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That other coronation


I knew this particular book was hiding somewhere, but was still surprised when I found it while looking for something else entirely. It was at the bottom of one of numerous boxes I have to use in order to cope with the number of books in this house. (I swear they reproduce under cover of darkness.) There it was, with its appropriate royal blue cover and stamped gold crown not coping too well with the ravages of time and the harsh Greek climate.

The Queen Elizabeth Coronation Book was published and released a few months ahead of that other coronation in June, 1953. Some things never change, although I’m not sure about coronation publications this time round. But the BBC recently ran a segment on the ceramics industry, which showed a veritable army of potters and painters readying souvenir plates and mugs for May 6. And all workers were saying what a privilege such work is.

My maternal grandmother’s crabbed handwriting on the book’s fly-leaf is still very clear. With lots of love and every good wish. She had known I wanted this book for my birthday, an occasion that rolled around a good two months after the Coronation, but a period when the excitement of the great day and the memory of its lengthy preparations were still lingering.

It seemed that the whole primary school had been preparing for months for the display we were to present at the local football ground. We paraded up and down repeatedly in rehearsal rows of three, while letters went home to instruct mothers as to their responsibilities: each child had to wear a cape in red, white or blue. I remember feeling very inferior and deprived when I scored a white one, which in reality was an old sheet that was definitely less-than-Persil-white: luckier children were clad in red or blue crepe paper.

I was also very jealous of my younger sister, who was decked out in full Scottish regalia on the day, and took her place on one of the floats, depicting scenes from British history and representations of Empire, that moved slowly around the boundary line, while lesser mortals (me in my white sheet) obeyed orders. We marched into position in the centre of the ground, and then awaited the signal to kneel and crouch, thus forming the display ER II. One of my classmates, with whom I’m still in touch after all these decades, can still remember that he was on the bar of the E, but I can’t remember where I was , or what colour cape he had: I just bet it wasn’t a bit of old sheet, though. The whole effort must have looked quite good from the air (the township had an aero club), or from the highest row in the not-very-grand stand, but of course we kids saw only a few capes to the front and to the sides.

How times have changed. Way back then we swore the oath of loyalty every Monday morning. I love God and my country/I honour the flag/ I serve the Queen and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the laws. The flag was always flying, and school heads always had a portrait photograph of the Queen on their office walls. In my lavishly illustrated book, the great names of contemporary photography are there: Beaton, Baron, Marcus Adams, Karsh of Ottawa.


'There are also rumblings of discontent about the cost of the Coronation. The British Government is to pay for the occasion, but of course this really means that the taxpayer is to foot the bill at a time when so-called ordinary people are trying to cope with energy bills, the rising cost of living, and the rate of inflation.'


The Foreword of the book tells us that the Coronation of an English Sovereign is at once an awe-inspiring reality and a symbol. The reality, we were told then, was the might and wealth of a great Union of Free Nations (the word Empire does not appear) paying tribute to the power that binds them together. The symbol is the dedication of this power, embodied in the single person of the Sovereign, to the service of God.

I’m not sure that anybody today will consider King Charles’s coronation an awe-inspiring reality, although it goes without saying that the ceremony and accompanying pageantry will be spectacular. And many people want to do without the symbolism altogether. With the revelation, for example, that the monarchy has long been involved in the slave trade, disillusionment is ever-expanding: people can no longer concentrate on the abolition efforts of the early 19th century, when they learn about the first Elizabeth and slave trader John Hawkins. There are also rumblings of discontent about the cost of the coronation. The British Government is to pay for the occasion, but of course this really means that the taxpayer is to foot the bill at a time when so-called ordinary people are trying to cope with energy bills, the rising cost of living, and the rate of inflation.

I don’t doubt I will be glued to the BBC at the relevant time, but right now I’m going to put this ancient book back in its box.




Gillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Coronation, Monarchy, Britain



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Existing comments

What a memory you have that enables you to make such wonderful comparisons. There is so much controversy and cynicism about the coronation that it is difficult to remain objective. I will watch it and celebrate what i can about the stability and continuity that the monarchy has brought. I think the queen will be a hard act to follow but I am sure Charles will do his best. At present I believe the status quo is preferable to any alternative.

Maggie | 03 May 2023  

Yes - then - and now. I had a copy of Enid Blyton's "The Story of Our Queen" published in early 1953. A classic. I think my little sister destroyed it after I left home for university and teaching. It disappeared. Royals occasionally visited Tamworth where I grew up - or passed through. (Princess Alexandra, Charles.) Or Governors of NSW - close enough, I guess. And portraits of the Queen on walls and on our coinage and stamps. Hard to escape - not that many seemed to want to - it all seemed so natural - unquestioned. Though by the time I was attending the cinema in my late teens I had decided I was not standing for the obligatory playing of God Save the Queen before the movie began. This was the late 1960s. I was a Republican - which meant only that I was not in favour of the monarchy - feeling Australia should see itself as independent. And the Queen - an amazing person nonetheless. I had seen images of her coronation through the years - replays at times of various significance, jubilees. Earlier to-day I saw a very impassioned statement from George Galloway - a British politician I quite admire - declaring he was not going even to watch the broadcast of Charles' coronation - certainly not joining in with the affirmation being sought to wish that he live forever! Canvassing some of the reasons which most people would think fair enough - even in our far more liberal times - references to adultery and a younger brother whose scandals have brought forth some sharp intakes of breath. In terms of hypocrisy - though - that the man who is now in effect the Head of the Anglican Church committed adultery - as did the woman who is now his wife - and not to be Queen consort - but in fact Queen - does give one pause for thought. Charles may be a good chap and has, within, the limits of his life of privilege and service done some good things - noblesse oblige anyone? But for me to think it anything grand - in the great scheme of a country being led by nincompoops which locks up heroic Julian Assange - no, it means little to me really.

Jim KABLE | 03 May 2023  

The coronation will transcend the everyday and will allow the British people to form an important bond with their new King (and Queen). This bond transcends politics and individual concerns. There are people camping near Buckingham Palace, souvenir mugs are selling well and millions/billions will tune in to watch the spectacle. I wish King Charles III a close and mutually enriching relationship with his people.

Pam | 03 May 2023  

It is a great pity King Charles ascended to the throne at well over retirement age with a long and mixed personal history behind him and thus does not have the sort of general public goodwill his mother had, but those were very different days. We are now well into the stage of the dismantling of everything, good and bad, the British Empire stood for. Thank you for that wonderful walk down Memory Lane, Gillian.

Edward Fido | 04 May 2023  

I don’t think I ever received a Coronation book, but I vividly recall seeing the Coronation film with my parents as well as the various displays at various schools.
The pledge that State School children recited every Monday morning is also unforgettable. I remember my bewilderment at not hearing it st my private secondary school. It’s an interesting thought that our Prime Minister is being criticised for pledging the allegiance of the people he represents to the King, since he must also have pledged his own to the King’s mother.
Thank you, Gillian, for stirring so many memories.

Juliet | 05 May 2023  

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