Needless to say, this was a highlight of our childhood. I was lucky enough to be in Wellington for the actual coronation but there were also activities in Hastings that we were involved in. some of which related to the Royal Tour that was going to happen in 1954 so it is difficult to remember dates. In particular I remember that the Brownies were involved in the production of a jig-saw puzzle to be sent to Prince Charles and Princess Anne. There was a very large puzzle that had to be taken round the main employers. I think this was because something similar had been done in 1937.
I remember that we went to the newspaper office where we saw traditional print blocks being used and the letters being set into blocks. Then we took the puzzle to Tomoana freezing works. This was the main meat processing plant on the edge of Hastings, a place famous for the disgusting smell that emerged on Tuesdays and ‘perfumed’ the entire town. I seem to remember my mother saying that was the day they made preserved tongues which were sold in tins. The jig-saw puzzle trip took place at the weekend and there were not many people about but the idea was to carry the puzzle through the factory and we all had a chance to handle it.
We received a number of souvenirs of the Coronation although whether we had more than most children I cannot be sure. My mother and her mother were ardent Royalists – groupies we would call them today – and we grew up with the ‘royal books’. These were bound editions of the Sphere and Illustrated London News covering all the major royal events from King George V’s silver jubilee to the then present day. They had actually come from my father’s family. Our souvenirs of the coronation included coronation bibles, anointing spoons and coronation mugs. There was also a jig-saw puzzle of the queen in her coronation robes which I remember buying from the little stationer in Kelburn where my maternal grandparents lived.
The coronation was on 2 June 1953 but there had been a long build up to it. Margaret and I were just the age to appreciate it. I still cannot see photos of soldiers in full dress uniform, beefeaters and Yeoman of the Guard without thinking of the coronation and the royal tour that followed it. The coronation must have been in the May school holidays. I think this was also the occasion when Mrs ‘Addy’, my grandmother’s next-door neighbour, had her ‘English’ grandson staying. He was the same age as me. It was certainly the holiday when I helped her to bake cakes.
My grandmother knew a lot of the women who worked in the department stores and I remember one of them giving me an enamel brooch of a crown that she was wearing. I had it for decades. The town was obviously decorated with lots of flags and bunting.
Because of the time difference the coronation took place at night in New Zealand. I listened to it from my grandparents’ bed. We were very knowledgeable about everything royal and I still have the replica anointing spoon that was one of my souvenirs. I can remember ‘Vivat, Vivat Regina’ being sung. However, the most impressive thing was the searchlights. These were relics from the War which were turned on and lit up the whole sky. As my grandparents lived at the top of a hill the view was amazing. The room faced away from the harbour but up to another Wellington ridge called ‘Fitchetts’ Farm’ in an adjoining suburb and I can remember how impressed I was at seeing the searchlights. There was nothing like that in Hastings! I was allowed to stay up (in my pyjamas and in my grandparents’ bed) until the queen adjourned for her sandwiches.
On Coronation Day it was announced that Mt Everest had been conquered – by a New Zealander! Of course we were all very proud. Our family had a different connection with the Everest exhibition. We used to buy our peaches from Mrs Low, mother of George Low, who got as far as the South Col. I mostly remember her orchard because it had a cattle stop and, being such an unathletic child, I dreaded having to cross it. With little feet here was always a danger you would fall through the rungs! Whenever possible I used to walk along the edge of cattle stops where there was generally a concrete strip.