Wigan 90-year-old treasures royal letters as he reflects on past coronations and looks forward to the next
As the country looks forward to King Charles's Coronation on May 6, many of my generation are often looking back to our salad days.
Looking back doesn't mean we live in the past, far from it: we just have happy memories of our youth and I'm sure nobody begrudges us our memories.
Please allow me to share my recollections of the late Queen Elizabeth's Coronation.
I was only five when George VI was crowned so consequently I only have vague memories of that day.
However, February 6 1952 - the day he died – is as clear as if it happen yesterday.
Everyone seemed very upset; after all, he and The Queen saw the country through the terrible war years.
People remembered how The Queen Consort said after a bomb and fallen on Buckingham Palace: “I am glad we have been bombed, now we can look the East End in the eye," obviously referring to the carnage that part of London suffered during the blitz.
Earlier, after the outbreak of World War Two it was suggested that Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret should be evacuated to Canada.
Queen Elizabeth famously responded: "The children won't go without me. I won't leave The King. And The King will never leave."
It was this this tenacity and leadership shown through the dark days of Hitler's onslaught that made me the avowed royalist I have been all my adult life .
When I look at certain Presidents throughout world I am more convinced than ever our constitutional monarchy is something to be treasured and is a credit to our country.
It is also, thankfully, outside and above the cut and thrust of politics .
After The King’s death, the country, while sad, started to plan for June 2 1953, the day of the coronation of our beloved late Queen Elizabeth II.
The preparations for the celebration give the country a much-needed boost after the privations Word War II.
The day itself was a day to behold. Almost every street had planed a street party, however the weather had other ideas: it starred to rain in the morning and the race was on to find indoor venues.
Schools, clubs, public houses: anywhere with a large room was commandeered. The rain didn't dampen spirits; everyone enjoyed a wonderful day.
In fact the rain started to abate and many parties were held outside after all, but I think the majority carried on inside as tables and chairs had been rearranged.
The rain ceased in Wigan but not in London. Queen Salote of Tonga won the hearts of the nation, for instead of withdrawing into the shelter of her coach like most notables in the long procession from Westminster Abbey, she sat in the drenching downpour, beaming, waving, mopping rain from her face with a handkerchief before beaming again. The crowds cheered her to the rafters.
The Queen and Prince Philip paid a two-day visit to Tonga later in Coronation year. I can't help thinking the Queen Salote's pertinacity shown against the British weather on Coronation Day played some part in the decision to include the “Friendly Islands” (Captain Cook’s nickname for Tonga) in the tour.
I was working at Trencherfield Mill in the build-up to the big day. The management had been very lenient and allowed workers to decorate each of the five floors with bunting, Union Flags and other patriotic paraphernalia. Everybody wanted to be involved and there was a competition as which floor had the best display. I think each worker thought their floor was the victor, so everybody was happy.
Televisions were as rare as hen’s teeth in those days, although one of my aunties had bought one for the occasion.
My Mam and Dad, my sister, brother and I were fortunate to be invited. The house was packed to the gunnels, many having to stand.
Just to give some examples of how expensive a television was in 1953: a Bush 14in was 60 guineas, today’s equivalent being £1,650.
The average manual wage was £7 a week, a pint of beer 1/9d (9p), a TV licence £3 – almost half of a week’s wage! My wage was just under £6 for a 44-hour week!
Obviously only a very few families could afford one. Those unlucky enough to be invited to watch live, flocked to picture houses the following week to watch the spectacle on Pathe News.
It had one advantage over the small screen: it was in colour.
I've often thought what a debt we owe to Mrs Simpson, later The Duchess of Windsor.
Had she not married King Edward VIII, which of course led to his abdication, he would have in all likelihood married someone else and probably had children.
We would have been deprived of our greatest monarch because we would never have had George VI never mind Elizabeth II.
When at the time of the abdication if seemed as if The Monarchy itself look at risk, subsequently it may well have proved to be its finest hour. Strange how things look so different in retrospect. It is suma up the maxim “it's darkest before the dawn:” a saying I've relied on during difficult times in my own life.
I mentioned earlier that I am an ardent royalist and corresponded with the late Princess of Wales over many years.
Since Prince Charles marred Camila I have been fortunate to have been in correspondence with her too.
When King Charles ascended the throne I wrote to The Queen Consort to offer my condolences on the death of the Queen and to offer my good wishes to her and The King for a long and successful reign.
Even though we have exchanged letters, I hadn't expected a reply because of the new responsibilities she has now been allotted.
You can imagine my delight, though, when I received a personal letter from her by special delivery.
I was further astounded when, the following day, I received a letter, again from Buckingham Palace, from The King. I shall treasure them along with the others.
I turned 90 last year and I can honestly say that receiving the letters made for the proudest and happiest days of my life.