Today her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II surpassed Queen Victoria’s record as the UK’s longest serving monarch. Over the years I have seen the Queen a few times, mostly when she used to attend the Badminton Horse trials in the 1970’s. But for the first time when she appeared in her second trooping of the colour as Queen, on Horse Guards Parade in 1953, the year of her Coronation.
The Coronation had been only nine days earlier and London was still buzzing with excitement with all the military and State uniforms still at their very best.
We managed to get a viewing place in Horse Guards Parade (not available nowadays due to security restrictions), just at the entrance to the parade ground proper, and had a magnificent view of the Queen and the royal party as they passed by within 15 ft. or so.
I was in the R.A.F. at the time on National Service and was fortunate to be there in London at all. At the time of the Coronation our squadron was called upon to supply twenty or so airmen to line the route. I would have jumped at the chance, and had it not been for one thing I would have been there on the day.
The one thing?
One had to be a minimum of six foot in height which ruled me out straight away. So at the time of the Coronation I had to be satisfied with a black and white 12 inch TV (which was turned off for half hour periods during the day to allow the tube to cool down … can you believe that today?).
So! When the lads came back with their tales of the (admittedly) small part that they had played, you can imagine that I was not best pleased.
I moaned as much to the Flight Sergeant, and he, a five foot nothing Scot, said smoothly …
“Have a wee word with the Groupie (Group Captain), and he’ll let you have a days leave to go up next week to see the Trooping of the Colour”.
Like a lamb to the slaughter I allowed him to talk me into making an appointment and off I went to the Groupies office.
He listened carefully to what I had to say, picked up his pen, signed a chit, and I had a 48 hour pass!
I didn’t know at the time what was better, the pass, or the look on the Flight Sergeant’s face when I showed it to him … he had confidently expected me to be sent off with a flea in my ear and was absolutely and completely gutted.
I was there on the day with my wife, and for those of you who have never had the opportunity to see such a spectacle I am not going to try to describe it … watch it on TV and magnify the experience twenty times and you might get near what it was like in the flesh.
Never before or since has anything come near to matching the sheer magnificence of the sights and sounds of that day. And The Queen, a tiny china doll of a figure atop her horse Winston, accompanied by The Duke in the full regalia of a Field Marshall, was a sight never to be forgotten.
This link gives a flavour of the day (sadly not in colour) …
Throughout the seventies, The Queen was a regular visitor to the Badminton Horse trials and there she mingled with the crowds and could be seen informally and at close quarters.
And then it was that she could be seen relaxed, among the horses that she loved and that wonderful smile would light up her face and she was in her element. Far from the sometimes austere picture that she presents when on duty, her whole face lights up and her eyes sparkle with mischief. A Queen in every sense of the word.
So I’ll leave you with this little tale of the day when, without moving more than a few inches, I could actually have kissed her … well her wellie actually.
In was sometime in the late seventies, mid afternoon on an absolutely dreadful day at Badminton.
The cloud base was around 150 ft, the wind was howling, and the rain was absolutely lashing down. We, my daughter and I, had finished our packed lunch out on the course somewhere (garlic sausage rolls and a bottle of Mateus Rose), and had fetched up in the lee of an old hay-cart in the middle of nowhere.
These carts were at places around the course and used by the good and the great as viewing points. But this day we could have been in the wilds of Dartmoor except for the occasional horse that galloped past on the circuit at regular intervals.
Only fools like us had left the relative shelter of the tented village and there was almost literally no other living soul in sight out here at the far reaches of the circuit.
Cold, wet, and seriously contemplating whether to call it a day, we became aware that three Land-Rovers were approaching through the stair-rods of rain.
And experience told us that these were not carrying just anybody, this was the Royal Party.
And we were too far gone even to think of turning around to get a glimpse of The Queen, so we hunkered down as much as we could away from the weather.
The hay-cart rumbled, and we suddenly realised that the party had stopped and were climbing the steps up and onto the flat cart. To cut the story short, a few minutes later and we two bedraggled figures were huddled beside the cart with the royal wellies inches from our heads.
If someone had been there with a camera the pictures would still be going the rounds.
Picture … The Queen, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, the old Duke of Beaufort et al. all atop an old hay-cart in a blinding storm, with two sodden subjects at their feet pretending to be invisible.
At this point I should explain that one of the subjects was desperately trying not to explode with laughter at the situation in general, and at the obvious discomfort of her father in particular.
What does one do in the presence of Her Majesty … even when outdoors in the rain?
Let me paint another picture.
The previous year we had holidayed in Scotland so I was resplendent in my tweed deer-stalker hat, a la Sherlock Holmes, and armed with my Scottish Wildlife Staghorn Handled Thumb Stick … Del-Boy personified.
The hat just had to come off, rain or not, just to be on the safe side.
So I sneaked my hand up my neck, tip-toed past my ear until I felt the peak of the deer-stalker, grasped it and surreptitiously drew the hat down past my shoulders and into a pocket.
It’s a wonder that by the time that that manoeuvre was completed that my daughter was not rolling around the floor, she was absolutely heaving at the shoulders.
I doubt that the Royal Party realised that we were there, and in any case five minutes later they had departed … but even I could see the funny side of it and it makes a good story for my daughter to tell from time to time … the day her father “did an Alf Garnett in the presence of his precious Queen”.
But I will carry the picture in my mind’s eye to my dying day of the sight of half a dozen pairs of Royal wellies, as viewed from the corner of my eye and at a few inches range.
I don’t get to see her Majesty now except on the TV, we have both got older and a bit creaky in the joints and she no longer visits Badminton annually as she once did.
But I still have my fond memories of our chance meetings, and she has been a most wonderful Queen to the benefit of all her subjects whether some misguided souls recognise that fact or not.
And I did once take her to the pictures, and put my arm around her shoulder in the back row … until one of her courtiers tapped me on the shoulders with a sharp “tsk, tsk!”
But did that really happen, or did I dream that?
Well that’s another story altogether.
Pass the port Mildred …
“To your Good Health your Majesty, Long may you reign!”