Some Americans will wonder at the effect that British Royalty has on their friends and neighbors, for wasn't it the defeat of Royalty that made our United States of America possible? And was it not the strong desire of General Washington to be done with Monarchies and Royalty from across the waters? After the dust had settled following the American Revolution wasn't it the same George Washington who refused to accept the title of "King" for the much less pretentious term, "President"? The entire world - including Americans - seem to be forever "watching the Royals" today, in a never diminishing adulation of them
Yet here I am in my mid-eighties thinking back to about the year 1940 when I first started collecting postage stamps.
I was so into it that I would steam stamps off old envelopes from my parents' mail of many years earlier - from 1910 and 1912 - and some even a lot earlier. Our American stamps were a pretty drab lot in those days, and so it was a delight to discover foreign stamps which showed a little more color, and a tad more liveliness - and I was especially attracted to British stamps that showed two "real" little princesses - sisters - Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Other stamps depicted their father and mother, King George, VI, and his Queen, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, I eventually had stamps of earlier Royalty, including King George V, and, even earlier, Queen Victoria. Those Royal faces never failed to impress me, and I formed my own impression of what Royal people should look like based on those faces.
Throughout the years of World War Two I continued to be impressed with British Royalty - and statesmen such as Sir Winston Churchill. They seemed so stalwart against our common enemy, and our American sacrifices seemed very light compared to theirs in Britain. I was a great admirer, especially, of King George, VI, Elizabeth's father. I thought he had the "right" look for a king. In America we almost never heard him speak more than a few words, or even see him walk except ceremoniously and stiffly through the long lens of a telescopic movie camera - and then only in black and white.
Newsreels showed the future Queen cheerfully driving military vehicles for the war effort and I think her good-natured, always smiling demeanor captured the hearts of all America. Life Magazine and other publications kept abreast of her personal life as much as possible, and her love-life was well reported, along with that of sister Margaret Rose. Once, Margaret had a suitor (boyfriend) who was a pilot for the Royal Air Force and was invited to the royal estate at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The couple built a cairn together - a kind of monument to their love, causing everyone to believe that marriage was imminent - then soon after that the affair ended - just like happens to ordinary human beings. Margaret Rose later married and lived the good life until 2002, though having faded from view after sister Elizabeth became Queen. Elizabeth married in 1947 and remains wife to Prince Philip Mountbatten. She is 92 as I write this.
Elizabeth's father died early in 1952 during my Senior year of high school. It was already known that Elizabeth was unquestionably the next in line for the British throne, therefore preparations began immediately for her coronation in Westminster Abbey. It was hard for me to imagine that my idol, King George, had died, and that his pretty little daughter on the postage stamp, though now grown and married, would soon become a real Queen - and Empress of the entire British Empire (on which the sun never set!)
My strong streak of wanderlust had already begun to show by this time, and I had some close connections with people who had already travelled abroad. It suddenly came over me that I would like to see the Coronation - and visit as much of England as possible. I would have a year to prepare for such a trip - and yes, I still lived with my parents at home. BUT, I had a good job at radio station WDOD, plus I had saved up some money by carrying the News-Free Press - so decided on a trip to England for Coronation Year 1953! There were no huge passenger jets in those days, which departed for Europe every few hours - only steamships, which might depart twice a month, if very fast! Bookings had started before my planning had started, so there was NO WAY to get a ticket on any steamship line until the coronation would be past. Regardless of this fact, I got the first ticket available - which was on the French Line; it would put me into Plymouth/London. Friends in Chattanooga had connections there, and arranged for me to go to a private home for my first night or two. I was charmed by England from that first debarkation in Plymouth down to this very moment!
True, I missed the Big Event, but the excitement of it was still running high! The special decorations were still in place throughout the land - especially in London - where one immense animated display on "The Mall" showed Sir Winston Churchill still saluting the New Queen as she passed in her coach drawn by all those white horses, smiling and waving in her lady-like fashion to the masses of spectators. The Queen and Prince Philip soon left London on a State tour of all Elizabeth's considerable holdings, as the old Empire was still largely intact. (India had been the first great loss).
I soon joined a bus tour starting from St. Pancras Station in London, bound for the Scottish Highlands. By absolute chance we arrived at our hotel on Prince's Street in Edinburgh to learn that the Queen and Prince would soon be driving directly in front of the hotel - in just minutes! It was late afternoon, but still very bright - and I had my brand new Argus C-3 camera in hand, ready to capture the faces of Royalty! The sidewalks were densely crowded with spectators, but I had my camera poised and ready. Soon, approaching from our right (east), a very large and powerful-looking Rolls Royce appeared, its top wide open, and there at the back - seated high, so as to be clearly seen, were Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, II, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh! I had made all the necessary adjustments to my camera so as to capture that memorable moment - perfectly - forever, however, just as the car was getting to a viable distance for picture-taking the crowd went wild! The heretofore orderly crowd suddenly started waving their arms and shouting so all that my (single) photo shows is a mass of blurry arms in the air! Not a trace of the car, the Queen, or the Prince!
Yet I DO remember getting a quick look at those familiar faces - the Queen radiant as always - and I remember how nearly every house along the Great North Road between England and Scotland had been bedecked with the red, white, and blue of BRITAIN! I remember how those wonderful British people all seemed to love their new queen. While over there I enjoyed a lot of their movies, and "variety shows" (like our old Vaudeville shows of my parents' day), and after the last show every night the audience would stand and sing, "God Save the Queen". From all I have seen on our American TV relating to the present Royal Wedding, I have the strong impression that the love affair with Royalty still goes on - perhaps even stronger than at the Coronation of 1953!
* * *
Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter, sculptor and artisan as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at email@example.com.