Throughout my life, legendary tales of ‘Operation Coronation’ have filtered through family dialogue, me – I now shamefacedly realise – abstaining from meaningfulindulgence. All this changed on that glorious day in April 2011, the splicing of William and Kate, us dragging a pre-schooler to Whitehall, trilling “you’ll remember this for the rest of your life, darling” to a child fixated on horses, nothistory.
But, you know what, memories really do last a lifetime and my dear mum – at nearly 91 – is living proof.
Working as a window dresser within Bournemouth’s prestigious department store, Plumber’s, the 21-year-old, Lynda Barton Smith, was dazzled by heady preparation for the young Elizabeth’s forthcoming celebration, a “giant steel crown erected atop the Flat Iron building” requiring mum and contemporaries to spend “many hazardous hours on the roof installing hundreds of bulbs”.
Galvanised, her family sought a greater slice of the nation’s celebrations.
Although living on the south coast, dad, Archie, was a Met Special Constable, affording certain privileges regarding royal routes. Of course, there were no apps offering quick insight into forthcoming arrangements, this detail then, hot currency:“The Whitehall Theatre on Whitehall was our unanimous favourite,” notes mum, conducting a complete route-recce the week before, “offering steps and uninterrupted views over military headgear”
The first day of June was unseasonably chilly, Martin and Lynda coaching it alone from Bournemouth to the capital, arriving at Victoria Station late afternoon, schlepping by foot to SW1A: “We just had rucksacks and enthusiasm,” said mum, “cushions dangling off the back, juice, a couple of packs of sarnies and a blanket stuffed inside. We were quite naive really!”
The policeman’s eye had spotted the merits of a sturdy street sign offering a natural flag-in-the-ground: “Using rucksack straps, we lashed everything to the pole, establishing home for the next 24 hours.”
Bathroom facilities were rudimentary “you just didn’t drink and carried on” but if nature called, there was a long journey to “a rather primitive block of toilets down a side street.” Little sleep was had, the small hours punctuated by shouts Edmund Hillary having conquered Everest: “News boys ran up and down Whitehall,” explains mum, “anyone who was asleep was soon awake!”
Coronation Day dawned cold and damp, spirits buoyed by neighbourly bonhomie and peels of Roll out the barrels and It’s a long way to Tipperary: “Everyone got a cheer,” said Lynda, “especially the ambulances, kept busy by all the people fainting.”
Exact timings were difficult to ascertain, crackly transistorstheir only source: “Westminster Abbey’s bells were really the first indication that the service was over,” explained Lynda.The roar of the crowd from further along Whitehall,announced the new Monarch’s imminent arrival: “After the Household Cavalry, the Queen and Prince Phillip arrived, passing just a few feet away,” explained Lynda, “the Queen,so poised and elegant, Phillip looking right at us, beaming.” For over an hour, bands and dignitaries clattered past “Churchill stuck his arm right out of the carriage and waved: the Queen of Tonga’s carriage grinding to a halt as horses slipped on wet surfaces.”
After the excitement, a long walk back to the coach station beckoned, but not before an unscheduled stop at Victoria’s ‘news
theatre’ showing a rolling programme of the day’s events: “Thrilling to see moving pictures of the very day,” recalls Lynda.
Considering cold temperatures, heavy rain, spartan food portions and negligible ‘facilities’, did they regret their attendance? “Oh gosh, no,” comes the swift response, “we were so happy for her, just that brief glimpse made it all worthwhile, I was so glad to be part of the pendulum from the end of war to royal wedding to Coronation: be there at the start of the new Elizabethan age.”
Seven decades later and memories burn just as brightly, vindicating - perhaps – every family outing thus far! love you mum xx