Editor’s note: Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch, died on Thursday at the age of 96. We take a look back at her coronation day with this June 2, 1953, excerpt from the Spokane Daily Chronicle written by the late Hazel Barnes.
LONDON (BY CABLE) – It was like a page out of a history book, illustrated with incomparable pageantry and tradition.
That was the coronation procession as I saw it moving down the Mall today with its colorfully attired royalty its men of state and its troops.
It was a masterpiece of showmanship as all units moved along in clocklike precision. In the whole parade I saw only one group out of step.
The procession route from nearby Buckingham palace to Westminster abbey was lined with various regiments or brigades of guards in scarlet tunics, white pipeclayed belts, navy trousers and huge bearskin hats which almost engulfed their heads.
The loyalty and devotion of thousands upon thousands of people who lined the processional route were inspiring. Some had waited on the curbs or in a grassy spot for 24 to 30 hours. Some spent two and three nights en route.
Rain is falling
It was a typical dreary London day with occasional shows and only a smattering of sunshine up until noon. Rain fell gently as I wrote this in my press seat on the Mall across from Clarence House. Once the procession reached the Abbey for the service of consecration and dedication, pipe organ and choral music as well as the ritualistic service could be heard by loud speakers in stands along route.
I was chilly in my wool suit and full-length coat. People who slept out last night got drenched by a downpour between 4:30 and 6 p.m. and again during the night.
But as I walked down the Mall and into Trafalgar Square this morning (after checking into my press seat at 6 a.m.), I was amazed at the gaiety of the people. Their spirits were high, even though they were damp. The words of “Singing in the Rain” broke out as rain fell at 6:45 a.m. but all agreed any discomfort or inconvenience they’d undergone was well worth the chance to see the queen.
I caught just a glimpse or two of lovely young Queen Elizabeth but I, too, was captivated by her gracious smile and charming manner.
The crowd cheered wildly as the gorgeous golden coach bearing the queen came into view. Many with whom I talked spoke of their adoration for her majesty.
The London newspaper man sitting on my right just commented on the physical endurance the queen must have, for the robes she wore today equal the weight of seven overcoats.
Crowds sang in front of Buckingham Palace last night as I walked by around 11 p.m. Streets and sidewalks were covered with people lying down or sitting up. There were 10 or 12 deep in many places.
A mother with four children, one only 19 months old, got curbside seats at 4:30 p.m. yesterday and stayed overnight.
Periscopes and shooting sticks (collapsible one-legged seats) were much in evidence as well as bountifully filled picnic baskets. Some of the few seats available in Trafalgar Square were on ledges around huge fountains.
The crowds, after waiting all night or longer for the queen and the parade to pass en route to the Abbey, had more hours of waiting in place to see her return after the coronation ceremony.
Radiant and wearing the imperial state crown, Queen Elizabeth passed by our stand again at 4:45 p.m. The splendor and color of thousands of marchers and the reappearance of royal family made the long wait in the rain for her to return to the Abbey worthwhile.
Shortly after the procession to the Abbey ended, rain began to fall and we sat huddled under umbrellas for more than two hours as the ceremony was broadcast from the Abbey.
I had brought my plastic raincoat, rubbers and umbrellas as rain insurance but to no avail. The morning seemed cool and damp, but it was nothing in comparison to this afternoon.
But shortly before the return processional from the Abbey, guardsmen lining the Mall removed their rain capes and the band struck up “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.” And it didn’t rain much after that. The sun was out for brief periods but it was cloudy when the queen passed.
These Britishers and the many visitors were undaunted by the weather. It would have been so much nicer if today had been warm and sunny, but it has been an interesting and never-to-be-forgotten day, anyway.