British nationalists (i.e. Brexiters) often forget – or are ignorant of – the essentially ‘European’ identity of Britain from way back. I may pen a piece sometime on Continental immigration into Britain, and the ‘foreign’ origins of many, if not most, of our most distinguished citizens, from Queenie downwards, and from the day the Jutes (or whoever) footed it across Doggerland to eastern England, up to the present day. (I’ve written a book about one group of them – 19th-century political refugees.) That was enabled for most of this period by the absence of any laws prohibiting their ingress, which was unusual for Europe as a whole, and was in fact one of Britain’s proudest national characteristics at the time. Incomers were not even expected to have passports. ‘Freedom of movement’ was rarely challenged until the very late 19th century, and even then only in a few very local instances, mainly with reference to Jews fleeing from persecution in the East.
This liberalism also of course affected the egress, of Britons moving abroad. Most of the historical work on this has focussed on the colonies and America, where the great majority went. But a sizeable number also migrated to Continental Europe, and even set up little ‘colonies’ there. Because this category of emigration has generally been neglected by scholars in the past, I decided to contribute a paper on it to a conference on ‘colonialism’ in Amiens last week; which I may post on this blog if the conference proceedings are not published more formally. Diplomacy aside, Britain and the ‘Continong’ have always been intimately intertwined.
On the last day of the Conference we were taken to visit the Villers-Brettoneux Commonwealth cemetery and war memorial nearby. This year marks the centenary of the last big battle of World War I, which took place there. It was very moving; and a reminder of the extent and depth of Britain’s relationship with Europe in the past. You can’t get more involved in a country – more of a ‘colonist’ or ‘settler’ – than to be buried there.
Quite honestly, I wouldn’t mind being buried – or my ashes scattered – in Amiens. The cathedral is one of France’s greatest, which is saying a great deal, and the ‘water gardens’ a delight. I’ve often wished I was French. But apparently they don’t like us very much. Probably for the same reasons that I don’t like us very much; especially with our present bunch of xenophobic idiots in charge.