A Treasured Account Of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation

Queen Elizabeth II passing by in the Gold State Coach.
Mum’s photo of Queen Elizabeth II passing by in the Gold State Coach at her Coronation in 1953.

Whether you’re a monarchist or a republican, you’d have to agree that no-one can do pomp and ceremony like the Brits. In 2003, I visited Windsor Castle and was fascinated by the memorabilia in its Coronations exhibition. One of the exhibits was Queen Victoria’s account of her Coronation, in her own handwriting, told so eloquently and evocatively that I felt I was right there watching it.

Fifty years earlier, my late mum had been in England on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation. I’ve been delving into some family history lately and one of the letters I found, written to her family back in Australia, tells of what it was like to witness the Coronation at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953.

Now we’re about to see the Coronation of King Charles III, apparently scaled down in length compared with Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, but no doubt still with plenty of pomp and ceremony.

Mum wrote this letter home from the GPO in London two days after Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation. This is exactly as she wrote it, except her letter was one continuous stream whereas I’ve included paragraphs for ease of reading.

We have two black and white photographs that she took of the procession, along with the ticket that cost her 6 pounds, a considerable amount of money in those days. Here too is one of my favourite photos of my beautiful Mum, with her friend Betty in London in 1953.

Aussie girls in London: Mum (left) with her friend Betty in Trafalgar Square in 1953.
Mum (left) with her friend Betty in Trafalgar Square in 1953.

G.P.O. London

Dear Mum,

… I got a seat in Parliament Square on the opposite side from the Abbey where I could see the route both coming & going. I had to be there by 6 a.m. so to be on the safe side I got up just after 4. However the traffic was so well organised I could have had an hour more in bed. I got a bus part of the way & then decided to get off & walk to fill in time. Went along the Embankment where the Procession went later on. At that time it was about the only clean street in the area as it was reserved for children & they didn’t have to get there until after 8 a.m.

Being a ticket holder I only had to show my card to get past the barrier erected at the end of the street, but they weren’t letting any ordinary spectators on that part. However they made up for it elsewhere. There were some 2 million along the route of roughly 3 miles. It was pretty grey already but not raining. There was plenty going on all the time.

A few peers came along in their own carriages, horse drawn, lots more had cars verging from beautiful Daimlers to 1914 Model Fords. That was why we had to be early to leave the street clear for all the big wigs both at the Abbey & Houses of Parliament. Mounted Police, foot police, Air Force & Navy men took up their places lining the route, First Aid men came along & then a dustman to clean up the street after the Police horses. He got a great cheer from the crowd.

Ticket to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953

The BBC started their programme at 5.30 with the announcement “This is Coronation Day” & caused a great jeering laugh from the crowd. As though they didn’t know. Some of them had been there 24 hours already. At 8.30 along came the Lord Mayor’s procession. Not long after the Mountbattens & other lesser royalty such as the Athlones. Then the Speaker of the House of Commons, his coach drawn by a pair of brewery horses (all the brewers vans in London are horse drawn). Don’t know if the horses didn’t know the way or if the coachman didn’t, but when the Police Escort in front were about to ride off into St James Park they turned round to see the coach still following. He’d come right past the Abbey so they had to all turn round & come back again.

Then the Colonial rulers came next in open carriages, Queen Salote of Tonga having the time of her life waving & smiling. The crowd roared their heads off when she came past but barely raised a cheer for the Sultans when they passed solemn as owls. Next the Prime Ministers, Winnie getting a pretty good round of applause with Menzies a close 2nd. After that the Foreign big wigs in cars, some sober as owls, some a bit puzzled at the crowds (by this time it was raining) & others like Prince Bernard obviously enjoying it. If they didn’t look happy & wave they didn’t get much of a cheer but for those who did there were roars of applause.

Next the Royal family – the Kents being most popular along with Princess Margaret & the Queen Mother. Then the Queen’s Escort – about a dozen from each Commonwealth Country, members of the household & then the Footguards looking wonderful in their red & gold uniforms & bearskins. The Queen herself looked wonderful & very tiny in her huge gold coach drawn by 8 grey horses.

Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation procession in 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation procession in 1953.

I listened to part of the Abbey ceremony from the loud speaker & then, tired of sitting decided on tea. The stands were built round the sides of the Square with a hollow centre. In here was a tent with refreshments. Seat holders were mostly Australians & from Ceylon & in that tent you’d swear you were at a race meeting at home. Broad brimmed hats – Aussie accents – beer – tea slopping into saucers & crammed full of people. I think they got a bit tired listening to the boys choir. They sounded lovely for a while but an hour of the high pitched voices almost continuously was a bit nerve-wracking.

Before the Queen left the Abbey all the soldiers marched in from the Park 29,000 altogether. They looked absolutely wonderful & the Aussies were the pick of the lot for marching. All the papers commented on it. They all looked about 6 foot & were nearly as brown as the Indians. It was such a long column that we had them on both sides of us at once & people’s heads were swivelling from side to side trying to keep up. In my opinion only the Gurkhas looked as fit as ours although the red of the Canadian Mounties & Footguards uniforms & the kilts of the Scottish Pipers made a gorgeous splash of color.

I don’t know if it was the contrast of the grey day or not, but the whole thing had the magnificent colors you’d expect in Queen Elizabeth 1’s reign, not the 2nd. There were sheiks in flowing robes, sultans in theirs, Indian’s, Ceylonese, in saris of all the colors of the rainbow in rich silks, Africans in togas, & last but not least of all the peers in crimson robes. One Indian girl in a rich silk sari (spectator in our stand) pulled up her skirt to step over a puddle, & I noticed she was wearing flannel slacks underneath it. Sensible girl – it was pretty cold on the stands.

I couldn’t face the cold & wet in the millions that were thronging about the Mall & Buckingham Palace so missed the part on the balcony. Saw the fireworks display from an upstairs window where I stayed – by the fire.
Love to all, Joyce.

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