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Brothers in arms, but where are the rest of us?

Cat James

I’ve had various costumes in my time; from my days as a teenage punk to being a Mötley glam rocker, clad in flame-pattern lycra with ozone-depleting products elevating my hair into a scruffy frightwig.

I’ve also worn the dress codes of the Employment Service (navy trouser suit; white shirt), and Medina Borough Council. The latter was a ghastly skin-scratching polyester bottle-green blazer, issued to me with a synthetic blouse spattered with olive and magenta spots, like a wearable Magic Eye picture. They used to say that if you squinted at that moiré fabric long enough, an image would emerge of the then-council leader Morris Barton.

As a youngster, I had a bright blue Girl Guide uniform; arms emblazoned with embroidered patches, won by completing diverse activities including country dancing, learning basic first aid, or cooking an egg over an open fire – these last two not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Above my tunic’s patrol insignia, I proudly pinned an enamel badge commemorating 1977’s Silver Jubilee. As a guide, not only did I have to Be Prepared, but I also promised to serve the Queen. I made an effort, but I reckon that the Queen served me considerably more – devoting her life to service right up until her final breath. Though her earthly remains have found their last resting place, even in death that omnipresent monarch will continue to give us the side-eye on stamps and currency for years to come.

I was in London on the day of the Queen’s funeral, though, like millions of others, I watched it (intermittently) on the telly. I saw her arrive at Westminster Abbey, the place of worship where she married her beloved Philip, and which was also the site of her coronation.

As her coffin approached, borne on a gun carriage, I realised that there was something missing. I watched guardsmen, Jack Tars, beefeaters. I saw fellows in bearskins, naval caps, plumes. Pipers in tartan kilts, drum majors in scarlet livery, legions of well-buffed helmets. Row upon row of men, marching in synch at seventy-five steps per minute. Then, as the bearer party carried the draped casket through the gates to the abbey’s entrance, I finally saw them. Two women who, with the Princess Royal, were pretty much the only conspicuous ladies in the cortege. And, like the chaps, all three were in military garb.

Queen Elizabeth II was the most famous and influential woman on the planet. Yet there she was on her penultimate journey, flanked almost exclusively by men in ceremonial battledress.

I appreciate that HRH was head of the armed forces, but she was also the president of her local Women’s Institute at Sandringham. Elizabeth Windsor became a Girl Guide at the age of eleven, and was the patron of the movement until she died. She was head of the Commonwealth; she held patronages of hospitals, education and training centres, faith, arts and cultural organisations.

Who paraded for these people? How was I – a pacifist woman – represented? Elizabeth was my queen too.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 14 October 2022 and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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