We all know that St George was a Cappadocian soldier in the Roman army and, as a convert to Christianity, was martyred for the usual reasons. Obviously the fair damsel and the awful dragon are an allegorical symbol of his victory through the palm of martyrdom.
Elgar’s The Banner of Saint George is a favourite of mine, giving full indulgence to our national pride and perhaps even some nostalgia for the old Empire.
We Brits do need a little pepping up from time to time. We celebrated our Sovereign’s ninetieth birthday two days ago, and today it is our national Feast. Our grandparents and parents lived through the darkest hours of the war with only Winston Churchill to spur them on and give them courage.
England had to fight against the dragon of Nazism and come out victorious in 1945 (with help from the Americans who lost many more men than we did). The myth of St George has always been our encouragement to fight evil and always be on the side of justice, truth and right. That hasn’t always been the case in our history, as the Sepoy rebels of 1857 would testify had they been alive today. Many things make me ashamed of our erstwhile Empire and the blatant cruelty committed against native populations. The countries in which we were born may give us feelings of pride and patriotism, but they also sinned. Like Germany, we all share in the guilt in some way. Elgar and Coldstream Guards do us a lot of good, but always remembering the reality of history and the sobriety that becomes us.
The enemy, the dragon, is also within each one of us. St George offered his life in exchange for victory. We have to remember that the red cross on the white background is first and foremost a Christian symbol, but also the emblem of that country we English love and cherish, even when we live beyond our national borders.