Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-serving monarch, has died at Balmoral aged 96, after reigning for 70 years.
The Bermudian celebrates the Queen with an account of her visit to the island on November 24th, 1953, five months after her coronation. This article first appeared in the January 1954 commemorative issue of The Bermudian.
Bermuda had never looked more immaculate. For weeks ahead of the great and unprecedented occasion Colonial, municipal, and parochial authorities had laboured to have the island looking at its very best. Private individuals pitched in with equal ardour, trimming hedges, manicuring lawns, slapping fresh paint on houses and gateways, and removing anything unsightly that lay within view of the public highways.
Indeed, Bermuda looked freshly scrubbed and behaved somewhat like a beautiful young woman who had just come of age and was making preparation for her debut at court and presentation to her Sovereign-fussing tirelessly with her costume, endlessly primping, and arriving at the great day in a state of jittery exaltation. And that is about what it amounted to. Britain’s oldest Colony was getting ready to welcome Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth the Second, the first reigning monarch ever to visit the remote islands.
Shortly after dawn on the morning of November 24th, 1953-a memorable date in Bermuda’s long history-crowds began massing at various vantage points along the route the Queen and her consort, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, would take in their scheduled tour of the tiny island. By 9 a.m. His Excellency the Governor, Lt. Gen. Sir Alexander Hood, Lady Hood, Miss Rosemary Hood, high Government officials, top representatives of British and American naval and military establishments here, various other dignitaries and their wives, had gathered at the Civil Airport at Kindley Field to witness the Royal arrival and have the honour of being presented to the lovely young Queen.
- AT THE AIRPORT
- The atmosphere was electric with nervous tension and excited expectancy as the minutes dragged by.
Ten a.m. was the hour when British Overseas Airways’ stratocruiser Canopus was to arrive carrying the Royal party. Regular bulletins on the momentous flight across the Atlantic had been broadcast over Radio Bermuda: the departure from the London airport on the previous evening, the brief stop for refuelling at Gander, Newfoundland, where a wildly cheering crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of their Queen in the bitter early hours of the northern winter.
The luxurious 60-ton aircraft, identical to that which had borne the young Queen, as H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth, to Canada two years ago, was reported at 9.30 a.m. to be 20 minutes ahead of schedule. This word filtered through the waiting crowds and reacted a new flurry of activity among the clusters of reporters, photographers, newsreel and television commentators occupying two enclosures near the landing trip. The Bermuda Rifle and Bermuda Militia forming a joint guard of honour under the command of Major Brownlow Tucker, practiced presenting arms in rehearsal for the big moment to come.
Those who were to be presented to the Queen formed a single line directly in front of the honour guard, chatting with each other in nervous gaiety.
A momentary diversion came when five of Hugh Watlington’s natty seaplanes flew in from the northeast, dipping low over the airport to alight in neighbouring Castle Harbour. Presently three white-garbed member of BOAC’s ground crew strode onto the field and took up position on a yellow circular island, in their hands the wooden signals which would guide Capt. Anthony C. Loraine, BOAC’s most experienced pilot, to the exact spot to deliver his precious cargo.
“There she is!” The words issued from a hundred throats as the Royal plane appeared in the northern sky, a tiny but unmistakable peck that swiftly grew larger as it circled St. George’s, disappearing from view then returning to begin its run-in from the Southwest. The wheels touched down in a perfect landing and Canopus once again vanished from view behind the airport buildings. The crowd waited, necks craning as the stratocruiser, glinting silver and white in the sunlight, turned to taxi up the runway, the Royal Standard flying from the cabin roof. The huge aircraft came to a stop while the seconds ticked off to bring time to 10 o’clock. The plexiglass coping of the pilot’s cockpit was pushed back, and Capt. Loraine, looking somewhat strained, leaned out, the main lap of his very responsible job completed. The gangway was rolled into place, the cabin door opened. A hush fell upon the crowd.
The Queen appeared.
She stood motionless for a moment. From the crowds came a great sigh, sounding like wind in the trees. Then they gave tongue in a tremendous cheer, as Her Majesty slowly descended the gangway ,the skirt of her aquamarine silk print frock whipping gently in the breeze. Her close-fitting shell hat was a lighter blue, and she wore elbow-length white gloves, white court shoes, and carried a white handbag. After her came the Duke of Edinburgh in the white uniform of an admiral of the Fleet, followed by other member of the Royal party; Sir Michael Adeane, the Queen’s private secretary, Lady Alice Egerton, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, and Lt. Comdr. Michael Parker, R.N., the Duke’s private secretary.
At the foot of the gangway the Queen and her Consort were greeted by His Excellency the Governor, Lady Hood, Miss Hood, the A.D.C., Capt. Roper- Curzon, and Lt. Col. the Hon. Martin Charteris, assistant private secretary to the Queen who had arrived in Bermuda several days ahead of the Royal party.
Her Majesty, looking amazingly fresh and unfatigued -after her long flight, walked forward with His Excellency, and the Duke with Lady Hood, to take up positions for the presentations. As each man and his wife were presented, the Queen extended her hand and gave each that dazzling smile and intent gaze which have won the hearts of innumerable thousands. With some, including Captain Allen Smith jr. commandant of the U.S Naval station here, and Colonel G. B. Peterson, a officer commanding the Kindley Field U.S Air Force Base, the Queen and the Duke chatted briefly as they were being presented.
With the presentation over, the guard of honour presented arms and the National Anthem was played by the band of the Bermuda Militia. Her Majesty accompanied by Major Brownlow Tucker, then inspected the guard who were drawn up in two lines before the air terminal building. The crowd watched silently, faces eloquent with emotion, as the beautiful young Queen moved graciously through the order of events arranged for her by the island.
As her Majesty left the airfield to pass through the terminal building, another burst of cheering went up, and people scrambled through back passages to catch another glimpse of her as she entered her car. The thrill cries of school children lined up at the exit of the terminal rose in wild crescendo as the Royal couple appeared. The Queen was now carrying a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, her favourite flower, which had been presented to her by nine-year-old Stephen Spurling, son of Mr. Dudley Spurling, M.C.P. and grandson of Sir Stanley Spurling.
As the Royal party approached the cars, lined up in readiness to take them to the ancient town of St. George’s, the children, madly waving miniature Union Jacks shrieked their welcome. The Queen smiled her acknowledgement and gave them a graceful wave of her hand as her car drove away.
IN THE OLD TOWN
As the Royal motorcade passed over the swing bridge towards St. George’s, the Queen’s attention was drawn by lusty cheering from a group of 33 boys from the Nonsuch Training School under the care of Mr. Arthur St. George Tucker who were on board the Sea Horse, moored a few yards to the west of the bridge. Along the route to the eastward were flags and decorations expressive of the loyalty and affection which the people of Bermuda bear their Queen. The roadsides were ablaze with variegated bunting, and lined with cheering crowds. As the Queen entered St. George’s she passed under an archway adorned with the Commonwealth colours.
After being driven around the town square, Her Majesty stepped from her car and was greeted by the Mayor of St. George’s. The Royal Standard was broken out and the National Anthem was played by the Church Lads’ Brigade. The Mayor then handed the town’s loyal address to Her Majesty and received from her a message of thanks. There followed presentations of members of the House of Assembly representing the three eastern parishes, members of the Corporation, chairmen of parish vestries, together with their wives.
Leaving the square the party walked slowly towards St Peter’s, oldest Anglican church in the western hemisphere. The steps of the church were lined by Girl Guides and Brownies. The Queen was greeted by Archdeacon John Stow, rector of St. Peter’s, and with him climbed the steps and passed through the portals of the church which has been so closely linked with the history of the island. In 1616 St. Peter’s served as the first meeting place of the court of general assize, and within its walls the first General Assembly met in August 1620. The first Crown Governor sent to Bermuda, Sir Robert Robinson, had his proclamation read in St. Peter’s in 1687.
For the visit of the Queen the ancient church had the clock on its tower painted royal blue with gold leaf on hands and figures, a fancy derived from the Queen’s own parish church in London.
Inside the church the altar was covered with the gold- fringed blue damasks used in Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s Coronation last June. They had been sent to St. Peter’s for the Royal visit. The church’s treasured Royal communion silver set, given by King William III was laid out on the damasks.
Her Majesty signed a paper gold-embossed with the date, and the Archdeacon then led the group in prayer for the success of the Commonwealth tour. Before leaving the church the Queen discussed the history of St. Peter’s with the Archdeacon.
Cheers from the crowds greeted Her Majesty’s reappearance on the steps of the church, and she smiled warmly upon her young honour guard, St. George’s Girl Guides and Brownies whose faces were radiant with joy and devotion. From the flagpole above the church waved the banner of St. George as the people of the Old Town, which was for 200 years the island’s capital, bade a regretful farewell to the Queen and the Duke.
TO GOVERNMENT HOUSE
The Royal calvacade drove off towards Hamilton, the island’s capital since 1815. From the black open car in which they rode, the Queen and the Duke acknowledged the cheers from crowds along the route. Riding in the front seat was the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Michael Adeane. In the second car were the Queen’s assistant private secretary, Col. the Hon. Martin Charteris, Lady Alice Egerton, lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty, and a plain cloches detective, inconspicuous but omnipresent throughout the Royal tour. In the third car rode His Excellency the Governor Lady Hood, Miss Hood and the A.D.C., Capt. Roper- Curzon.
The party made a brief tour through the U.S Air Force Base at Kindley Field, passed through Gate 2 on S. David’s, and proceeded back to the Civil Airport. Members of the 35th Squadron and U.S. Air Police lined both sides of the road at the Post Exchange. Leaving the airport for the second time the Royal party passed between more lines of cheering school children, crossed Longbird Bridge which was guarded by Air Police, and between two gleaming white pylons erected at the western end of the bridge by Hamilton Parish. One pylon bore the monogram E and the other R. At Harrington Sound the procession crossed to the South Shore Road, slowing down to pass two rows of flagpoles erected by Smith’s Parish at John Smith’s Bay. Parish marshals stood smartly at attention as the cars rolled by.
At Flatts Village Her Majesty was greeted by groups of Brownies, their excited hurrahs evoking smiles of pleasure from the Royal pair. Everywhere along the Royal route children were in the forefront of the crowds.
The cars picked up speed as they approached the North Shore Road entrance to Government House grounds.
There members of the Bermuda Militia and Bermuda Rifle formed a joint guard patrol for 24 hours under the command of Capt. D. H. Burns.
The Queen, clearly possessing the regal quality of punctuality, visited the Royal suite, partook of tea and light refreshment, and was seated in the horse-drawn landau ready to depart in the exact number of minutes allowed by the tight schedule of her tour.
AT CEDAR AVENUE
The entrance to the city of Hamilton on Cedar Avenue was gay with flags and a beautiful floral archway decorated for the great occasion by The Verdmont Florist. Boy scouts from the Dellwood Troop lined the street. There at the city’s boundary waited the Mayor of Hamilton, the Wor. E.R. Williams, M.C.P., members of the Corporation, Members of the Colonial Parliament and other dignitaries, together with wives, who were to be presented to the Queen. The chimes of St. Theresa’s Church pealed a welcome as the state landau approached and came to a halt at the floral arch. The Queen and the Duke alighted and walked towards the Mayor, who placed in Her Majesty’s hand the scroll of welcome which was affixed the official seal of the city. The Queen in turn handed her reply to the Mayor, and then followed the presentations. These over, the Royal couple drove off to the Sessions House where Her Majesty was to address Colonial Parliament.
AT THE SESSIONS HOUSE
The high hill on which the sessions house stands afforded a fine panoramic view of Hamilton Harbour and the buildings of Hamilton festooned with banners and bunting. At anchor in the harbour was H.M.S Veryan Bay, and alongside the Furness Line’s luxury cruise ship Ocean Monarch, both ships dressed for the big day. The grounds of the parliament buildings never looked trimmer than on that day when Her Majesty visited the oldest parliament in the Commonwealth after the Mother or Parliaments at Westminster. The Italianesque design of the clock tower, attributed to the taste of Bermuda’s Governor back in 1887, added an old world touch to the scene.
The state carriage, bearing the Queen and the Duke, rolled along Front Street to the roar of deafening cheers from the crowds who packed the sidewalks, filled the balconies of shop and office buildings, and even clung to steeply inclined rooftops. The landau passed through the west gate and stopped at the steps of Sessions House. The Queen glanced up at the clock in the tower, installed for the Jubilee of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
Her Majesty alighted and was joined by His Excellency the Governor. Smiling and chatting gaily with His Excellency, she climbed the steps and entered the Sessions House.
President of the Legislative Coucnil, the Hon. J. Trounsell Gilbert. The Bishop was robed in white with black and red surplice. The Colonial Secretary wore his official white uniform, while the Attorney-General, the clerk to the Council, Mr. Peter Brooks, wore their black robes. As the Royal Party came up the stairs to the chamber, they were led by Black Rod (Police Commissioner R. G. Henderson) bearing the massive Sword of State. Besides the Queen walked the Duke, followed by the rest of the group. Her Majesty crossed the red carpet and at the Bar was met by the Speaker and the President. Seated in the Throne chair, the Queen had the Duke on her right and His Excellency on her left. Black Rod then placed the Sword of State on the Clerk’s table. His lordship the Bishop offered prayers for the Queen, the Royal Family, the Governor and the Colonial Parliament.
AT ALBUOY’S POINT
After a brief respite from the arduous program at Government House, the Queen drove down Cedar Avenue and alighted from her car at Heyl’s Corner. Refreshed and smiling gaily, she wore a cornflower yellow cotton frock, full- skirted and short- sleeved and a white straw cloche draped in white chiffon. Here was massed the biggest crowd seen that day. Girl Guides and Brownies flanked her path, and as assembled on the lawns of the Point were nearly a thousand members of youth organisations and Bermuda war veterans. Her Majesty had expressed her wish to address these groups.
At the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club the Queen, who is the club’s Royal Patron, was met by the Commodore, Mr. DeForest Trimingham, and accompanied by the Duke, now in civilian clothes, was conducted through the club. The Queen inspected the trophies which included the Prince Elizabeth Cup which she herself had presented in 1948 for international yacht racing in Bermuda waters. Flag officers and the club’s honorary secretary, with their wives, were then presented to the Queen. The Royal couple signed the visitor’s book, then passed through the club grounds where members and their wives were assembled, and emerged before the crowd on the Point which burst into tumultuous cheering. Among the groups forming a huge square were veterans of the two great World Wars and earlier war , the Red Cross Auxilliary, St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, Sea Scouts and Rangers, Girl Guides, Brownies and Cubs. To the left of the platform from which the Queen would speak were three veterans of war previous to World War I: Mr. James (“Dick”) Richard, Col. R. J. Tucker, and Mr. Walter Card. These were presented to the Royal couple who chatted with each in turn. Three veterans of World War II, representing the Bermuda War Veteran Association (ex-Flight. Lt. Hugh Watlington, D.F.M. ex-Corporal A. W. Flood, and ex- Sergt. R. . Butler) were to be introduced to Her Majesty but, in the single slip-up in the day’s program, they were not presented.
After the playing of the National Anthem by the band of the local forces under Mr. S.C. Pye, the Queen and His Excellency mounted the platform as the Royal Standard was broken out by Queen’s scout Hiram Todd.
Hi Excellency addressed the Queen: “The ex- servicemen ,and the youth of this loyal and ancient island here today present their humble duty with the assurance of their proud and steadfast loyalty. This day will ever remain a very happy memory to them. It is their earnest prayer that Your Majesty may long be their leader and inspiration.”
The Queen replied: “I am very pleased to see so many ex- servicemen and young people here today and I thank them for their expressions of loyalty and devotion. I hope that the young people will follow in the footsteps of the ex-servicemen and become leaders and worthy citizens of these beautiful islands.”
Col. R. C. Earl then led three cheers for Her Majesty, who smiled radiantly. The Royal party then walked towards the Wilhelmina, which had been burnished and decorated to serve as the Royal Yacht. The Queen was piped on board by four Bermuda Sea Rangers, Quartermaster Annette Pearman, Coxswain Margaret Shields, Bosun Barbara Jones and Bosun Molly Hartnell. The Wilhelmina cruised among the islands of Great Sound while luncheon was being served to the Royal party, which included the Colonial secretary, the Hon. 0. R. Arthur, and Mr . Arthur, and Capt. the Hon. and Mr . Bayard Dill. The meal was planned and served by members of the staff of the Castle Harbour Hotel.
Piloting the Royal barge was Mr. Reginald Dill who, after the Wilhelmina docked at Mangrove Bay wharf, received the Royal Victorian Medal from Her Majesty. This award, like seven others that day, came as a complete surprise.
The scene at the wharf was one of breath-taking beauty. With the glittering water of the bay as a backdrop, the wharf itself was decorated with flowers, vines and potted plants. There were arrangements of hibiscus in shade of orange, pink and red; hanging baskets of fern and palm, with the white wall adorned with scarlet bougainvillea. The whole design, by Mr. Will Onions had been carried out by members of the Parish Vestry and the Sandys Boat Club. It was beautiful, artistic, and in impeccable taste.
As the Queen disembarked the Royal Standard was broken out on the wharf and the National Anthem played by the Somerset Brigade Band. Presentations followed. The Royal couple signed a special book of the Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club, then walked between ranks of cheering schoolchildren toward the waiting cars. Among the group lining the road were patients and nurses from the Children’s Hospital on Ireland Island, including Bermuda “Coronation babies,” the Miller triplet . On seeing them the Queen cried to the Duke, “Oh-look at the babies!” spotting one of the 6-month -old tots bubbling at the mouth the Duke remarked with a grin, “That’s a healthy sign.” Her Majesty and the Duke both chatted with the matron of the Children’ Hospital, Mis Anne Dyson.
Entering their car the Royal party drove slowly along Mangrove Bay Road, passing the Armoury where a beautiful banner attracted the Duke’s attention. It had been made by hand by members of the I.O.D.E., of which the Queen is patron. The Royal procession circled the Royal Naval cricket field where crowds had assembled, and made a brief tour of the U.S Naval Station where Her Majesty and the Duke were greeted by the commandant, Capt. Allen Smith jr., and a guard of honour of U.S Marines under Capt. Jack Smith. Naval personnel, in dress blues flanked the route.
The party then drove through Southampton and Warwick, circling the Port Royal and Empire playing fields where starry-eyed, flag-waving children had gathered to see their Queen, through Paget and past the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, where scores of patients, some in cots, some in wheelchairs, awaited on the lawns. The Royal car slowed down and the Queen waved to them gracefully.
Passing under Paget’s beautiful arch of marigolds and blue-painted fern, the cars rounded the Foot of the Lane, under Pembroke’s gaily decorated arch, and along Front Street. Turning up Queen Street the Royal party returned to Government House.
Before daybreak next morning the Royal party drove to the airport. More than a thousand people had gathered in the darkness for a final glimpse of their Queen. His Excellency and his family, with the dignitaries who had greeted the Royal couple on arrival, now bade farewell to the gracious young pair who had won all hearts with their great personal charm. Her Majesty and the Duke were piped on board BOAC’s Canopus by the Caledonian Society’s official piper, Mr. Thomas Aitchison. At 6 a.m. the silver and blue stratocruiser took off for Jamaica and the forever-to-be-remembered Royal visit was over.