A Period of National Mourning

London Rowing Club flies a Union Flag at half-mast as a mark of respect to the late Queen Elizabeth.

12 September 2022

By Tim Koch

The British Government website, www.gov.uk, has posted a National Mourning Guide. This is appropriate as this is new territory for most of us. The last period of National Mourning for a Monarch was in 1952 on the death of Queen Elizabeth’s father, George VI (though the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 produced nationwide mourning to match the demise of any Royal and Britain’s great wartime leader was given a state funeral, rare for a commoner).

Clearly, Britain has changed enormously since the 1950s and 1960s. There are less stifling social pressures but there is also less concern about maintaining public dignity. Further, the nature of the public reaction to Princess Diana’s death in 1997 changed – for better or worse – many aspects of how the British people show their grief.

The 2022 Guide begins:

A period of National Mourning for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has now started. The period of National Mourning will continue until the end of the day of the State Funeral…

The Queen’s State Funeral has now been confirmed for Monday, 19 September.

Flags

The Guide gives advice on the flying of flags at this time:

Following the death of Her Majesty The Queen, all official flags, including the Union Flag, should be half-masted from as soon as possible today until 08.00 the day following The Queen’s State Funeral. Flags may be flown overnight during this period but should remain at half-mast…

Any non-official flags flying or due to be flown, such as the Rainbow Flag or the Armed Forces Day Flag, should be taken down and replaced with a Union Flag at half-mast…

Thus, strictly speaking, rowing club flags should be replaced with Union Flags. However, I think that many rowers and members of other British clubs and organisations would prefer to make a more personal tribute by lowering their own flag and would regard the official suggestion of following strict protocol and replacing them with what are popularly known as “Union Jacks” as the product of out-of-date thinking. Below is a non-exclusive collection of pictures showing flags at half-mast at some Thames Tideway clubs.

Thames Rowing Club
King’s College School Boat Club
Dulwich College Boat Club
HSBC Rowing Club
Auriol Kensington Rowing Club
Latymer Upper School Boat Club
Mortlake, Anglian and Alpha Boat Club
Putney Town Rowing Club
Quintin Boat Club

On their website, British Rowing states: “As we enter this period of national mourning, we remind clubs that all Union flags should be flown at half-mast. We also encourage clubs who fly their own club flags to fly them at half-mast, as a mark of respect to Her Majesty and the Royal Family.”

This picture of British Rowing’s headquarters was taken on Friday, 9 September. I am sure that no disrespect is intended but it seems strange that the sport’s governing body for English and international rowing is not flying a half-masted British Rowing or a Union Flag flag at this time.

The Guide notes an exception to the half-mast rule: The Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast even after the death of a monarch, as there is always a Sovereign on the throne and it would therefore be inappropriate for it to fly at half-mast.

Queen Elizabeth at the 2012 Thames Diamond Jubilee Flotilla marking 60 years of her reign. The Royal Navy’s White Ensign is on the stern, the Royal Standard is in the bow. The Royal Standard is flown on any car, boat, train, aeroplane or building that the monarch is in.

National Mourning and Rowing Events 

Returning to the National Mourning Guide, there is the question of how rowing events will be affected in the period before the State Funeral:

Mourning is very personal and we anticipate individuals, families, communities and organisations may want to mark Her Majesty’s demise in their own way. There is no expectation on the public or organisations to observe specific behaviours during the mourning period…

There is no obligation to cancel or postpone events and sporting fixtures, or close entertainment venues during the National Mourning period. This is at the discretion of individual organisations. As a mark of respect, organisations might wish to consider cancelling or postponing events or closing venues on the day of the State Funeral. They are under no obligation to do so and this is entirely at the discretion of individual organisations.

The first major rowing event due to be held during National Mourning was the Great River Race (GRR) scheduled for Saturday, 10 September. 

On Friday, 9 September the GRR website had the following announcement:

The Great River Race is cancelled. However, all entrants are invited to participate in The Queen Elizabeth ll Memorial River Procession, from Millwall to Ham. Crews should wear appropriate clothing and all are asked to fly a small piece of black cloth or ribbon from their ensign/flag. There will be no times taken and there is to be no racing, courteous overtaking is permissible. We ask that, unless absolutely necessary, the procession proceeds in silence. We are sure that you will understand that while food and drink will be available at the finish, there will now be no music or entertainment.

The GRR was started in 1988 and covers a 21-mile / 34 km course on the tidal Thames between Greenwich and Richmond. The rules say that boats must be moved by oars or paddles, not have sliding seats, and carry a cox and a passenger (although both cox and passenger may alternate with rowers or paddlers during the race). Up to 300 boats take part including gigs, skiffs, cutters, curraghs and whaleboats. Only a minority of participants have ever treated the GRR as a race so turning it into a “procession” produced few visible differences to the usual event, particularly as the vague request for “appropriate clothing” did not seem to be followed. The pictures below were taken at Hammersmith.

As of 11 September, the 2022 Vesta Scullers Head for single sculls racing from Mortlake to Putney is still scheduled to take place on Saturday, 17 September. The event’s website and Twitter and defunct Facebook accounts make no mention of recent events or of postponement or cancellation. In any case, the Scullers Head is usually a low-key affair and so could be said to naturally fit the requirement for a relatively quiet and dignified occasion two days before the State Funeral.

The Scullers Head at Hammersmith in 2011.

An aquatic backdrop to history

While Charles succeeded to the throne as soon as Queen Elizabeth died on Thursday, he was formally proclaimed King at an Accession Council attended by certain Privy Counsellors (advisors to the Sovereign, usually senior politicians), Great Officers of State and others on Saturday at St James’ Palace. Pleasingly, the Accession Council met in front of a painting from the Royal Collection, a splendid aquatic scene, Canaletto’s Entrance to the Grand Canal Looking East (1744).

Left to right: Penny Mordaunt, The Lord President of the Council; Prince William, Heir to the Throne and Prince of Wales; Camilla, The Queen Consort; Liz Truss, The Prime Minister; Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury. Facing them – and the Canaletto – are members of the Accession Council.
Canaletto’s Entrance to the Grand Canal Looking East (1744). Public Domain/Wikipedia.

However…

Judging by this picture taken at the 1965 Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race, King Charles is not a fan of the sport of rowing.

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