By Mary Jane Foster Hutchinson
The year was 1953.
I slept only part of the night on the curb outside Buckingham Palace where I had claimed my place among the thousands waiting to cheer the young Queen Elizabeth on her way to her crowning. I had arrived the previous afternoon by train and subway from my British home in Suffolk County, where I was an unofficial member of the U.S. Air Force and ran its Lakenheath AFB recreation area for non-commissioned airmen, under General LeMay. None of the other Americans stationed at Lakenheath could understand my determination to watch this spectacle in person. She wasn’t our queen, and it was uncomfortable sleeping on a sidewalk, and what would I be able to see anyway? But I was determined. I might not be one of the new queen’s subjects, but I was a communicant at her Church of the Blessed Virgin in the small village where we were stationed, and therefore, the vicar told me, automatically under her care. Evidently, although one was allowed to opt out of the established Church of England and attend another denomination, one remained a member of the established church as one of the monarch’s subjects.
It was a long, wakeful night. The grand avenue was covered with flags and decorations, and filled with happy subjects hunting the best location from which to view the procession. Cheers traveled the route as the news came of the conquering of Mount Everest as a coronation gift to the new queen. When the great moment came, the avenue was lined with scarlet-clad troops on each side, but not so tightly that we could not see the procession clearly. I was only a few feet away from the magnificent golden carriages and marching attendants and the horses — oh the horses! Texan I may be, but I have never before or since seen such magnificently prepared animals. Brushed and polished as if for the Academy Awards, they passed us at a slow pace which provided plenty of time to admire their splendor. We could almost pat the horses. Queen Sālote carried on conversations with members of the crowd and became everyone’s favorite visitor. She had her own song. “The Queen of Tonga came to Britain from far away. / The Queen of Tonga came to Britain for coronation day.” And so she did, and the crowd loved her.
And then … the queen! From where I stood, just a few feet away, I could see easily into her golden coach and glimpse her famous coronation gown, decorated to represent all her lands and dominions. The sun shined, and the long, brilliant procession wound its way to Westminster Abbey. We knew that we had to wait until a later day to watch the recordings of the ceremonies it would host. The street crowd rested and waited for its second act, the return of the royal procession to the palace for further ceremony. But I, satisfied with my taste of grandeur, took the almost empty tube to the airport and flew in an almost empty plane to Madrid to begin my annual leave.
The Air Force base at Lakenheath is gone, and I am home again in Dallas, and next May or June, the imperial crown will be lowered onto another head as Charles III succeeds his mother as sovereign. Someone else will sleep on my bit of sidewalk and cheer the royal procession. That’s okay. Elizabeth lived a long, good life, head of over six million people the world round, filling, as God decreed, her place in the universe. I am 98 years old and must be one of the few still here who remember her great day. I thank the Lord for giving me the chance to share in it. Some have said, in reviewing her influence on the wider world, that she was our queen, even for those of us who were not her subjects. I think that is true. I, for one, felt closer to her than I ever have to any of the presidents of my United States. There is something very special about an anointed monarch. God Save the King! And, I hope, God save the rest of us. Amen.
Mary Jane Foster Hutchinson attends St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, TX.