We have felt for so long that Queen Elizabeth was such an integral part of all of our families , of our nation and of the Commonwealth of Nations that she would always be there. Thus, even at the age of 96, her death yesterday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland has come as an awful shock. Queen Elizabeth was the light of our lives for seven long decades as our Queen and our Head of State and now, all of a sudden, that light has gone out.
For someone of my age and although born into the final years of her father King George V1’s reign, it is as if Queen Elizabeth has been the one constant through my life. I know that there will be many others will feel the same. She moved the monarchy on and throughout her reign she accepted that unless it continued to adapt and change to societal change then the monarchy could not survive. She did it brilliantly and throughout her reign she never Interfered with the workings of State. Rarely did she make use of the small but important powers that the monarchy retained and she worked with no fewer than fifteen UK Prime Ministers during her reign. She embraced the Constitution and never put obstacles in its way. She listened, learned and then used the mass of experience that she grew over the years to help and advise her Prime Ministers. Until relatively recently she was Head of the Commonwealth, a positioned that she loved just as she did all peoples and members of the Commonwealth. And of course, as I recall the late Bernard Levin writing in the Times in 1963 reminding – this during the immediate period following the resignation of Harold Macmillan and the Conservative Party were grappling to find a new leader – ‘Prime Ministers Are Chosen By the Queen’.
Wherever Queen Elizabeth and her late husband, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, went across the world, they were not only perceived as our ‘Ambassadors’ and Head of State of countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others, but also as being the constant friend of each nation state that they visited. As she said in a personal speech marking what, if I recall correctly, was her Golden Jubilee ,she referred to Prince Philip as her “strength and stay – he is my rock’ she said.
By virtue of how many countries she has visited, how many presidents and prime ministers she has know it is probably fair to suggest that Queen Elizabeth was the most popular and best known woman in the world. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude for what she has done for the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, as Head of our Military, her love of her work, her people and her commitment to duty and most importantly, for the harmony and stability that she created and that has earned her and this nation of ours, so much international respect.
To suggest that we will miss her would be an understatement. WE certainly will. She marks the end of era just as her Grandmother, Queen Mary had done up to her death in 1953 and as her own mother had done until her death in 2001. But no Queen or King, with the possible exception of Queen Victoria, has lived through so much change particular in respect of innovation and technology and of a nation that was forced to move from Empire to Commonwealth and from being a highly respected leader in world affairs and diplomacy to one that today, although arguably the world’s sixth or seventh leading economy, to being seen as another once great nation struggling to make its way in the world and compete.
We are were we are and our nation will be poorer without Queen Elizabeth. Yes, she has had her time but her greatest achievement was that despite many ups and downs in the younger elements of her family, some that brought the monarchy into disrepute , she has somehow managed to hold it together, to encourage and motivate those around her and always to attempt to bring her people closer together and to display leadership.
Her son, King Charles now takes on that mantle and he will have his Queen Consort, Camilla at his side. He will also have the strength, knowledge ,love, respect and loyalty of his son Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall.
God Save The King.
The first email that I opened this morning requested whether I was intending to repeat piece I put out in February this year and that was written by the late James Cameron for the Illustrated London News. The article marked the funeral of the Queens father, King George Vl. This is an exceptional piece of work and one that fully deserves to be aired at this very sad time.
I started off by saying:
On this day, February 15th 1952, veiled and dressed in black, three Queens – Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth the Second mourned the loss of son, husband and father at the funeral of King George V1.
I chose not to write on the subject of the anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty the Queen back on February 6th this month mainly because I knew that many others far more erudite than myself would commemorate the seventy years so far of her reign and I felt no need to so do. But that is not to suggest that my respect for Her Majesty is not as huge today as it has been throughout my life. She has always been there and has done a superb job as Head of State and of the Commonwealth. Long may that be so!
This is not the usual sort of ‘Commentary’ that I would normally write on a Tuesday and particularly when there are so many serious and demanding issues very worthy of attention. Nonetheless, I do so because King George V1 was not only a reluctant King he was a good man, one who unlike his own father perhaps demonstrated true love and affection for his family and also, that I was born toward the end of his era and was thus also one of his very young subjects.
It may sound trite, irrational and pretentious to remember a man seventy years after his death and one who would, following his funeral, quickly pass into what I will describe as oblivion but during his sixteen years as our King he did all that was asked of him and much more besides. He stayed with his people and his people never forgot – they would always respect both he and his Queen for that.
Some of you will know that of all journalists that I can recall through my own lifetime none have had more impact or left a mark on me than the late James Cameron. I am in possession of many of his scripts and have read most if not all of his many books of which ‘Point of Departure’ stands out.
A man of Dundee, I met James Cameron only once and then all but briefly. And while it has also to be said that we did not share similar political views, suffice to say that I learned much from reading, listening and watching his broadcast work for the BBC which he did in the later years of his career. He was the last of the true Foreign Correspondents and we are richer for the work that he did in the News Chronicle, Daily Herald Daily Mail, Guardian. Evening Standard, Daily Express, New Statesman and Picture Post.
While it must also be said that James Cameron was never a zealous enthusiast of the monarchy the wonderful piece that he wrote for ‘The Illustrated London News’ following the funeral of King George V1 was one that he said many years later, after reading it again, that “it was one that he was neither ashamed of or proud. It reflected”, he said, “precisely the mood of the time, and that was what I was employed to do”. What follows below is part of that article:
‘The King Is Dead’ (James Cameron – London Illustrated News – 23rd February 1952)
“When a King dies, we who have to put into words the strange grief and grievous strangeness of the time, then know how ill we have served ourselves over the years. While the King lived, we spoke of him as this, and of that, endowing him with all the remote virtues of an infallible man; such men do not die. But the King died; and we found somehow a different thing: that we loved him. When a King dies, the worn words are empty; there is nothing left to say.
He died quietly and without imposing his passing on the nation, as befitted a gentleman who was as shy and considerate and shrank from the public drama of death. When it came, it came as he deserved, kindly – a good night, a book at the bedside, a little sleep. The least amongst us can ask no more and no better.
But that was the end of privacy. The King was gone, but kingship remained, to become for a while the overwhelming emotion of the land. The man who had been diffident all of his life, who had dutifully permitted publicity about everything except his suffering, now stilled the noise and hushed the argument and silenced the affairs of State, and drew for the moment an inescapable curtain of mourning over the lives of millions who had never seen his face.
What is a King that so many strangers should sorrow at his going? His title endures, work goes on, no crisis is changed, no personal problems eased or worsened, the harassed world outside is deflected in no way from its obsessions. Yet, when King George V1 was known to be dead the sudden shadow fell momentarily across the heart of every man; loyal men and cynics, the rich and the dispossessed, reactionaries and radicals.
What is a King, then, a mortal man, who exacts this tribute from twentieth century people? Constitutional lawyers will tell you what he was. Politicians will tell you what he was unable to be. A vast historic chronicle of precept will tell you that his position was most intricately poised on the peak of Government. It will say that the Monarchy this country devised for itself over the generations is like no other that ever existed, I its ancient root and its modern tolerance; its power without authority; its simple splendour and elaborate simplicity.
Only in a strange country like ours could an apparently indestructible fortress be built on such a slender web of compromise and affection, that no logic could create and no law enforce.
What is a King, therefore, that hundreds of thousands of strangers should wait all night in the bitter cold to file for a moment past his bier? That person cannot be an Office, or a Function; he must be a man. And there lies the simple truth: our people knew him as a good man. They knew him for a man without ostentation, without ambition, doing an intolerable job and doing it well. They know now, moreover, that that the job weas harder than they thought, and the end nearer.
We may not have known as citizens – how could we? – but the ancestral memory of England knows it. The people of England have not always loved their Kings. Among them have been tyrants, conquerors, oppressors, imbeciles, and mediocrities. England has endured them, reviled them, deposed them and, where necessary, executed them Sometimes, only, have they loved them and we think of this as such a time.
We never found it hard to understand a man who loved his family. We do not find it hard, now, to salute a King who, inheriting a generation racked and anxious as no other before, di what he had to do with dignity, patience and courage.
He who had planned great voyages over the quarter of the world that owned him as King, has done his best, and greatest – from Norfolk to London and from London to Windsor”.
(there follows here a long and beautiful description of the funeral which I will not repeat)
And the piece ends “On the coffin the white wreath still rested, the widow’s wreath to “Bertie”, the same as had been laid on it at Sandringham. The flowers were wilting and frayed, for the wind and the rain had beaten on them a long time and the King had been seven days dead, and the new Elizabethan Age had begun”.
CHW London – 9th September 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785