For as long as I can remember, I have associated Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II with my grandmother. I’m sure I’m not alone but, for me, there are particularly special parallels.
Like Her Majesty — called ‘grannie’ by Princes William and Harry and their children — my grandmother, ‘Gran’, was born in the 1920s and led a long life up into her 90s.
Like the then Princess Elizabeth, my Gran contributed to the war effort, spending time as a ‘fire watcher’ during the Blitz checking rooftops for incendiary devices. She also fell in love with an officer in the navy. My Grandfather got to know Philip Mountbatten during training in the Royal Navy, socialising playing darts and skittles at a local pub. My grandparents were invited to the Royal Couple’s wedding in Westminster Abbey in 1947.
My grandparents visited Buckingham Palace many years later, with my Mum and my Aunty, when my Grandfather was awarded an OBE (in the same year the Beatles received MBEs according to my Mum). He reached the rank of Commander in the Royal Navy and served a three and a half year tour of duty as Staff Intelligence Officer in Washington DC where my Gran, apparently, played an important role building Anglo-American social contacts with my Grandfather’s American colleagues.
A portrait of the Queen hung in the hallway of my grandparents’ home and in the lounge there was a silver-framed photo of my grandfather and Philip at a Royal Navy training centre. The other day my mum showed me a letter written by the Duke, thanking my grandfather for his correspondence congratulating the Royal couple on the birth of their first child who is now King Charles III.
As well as a historical connection, there were probably other similarities between my Grandmother and the Queen. My Gran had a strong Victorian streak in her worldview, emphasising self-reliance, manners, respect, deference and protocol. She had a deeply held patriotism and a strong faith.
She was deeply loyal to the people and principles she loved and believed in, sometimes to the point of intransigence and frequent stubbornness. She was conservative in outlook, preferring continuity to change but could also be pragmatic. She also had a mostly unseen softer, fun-loving, side.
My Gran didn’t want a fuss and was minded against making a fuss; you make your bed, you lie in it, keep calm and carry on. These same characteristics have been attributed to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and to the ‘pre-war’ or ‘Greatest Generation’ (the title of a book by American Tom Brokaw in 1998). During the Coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson asked the nation to show the “same spirit of national endeavour” as this generation and the Queen’s poignant address to the nation during the same period evoked the wartime spirit with a reference to Dame Vera Lynn’s song “We’ll meet again”.
My Gran wouldn’t dream of missing the Queen’s Christmas address on TV and, watching a recent programme about these speeches the other night, it struck me how powerful they were. They were carefully crafted and subtle but always meaningful. The Queen knew the effects of gestures, symbolism and setting the tone; soft power and the long game.
There is a feeling among those queuing to pay their respects to the late Queen and acknowledge her unprecedented and consequential period of service, that they “want to be part of history” and the King has talked of the “weight of history”. Most of us have not known life without her.
It certainly does feel like an end of an era. We are saying goodbye and thank you to the ‘Greatest Generation’ and their extraordinary Queen.
*Written with a history fact check by my Mum (thanks Mum!)