Unless you are really really against any form of monarchy, I hope you will agree that the feel-good event last month was the celebration of HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The four day party was held all over the United Kingdom, a wonderful celebration for a nonagenarian who has been the sovereign for 70 years. Her real birthday is the 21st April and she was born in 1926 (Note 1), but since 1748 the state has celebrated an Official birthday at the end of May or beginning of June when, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, there is a higher probability of fine weather. The main event is always the Trooping of The Colour on Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall.
Elizabeth had become queen on 21st February 1952, aged 25, on the death of her father; her coronation was 15 months later on 2nd June 1953. This was probably the first time I became aware of our monarch. My grandparents lived in Bath (See PCs 164 and 165) and had a monochrome analogue television, which in 1953 was extremely rare. The Coronation broadcast was in black and white with the actual television image 376 lines high; another 29 lines gave the circuitry time to prepare for the next frame! (Note 2) The screen was small but Granny had purchased a large magnifying square of plastic which fitted over the screen. I suppose it worked to some extent but the refraction of the light through the magnifying panel created its own colour – which was completely unrelated to the activities on the black & white screen – we might have had blue horses or red faces!
This year’s Trooping the Colour was taken by the heir to the throne, with HM The Queen in Windsor no doubt watching the ceremony on digital television. Some 1500 soldiers and 250 horses took part, with the colour of The Irish Guards being trooped. Kings Troop, Royal Horse Artillery (Note 3) also paraded before firing their 82 gun salute from Hyde Park. As Kings Troop paraded the massed bands played the Royal Artillery Slow March, one with which I was extremely familiar, having marched at Sandhurst to the same tune. The crunch of boots on gravel, the dust raised by marching formations, the sweat inside one’s uniform, the music in your ear as well as the inner voice reminding what the next manoeuvre was, well practised so almost automatic, is an ever present delightful memory.
And the title of this postcard? Well, the Royal Regiment of Artillery was formed in 1716 and its 250th birthday was in 1976. The Queen is the Regiment’s Captain General and she and Prince Philip were invited to have dinner at the Royal Artillery Mess at Woolwich in south east London.
The date finally agreed was 4th November even though this coincided with the climax of the 1st British Corps Commander’s Exercise in Germany, which meant that most senior Gunner Officers in Germany, including my own CO, couldn’t attend. I was a lowly Captain and volunteered to go, to join the twenty three Generals, 18 Brigadiers, 36 Colonels, 24 Majors and 21 Captains and Lieutenants – so I had dinner with the Queen, well, me and 121 others!
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh being welcomed by the Master Gunner St James’ Park, Field Marshall Sir Geoffrey Baker
Before dinner half the attendees met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the East Ante Room, the other half after dinner – I was in this half. No Royal Artillery dinner would have been complete without the Post Horn Gallop being played by trumpeters and, after the long mahogany tables had been cleared of the candelabra, the central tablecloth being rolled up from either end and then pulled lengthways off the table, without any deviation.
It’s very unlikely the United Kingdom will see another Platinum Jubilee celebration so this particular weekend was even more special. Apart from Trooping the Colour there were parades down The Mall, a concert in front of Buckingham Palace and thousands of street parties up and down the country.
(photo courtesy The Times)
Older people were interviewed about where they were on the Queen’s coronation and the subject of ‘Coronation Chicken’ came up. The recipe for this was created in 1953, essentially adding curry powder to mayonnaise to make a chicken salad. One 78 year old said his mother didn’t like ‘that foreign muck’ – and later someone on the BBC had to apologise as a viewer had complained. It may not be something to say today, but then our attitude to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ was very different.
All this military nostalgia reminded me of something I first heard in 1968, when in charge of the regimental rear party in Cyprus. Towards midnight the BBC World Service would broadcast the Shipping Forecast and then play an amalgam of tunes, the National Anthem, Taps and ‘For Those in Peril on The Sea’; it might even have included Abide with Me!! Far from home, this sort of thing tugs at the heart strings!!
During my military service I spent two years in the Ministry of Defence in the ‘procurement department’. We got an allocation of tickets for the Bucking Palace Garden Parties and I went both summers. I went out of interest, with some excitement, and loved the occasion. The tea? Not wonderful!! But who cared?
Robert Crampton, a Times columnist, is an avowed Republican and in his weekly musings published over the Jubilee said he had never stood when The National Anthem is played. Think he’s confused! While its words reflect good wishes to the sovereign, surely first and foremost it’s the anthem of our Nation and deserves our respect and acknowledgement? (aka The Star-Spangled Banner or La Marseillaise.)
….. and so into a new month!
Richard 1st July 2022
PS Sami (from the Hope Café) emailed simply to say he had arrived in Gujarat safely and would be in touch next month.
Note 1 Under the Zodiac star signs that makes her a Taurus, Celina’s sign. In our yoga studio two others share the same date! Us Scorpios complement Taurians.
Note 2 The next upgrade consisted of 625 lines
Note 3 Fifty per cent of King’s Troop is female.