Today I think the post has to address the current events of April 9 2021, because the lives of both Carol and Cyn were touched by them in the 20th century, and they would care about what happened in this one.
First, La Soufrière, the volcano in St Vincent, erupted today, as it did in 1902 when Carol was a child, and again in 1979 when I was teaching in Nigeria, and getting world news far away from my family, Carol then living with Cyn and Cec in Ottawa. Thankfully, the world has better systems in place now, scientists- and earthquakes- warned of the increased volcanic activity, and St. Vincent’s emergency plan was put into action by the Prime Minister so people in possible danger were warned and are being evacuated now. But it is a time of uncertainty in pandemic times, and we are concerned about the people of St.Vincent.
Secondly, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died today. When Cyn stood in the London crowd in 1947, with her radio broadcasting the royal wedding service to her friends and the people around her, I’m sure they all wished the royal couple a long and happy marriage, but I doubt they visualized it lasting 73 years. Both Carol and Cynthia, confirmed royalists, would want us to acknowledge Prince Philip’s constant service to the UK and Commonwealth and support for the Queen, and join in expressing sympathy for his family and the people who knew him.
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.,
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
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!