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The generation of 1926

  • 12 September 2022
My mother often reminded us that she was the same age as the queen. Admittedly, Mum had not dealt on a regular basis with fifteen prime ministers although the local member did once knock on her door. The queen met more people than mum although mum never felt constrained to keep her opinions to herself. In 1996, I stood with mum at replicas of the crown jewels in the Tower of London. Rubies the size of golf balls and diamonds bigger than kidney stones. ‘She’s got some good stuff,’ said mum, sounding as if she was admiring the crafts at a fete. For mum, a hat was something you wore in the garden and a horse was something that people with rocks in their heads lost money on at the races.

They were worlds apart. Yet mum loved the queen and let us know that the two of them tended to be pregnant at the same time, almost as though they were sisters. Mum knew the correct way to address Her Majesty if she ever did knock on the door. The generation of 1926 was made of sturdy timber. It included both Marilyn Monroe and David Attenborough.

My mother and the queen shared more in common than a preference for scones. For both of them, duty always came first. They were unflinching. I can recall the queen not following her own mother’s hearse to its burial because she needed to entertain visiting dignitaries. Mum made those kinds of choices. They were both stoic to the point of being difficult to understand. There was never any doubt that, living by their lights, they would spend every breath doing what they felt called to do. Self-indulgence was hardly part of their vocabulary; along with that, they didn’t indulge others much either. In her memoir, This Much is True, Miriam Margoyles writes an hysterical account of being presented to the queen and losing her nerve. Margoyles was so starstruck that she didn’t even use the F-word, a rare omission for her. The queen was non-plussed.

People always looked for a fine crack where the private queen met the public queen. It seemed hard to find. Some years ago, I interviewed Mark Donaldson who won the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan, the first Australian to achieve such an honour for forty years. Part of the deal was meeting the queen in private. He described her as warm and