Honour – Sunday 5th July 2009

Posted on July 5, 2009


The Gate of Honour

Knowing several graduates, I have often speculated as to the tidal flow through the Gate of Honour at Gonville & Caius (as far as I can tell neither those within nor without the College walls seemed any more honourable as a result of using it!) John Keys (as I believe he then was, before donnish disdain for Anglo Saxon spelling forced him to Latinise his surname) was captivated by the Italiante style, which provided the template for his favourite of the three College gates. Quite what inspired the curious rules of selection that govern who may pass through it is somewhat harder to fathom – (the blind, lame, deformed, dumb and the Welsh were barred from entering the College).

The interpretation of who or what most people consider to be worthy of their honour can be utterly egoistic – dependent on their own beliefs, experiences, self interests and prejudices. It is a reminder of the complexity of this virtue, the pursuit of which can seem altruistic and aspirational but which, once gained, can sometimes be abused – and even used to justify “killings” in some cultures.

Trooping the Colour

In June, I was lucky enough to attend Trooping the Colour, after a friend managed to obtain tickets in the ballot for seats. The Colour being trooped this year was that of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, who, with the blue plume in their bearskins contrasting with their red tunics, were easily identifiable amongst the other Foot Guard Regiments. The weather was as perfect as the creases in their trousers and their polished boots. We were in the north stand next to the No 7 Guard position, this year held by the Coldstream Guards, who are currently training for a further deployment toAfghanistan in October. As the Colour was trooped through the ranks in slow time, with the spectators standing as it passed as a mark of respect, it became clear how many of those on parade were wearing service medals – a far greater number than I have seen in previous years. After the March Off, I spoke to a young guardsman who had been posted to our stand. He wore medals for service inIraq andAfghanistan and described what an honour it was to escort and troop the colour in front of the Queen. He remarked that, in an era when public respect for the services is at an all time low, it was a special honour to be surrounded by loyal supporters.

The train journey home was interrupted by a group of young adults all nursing hangovers but still with enough energy to cause what we now call ‘anti-social behaviour’. The tallest and loudest girl, who would be chosen as a ‘marker’ on parade, declared how “wasted” they all were (seemingly oblivious to the irony). Alighting the train was clouded in as much drama as their entrance; one dropped an I-Phone, which fell at the feet of an elderly gentleman sitting opposite us who had been asleep for most of the journey. “Pick it up Grandad” she screamed into his ear. None of the witnesses appeared in the least bit surprised at her disregard for one of our most ancient imperatives – Honour thy Father and Thy Mother.

It is fascinating how honour is perceived so differently by different sections of society today. The lives of a few, like the guardsman, are shaped by it – whilst to most others, including the girl on the train and her friends, it seems to be completely non-existent or at best so individualised that it has no meaning outside of their immediate circle. Some seem so desperate to acquire it that they will allegedly part with bundles of ready cash to obtain it, along with a perch on the red benches. The story of the erosion of personal honour is plastered across the gossip columns daily and perhaps therein lies part of the problem.

As a congregation, we all have a role to play in strengthening our community by ensuring our words and deeds are honorable. We know that ultimately, God alone is not only the source and giver of honour but the most appropriate recipient of it: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things.”

To enter the ballot to obtain tickets for the seated stands at Trooping the Colour, you must write to the Brigade Major before the end of February : HQ Household Division, Horse Guards, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2AX