NOSTALGIA: For these children, sun would never set on British Empire...

The steps of what is now the Guildhall, Portsmouth, crowded with cadet musicians on Empire Day, May 24, 1909.
The steps of what is now the Guildhall, Portsmouth, crowded with cadet musicians on Empire Day, May 24, 1909.
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Did you know Empire Day was celebrated until 1958 and several million Canadians still celebrate Victoria Day on the Monday before May 24?

The first Empire Day was held on May 24, 1902 – Queen Victoria, who died the year previously, was born on that day in 1819 – and became a national event in 1916. It was celebrated in the UK by children who saluted the Union Flag and sang patriotic songs.

The propellers of the exploration ship Discovery when in dock at Camper & Nicholsons, Gosport.

The propellers of the exploration ship Discovery when in dock at Camper & Nicholsons, Gosport.

Youngsters were told it was ‘to remind children they formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious empire’.

In 1958 it became British Commonwealth Day and in 1966 it was changed once more to Commonwealth Day and the date changed to June 10. The date changed again in 1977 to the second Monday in March when the Queen sends messages of goodwill to children of the Commonwealth.

•I recently published a photograph of the Antarctic exploration ship Discovery. Now Mike Jones, of Telford Road, North End, Portsmouth, has sent me other photographs of the barque, unfortunately not dated.

In the photo below Discovery is at Gosport when in Camper & Nicholson’s yard for repairs. It was taken by Mike’s uncle-in-law Jack Honeybourn.

The poop deck of Discovery.

The poop deck of Discovery.

We see Discovery’s propellers and perhaps a naval engineer can explain why they are so small? The rudder appears to have a clamp attached to stop it flapping and injuring workmen.

The picture above shows what I have called the poop deck of Discovery, but as it is not raised like HMS Victory’s then it was probably just the stern deck. The people standing around the mizzen mast could be workers with perhaps Jack among them, but I think they are likely to be tourists.

As Discovery was a barque the mizzen mast was fore and aft rigged. The sail above their heads is smaller than the usual spanker, again like Victory, with a gaff sail above it and no yardarms above that.

•Drive to Romsey these days and it takes less than an hour. But in the 1920s, long before good A roads and motorways, it would have taken much longer. Then there was the trip back.

Portsmouth people on a day's outing to Romsey. Picture: Mike Jones Collection

Portsmouth people on a day's outing to Romsey. Picture: Mike Jones Collection

Here is a group of Portsmouth people on a charabanc visiting the town with Mike Jones’s grandfather among the tourists. Mike says he belonged to a temperance society and if this is one of the group’s trips it would have been a long day with no crate of beer in the back!