The Glorious Twelfth

By Grace McCoag in Community

It is strange how one memory can live on in a persons mind for so many years — around 73 years — and its intensity hasn’t dimmed. I remember when I was about 9 years old I was sitting in the old Presbyterian Church at Mar, a little village 8 miles north of Wiarton that had been named after a Celtic fiefdom in Scotland in 1870 when the post office was established and the majority of the residents had Scottish ancestors.
On the Sunday before the 12th of July we would celebrate the Protestant victory of the Battle of the Boyne. My adoptive Mother and I and the rest of the congregation would rise from our pews as the sound of marching feet made us turn around to watch a squad of men marching up the center aisle to the front of the church and take their seats near the platform where our minister would deliver a stirring sermon. To keep the men in perfect step a sprightly hymn, “Onward Christen Soldiers”, would be played — the organist being my Aunt Emma. (Or if Aunt Emma couldn’t make it out to church then Mother would play the organ.) The hymn always made a chill run through me, because, at that tender age I thought our Fathers were being lined up to be shot (or at the least to be sent off to war). You see it was the year 1940 and I knew there was a war going on because our old Philco radio would be turned on every evening at supper time and we’d listen to the war news with Prime Minister Churchill from England saying things like “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job”. Of course we never got to listen to the radio much because it was run by a large battery that stood on the floor behind it and the power ran out very quickly, but we did follow the news closely.
But back in the church the men sang lustily from their places in the front pews. The sermon, of course, was all about the war and, sadly, one of the neighbour boys had been killed that week, and the week before our family had received word that my only uncle on my Father’s side had also been killed in the army – so, for a nine year old girl war was mystifying and frightening. I worried as to how this Sunday would end – would Father be one of the ones taken away or even if they all might be lined up and shot at front of the church? These thoughts were going through my mind so I was very relieved and thankful when, at the end of the service my Father and fellow Orange Lodge members were safe and sound.
Every 12th of July my Father and friends would all do their farm chores early so they could don their Orange Lodge regalia which consisted of a brightly coloured wide collar with gold fringe and tassels (my brother referred to it as a horse-collar – naughty boy) and then pile into a big cattle truck with wooden sides, carrying drums, bag-pipes etc. and head off to Guelph, or somewhere else, standing all the way, or, if they were lucky some would get to sit on one or two benches along the side. Lodges, for miles around, would all form their separate squads and parade through the main street of the big centre to the stirring, but often competing, tunes of many bands.
At the end of the day a tired, but happy, bunch of men, would return to Wiarton after supper. My Father was Scottish Protestant and Mother was Irish Protestant so Orange association came easily. My Father was, and, I guess the whole Orange Lodge, an ardent admirer of King William the third, Prince of Orange, or as affectionately called King Billy of the Royal House of the Netherlands. King Billy, it was said, worked towards assuring the practice of civil and religious liberties that we take for granted today though those liberties never extended to Catholics.
Many of the Orange Lodges have closed their doors due to the fact that many of their members have passed away and the younger generation have forgotten about the 12th of July’s significance.
The women also had their True Blue Lodges and joined the men in all the parades in their white dresses and fringed collars. Now the 12th of July comes along but it is seldom mentioned or remembered.
In July 2012 my husband Royden and I went on a tour of Ireland and on the 10th of July we happened to be in Northern Ireland where memories of the 12th are still very raw. We were taken on a walking tour of the area in Derry (Londonderry) where many skirmishes between the Protestants and Catholics have taken place in too recent times.
We saw a place where a 70 foot high pile of wooden pallets filled a parking lot and where two days later it would be torched as a warning. We also were taken up a lane-way and as we were standing there listening to our guide telling us what she and her friends had done when they went to the riots years ago, two or three people came out of a doorway and stood looking us over. I guess they must have thought we were planning a Catholic rally in the Protestant side of town. So our guide, who had been standing on a platform, noticed the attention we were getting, quietly said “I think we had better go” and we all quickly scurried away from the area. Old memories too obviously still simmer.
The Battle of the Boyne was in 1690, a long time ago. I am not sure the men in 1940 understood fully the history but they loved the pageantry and the benevolence associated with the Orange Lodge for over the past many years the Orange Lodges had donated millions of dollars to many charitable organizations. Now, however, few people in our world believe an organization should be based on hatred.