Chorley gets a gift from the US as we look back at G7 Speakers' Summit weekend

An American flag has been presented to the people of Chorley during the closing stages of the G7 Speakers' Summit.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 4:22 pm

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi handed over the 'Stars and Stripes' to event host Sir Lindsay Hoyle at St. Laurence's Church.

The Chorley MP and Commons Speaker said it reconfirmed the bond between the borough and the United States.

The flag was gifted to complement one presented by American troops during the Second World War.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Father Neil Kelley and Nancy Pelosi (image - UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Between 1942 and 1945, more than 50,000 American personnel from the 127th Reinforcement Battalion of the United States Army Air Force passed through Chorley, with some based at Washington Hall in Euxton. The military men were so grateful when St Laurence’s Church held a Thanksgiving Service in 1942, that they presented the town with a US flag as a token of their gratitude – and it still flies there today.

The flag presented this weekend flew over Capitol Hill during the inauguration of Joe Biden as President earlier this year.

Sir Lindsay said he was "truly honoured to receive it on behalf of the people of Chorley and [the] district as a sign of our very special relationship".

"Just as we welcomed US service personnel to Chorley almost 80 years ago, I am so proud to be welcoming Speaker Pelosi here to my home patch to talk about democracy and security – subjects that are as important now as they were then.

‘Although we are oceans apart, our bond is as strong as ever and it is a friendship that I have no doubt will outlast us all.’

Speaker Pelosi added: ‘On behalf of the United States Congress, it was my official honour to join Speaker Hoyle in his hometown today to strengthen the special relationship between our nations by presenting the people of Chorley with an American flag.

‘This flag...will carry on the proud tradition in St. Laurence’s Church and serve as a symbol of the everlasting bonds between our countries and peoples. May it always be a symbol of friendship, fellowship and peace."

American troops gained popularity in the Chorley area during the war and became known for handing out chocolates and sweets to local children.

Crowds would often gather to watch them play baseball games – and they were integrated into the community to such a degree, that there was an American-themed shop the ‘Doughnut Dugout’ on St.Thomas’s Road in the town.

On VE Day 1945, the Americans celebrated the end of hostilities with massive bonfires throughout the Washington Hall estate.

Father Neil Kelley, Rector of St. Laurence’s, said the new flag was "a priceless gift to the community of Chorley and was a tangible reminder of the enduring ties between the US and the church".

NANCY PELOSI 'PRETTY EXCITED' TO BE IN CHORLEY

Nancy Pelosi heaped praise on Chorley and its people after spending the weekend in the borough at the G7 Speakers' Summit.

The House of Representatives Speaker said her visit had helped to make the special relationship between the UK and the United States "more...personal" - and described as "delicious" the Lancashire food with she and the other delegates had been plied during the event.

Chorley MP and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay staged the high-profile conference at Astley Hall for counterparts from around the world, with the proceedings being punctuated by a flypast from the Red Arrows and a tree-planting ceremony involving local schoolchildren.

As well as Ms. Pelosi, Speakers and Presiding Officers from France and Italy had gathered to discuss how to balance the principle of open democracy with the need to keep legislative buildings and the representatives who work in them safe.

And so it was that just before nine o'clock on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday morning, amidst a procession of police outriders and prestigious cars, Chorley strode confidently onto the global stage - the recently-refurbished hall and its picturesque park setting providing the perfect backdrop for a moment which must rank as one of the most significant in the borough's history.

The guests arrived in convoy, but before they got down to business, a warm and traditional Lancashire welcome awaited them as they swept into the grounds of the seventeenth century manor house.

As each of the dignitaries decamped from their vehicles, they were heralded by Chorley's adopted town crier Darryl Counsell and greeted by Sir Lindsay and borough mayor Steve Holgate, who said public reaction indicated that the visit was "hugely welcomed" by the people of the borough.

"Chorley is showing its friendly face," he added.

Cheryl Cadman was amongst a small crowd that had gathered to greet the guests at the security perimeter. She described the experience as "surreal", while her daughter Olivia added that it was "good to have such important people here".

First to arrive was Richard Ferrand, President of the French National Assembly, followed by the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico. Two of Sir Lindsay's own deputies in the House of Commons - Eleanor Laing and Rosie Winterton - were next and then, after a brief break in the cavalcade, Ms. Pelosi - undoubtedly the best-known of Chorley's VIP visitors outside of their own country.

The 81-year-old was the only one of the delegates to draw a cheer from the watching public - including children astride the shoulders of adults.

Food was always going to play a big part in the effort to give the globetrotting guests a flavour of Lancashire during their three-day stay. County-themed canapés were laid on after their arrival on Friday - including, hotpot, butter pie and Chorley cakes - with a banquet similarly based on the best cuisine Lancashire has to offer being served up Saturday evening.

Even before that main culinary event, it seems Ms. Pelosi was enjoying the the county's traditional dishes. As Sir Lindsay escorted her to the conference room, he was heard to ask: "Are you alright after that big breakfast?" to which she replied "Oh my."

Later, speaking to reporters outside Astley Hall, Ms. Pelosi said of the local delicacies that she had already experienced that they were “all delicious”.

“It was highly recommended and lived up to the expectation."

She added: “I’m very happy to be here to see the pride that Chorley takes in its Speaker and the pride that he takes in his constituency.

“To see the people of Chorley [and] to see the products of this area – it’s pretty exciting.”

However, the food was just a welcome accompaniment to the serious business on the menu – how to strike a balance between security and accessibility in the world's legislatures.

One of the three panel discussions was addressed via video link by former British Prime Minster Theresa May, who was leading the country at the time of the Westminster Bridge terror attack in 2017 when five people were killed - including PC Keith Palmer, who was guarding the parliamentary buildings at Westminster.

The power of social media to do good and ill in the democratic process was also debated by the delegates.

Sir Lindsay said that attacks such as the storming of the Capitol building in Washington in January – during which Nancy Pelosi’s office was occupied and trashed – must never happen again, adding: “The mobs will never win, democracy will always survive.”

Ms. Pelosi herself said that the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 this month had provided a reminder of the importance of “freedom and security”.

“Benjamin Franklin said…if we don’t have both, we don’t have either,” she added.

Sir Lindsay also spoke of Chorley’s special connection to the United States, with Ms. Pelosi saying she was “particularly excited” to learn more about her country’s link with Chorley-born Myles Standish, who helped found modern America when he accompanied the Pilgrims on their voyage to the country aboard the ship, the Mayflower, in 1620.

Sir Lindsay added: “It’s about rekindling history…and the fact that…American troops were based here who lost their lives on the Normandy beeches; the fact that they were at Washington Hall in Chorley and people sill talk about the Americans…being in Chorley.

“It’s that great binding that’s coming back together – that’s why I wanted [the summit] in Chorley [and] why I want to showcase Chorley,” said Sir Lindsay, thanking those counterparts who made the trip to his home town, putting it under the global spotlight in a way even its greatest admirers may once have struggled to envisage.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Astley Hall will be left with a permanent reminder of the day the G7 Speakers came to town after eight trees were planted in its grounds by the delegates at the conference – who included two of Sir Lindsay’s own deputies in the Commons, Eleanor Laing and Dame Rosie Winterton, who took part in the ceremony on behalf of Germany and Canada respectively. Masashi Kitakubo, representing the Embassy of Japan, and Susanne Oberhauser, Head of the European Parliament Liaison Office in the UK also planted trees.

The parliamentarians each paired up with a child from one of Chorley’s schools to shovel the final heaps of soil around the base of the trees, which had already been put in the ground.

Sir Lindsay’s chaplain in the House of Commons, Tricia Hillas, addressed the ceremony as it took place in pleasantly warm midday September sun – and said it was “fitting” that different generations were represented in creating a “living legacy”.

“For in planting a tree, we do something audacious; we plant not only for ourselves, but primarily for those who are to come – those who will benefit in 10, 50, 300 years time.

“So may, then, these trees be a symbol of fruitfulness of friendship – now and in many years to come.”

The moment left Nancy Pelosi in reflective mood.

She later said: “Weren’t the children fantastic?

“And that’s what it’s all about, the future – whether we’re taking about climate, whether we’re talking about security…any subject about the future for the children.”

NOT-SO-SILENT PROTEST

As the delegates prepared to take in the Red Arrows flypast, a group of apparently disparate protesters made their voices heard at the security fence that had been erected around Astley Hall. One was heard to shout “genocide”, while there were also references to Afghanistan. Another voice shouted: “Go home, you’re not welcome in Chorley.”

Drums were banged and, at one point, a member of the public, yelled; “Trump, Trump, Trump”.

A placard seemingly objecting to the vaccination of teenagers against Covid could also be seen.