The Queen’s Coronation 2nd June 1953

1952/53 were very memorable years for me. Life up until then had been spent mainly in London, living with the smog and amongst the damaged buildings, with reconstruction going on everywhere. Despite all the damage done, there seemed to be hundreds of people everywhere and even the unsafe remains of houses were used for large families to live in, until better accommodation could be found. Queues for everything resulted in people getting to know almost everyone in the area. There was always excitement when deliveries of goods which had not been seen for a while, arrived, and the resultant rush for the queue was inevitable as only so much could be delivered, so it was on a very much “first come, first served” basis. We seemed to know everyone, there were shortages of everything, all the people appeared to work together in communities and although food was rationed and there was never enough of it, we didn’t starve.

The biggest news in 1952 was the shattering blow of the death of the king. He and his family had been a great support to the Londoners and the country and to be taken just as things were recovering for all of us was a great sadness. However, Princess Elizabeth was a real beauty and we could not have asked for more in a future queen. We did not have a television at that time, so were not so aware of the fact that she and the Duke of Edinburgh were carrying out royal duties abroad, nor the fact that her children, Charles and Ann, were left behind. Although this behaviour appears harsh now, it was quite common in those days and the man of the house was not expected to take much time with the children as he was the bread winner.

I was in the lucky position of having spent a lot of time in Central London, my grand-parents were all employed near to Buckingham Palace, so I was taken to see many of the “Changing of the Guard”, and was frequently by the gate when the King and Queen drove through. My maternal grand-father served in the Army for many years in India; when returning with the family to England in 1930’s he had been injured and was given a civilian post at the Royal Chelsea Hospital. My grandmother was employed as Chef, so many of my youngest days were spent “helping out” with the Chelsea Pensioners (as only an under five can!) I was also taken to see the parades and horses, so by the time the coronation came along, it wasn’t such a “big deal” for me. I had also had a “peep” at the Coronation coach when it was taken out of mothballs for a “refresh”, I cannot remember what they were doing to it, but the Gold on it stayed in my mind to this day. I think there must have been a sense of foreboding about the king’s health at the time, but I really cannot remember at what age I was when I was in the privileged position of seeing the coach.

At my new school there was great excitement and plans made for celebrations of the Coronation. We were such lucky children, the school was brand new, up to date with modern facilities, including indoor toilets – something the previous school sadly lacked. We were also divided up into smaller classes of about 30 children, whereas before we were altogether in one classroom. We made bunting and learned dances and songs and we all had a union jack flag to wave on the day. During the weeks coming up to the Coronation, we came home with gifts galore, including a red propelling pencil and notebook, a book about the Queen, a cup and saucer with the Coronation details on it and a teaspoon. We also had our own (rough) notebooks which we had never had before. We felt we were the luckiest children in England. I can also remember dancing around the Maypole, but only once as I think we enjoyed getting tangled up too much!

On the day of the Coronation we all had a day off and we had a street party. There were about 40 children over the age of 5, the younger ones were accompanied by their mothers. I had never, in my entire life, seen so much food, how the ladies prepared it, I shall never know, but children don’t think about that when an array of “specials” is on the table. I think a lot of the supplies were donated by the American base which was close by; as we tasted “Candy bars” for the first time. The food consisted of jelly and blancmange, lots of tinned fruit including mandarins and peaches. Fresh orange juice was on the table, with real straws to drink through. Sausage rolls and cheese straws and lots of fairy cakes of different styles, most with red, white and blue icing. Piles of sandwiches were demolished as quick as lightening – these were all white bread, containing a variety of fillings from cheese and jam to egg and cress, the mums really did us all proud – how with the meagre rations I don’t know.

About two weeks before the big event, there were roughly 12 of us girls from our street chosen to “perform” after the Coronation. We went through choreography for three songs:

  • She wears Red Feathers and a Hooly Hooly Skirt,
  • There’s a lovely lass, lives by a lovely stream and
  • Sisters.

I was chosen with a few others to sing “She wears Red Feathers” and were set to making our “costumes” which consisted of red crepe paper, red feathers and a hair band with red flowers sown onto it.

The order of Coronation Day was as follows – detailed as well as I remember:

Not sure how the coverage of the Coronation went, but it appeared to be broken down into three sections. Everyone was invited into our house as my father had won the Football Pools and bought a TV out of the winnings. I was not impressed – everything was in black and white and I expected to see the coach in gold that I had seen years before in the Coach House. Not only that the TV screen was only about 9 inches square so the picture was very small, I couldn’t see very much between people’s legs, so was more than pleased when we were allowed to start on the food. I don’t think my father was very impressed with my reaction.

When the TV coverage was finished, everyone piled out to eat what was left of the food. That didn’t take long! Then the girls got ready for the “entertainment”. By then it had started drizzling and by the time we came out, singing our hearts out, with the choreography to match, it was pouring down. My mother was going slightly ballistic. I couldn’t understand why, as the rain was mushing our costumes which were only paper, but of course, the red dye was all over us. It wasn’t until I recently spoke to a friend who was at this “do” and she told me she was frozen, so our mothers had insisted that we kept our liberty bodices and vests on (along with our long legged brown drawers with pockets in). Imagine the sight, sexy south sea maidens in pretty red spliced skirts and bikinis with liberty bodices, vests and brown knickers underneath, all turning red with the dye out of the crepe paper.

I got used to the black and white TV, although we were only allowed to watch Andy Pandy and Muffin the Mule and a bit later on The Flower Pot Men, I was immensely proud of my father for getting the TV, although I heard later that my friend’s father had gone to see it and came back saying he wouldn’t be buying anything like that – far too small, “I will buy a 12 one“. Apparently he did this, but it took him two years to save up as it was very expensive. Personally, I preferred listening to the radio, they had special children’s programmes: Dick Barton – Special Agent and Journey into Space were two I used to try not to miss. Also, on Sundays, after a church service, there was Family Favourites which was a programme mainly for servicemen overseas – where special requests were played for them. This was followed by Billy Cotton’s Band Show, Life with the Lyons and Archie Andrews or other comedy programmes – good family listening.

Sadly, I have not managed to see “live” on TV, or attend any special Royal Event since, always otherwise occupied, but I hope to see all of the King Charles Coronation and shall stay by the TV and record as much as I can as it is well deserved, he has been a splendid “King in Waiting” and I hope he manages a long and happy reign with his Queen Camilla.

Granny Smith

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