By Eamon Hale
It was a momentous moment that most of us remember like it was yesterday. Standing in a Defence Force Recruiting Centre or a Depot somewhere and reciting the oath:
“I, (Your name), swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law, as a member of the Royal Australian Navy/Australian Army/Royal Australian Air Force and that I will resist her enemies and faithfully discharge my duty according to law. SO HELP ME GOD!”
For the last 70 years, all those who’ve served the nation in the Royal Australian Navy, Army, and Royal Australian Airforce, and those who’ve served their states in their police forces have sworn an oath to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
For those who’ve served, she was a part of your daily life. There are countless examples, but chief amongst them are her crown adorning our service badges, hat badges, and in buildings, messes, and offices where her portrait has looked out at you. Every salute you threw during the day ultimately went to her (Care of the Governor-General). She was The Boss.
For many, her loss will leave a hole in their lives. She was a rock in a storm of change. A stabilising influence across the world for 7 decades. Presidents and Prime Ministers came and went, but the Queen was always there. She was a force for good. In a world dominated by male leaders, the Queen stood above them all and showed what leadership really looked like. She was a remarkable woman.
Most of all, she was an example of service, duty, and sacrifice.
Across Australia, many feel like they’ve had a death in the family. The national family. She was a link to our past, an essential part of the fabric of not just Britain, but modern Australia too. The more things changed, the more she stayed the same. She had moved not just from being a figurehead but to being a national treasure, perhaps more appropriately, an international treasure. Under her leadership, the Commonwealth of Nations, made up of members of the former British Empire, has had nations like Rwanda, Mozambique, Gabon, and Togo who have no link to Britain join it.
Within our ADF, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the Captain General of Artillery, leading to the story that military bases across Australia have Artillery guns as their gate guards because of their association with Her Majesty (Were this true, as King Charles is Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, Australia is going to have to drag a lot of old range target tanks off Puckapunyal to make up the gate guard numbers).
Her connection to the military wasn’t just restricted to walking down lines of soldiers, sailors, and aviators during parades. She knew what service was, having joined up, against her parents wishes, in the Axillary Territorial Service during the Second World War. Our Queen was a humble truck mechanic and was taught to drive by the Army. More than that, she knew what it was to be separated from your loved ones by service, having been a naval wife to HRH Prince Philip.
I believe the genuine love for her within the ADF came not just from our familiarity with her during our service, but from a recognition that she was intrinsically connected to us in the military and her core values matched ours. Service. Courage. Respect. Integrity. Excellence. Her Majesty exemplified these, as well as duty, honour, and sacrifice. While our society has moved away from traditionalism, the ADF maintains it, and encourages it. Nothing could be more traditional than the pomp and ceremony of our monarchy. I’ve been to parties in the barracks where young macho soldiers have sat spellbound watching Trooping of the Colour; giving professional commentary on the drill and procedure they’re observing, while drinking beers and smoking cigarettes. I don’t know of anywhere else in Australia you would find that scene outside of the military.
Whether you’re a monarchist, republican, or simply don’t care either way, it’s hard not to acknowledge the remarkable life Her Majesty lived, and the steadfast example she gave to all of us.
With the passing of someone who provided a changeless human reference point to our nation for 70 years, there are lots of questions to be answered. Let’s try a few:
The royal cipher, EiiR (Elizabeth II Regina) will change. If Charles chooses to stay with Charles, we’ll see CiiiR (Charles III Rex). “Rex” is latin for King, “Regina” is Queen.
The crown that adorns our service badges, hat badges, rank slides, and countless other imagery and heraldry, is the crown of St Edwards, also known as a Royal Crown, or the Queens Crown. Prior to Her Majesty’s 1953 coronation, and since the start of the 20th century, the Tudor crown had been used. This is also known as the Imperial Crown or the Kings Crown.
King Charles III will wear the crown of St Edwards at his coronation but could choose to use the Tudor Crown for his heraldry. In this case, we’d see sweeping changes to lots of our imagery and symbology. An example would be returning to pre-coronation badges in some cases (such as the RAN badge below), and with all other heraldry having to change.
Regardless of which crown the new King chooses, corps like the Royal Australian Engineers who have EiiR in the centre of their hat badge will need a change.
The Australian mint has announced that our currency will change but not until 2023. The biggest change we’re likely to see? A new $5 note with King Charles’ portrait, and the new king will face to the left on our coins, instead of Queen Elizabeth who faces to the right. It doesn’t mean that old currency can’t be used, and we’ll see a mix of mother and son on the coins in our pockets for a long time to come. What’s this going to cost? About the same as when they introduce all the other new coins that we regularly see.
Australian ships just became masculine, rather than feminine. “Her Majesty’s Australian Ship” has overnight become, “His Majesty’s”. Despite this, we’ll still refer to them by feminine titles like “She”. The custom of christening with, “Bless this ship and all those who sail on her” has been used regardless of Kings and Queens.
For my part, while I’ll mourn the loss of such an amazing woman as the Queen, I’m excited for the future. And I’m proud to exclaim, God Save The King!
Eamon Hale is the Associate Editor for Australian Veteran News covering veteran affairs. He is the President of the Hawthorn RSL and has served as cavalryman in the Australian Army.
Connect with Eamon on twitter: @eamhale