Locals Take a Trip Down Coronation Memory Lane

Three Chiswick residents relive their part in the events of 70 years ago

Coronation 1953 street party in Chiswick (Chiswick Local Studies)

As Platinum Jubilee celebrations were held throughout Chiswick over the Bank Holiday, locals have been talking about their memories of the Queen's Coronation, 2 June 1953.

Over three million spectators lined the routes, some camping out overnight, while another 10 million people watched it on television. An estimated 80 million people watched the event worldwide.

Grove Park resident Bill White was in his sixth and final term at the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth when the Admiralty ordered the Captain of the College to prepare a squad of cadets to line part of Whitehall for the Coronation Procession.

Bill, (seen above, third from left) who had joined as a naval cadet at the age of sixteen, was one of those chosen for the squad.

"To simulate conditions at Whitehall for June 2nd, we were taken on a number of occasions into Dartmouth and lined up along the road running along the quay, where we remained at attention for up to four hours. It was explained to us that it was essential, whether at attention or at ease, to regularly lift one's heels slightly from the ground so that one's deadweight was not continually transferred through the spine. It is this that causes fainting, especially in hot weather."

On 1 June, the cadets travelled to London and Bill was allowed to stay overnight at home.Next morning, then took the District Line train from Ravenscourt Park to central London.

At Sloane Square he recalls seeing a tall man boarding the train wearing a coronet and full-length red cloak trimmed with ermine. The train was full and the man had to hang onto a strap but he still managed to find a pen and focus on his Times crossword. He left the train with Bill at Westminster, presumably to join the congregation at the Abbey for the Coronation.

Not being so privileged, Bill joined his Squad of Sixth Form cadets in uniform, who were lined up and spaced out at about two metre intervals outside the Treasury. Other squads of Service Cadets were also lining Whitehall on both sides. He recalls seeing "a large, lively but good-natured crowd".

coronation carriage

The Coronation Procession started at Buckingham Palace, proceeded along the Mall and through Admiralty Arch to Trafalgar Square. From there it continued along Whitehall and around Parliament Square to the Western door of Westminster Abbey.

"We were brought to attention for the Queen's carriage and for a number of other senior dignitaries who were attending for the ceremony. The crowds cheered every passing coach and I remember, in particular, Queen Salote of Tonga. She was of fairly large proportions and weighed down her carriage, but she was very happy and waved vigorously at the crowds who responded in kind."

The training at Dartmouth stood the naval cadets in good stead and none of them fainted.

Bill White
Bill White at his home in Chiswick

Local resident Pat Davies, (98), last month attended a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace which was hosted by Princess Anne in the absence of the Queen. She was invited due to her work during WW2.

Pat has been honoured a number of times for her wartime services because of her involvement with secret code-breaking HQ Bletchley Park. She was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur for her work as a Royal Navy Wren, when she was responsible for interpreting intercepted German Naval messages which were then passed onto the code-breaking operation. She had learned to speak German from the cook at her grandfather's house.

Pat recalled that during the Coronation in 1953 she was a student at Oxford University and spent the day listening to coverage of the event on a radio while sitting by the river.

"I did go into central London the next day to walk around and it was wonderful to see all the decorations. While I was walking by the Mall, a car passed by and I spotted Lord Mountbatten in the back seat, apparently on his way to Buckingham Palace to visit the Royal family."

"I was mad about fashion as a young woman and just loved reading about the Queen's Coronation dress and those of her ladies-in-waiting." The dress was designed by Norman Hartnell.

In 1951 Pat and her sister Jean had been presented as debutantes at Buckingham Palace. She recalled that then Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were sitting behind their parents,watching the young women filing into the ballroom to be presented, and whispering to each other.

Little did anyone know that a few short years later the young Princess would become Queen.

In July 1953, on one of her first engagements, Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to the Civil Service sports grounds at Dukes Meadows, Chiswick.

Pat looks through her photographs

Grove Park resident Tim Thirlway was a pupil at Eton College Choir School, and was among those selected to sing in the choir in Westminster Abbey for the Coronation. He is pictured below with his younger brother Martin who was first reserve to sing that day but, sadly for him, nobody dropped out.

Martin and Tim Thirlway in their Eton uniforms
Martin and Tim Thirlway in their Eton uniforms

He says, “One of my memories is the fact that while we were lining up to take our places, we were told that Mount Everest had finally been "conquered". The streets were empty during the journey home as everyone was watching the procession (in the rain) on their own or a neighbour's television.

“I am still singing in a couple of London choirs, and also recently had the opportunity to sing two pieces from the Coronation - I Was Glad and Zadok the Priest - at a concert in St.Paul's in Grove Park.”

Tim Thirlway on a recent choir tour to Italy
Tim Thirlway on a recent choir tour to Italy

Did you play a role in the Coronation in 1953? If so we would love to hear from you . Please email editor@chiswickw4.com, enclosing a photograph and we will publish as many as we can.

Anne Flaherty

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June 9, 2022