A History of the Boys’ Brigade, 1883 – 1983, (London: Collins, 1983), 137 – 141.

[7] Melanie Tebbutt, Being Boys. Youth, Leisure and Identity in the Interwar Years, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), 28.

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