November 23 1947 : The Royal Wedding

I want to start by introducing Jennifer Robson’s book ‘The Gown’.  It is described on the cover as ‘A Novel of the Royal Wedding’, but it is actually about the making of the Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress in Norman Hartnell’s workrooms and the lives of the women who embroider it. It gives such a clear picture of what the ordinary people in England were going through- all the details alluded to in Cynthia’s previous letters from Toledo about the year of 1947 are there- the awful cold of the hard winter with fuel shortages; the mention of swap meets for new clothes, which explains the secondhand clothes Cyn sent for her mother to share around; the food shortages, and the delight in parcels from abroad- and the feeling of the people for the Royal Wedding as a time of celebration after the long war and the years of difficulty that followed.  I enjoyed reading it, and- spoiler alert- I think Cyn would have agreed that a life in Canada after this period was a better one!

19 Warkworth St., 

Cambridge. 

Sunday 

Dearest Mummy & Daddy,

I hope that you are having the same marvellous mild weather that we are having down here. It is amazing to think that at the beginning of the week we were freezing and expecting snow for the wedding, & now it is like spring. And now to tell you about the wedding, and how we got on! 

Pam and Jessie went with me of course, and we left Cambridge on the 6.30 bus on Wed. evening. We were all bundled up in warm clothes & boots etc. & I had my radio, & Jessie the shooting stick & Pam a string bag of food! We arrived in London at 9.30 & went to the Mall & saw the Palace all floodlit, but there were masses & masses of people, so we didn’t go right up. We spent the night at Jessie Muir’s & in the morning got up at 5 a.m. & had breakfast & were away by 6 a.m. Jessie came with us & drove us in in the car which was a tremendous help as we arrived in the centre of the town at 6:30. We then walked to the Mall & found lots of people there, but not as many as we’d feared. We decided to get as close to the Palace as possible & walked up & got a very good view at the top of the Mall right opposite the Palace.

We couldn’t get on the wall but part of the grass was raised in a sort of terrace there & we stood on the edge of that. We were there by 7 a.m. & passed the time by sitting on the shooting sticks, eating sandwiches, listening to the radio, & talking to the people around about – we had a very nice Dr. & his wife from Belfast behind us. Our first real excitement was the sight of the Horse Guards riding down Constitution Hill. They were a most beautiful sight- some with scarlet tunics & white plumes & others in navy tunics & scarlet plumes- all with their shining breastplates & black horses. Before they arrived though, we had some military bands go past & soldiers line the route, but the Horse Guards were the first part of the real proceedings. After they had gone into the Courtyard we saw many of the guests driving by in their cars. Some went straight to the Abbey & the Royalties to the Palace- the latter had badges of crowns on the cars. We saw Mr. Eden go by & quite a few of the bridesmaids, & Lord Louis & Lady Mountbatten. Then down Birdcage walk came the coaches drawn by the Windsor greys & all the outriders in scarlet & drove into the Palace courtyard. By this time we had got a mass of people on the slope in front of us & besides being squashed, Jessie and I being small weren’t seeing any too well! However, when the procession began at 11.0, with the Queen & Princess Margaret I got a glimpse of the latter but none of the Foreign Royalties who came afterwards did I see at all. Then Philip went past in a car – I didn’t see him! – and finally the King & the Princess – whom I didn’t see either! I was quite disheartened, particularly as Pam of course, could see everything, but however I switched my radio on & we listened to the commentary & I thought of you & all the other people listening too. You have no idea how many people heard my little radio, everyone round about turned & listened & after the Service when they played “God Save the King” we could see people for yards around taking off their hats & the police standing at attention & saluting. It was wonderful being able to listen & all the people were so grateful to me & thanked me so much, that I felt simply repaid for the trouble of carrying it around. Their gratitude took a practical form too, as they pushed me forward onto the top of some stone steps facing the Mall, & I had a wonderful view of everyone coming back! It was doubly nice after my first disappointment, & I saw Elizabeth & Philip very clearly; all the bridesmaids; the King & Queen; Queen Mary- she got a tremendous cheer; the Duke & Duchess of Gloucester; Duchess of Kent; Princess Juliana (looking very nice, I was surprised to see!); the Mountbattens; the little King of Iraqq, who got a cheer & a laugh; & the two little Princes who were pages were as sweet as could be, in a coach by themselves standing at the window waving their hands & laughing. I saw lots of other people I didn’t recognize & I cheered everyone like mad & had a wonderful time! We stayed where we were, when all the crowd surged thro’ a double police cordon & mounted policemen, up the Mall, & to the Palace & when they came out onto the balcony, the whole of that great place was crammed with people. We had binoculars & saw them, & even without we could see well, & Elizabeth’s dress just gleamed through the grey day, so that there was no difficulty in knowing which was she, & of course I cheered till I was hoarse!

Getting away was the most crowded part, but we wended our way slowly but surely to Victoria, & to the bus station, where we had tea & sandwiches & caught the 3.30 bus back to Cambridge – tired & footsore, but it was well worth it – I’d have done it over again the next day! I forgot to tell you that we were so hot at times we hardly knew what to do, & my boots were like little ovens! However better than being cold!

This is all about the Wedding, but I know you’ll be wondering if I saw anything at all! Thank you for your letter, Mummy, – I’ll be writing again soon. 

    With much love to you both 

        from

Cynthia

Cyn’s oral account of their royal wedding viewing contained more dramatic details.  She described how the crowd around was appreciative of her radio, and after the wedding service was over and they were expecting the return of the coaches, a voice from the crowd came, “Look ‘ere, let the little lady ‘oo let us listen to ‘er radio get a good view!  Come on luv…”.  And they shoved her and the others up into prime positions as she described in the letter!

August 17 1939

Thursday 17th August.

Up in fairly reasonable time for once & down to breakfast. Mummy & I decided to go to town again as Miss Lefroy had to go out. Took the bus to Parliament Square – saw Westminster Hall – Westminster Abbey with the Poet’s Corner & the Grave of the Unknown soldier- up Whitehall past the Cenotaph- saw 10 Downing Street, then up to Trafalgar Square where I saw the Statue of King Charles II. Through Admiralty Arch and walked up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace, but it was too hot, so we walked up Lower Regent St. & to Dickens & Jones for lunch. Very nice it was.

Spent the afternoon ambling up Oxford Street & shop gazing. Took the bus to Selfridge’s – gazed round then a bus home & found tea waiting. Packed & saw the garden & then had dinner. Miss Lefroy afterwards took Mummy & I to see the Zoo illuminated. It was lovely & we saw the water birds, the lions, the baby panda! – the reptiles & the monkeys. Sat & listened to the band & then walked home. Chris down in her dressing gown to welcome us & we ate. To bed at last.

August 16 1939

Wednesday 16th August.

Slept until 10 o’clock & eventually crawled downstairs for breakfast. Chris & AGL. out so we washed up & cleared away. Felt very miserable & hung around the telephone waiting for something to happen. Third time it rang it was Maurice – very tired having slept most of the time – asking me to go out in the afternoon & saying he’d call about 2:30.

Felt a bit cheered after that & got dressed & had lunch. Mommy told Miss Hull I was in love & she was terribly sympathetic- so sweet! 

Maurice eventually arrived – plus umbrella- looking too frightfully bored & English! – And away we went to the Zoo – it was so nice seeing him again. We had last got there having walked about 10 times as far as we need & discovered the place simply crowded out. Packed. Very terrible so Maurice rushed me into the Aquarium & we spent a while at fishes & an octopus which I simply loathed! Outside & wandered round & saw penguins and things & then sat on a seat & talked about ourselves & each other. I discovered all about his mother & father & school & at all & I told him about the plan Mummy & I had of coming to live in London & he approved heartily. He’s a sweet boy. We then rushed around & saw bears & birds & whatnots. Then over & had tea & talked some more & then walked home. He is going for an interview at the B.B.C. in the morning & then flying to Paris in the afternoon to play in a tennis tournament so I won’t see him again. He came in & said goodbye to Mummy & then left – definitely a pet, Maurice.

Had an early dinner & got ready & AGL, Miss Hull, Mum & I off in a car to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see “Tobias and the Angel”. Lovely sitting in the dark & seeing the trees. Very amusing play, but couldn’t see terribly well although I enjoyed it all the same. Home & had a feast. Then to bed – sad.

[This production was made into a BBC Television show that month! TV in 1939!]

August 15 1939

Tuesday 15th August.

Slept till 12 o’clock. Chris brought tea & then we got up in time for lunch. Afterwards Miss Lefroy had to go out so Mummy & I decided to go to town. Left a message with Mrs. Ryan about my phone call, but when we got to Oxford Circus, I thought I might phone the hotel & say goodbye if Wilkie was going. Rang up Hotel Imperial, Russell Square & waited. Then a voice saying he had left. I was expecting it, but still I felt the light go out. There was no fun anymore- nothing to sing about – no gay expectancy – tears in my heart – I know what it means now.

However we went on up Regent Street looking at shops, to Piccadilly Circus, then round Leicester Square & to Swan & Edgars for tea. Mum & I very sad chat! Out again & back up Regent Street to Oxford Circus- bus to Camden Town & another home. Arrived about six- no phone call of course.

Had dinner and afterwords played cards. And to bed – and I wept. Cynthia was never going to fall in love of course, and yet she cried herself to sleep.

August 14 1939

Monday 14th August

Slept two hours & then up feeling not too bad. Dressed & upstairs. Met Jimmy and had a little chat.

Into breakfast – Egypt gone having left at Cherbourg – the doctor came & sat beside me instead. Up & saw Immigration officers in the Smokeroom afterwards, then talked- Mamma, Maurice, Nora, Jimmy, Bob & I.  Mamma quite serene! Up on deck after a while & watched the ship going up the Solent. Lots of aeroplanes around. Wilkie there too & the Doctor.

Had lunch early & then on deck again already. Arrived about 1.  People on board, but no one for any of us. Sat in the lounge & waited – Jimmy played for us. Off at about 3 & to the Customs. Showed all our things, but the Customs man was sweet & let everything through. Said goodbye to Jimmy & Bob & left them. Nora & Wilkie got through all right. Maurice had to wait for ages & had to pay excess baggage, much to his annoyance. Bunny Austin came & spoke to him though!

Got seats on the train & waited but the poor Doctor! He kept the train waiting three quarters of an hour while they searched every one of his trunks, dumped out his shirts and pyjamas, went through his pockets & generally played merry hell. Off at last- Mum, Nora, Maurice & I in a carriage with the man & his wife who was going to have a baby. Wanted tea, so wandered along & found it was brought to you, so we went & found Wilkie & the Doc & another man in a carriage & had it with them. Stayed with & consoled the doctor who was most upset. Gave Wilkie & Maurice my London address. Arrived in London & leapt out of the train. Got a porter & then went in search of luggage- Nora met her mother – & Maurice his father – much to his relief as the poor sweet only had 1/6 left!

Said goodbye to the Doctor & the other man & Nora & temporary farewells to Wilkie & Maurice. Then of course we kept meeting them all over the station! Got all the luggage at last & got a taxi- waved goodbye to Wilkie & Maurice & left.

Quite a thrill to see Westminster Bridge & the old Houses of Parliament. On round Regent’s Park & got to Miss Lefroy’s- Chris and Miss Lefroy waiting – & Nell arrived too. Had more tea & asked Miss Lefroy if she’d mind my going out with Wilkie – she said of course not & was quite thrilled.

A little later a phone call from the Doctor & Wilkie asking me what show I’d like to go to- I said Black and Blue, & they wanted me to come to dinner too, so I arranged to meet them at the corner of Wardour St. & Shaftesbury Avenue at 7:30.

Flew & got ready & Miss Lefroy got a car for me. Arrived & found them waiting so nice to see them there. We went and had dinner at a rather nice quiet place Pinollis [?] nice dinner & Sauternes– great fun trying to tell Wilkie what things were. Left & arrived at the theatre just as the curtain went up.

Much to my annoyance Francis Day wasn’t there & her understudy took the part. I was mad. It was quite good, but rather low in parts. Bebe Daniels was on for a few songs. 

During the Finale the Doctor suddenly leapt up, shook my hand & said good-bye before it dawned on me that he was going. He had to catch the 11:40 to Glasgow.

After we got out, Wilkie & I wandered along- looked at Piccadilly Circus & saw the bright lights. Into Regent’s Palace for a drink, but of course could only get tea – much to Wilkie’s scorn! Talked about cabbages & kings – England & America – Jack thrilled me with America – New York in the fall- Miami and Florida- California in the winter – the spring in [?] – California & Virginia. Romance in every word.

We left at last & took a taxi home. Driving the rough London streets at night with someone – things you dream about- and a man you’d dream about. It didn’t seem real it was so lovely – we just drove around the Park & were bumped & shaken. And I was never so happy.

Time at last – we got there- trouble opening the gate & the door. Goodbye on the doorstep – my American – he’ll ring me tomorrow if his boat doesn’t leave. He wants my Mother to bring me to New York to live- it’s past hoping for. In just at 1 A.M.- Miss Lefroy waiting.