“A day the oldest were proud to see and the youngest will remember all their lives.” Winston Churchill
Thanks to the Queen’s longevity, the “youngest” are OAPs now but, as the great man said, they no doubt recall that special event, 60 years ago to this very day.
Whether it’s of staring at a grainy 12-inch television to see the flickering images of the ceremony as it happened, or sitting at rows of trestle tables eating jam sandwiches and sipping squash out of their free Coronation mug, the memories will no doubt come flooding back.
Today (June 2) the entire TV broadcast is being shown again as it happened from 10.15am on the BBC’s Parliament Channel. Then, on Tuesday, the Queen and Prince Philip, with all four children, seven grandchildren and one soon-to-be great-grandchild will be at a special thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey.
They will be joined by “survivors” of the 1953 ceremony including all six Maids of Honour who carried the Queen’s enormous Robe of State, some of the choristers who sang the anthems and by former members of staff.
No doubt a talking point will be the weather on June 2, 1953. Just like last summer, the rain fairly belted down. When asked what would happen if it rained on the day, the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, who organised much of the proceedings, said: “Well, we’ll all get bloody wet.”
He wasn’t wrong. Despite sheltering under tarpaulins and wearing thick macs, scarves and boots, the crowds in London reckoned to be about three million, and 20 deep in places got a thorough soaking. There was, however, lots to see and plenty of colour to brighten the dismal skies.
There were two miles of troops some 50,000 soldiers in the procession, from Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia, but also from remote outposts of the old empire such as Sarawak, Malaya, Sierra, Leone and Somaliland. There were the shining breastplates and plumed helmets of the Household Cavalry, hundreds of peers in crimson velvet robes trimmed with ermine and then, of course, the Coronation Coach itself weighing four tons, gilded in 18 carat gold and 20 ft long.
If hearts needed lifting, the news that Mount Everest had been conquered by a British-led team under the leadership of John Hunt, did just the trick. One newspaper summed up the euphoria sweeping the nation: “All This and Everest Too!”
There were cheers for the widowed Queen Mother travelling to the Abbey with her younger daughter Margaret, a beautiful vision in white. Then more cheers for the exotic and enormous Queen Salote of Tonga, described as “a vast brown bundle with a tall red knitting needle in her hat.”
She refused to have her carriage closed, and sat beaming as she waved and waved in the rain. Comically, she shared her carriage with the tiny Sultan of Kelantan and when someone asked Noel Coward who the little chap was, he replied “her lunch”.
Star of the day was the 27-year-old Queen, younger than princes William and Harry are today. All accounts say she was calm and composed. The presence of the Duke of Edinburgh by her side was, as always, a great comfort. She had agreed, against the advice of Churchill, to allow cameras in the Abbey to film the ceremony 20 million people out of a UK population of 36 million watched it live on TV, while another 11 million tuned in to the wireless broadcast.
Besides the actual crowning, other highlights included Prince Philip kneeling to pay homage to his wife and four-and-a-half-year-old Prince Charles being brought in to see his mother. The route back to the palace was seven miles, taking two hours. After it was all over, the new Queen threw herself on a sofa and said: “That was marvellous. Nothing went wrong.”
Later on in a live radio broadcast she thanked “the many thousands of you who came to London from all parts of the Commonwealth” but said she was “also conscious too of the millions of others who have shared in it by means of wireless and television in their own homes”.
The Queen was the first monarch to be truly crowned, as was traditionally ordained, “in front of the people”. It’s a bond that continues to this day.