The Joys of Tradition: the ritual in a change of command

“Modern societies still need myth and ritual. A monarch and his family supply it” (Ian Gilmour).

     Present rituals may not deal with the monarchy (kings, queens, gentry, papacy, etc.) but may deal with other more secular or nationalistic causes; think of Hockey Night in Canada or the Super bowl in America. Human civilizations have, to a varying degree, traditions which have been created for purposes ranging from social control such as Halloween to the Quinceanera as a passage from childhood to womanhood.

     When we think of invented tradition it should be important to note the context of which society, that is our post-modernist roots which have influenced the current necessity for creating (or adapting) rituals to the contemporary situations our society faces. Referring to the shifts of power noted by the application of two Post-Modernist thinkers; firstly Max Weber, and secondly Michel Foucault. Max Weber wrote during the 19th century in the Prussian Empire, during a time when the thinkers of the time were challenging the teachings of the church and other institutions of dated morality and Universalist teachings.

Weber analyzed the how people of the protestant tradition began to replace their institutions with a pursuit for greater production – leading to the replacement of shops with factories. This also resulted in an ongoing shift to move from the rural communities to the large urban metropolis, leading to a boom in population. Not only is production increased through this, but the pursuit of knowledge also increased, as did the culture surrounding professionalisms such as the military. When thinking of the British Monarchy’s pursuit to be novel in terms of ritual one cannot help but notice the emphasis placed upon a rigid social structure, urbanization and industrialization, as well as the need for the institution of a powerful, disciplined and well-dressed military – prestige has become our unit for measuring the ‘power’ within this ritual context.

      The British, prior to the end of the first world war in 1918 were not known for their military drill, nor were they known for novel Monarchical traditions. David Cannadine points out  in his work ‘Ornamentalism’, that not only were the British the wealthiest in Europe, but the most likely to have a failed reception. The British regime’s reign of power was between the late 17th century to the end of World War I (some argue that the Second Industrial Revolution in Germany and America was the downfall of Britain, but globally the decline was felt in the Pre-WWI era). The monarchy, the state, and the people needed to strengthen their power – which could be done through royal ceremonial acceptance (Cannadine). Britain unlike past powers such as Rome, or the Papacy did not invest these resources effectively in its rituals until after the results of 1918 – devastation due to the war, debts to America, contested territories in Russia, the Balkans, Turkey, etc. It could be from this that the political power of the monarch required to be reinforced through the emphasis of the rituals and services of which persons took place to be more important. The monarchy of the Post-WWI era was, by comparison to the monarch of the 1870s, less powerful given the statutes placed on them limiting the royal powers within parliament. To be more clear of the abysmal situation of the post-war London Cannadine states that “this environment of extreme international competition, the smugness and pride with which the Londeners of a previous generation had venerated their shabby capital city was no longer tenable”. The prestige of simply being British was wearing off; the Monarchy was a last line for cultural vigour.

     Britain, unlike Rome, had an empire of which spanned the globe. Drawing upon its resources the monarchy could still receive taxes not only from the people but from the writ they received by being the heads of the Anglican Church (the Church of England). During the post-war era, or the Twenty Years Crisis, the media began to promote more visual appeals of prestige. Beginning with a fixation on the Germans of the Prussian Empire, leading to the Fascists and ever more with the Nazis. This was the time that the British could recreate their ceremony. The need was to establish the monarchy as Olympians, to venerate them by displaying the advancements in technology in a splendid and anachronistic fashion (Cannadine). Much like Halloween was reinvented as a tradition, the Royal Monarchy and their institutions had a renewed image created to establish a precedent for why people should not only care but pay tribute to their prestige. The coronation of George VI, or King George ‘the Faithful’, was an event that was greatly facilitated by the British media’s flattery and mass reporting to raise interest of the people of the common wealth (Cannadine); look upon your vanguard – the British King is alive and well. This ritual was further empowered by the participation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

     Today, in the Canadian Forces for instance, are the markings of British colonial heritage. Upon each members beret (or other headdress) is the badge which is topped with the crown of monarch that is upon the throne. When swearing an oath of loyalty, the member swears this oath to Queen Elizabeth II. Each piece of equipment is referred to as Her Majesty’s, which can be most commonly seen on the barrel of a howitzer where the Royal seal is pressed. The political power of the Queen exists even so far as to permeate the military structure of Canada in appointing a new leader for a military garrison. The Queen in Canada is regarded warmly, especially by the pleasant pictures of which adorn each armouries in almost every room – a perpetual reminder that the monarchy is who the citizens as soldiers fight for. At the time of a change of command parade, Canada is still doing economically well in contrast to many other nations such as Portugal, Italy, Greece, or Cyprus. The social structure of Canada is still as rigid as it was 50 years ago, broken down into quintiles. The ritual of the change of command parade takes place at the brigade level, an area of which the boundaries are localized to spanning a few hundred kilometres within the province. The media presence at the parade captures the tradition as a clean, and crisp act; something to be venerated. In terms of fashion, the dress of the Canadian Forces members at attention is the formal dress wear that has been in use since the 1990s – dark olive coloured wool/polyester jack and pants, light olive shirt, dark olive tie, a beret, white gloves and highly glossed leather boots – with a modern C7-A2 assault rifle. In terms of self-image, Canada presents herself a broad as peace makers and peace keepers, with a disciplined military that responds not only to matters of conflict but to natural disasters and humanitarian projects as well. Unfortunately the ritual change of command parade happened in Guelph Ontario, far from the urban streets of a bigger city such as Hamilton or Toronto which would have drawn in a greater crowd to witness the event. Guelph, unlike Ottawa is not the capital of Canada. However, it is central to the unit which exercised the ritual – it is their home. 

     In the backdrop of the ritual and the city was the music which is identifiable with the Canadian Forces upon parades, produced by a choir of bag pipes, drums and other wind instruments. All members producing the music were a part of the Canadian Forces as well. As far as commercial exploitation goes, this ritual was devoid of the corporate influence; as far as the eye can see it was event promoting the unity of the Canadian people under the mark of Her Majesty’s tradition. The event did not push any particular images beyond that of the Canadian state and those citizens daring enough to serve and practice within the military.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s