A Coronation to Remember

All over the country, communities came together to celebrate the King’s coronation in 2023. This was certainly the case at Beechcroft’s The Farthings development in Leatherhead.

Whilst the majority of the home owners are aged over 55, few have memories of the late Queen’s coronation on 2nd June 1953.  One of the exceptions is Jim, who not only remembers the coronation of King George VI but also has special memories of the Queen’s coronation when he witnessed the events in person. 

At the time, Jim was stationed at RAF Nuneham Park near Oxford, completing his National Service. His father, who was Clerk of Works for the Ministry, was responsible for ensuring that all the preparations along the route of the procession complied with the critical path network – and that all would be completed on time. The task brought his father a considerable amount of attention; he was frequently interviewed by Radio Newsreel.

Three people holding potted plants

In recognition of a job well done, Jim's father was allocated six seats in locations along the processional route for family members. Jim’s brother and his wife were seated in the front row of a stand at Buckingham Palace whilst Jim’s parents were seated with dignitaries in an open-sided marquee at the Duke of York steps – where lunch and drinks were served.

Jim and one of his friends, having managed to secure a 72-hour pass to attend the occasion, caught the milk train in order to reach London before the crowds. They were delighted to discover they were seated on the front row of a VIP stand close to the Admiralty Arch. Luckily, the stand was elevated because sailors lined the route on this section of the Mall and the crowds had to gather behind them.

We were served light refreshments but it was some considerable time before there was any form of entertainment – or before the procession passed,” says Jim “but fortunately it wasn’t raining and the crowds were in good spirits, occasionally breaking out in song with a few old wartime favourites.

The procession could be heard long before it finally arrived and the good-natured crowds cheered and applauded. Cameras were clicking, recording the historic occasion. Of course, coloured film was still at a stage of infancy and the multitude of camera lenses reduced the glorious galaxy of colour into various shades of black and white. When the gold coach arrived, the noise of the crowd reached a crescendo, signalling an outpouring of love and affection for the newly crowned Queen.

When the events organised by the military ended, Jim and his Geordie friend joined the masses heading towards Buckingham Palace. Jim half-hoped for the chance to meet up with his family but, of course, this proved impossible given the crowds. The young men, however, stayed in London enjoying the atmosphere until long after nightfall. They had intended spending the night at the Waterloo Services Club but this was fully booked so they made their way to the station where they caught the train to Leatherhead and then walked to Fetcham where Jim’s mother was preparing their overnight accommodation. The following morning, before they returned to their RAF base, despite the rationing, Jim and his friend tucked into a full English breakfast prepared by Jim’s mother.

A group of retirees at Castle Gardens, Watlington at a plant potting workshop

A photo taken by Jim himself on the day of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation on the 2nd June 1953.

For Jim, the Queen’s Coronation festivities were not over. Jim’s Commanding Officer decided to hold his own celebrations. Invitations were sent to officers on neighbouring Air Bases requesting their presence at a Ball to be held in the historic Nuneham House. In preparation, the Commanding Officer decided to make the most of the skills and talents of the group of National Servicemen, which mainly comprised commercial or design artists or draughtsmen. The men were given the freedom to decorate all authorised areas for the event.

The airmen, who were in their element, lined the protective boarding at one end of the ballroom with obsolete linen-backed maps which provided texture to the magnificent painting they created of Buckingham Palace with the Victoria Memorial in the foreground. One airmen, an accomplished artist, used a set of cigarette cards depicting regimental dress through the ages as the inspiration for larger-than-life figures, including a Battle of Britain pilot, which he painted in the niches of a crescent-shaped corridor. This work of art attracted considerable interest from visiting officers and, as a result, the talented airman was commissioned to ‘lighten up’ the premises.

The extravagant party was a great success with the officers enjoying themselves until the early hours. Jim had a pivotal role, as a Corporal he – and two other non-commissioned officers – were called upon to act as waiters, a role with considerable perks despite the resulting hangover.

This weekend, no doubt Jim will be celebrating his third coronation at The Farthings surrounded by his friends and like-minded neighbours.

Jim's photo album with memories from the Queen's coronation.

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