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1953 visit saw thousands turn out to see the new queen

First glimpse: the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth began her world tour introducing herself to her subjects with a visit to Bermuda on November 24 and 25, 1953. Here she and the Duke of Edinburgh leave the Sessions House, seat of the House of Assembly, Bermuda’s lower chamber of Parliament, and escorted by the Governor of Bermuda, General Sir Alexander Hood (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images)

Shortly after her ascension to the throne, the Queen embarked on a 30,000-mile, six-month world tour to introduce herself to her subjects.

The tour saw her attend 223 receptions, give 157 speeches and open seven parliaments. God Save The Queen was sung 508 times.

She travelled 18,850 miles by sea, 19,650 by air, 9,900 by road and 1,600 by rail. It also saw the maiden voyage of the royal yacht Britannia.

In all, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were away from home and their young children for 173 days, including Christmas Day.

The Queen’s trip was to take the young monarch round the world to the far-flung corners of the old empire, from Australia and New Zealand to Fiji, Tonga, the Cocos Islands, Ceylon, Aden, Uganda, Malta and Gibraltar.

It all began in Bermuda, England’s third attempt at creating a colony, its second successful one, after Jamestown, Virginia — and with Virginia being the key state in the creation of the United States, Bermuda is Britain’s oldest colony.

In what was described at the time as “our proudest moment”, a monarch set foot in Bermuda for the first time in 344 years on November 24, 1953. She spent just over 24 hours on island with the Duke.

In the past, there had been three visits by future kings, and other visits by royalty, but never since settlement in 1609 had a sitting monarch ventured to the island.

Not surprisingly, this was a huge event and was greeted as the “Greatest Royal Occasion of Them All”, according to one headline.

The Royal Gazette declared: “Our beautiful and gracious young Queen and her handsome Consort, who already had our deep loyalty and admiration, have now won our hearts completely.”

In coming here first, she had “awakened in us deeper emotions than most of us suspected we had.

“A new surge of love and loyalty, of a new Elizabethan age under the leadership and inspiration of a gallant young Queen — has risen in our hearts”.

“Any doubt about our Britishness and loyalty should have been dispelled on Tuesday, when our hearts were on our sleeves. We realised then that we are British — and how glad we are to be so.”

Crowds began to gather shortly after dawn at various vantage points on the island.

After a gruelling 16-hour flight with a refuelling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, on board the luxurious Canopus, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, an advanced, propeller-powered commercial airliner, which was operated by British Overseas Airways Corporation, a predecessor to British Airways.

Canopus circled St George’s Island twice a half-hour ahead of its scheduled arrival time of 10am.

It had been met by “five of Hughie Watlington’s natty seaplanes”, as The Bermudian put it.

Readers at the time were told a young woman “of poise and grace”, keenly interested in every aspect of the island, as her wide-ranging itinerary took her from one end of the island to the other.

The couple had a whirlwind tour of Bermuda, accompanied by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hood, the Governor, and his wife, Lady Evelyn, beginning with introductions to local dignitaries.

The Queen extended her hand, wrote The Bermudian, “and gave each that dazzling smile and intent gaze which have won the hearts of innumerable thousands”.

The Queen then inspected a joint guard of the Bermuda Rifles and the Bermuda Militia, the segregated antecedent units to today’s Royal Bermuda Regiment, many of whom had seen active service in Europe, North Africa and Palestine.

A drive to St George, Kindley Field Road was lined with thousands of people.

The royal couple visited St Peter’s Anglican Church, the oldest Protestant church in the western hemisphere, pausing for a prayer and signing a card embossed in gold.

King’s Square, the primary gathering place in the oldest continually occupied English town in the western hemisphere, saw an estimated 2,500 people squeeze in.

She visited Kindley Field, the US Air Force Base, built as part of the lend-lease agreement key to Britain’s survival in the Second World War, and now LF Wade International Airport.

An hour later, on the way to Langton Hill, commonly called Government House, their route was again lined with thousands of wellwishers.

A motorcade made its way through Flatts and were greeted by “groups of Brownies, their excited hurrahs evoking smiles of pleasure from the royal pair”.

Later, she was driven under a cedar arch erected, fittingly, over Cedar Avenue, to the Sessions House, where she addressed dignitaries in the House of Assembly — the third-oldest parliament in the world.

There, finally, after nearly 376 years of settlement, a monarch sat at the Throne Chair: between portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte, reclaimed by a Bermudian-based British army from the White House in Washington during the War of 1812 and given to Bermuda as a gift.

Bermuda’s leadership and their spouses filled the room, including J.T. Gilbert, the chief justice and president of the Legislative Council, the Right Reverend J.A. Jagoe, the Bishop of Bermuda, the Colonial Secretary, Attorney-General, the assemblymen, Councillors and members of the military.

In a speech broadcast throughout Bermuda on its two radio stations, and simulcast by the BBC in Britain, she spoke of “the respect and tolerance of the British for the rights of the individual”, and lauded the way in which “in two World Wars, Bermudians have proudly stepped into the position they inherit as the oldest unit of the British Commonwealth”.

The entourage then moved to Heyl’s Corner and Albuoy’s Point, where the Queen spoke to a massed gathering of Brownies and Girl Guides, at her request.

She later met a decorated veteran of the British West Indies Regiment in the Ashanti Wars, ex-Sergeant Major James “Dick” Richards, still fit enough to wear his Bully Roosters’ distinctive uniform, Colonel B.J. Tucker of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, and a sailor, ex-Petty Officer Walter Card, RN.

Represented at Albuoy’s Point was the War Veterans Association, the Bermuda Contingents of the Caribbean Regiment 1939-1945 and the Royal Garrison Artillery 1914-1918, ex-servicewomen, and various youth groups, including Sea Scouts, Boy and Cub Scouts, Red Cross committee for the blind and the St John’s Ambulance Brigade.

From there, lunch was then taken aboard a local vessel, The Wilhelmina, pressed into service that day as the “royal yacht”.

The lunch consisted of cold vichyssoise, Bermuda lobster mayonnaise, breast of chicken Regina en aspic, artichoke bottoms jardiniere, asparagus tips, plum tomatoes, fresh fruit salad, coupe nesselrode and coffee.

The vessel cruised the Harbour Islands and the Great Sound before docking at Mangrove Bay, where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh went for a brief walkabout before watching yacht racing and meeting officers and enlisted men at the Royal Naval Dockyard on Ireland Island North.

The Bermudian wrote: “Many eyes were misty with feeling as the beautiful young Queen passed by.”

A glitch in the monarch’s tour included the accidental bypassing of war veterans Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Hugh Watlington who earned the Distinguished Flying Medal in action over Malta, Corporal A.W. Flood, BVRC and Royal Lincolnshire Regiment and Sergeant R.C. Butler, Caribbean Regiment, who were due to be presented at Albouys Point.

Another was the vetoing of a proposed unofficial gift to the Queen.

A miniature of Her Majesty, painted in oils on ivory by Doreen Musson, and set in a silver frame surmounted by a gold St Edward’s crown inset with diamonds, was deemed by Sir Alex as “not coming under the category of gifts Her Majesty is able to accept”.

The Queen honoured seven people for their connections to the arrangements of the visit, led by Sir Alex, who received the Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, and O.R. Arthur, the Colonial Secretary, who was awarded the Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Commissioner of Police R.G. Henderson, received the Member of the Royal Victorian Order, Class 4, and W. James Williams, assistant secretary of the Trade Development Board, and Stanley Trees, of the Colonial Secretariat, received the RVO, Class 5.

Royal Victorian Medals were awarded to Charles Whayman, the Government House coachman, and Edwin Heard, the Government House chauffeur, and to Reginald Raymond Dill, who piloted The Wilhelmina.

The Canopus was flown by one of Britain’s most experienced pilots, Anthony C. Loraine, who was 43 at the time, with a total of 14,300 hours flying time, including secret missions flying Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, to the US.

The Queen was accompanied by Sir Michael Adeane, her private secretary, Lady Alice Egerton, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, and a personal staff member.

The Royal Gazette summed up the visit: “It was a golden moment for Bermuda and the memories of it will always be cherished by those who participated in it.

“The Queen did not disappoint anyone — either in herself or in her presentation of the high office she bears in the Commonwealth …

“At no point during the day did we allow our display of emotions to degenerate into anything even bordering on the vulgar. The behaviour of the crowds was exemplary …

“It is not for us to say the royal visit was appropriately timed, because we believe that fundamentally Bermuda’s loyalties to the Crown and all those British attachments which it connotes burn as brightly now as at any period in our history.

“Yet, it is true that there are great currents of consanguinity abroad in the world today under pressure of international developments, and we remain faithful to history in reflecting more significant trends of the times, especially those given emphasis by our geographic position.”

The Canopus would return to the island just a week later with Sir Winston, here for the Bermuda Conference, with Dwight Eisenhower of the United States and France’s Prime Minister, Joseph Laniel.

In a time before the internet, television still in its infancy, news coverage was limited to “newsreels”, shown before cinematic films in theatres.

Within a day of the Queen’s departure, “remarkably clear” photographs of the visit were being shown here.

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Published September 09, 2022 at 7:34 am (Updated September 08, 2022 at 9:06 pm)

1953 visit saw thousands turn out to see the new queen

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