Coronation Impressions

H. NAPIER MOORE June 15 1937

Coronation Impressions

H. NAPIER MOORE June 15 1937

Coronation Impressions


BY THE TIME this is read, the Coronation will be five or six weeks past. Through the cabled press dispatches and the B. B. C.’s broadcasts you would, on May 12th, receive a vivid impression of the great ceremony in Westminster Abbey, of the progress of the mighty procession through the streets of London.

Since then, by medium of the him screen, you will yourself have witnessed something of the grandeur of the spectacle; heard an echo of the cheers from a million and a half throats, the clickety-clack of horses’ hoofs on sanded roads, the synchronized beat of miles of marching feet, the rumble of the gilded State Coach.

Which makes it difficult for me, the editor of Maclean s, to interest you in my own impressions, here in London, of that day and the days that followed.

The obstacle of elapsed time may perhaps be reduced if you will just imagine that this is a personal letter written to you by a friend who in Westminster Abbey saw Their Majesties crowned, and who, profoundly impressed by the extraordinary smoothness with which it was carried out and by the unparalleled efficiency with which the vast crowds were handled, sought the secret of it all.

I start to write at eleven o’clock on the night after Coronation night. Outside, along Piccadilly, up Regent Street and Oxford Street, there isn’t a vehicle of any sort to be seen. Police broadcasts have diverted everything on wheels. For every yard of road and sidewalk is jammed with people At brief intervals they cease surging and, with an indescribable fervor, sing “God Save the King.’’ Then they cheer. And cheer. And cheer.

Last night, in a steady drenching rain, it was the same. On Regent Street, outside a fashionable upstairs restaurant, the dense throng halted and in a voice that split the heavens, called for the orchestra. The windows were flung open and the musicians, deserting the dancing customers, appeared with their instruments. They played the old patriotic airs; and the crowd, wet to the skin, sang lustily. Then “God Save the King.” I have never heard anything sung with such volume and yet with such sincerity. It was excelled five minutes later in Piccadilly Circus, when, packed tightly around Eros, and overflowing down every artery which branches from it, more people than a sardinepacker could have got into the space sang the National Anthem over and over again. Many of them had not slept the night before. They had sat and stood on the pavements along the route for as long as twenty hours before the passing of their King. And here they were, twelve hours after that, still cheering.

The Coronation had. after all, meant more than The Biggest Show on Earth. No mere pageant could have roused people to so prolonged an enthusiasm. They were honestly touched by King George’s readiness to “do the job.” They were proud of him, of his wife, of his children.

Perfect Traffic System

/VT FIVE o’clock on Coronation morning I left my hotel at the earnest pleading of the head porter who assured me that if I didn’t, I would never get to my Abbey seat by seven. I could have stayed in bed another hour and a half. So well controlled was the traffic, so perfect the arrangements, that I got there in less time than I can walk the distance on an ordinary business day.

At this moment, I do not know how much praise the Canadian press correspondents have given the police commissioners who worked out the traffic control scheme.

Whatever they have given, I will cheerfully double. The plan took nine months to work out and perfect. In only one instance did it fail to function. And those who suffered were the mightiest of the land the noble Abbey guests who were marooned in Westminster until as late as eight o’clock at night because their cars couldn’t get to them, hour thousand cars parked along twelve miles of road get into a bit of a tangle when a Coronation street crowd, bent on going places, gets into the wrong line.

With that exception, 1,500,000 people were enabled, with a bus strike on, to reach the procession area, take their places in stands or on the curb, and be on their way within half an hour after the procession passed. In forty-six hours of continuous service ending at 2.30 a.m., May 13th, the London Underground Railway carried 5,669,000 passengers—half the population of Canada—without a single accident.

How was all this accomplished? The system devised, perfect as it was, was only partly responsible. For weeks every police and underground station had been distributing maps showing the route, and the means of readiest access to each stand or vantage place. The whole area around the six-mile route was cleared of vehicular traffic. Across the feeding streets sixty-four high barricades permitted of crowds being controlled. Staggered steel-rail barriers at every place of congestion guarded people from being crushed by the press. By centralized radio and telephone control seventeen police radio cars and five fixed stations directed the movements of 23,000 police. And by loud speakers at strategic points, the public itself was told what to do for its own comfort and convenience.

I say that the system was only partially responsible because no system could function without the goodhumored co-operation and obedience of the crowd.

A day or two before the event, Sir Philip Game, Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, gave the cue as only the London Police can give it. Said he to the public: “Remember the police are out to help, and are working on a plan. You may think it’s a bad plan, and you may be right. But you can’t hope to make a better one yourself on the spur of the moment.”

There you have it.

As for the bobbies themselves— let me put it this way. Along Oxford Street, as the raw, misty night fell, mothers were putting children to bed—on the curb. There were hundreds of them to be seen, lying there, covered with coats and newspapers. And the bobbies took their capes and gently placed them over the sleeping babies.

Morning came. Cold and drear. And into squares and circuses there marched bands to cheer up the sleepy eyed and encourage them to sing.

I was talking to a German about that London crowd. He said: “They do everything of their own will. They come. They sit all night. They sing and are happy just to see for a second the King. It’s wonderful.”

After the procession I happened to meet an Italian. He said: “Did you notice that the air force had about the biggest representation of all the forces which marched? That was very clever propaganda.”

Perhaps it was.

Pomp and Democracy

TT STRUCK ME that it was perhaps too bad that all the foreign ambassadors and representatives could not. by reason of their presence in the Abbey, see that procession. Not because they undoubtedly would have been impressed

by the troops from all parts of the Empire, by the navy, by the glittering splendor of the pageant. But because of the reaction of those one and a half million Britishers of all classes, p)r and rich, to the emblems of the Empire, to their King and Queen, to the little Princesses, to the Queen Mother, Mary; to the Prime Ministers of the Dominions over the seas (particularly to the Canadian Premier and his escort of Mounties) and to the manner of their voluntary co-operation with the authorities in the preservation of order and fair play.

Still, they were in the Abbey. And there they saw unfolded the traditions that have been handed down from the Angles and Saxons, from William the Conqueror. Pomp there was, and stiff ceremony. But emerging through it, the character of a Democracy which can make a solemn compact with its King, a compact whereby people and sovereign promise to safeguard the general good and the Christian faith.

My own seat was high in the tier which filled the North Transept of an abbey converted by miraculous engineering skill, by tubular steel and wood construction hidden by beautifully woven cloth, into a vast amphitheatre seating almost 7,000 people. It had taken nearly five months to build.

Because of the insistence of the hotel porter rather than of the Earl Marshal of England, I was among the first to pass along half a mile of cloth corridor, through the massive doors, up long, chutelike stairways to a point under the great North Window.

Beneath the erected tiers, in miles of temporary passages and in every corner of the building, an army of officials (by their medals many of them at least generals and admirals) worked with smooth, courteous precision to assist the guests both high and low.

Without fuss, with no sound to disturb the solemn stillness of Britain’s shrine, dukes and duchesses, lords and ladies, Indian princes, bewigged judges, members of parliament and working journalists were conducted to their places. The ushers were instructed not to permit the entry of cameras, field glasses or suspicious parcels. But not an eyebrow was lifted at tiny packages of sandwiches carried inside the coronets of many of the peers of the realm. One newspaperman of my acquaintance, who covered the last Coronation, by some conjuring feat got through with a large veal and ham pie. I know because in the triforium, when royalty had passed from the Abbey and the ceremony, after seven hours of waiting, was over, I saw him eat it, shaming my own bar of chocolate and “meal in a tube” tablets.

At length the tiers were filled. Below, the rows of peers in their ermine and scarlet; above, the vivid colorings of military and naval uniforms contrasting with the satiny white of the ladies.

Nave and choir glittering with the bejewelled costumes of the princes of India, the sultans and sheiks; the flashing uniforms of the nobles of Europe and Asia.

The golden-carpeted space where, on the scarlet-edged dais, stand the two thrones, the King’s, apart, to be bathed by a spotlight thrown from the tremendous height of the roof.

And ahead of it, toward the altar, King Edward’s Chair, pitted with scratched initials, and under its seat, the ancient Stone of Scone.

An impressive setting to be given unbelievably enhanced color by the procession of the Royal and other representalives of foreign states, the procession of the Church dignitaries, the procession of the Princes and Princesses of the Blood Royal, the procession of Queen Mary with the Queen of Norway, and, at last, the procession of the King and Queen.

Continued on page 49

Continued from page 8

Never to be Forgotten

OF THE brilliance of the scene you already have read. But no words have been written that begin to describe it.

Nor could the finest descriptive writing convey to you the solemnity of the Anointing, of the Presentations, of the Crowning itself, of the Plomage.

Few of the 7,000 could see the full ceremony, but all these things I did see and shall never forget.

No stage production of one thousandth the proportions of the Coronation, ever proceeded with greater smoothness. Every movement had been rehearsed incessantly over a period of months. I was privileged to attend the dress rehearsal, to witness the fitting together of movement, action and word of the principals; of organ, orchestra and choir. Not a single minute detail was left to chance.

But all the meticulousness of the Earl Marshal, all the eyes of the chamberlains and officers of the court, could not keep out the child naturalness of Princess Margaret Rose on the great day.

Entering with her sister, Elizabeth, both flanking the Princess Royal, they were seated in the Theatre until the moment when they should follow Queen Mary into the royal box. The chair on which Margaret Rose sat was too high to permit of her feet . touching the ground. And as she sat, gazing with frank interest about her, she swung her feet to and fro. Then, at last in the royal box, she hung her head over the edge calling the attention of her grandmother to whatever happened to appeal

to her, happily oblivious to the sisterly reproach of the older Elizabeth. And as the hour of eleven approached, her eyes never left the nave through which lier father and her mother would come. Nor, throughout the long ceremony, did her eyes fail to follow her father.

No opera was ever so grandly scored as was this Coronation spectacle. The music was keyed to every entrance, to every part of the service. The orchestra and great choir, in both of which were representative musicians and singers from all parts of the Empire, and the organ were superb. Rich and lovely choral harmonies; stately processionals; triumphant trumpets. And, as Their Majesties proceeded outward through the Abbey, a rendition of “God Save the King” so beautiful that it moved many to tears.

High up, near the rafters, were the boys of Westminster School, in full evening dress and gowns, assembled there by custom to hail the King with loud shouts of Vivat. It was James II who originated the idea. Fearing that there would be few to cheer him at his crowning, he ordered the scholars of Westminster to turn out and acclaim him. And he paid them for doing it.

The Vivats for George VI were not paid for. They came with a great, spontaneous roar. And about the tombs of those who have made English history, that vast array of peoples when their turn came, on being asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, are you willing to do the same?” of their own account fulfilled the requirements of the printed service—“The People signify their willingness and joy by loud and repeated acclamations, all with one voice crying out


Then the trumpets shall sound.”