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Life Chez Dee Episode #115: Patron of our Nation

Today is 23rd April, and for those who don’t know, it is also St George’s Day. St George, England’s patron saint, and in true patriotic style I wanted to suitably mark the day someway.

I wrote this piece last year for a local news site, and was actually about to reshare it, but thought instead I'd add a bit, change a bit, and republish it.

What a coincidence it is that I’m talking about St George today, not because it is in fact his celebrated day, but because St George wasn’t the original choice to be England’s patron saint. Rather the forerunner in the patron saint line up was Edmund the Martyr, who is ironically the patron saint of torture victims, wolves, and amazingly, and rather topically, pandemics.

There aren’t many who don’t recognise English flag; the flag of St George, and indeed of Richard the Lionheart; a red cross on a white background. In combination with the heraldic diagonal crosses of St Andrew and St Patrick, white on blue, and red on white respectively, they make up the flag of the United Kingdom, our national union flag, representing the kingdoms of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland under one Sovereign … each one proud to fly its own flag as well as the combined crosses of the union flag … we’re not at sea so stop calling it the union jack.

I’d say the majority of the population know St George is our patron saint, but I’d wager we couldn’t tell you anything about him; so who was he?

A soldier in the Roman Army, he protested when the leader, Emperor Diocletian, ordered that all Christians in the Roman Army should be arrested, and as such was tortured, and beheaded. He died on 23rd April 303, and Christians quickly honoured him as a martyr.

I imagine that the only thing many know about St George, apart from recognising the flag, is the famous legend. The story goes that there was once a dragon which lived in the city of Silene. It made a nest at the spring which provided the water for the townsfolk. To get water, they had to pass the dragon, and they did this by offering a sheep, or on occasions when no sheep could be found, they would offer a girl instead. One day, this girl happened to be the princess, and hearing of this, St George faced the dragon himself. He signed himself with the cross, killed the dragon and rescued the princess, which resulted in everyone who lived there turning to Christ.

I very much doubt there is any truth in this story; dragons were often used to represent the devil, and the fight between George and the Dragon is likely another work of fiction … especially as it only started being told many years after his death. Dragons are symbolic, and used powerfully to represent so many things, encouraging us to explore other meanings, for example our own struggles with temptation, or negativity. The way we wear our armour, or protect ourselves with a shield, whether visible or invisible, metaphorically conquering these feelings, and shielding ourselves from hurt and pain. As a child I remember singing “When a knight won his spurs” in school assemblies; I’m not sure I paid much heed to the words all those years ago, but today, on this day, in these times, the words seem so appropriate.

This time last year we were all standing on our doorsteps clapping for our NHS. We were all then, as we still are now, joined together by a common theme, a national threat. Last year, the support for the NHS was overwhelming, it still is, but last year there seemed to be a patriotic cameraderie which has waned a little I'd say as things return to a little bit of normality. This time last year whilst we were out clapping, Oliver was out wearing his cub uniform, playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow on his Saxophone; it was the week that all musicians would go out and play this song on their instrument of choice. I was so proud of Oliver; he’d been so poorly with Chickenpox that week; he received the music for it that afternoon, and even though he’d only practised the piece for a couple of hours, was determined to join in, go outside, and play for our neighbours who were all out listening, and who I have to say were incredibly supportive of him doing this. St George is the patron saint of scouting, hence why Oliver was asked to wear uniform. Historically, on the Sunday nearest to 23rd April, scouts all over England celebrate this day, with parades and celebration gatherings.

Usually scouts from all over the District come together at the Scout Headquarters for the St George’s Day Celebrations. Last year, along with so many events, this event was cancelled, as it is again this year. The St George’s Day Celebrations were to be even more special, as we were to have the grand opening of the revamped and rejuvenated campfire and seating area, which The Edward Dee Fund organised and financed ... at some point soon, I hope, this area will be opened, and indeed used.

For those who don’t know, Edward Dee was a local boy and an active member of our community, wholeheartedly involving himself with, and volunteering for an inordinate amount of things. A lover of all things outdoors, trees, fire, and backwoods, he lived and breathed cubs. Edward died in December 2016 very suddenly, and a charity was founded in his name to raise awareness of meningitis and sepsis, the diseases which took his life at only 10 years old. Funding local community projects is another of the charity’s aims, and it seemed only fitting that this was a rather special project for the charity to support.

Heavily used, the area had been in dire need of help for such a long time … there weren’t enough benches, and those which were there, were dilapidated and falling apart. Edward’s dad, Justin, put many hours into this project, designing and drawing up plans, liaising with and meeting the scout committee; working with the scout working party on doing the groundwork and building benches, and generally overseeing and project managing the whole operation.

The campfire opening at the St George’s Day Celebrations promised to be a great day, with many scouts and leaders attending the event.

I’ve known Akela for many years now, with all three of my boys having been active members of her cub pack … or should I say packs, as she runs two! No wonder Edward got on so well with her, she too lives and breathes scouting. So often do I see her, cub hoodie on, working on something to do with scouts, either helping with her own unit, with district or with county, or volunteering her services to help wherever she’s needed.

To be honest all the leaders put in hours and hours of their time to give the cubs the most fantastic experiences. Akela, Raksha, Shere Khan, Rama, Baloo, Jacala, Kaa, Rikki, Mang … they’re all there … named after the animals in Kipling’s Jungle Book, with Akela the leader, head of the pack, and surrogate mum to all the wolf cubs. Edward adored her.

But that’s not all … so many times have I seen her standing in all weathers, marshalling at the Fleetwood, or St Anne’s Triathlon. Edward entered many of these events, and there she’d be, standing on one of the turning points, or collecting the time chips, or giving out medals, but wherever she was stationed she’d be there cheering and offering encouragement to so many, Edward included.

Dyb, Dyb, Dyb; Dob, Dob, Dob … that’s how the motto goes. Do your best, do your best, do your best; Do our best, Do our best, Do our best is the reply. There are promises made when a scout of any age is invested, and the ethos of scouting is pretty much summed up in these words. Striving to challenge themselves at all times, they achieve, they learn skills, they gain knowledge and practical experience of so much. Life skills. competition, ambition, leadership, decision making, communication, independence, morals, friendship and camaraderie; practical skills, map and compass work, knots, fire lighting and backwoods, first aid, and the thrill of hiking, camping, climbing, archery, shooting and axe throwing. Armfuls of badges worn with pride, received as reward for all the hard work, determination and commitment.

Akela was special to Edward; she’s special to our family; and she’s special to our community. She is one of life’s unsung heroes, and her name should happily sit amongst those worthy to be on the honours list.

Years after his death in AD 303, the hero we honour today is St George, the “Patron of our Nation”, a man killed for standing up for his beliefs. Maybe it’s because we’re in a time of national camaraderie, or because it is a time we pause to reflect, but it begs the question, what beliefs would you be prepared to stand up for, even die for. Edward had an enormous sense of justice, and would put his neck on the line for someone if it were the right thing to do. I always admired this quality he had; a chip off the old block, as I too have never feared doing the right thing no matter the consequence. On this day, we might all do well to take a moment to pause, reflect, and ask the question … would I always choose to do the right thing however difficult a choice that might be.

When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand For God and for valour he rode through the land No charger have I, and no sword by my side Yet still to adventure and battle I ride Though back into storyland giants have fled And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed 'Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed And let me set free with the sword of my youth From the castle of darkness the power of truth

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