Coronation Day in London as recalled by Alan Ruddock

Thursday 6th June 2013 10:00 pm
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"HOW would you like to go to the Coronation in London?"

The question was put to me and my closest friend (who was later to become best man at my wedding) by his widowed mother, who was employed by the "Admiralty," which had become established at Bath during the second world war.

She had entered a draw for seats along the Coronation route and had won two seats!

We accepted with excitement and delight and the day before the event took the train from Bath to Paddington, arriving in the evening and going to the home of a former National Service friend, near to the station, where we curled up in arm chairs and awaited the arrival of the following morning.

At about 6am we boarded a packed tube train at Edgware Station and began our journey across London. We stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others - chatting and laughing in excited anticipation.

And then everyone became aware of a news item - "Hilary had climbed Everest!" The tube compartment erupted into cheers and laughter and someone started singing "Land of Hope and Glory" and we all shook hands and clapped each other on the back.

We left the tube train at Green Park Station and gradually made our way to Admiralty Arch where our seats were located.

We took our seats in the fourth/fifth row of a stack of benches in front of the Arch and overlooking Trafalgar Square - it was about 6.30-7am on the morning of June 2 1953.

It was a damp showery day and we sat with cycle capes over us, peering out through the neck of the cape and watching police and soldiers - many on horses - and officials checking and re-checking the route and the crowds.

Eventually, things grew quiet and the route was clear until, from the other side of Trafalgar Square, came a burst of cheers and clapping.

This was repeated at intervals and we finally saw the cause of the commotion - a London street cleaner with his collecting bin on wheels and armed with a shovel and brush was methodically clearing the horse droppings from the road!

The crowd would break into spontaneous applause as he passed and he would pause, doff his cap and make a deep bow in acknowledgement. His moment of a lifetime!

Finally the Coronation procession got under-way and we watched the coaches and their escorts streaming past with dignitaries and representatives from all over the world.

None more memorable than Queen Salote of Tonga, who insisted in riding in an uncovered coach, despite the rain showers and was given a tremendous reception all the way.

And then, a lump in the thoat, as the Royal coach passed and we two recently discharged National Servicemen stood to attention - as we did again, when the procession returned.

After that, meandering around central London and briefly joining a series of street parties found ourselves at one point in Piccadilly Circus, where we linked into one of the many circles of humanity surrounding central fountain, dancing and singing, pausing from time to time to speak to a neighbour and exchange hats!

And suddenly I was looking into a familar face which I had not seen since last leaving the school rugby fields where we played together.

He was in Army uniform and had recently returned from action in Malaysia.

We laughed and talked and toasted each other - and have never met again since!

Finally, the day drew to a close and we made our way to Paddington Station to catch a late train back to Bath.

We managed to secure seats in a compartment almost full of huge American soldiers.

It was a heck of a squeeze but they were genial and generous and we were all very cheerful when they left the train at Reading - I think.

We finally made it to Bath and home, where we slept happy and contented for quite a while!

Alan Ruddock

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