GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
Being a backward, country boy from Fayette, Alabama, I didn't travel very far from my home during my youth. The town's tiny library contained few books written by world travelers, and I read most of them by the time I graduated from high school. The colorful adventures of Marco Polo, James Cook, Mungo Park, Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, and Sir Richard Burton aroused my curiosity about the far reaches of the world. Except Polo the Venetian, these globe trotters were Englishmen. They had seen most of the English Empire in its early days while mastering the art of describing in colorful terms what they saw. At an early age, and without leaving the friendly confines of Alabama, I became intrigued by their word pictures of the outside world.
My first venture into my outside world began in 1939 when I joined the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet. While keeping informed of World War II current events, I had developed a deep-seated affection for the British people and their colorful leader, Sir Winston Churchill. The Prime Minister seemed to possess those qualities I admired in a man. He let Hitler and Mussolini know that he would never knuckle under to the Axis powers. He was my idol -- a clear-cut figure who would rather die than surrender his freedom or that of his country.
In addition, Mr. Churchill always conveyed his deep love and enduring respect for the British throne. Before the U.S.A. entered World War II, he addressed our U.S. Congress, and I can recall noticing his clipped accent as he assured his audience that the Allies would prevail. As usual, he closed his speech with a vow to serve his King and the British Commonwealth in a way that no Englishman would ever need be ashamed of his conduct of the war. I would learn that many people in the Colonies did not share my respect for Mr. Churchill, the King, and the Commonwealth.
I first learned that others did not share my opinion of the English in August 1944. It happened in a British theater in Calcutta, India. Our B-29 crew had survived a very difficult combat mission to Palembang, Sumatra, and we were granted a three-day pass to go to Calcutta from our base in Chakulia, India. Some of our crew attended a movie the first night in town. I can't recall anything about the movie, but I will never forget what happened at the end of the film. After the last frame faded from the screen, a large colored photo of King George took its place, and a stirring rendition of God Save the Queen came from the sound system.
My crew was seated in a reserved section of the theater with a mixture of English officers, English civilians, and well-dressed Hindus. We were dressed in uniform as were the British Officers around us. All of us stood at rigid attention as the theater filled with the music and singing of the great song. It was an emotional moment for me, and I was as proud to be there as any of the British Officers. When the music began, the Hindu men and women in the reserved section filed out laughing and chatting as if they did not hear the patriotic music. I became very uncomfortable. I felt like I was witnessing an act of treason. None of the English people seemed to notice the Hindus as they strolled nonchalantly toward the exits.
When the music stopped, one of my crew members mentioned to the British Officer next to him that the Hindus seemed disrespectful of the anthem and the King's picture. Then I learned how my opinion of the Commonwealth differed from that of other people in the world. The British Officer replied, "Of course it's rude old boy, but most Indians would do the King in if they had half a chance."
Before we finished our tour of combat in India, this observation would be proven to us often. I never heard an Indian express anything but hate for the British. Even the benign Mahatma Ghandi preached a doctrine that required the British yoke to be removed from the neck of India. History reveals that at the end of World War II, the yoke was removed. The Olde British Order in India had reached its zenith by VJ Day.
I suppose if you played God Save the Queen in Calcutta today, the owner of the recording would be put in the Black Hole. Nevertheless, I still admire and have a great respect for the Throne, the Commonwealth, and the British Anthem.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *