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Recalling the Queen’s Coronation as Britain Prepares To Crown Her Son

by Joshua Brown
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Back in 1953, the city of London was still trying to recover from WWII. There were a lot of places bombed by war and it was really difficult to get food to eat even something as simple as a banana. Life for kids living during this time was pretty boring.

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, the city of London came alive. Workers set up special viewing stands along a 5-mile route that led to Buckingham Palace and everywhere you looked there were decorations from bright flags to giant crowns overhanging The Mall. Stores had even made coronation-themed products which filled their windows with colour!

On May 6th, King Charles III will be crowned just like his mother was 70 years ago. It was the last time that British people got to witness this special ceremony. James Wilkinson, who was an 11-year-old boy and part of Westminster Abbey Choir at that time, remembers really well what it was like. He recalls how London felt like a boiling pot of excited people all eager to catch a glimpse of the event.

Wilkinson started to remember things that happened more than one year ago, right before the coronation.

The choir members, who studied in a school specifically for singers, were having a Latin lesson when the abbey’s big bell started ringing every minute and the Union flag was lowered halfway. Then their headmaster came in with news that the king had died. The thing that made them excited was that soon there would be new coins and stamps with the queen’s face on them, because they all liked collecting stamps.

At first, the news that there would be a coronation really caught people’s attention.

The choir singers had to start practicing for months in order to know all the music and lyrics for the 3-hour long ceremony. To make sure everything was ready, the abbey was closed off during this time.

In preparation for the coronation, tiers of seating were installed in the abbey to increase it’s capacity to 8,251 guests, plus they built an annex outside where people got ready and put on their robes. They also prepared to broadcast it on television which was still new at that time. 81-year-old Wilkinson was stunned when he went into the abbey for a rehearsal weeks before the event and saw all the carpets, balconies, and television lights that sparkled!

A LONG TIME AGO

On an island called Dominica in the Caribbean Sea, kids were getting ready to crown a young and beautiful queen. Sylius Toussaint, now 83 years old, still remembers this special event. He can still sing the coronation song which he learned seven decades ago! Even though there are some words he may not remember anymore, SYLIVUS still chuckles as he softly hums the song.

When the bell was ringing in London, there was a queen crowned with a golden crown, and people showed her their love by singing “may be crowned, may be crowned, be crowned with thy children’s love”. Everyone in St Joseph, a village 10 miles away from Roseau, really liked this song since they didn’t have TVs back then. They all gathered around two radios to hear it!

Toussaint and his friends had a fun day full of activities on Empire Day. It’s an annual holiday created to remind kids from the UK’s colonies that they were British. Some of these activities included playing cricket and rounders, drinking ginger beer and eating cake with margarine and coconut. They also watched Boy Scouts marching as well as competed in three-legged races.

He said when the queen became a ruler, lots of people were talking about her. We really wanted to witness it and since we spent our childhood in Britain, we were proud to be British.

When he moved to Preston in England, Toussaint didn’t know much about racism, but recently the British government asked him and his wife to become citizens of the U.K., which broke the dreams of a young boy who used to sing songs about their queen.

The UK government recently did something that affected thousands of people originally from the Caribbean. If these people weren’t able to show documents that proved they had the right to be in the UK, they lost their jobs, housing and benefits. The government had to say sorry and pay money back called ‘compensation’ because of this. This incident was given a name – ‘Windrush Scandal’ – because it was named after a ship that brought the first Caribbean migrants to Britain in 1948.

Toussaint doesn’t blame Britain’s Royal Family for the country’s difficulties, and he still plans to watch the Coronation of King Charles III on May 6. He states that although it might be a flawed system, it is the one they have until something better can be established. So, he decides to celebrate this occasion with his family and friends.

Max Hancock was 19-years-old and from Sparks, Georgia. He had a job in the United States Air Force and he was stationed near Oxford, England for the celebration of the coronation (when someone becomes a leader).

Hancock and his friends were from America, but they wanted to witness a part of history: the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London. So, they rode 70 miles on a bus and train to get there. On that day, millions of people filled the streets – soldiers, sailors and airmen were lining up as far as the eye could see. It was misty and rainy, but everyone’s spirits were high!

Hancock went to Regent Street, a high-end shopping district, and climbed onto a barrier with his camera so he could get a clear view. On their way from the Abbey to Buckingham Palace, 46 marching bands, soldiers on horses, and fancy carriages with people important in government and members of the royal family passed by.

John only had one roll of film which was 25 shots and he wanted to capture the Queen in it. Then, ahead on his way, John saw a carriage that he thought was the most amazing thing ever, so he used up three or four shots thinking it was Elizabeth. But it turned out to be her sister Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother! After that, there were only two frames left from the roll of film.

When Hancock saw the golden state coach, which was being pulled by eight white horses and surrounded by specially dressed helpers, he knew it was time to show respect. He said that in comparison to the Queen Mother’s amazing carriage, this one belonging to the Queen was even better — it was all gold! Even though he hadn’t thought of her as a beautiful queen before, when she rode passed in her chariot, Hancock felt she was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen.

Hancock, a local boy from Georgia, was excited and proud to show his slides to an elementary school. This gave the kids an up-close look at history. When the queen passed away in September, the Moultrie Observer, who is Hancock’s nearby newspaper, wrote about how he was able to attend her coronation.

James Wilkinson knew he was witnessing something special, so he wrote down all of his observations on the pages of his diary. He said, “I felt overwhelmed when I saw the parade and the enthusiasm of everyone that was there. I’m sure that this moment will never be forgotten.”

In the morning, each boy was given a ham sandwich, an apple, and hard candy to stop them from getting hungry. There were a lot of people there wearing fancy robes trimmed with fur – some even had secret mini bottles of whisky or brandy hidden in their caps. Everyone started getting excited when they thought that the queen would soon arrive, but it actually turned out to be just her helpers with vacuum cleaners tidying up the place.

The most exciting moment for Wilkinson was when the Archbishop of Canterbury lifted high the St. Edward’s Crown, which was decorated with purple velvet and shining gold, and finished off with a sparkling cross on top, then gently placed it on Queen Elizabeth’s head.

He couldn’t see her actually being crowned because her head and face were blocked by the tall, pointed back of the Coronation Chair, but he watched as crown made its way to the queen.

He said he knew he’d always remember that moment and watched it carefully, as it was the most important part of the service. He described it as “marvelous”.

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