On 2nd June 1953, a remarkable young woman was crowned at Westminster Abbey. Aged just 27, Elizabeth II had been born at the time of the 1926 general strike, had seen the 1936 Abdication Crisis first hand, had been evacuated during World War Two then helped with the war effort and had celebrated VE day amongst the crowds of London. Now, after acceding to the throne on the death of her father King George VI in 1952, she was being crowned.
What must the coronation have looked like to a nation not long out from under the shadows of the War? One young woman, Karen Lodge (née Moller), was born just over a month before Princess Elizabeth. Growing up in different surroundings, she nevertheless still shared some of the same experiences and closely identified with the Princess. Here is her coronation experience.
After war broke out, Karen was evacuated to Wales with her two sisters. They stayed at Nottage Court, built on land formerly owned by a local monastery. After the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII, the land was sold in 1540 and the house built. Supposedly, Anne Boleyn lived there for a time. In 1943, Karen moved to London to start her teacher training course at Battersea College. She lived through the bombing and took her turn firewatching on the roof of a four-storey building overlooking Clapham Common, listening to the sound of the Ack-Ack Guns on the Common and watching the searchlights light up the sky. On VE day, she spent the entire day and night on the streets on London with her student friends, cheering the King and Queen outside Buckingham Palace. Who knows, maybe she stood next to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, allowed outside the gates by their father to experience the fun.
In 1953, Karen was a secondary school teacher in Dartford, Kent. She lived in Dartford during the week but went back to her family home in Upminster at the weekend. Having been given the day off for the coronation, she went back there to watch events on television with her family. What were her thoughts of such a momentous occasion?
Karen spent the whole day “glued to” the television. In an age of deference to the Monarchy, she and her family stood when the National Anthem was played and toasted the Queen on her special day. Like most families at that time, the Mollers were pro-Monarchy, but Karen felt a special link with the Queen, being so close to her in age. As they grew up, Karen remembers feeling “so full of admiration” for Princess Elizabeth, and thought it amazing that “she took on any job which came her way”, whether that was serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the War, or her royal duties. Karen “looked up to her” and wondered that she could be “so composed” when she returned to Britain after her father’s death in 1952. On the day of the coronation, Karen said that she was “just in awe that we were witnessing this huge spectacle, she was my age!” She had such composure, I could never have done that”. At the time, they all thought that the Duke of Edinburgh was “very handsome and dashing” and that he and the Queen were “a lovely match”.
Unlike many people in Britain at that time though, the Mollers did not attend a street party – there were none in their area. However, they were more than happy to be watching London’s events on the television. Karen doesn’t remember that the girls at the school where she taught were given any gift to celebrate the occasion, although her sister Maria was teaching at a nursery school and remembers that the children there each received a coronation mug. At King George VI’s coronation in 1937, Karen and Maria remember each receiving a tin pencil case which showed the faces of the King and Queen. The box was filled with chocolates. In 1953, Karen says that the staff and girls at her school were excited about the upcoming coronation, but as with today, much of the anticipation was probably because they would be getting a day off school! At the time, the media were very much promoting “the new Elizabethan Age” but Karen didn’t take much notice of this hype!
Karen remembers thinking that George VI had been a very good King and she had looked up to him, but she thought that the new Queen would be “very wise and understanding because she’d been through wartime and had mixed with the public”.
For myself, being of a generation who has never seen such a spectacle as the Queen’s Coronation was, it is interesting to hear the thoughts of someone who was there at the time. We live in an age of far less deference to authority and Monarchy and perhaps experience less excitement at these great events nowadays as a result. Listening to Karen (my Grandmother) and Maria (my great-aunt) talk today, it is clear they think, as I do, that the Queen has provided a wonderful service to our country, and we are unlikely to see such a devoted Monarch ever again.
photo credit: Karen Roe via photopin cc
photo credit: the_justified_sinner via photopin cc
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