A Royal Wed­ding to Re­mem­ber . .

Bernard Bale

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Seventy years ago a beau­ti­ful princess mar­ried her hand­some prince- to- be and set not only his and her own hearts aflut­ter, but those of a na­tion. Their wed­ding was the big­gest na­tional event since VE Day. It was the talk of the Com­mon­wealth through­out the months fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment that Princess El­iz­a­beth and Lieu­tenant Philip Mount­bat­ten were to be mar­ried.

They first met in 1939 when King Ge­orge VI and Queen El­iz­a­beth toured the Royal Naval Col­lege in Dart­mouth. Lieu­tenant Philip Mount­bat­ten, a dis­tant rel­a­tive who would be very ac­tive in the war, chiefly with the Bri­tish Pa­cific Fleet, was asked to es­cort both princesses, El­iz­a­beth and Mar­garet, on the day of the visit. Al­though she was only 13, El­iz­a­beth was smitten and she and Philip be­gan to ex­change let­ters.

After the war Philip was sta­tioned at HMS Royal Arthur, a train­ing base near Cor­sham in Wilt­shire. He was help­ing to train Petty Of­fi­cers but at the same time he was court­ing Princess El­iz­a­beth. Grad­u­ally it was in­creas­ingly com­mon to see Philip’s black MG sports car driv­ing through the gates of Buck­ing­ham Palace. Even­tu­ally he asked per­mis­sion from his Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer for leave to go to Lon­don so that he could pro­pose.

That MG sports car was of­ten seen around Cor­sham and was ser­viced reg­u­larly by a lo­cal garage.

When Philip left HMS Royal Arthur he in­sisted on vis­it­ing the garage and shak­ing hands with ev­ery­one as a ges­ture of thanks for keep­ing his car in good work­ing or­der.

The wed­ding plans gath­ered pace and, by Novem­ber, life was hec­tic for the en­tire Royal Fam­ily. A night out at the Royal Com­mand Per­for­mance pro­vided a wel­come dis­trac­tion. King Ge­orge and Queen El­iz­a­beth were used to at­tract­ing big crowds, but on this oc­ca­sion the thou­sands that packed Ar­gyll Street out­side the Lon­don Pal­la­dium were per­haps more keen to catch a glimpse of Princess El­iz­a­beth, who was at­tend­ing with her sis­ter Princess Mar­garet, and — to the crowd’s de­light — Lieu­tenant Mount­bat­ten. It was to be their last pub­lic ap­pear­ance to­gether be­fore the wed­ding.

On stage the Crazy Gang stole the show, which was quite some­thing when you re­alise that among those also on the bill were: Lau­rel and Hardy; Tommy Trinder; Eva May Wong; Wilson, Kep­pel and Betty and count­less other stars in­clud­ing Gra­cie Fields who changed her choice of song to “There’s No Busi­ness Like Show Busi­ness” be­cause she heard that it was a favourite of Princess El­iz­a­beth.

It was a great night out, but not the last of them as a cou­ple of evenings later the two princesses were taken pri­vately to see Starlight Roof at the Lon­don Hip­po­drome by Philip and his friend Lord Mil­ford

Haven. Among those in the show was 12- year- old Julie An­drews who sang “Je Suis Ti­ta­nia” from the opera Mignon.

The news sto­ries about the ap­proach­ing wed­ding came thick and fast. There were some sur­prise in­vi­ta­tions. Miss Josephine Burmell Smith, a re­cep­tion­ist at Lon­don Air­port, was both de­lighted and sur­prised to re­ceive an in­vi­ta­tion. She had been a Sea Rangers’ ship­mate of Princess El­iz­a­beth on board a Mo­tor Tor­pedo Boat on the River Dart for train­ing ear­lier in the year. Philip in­vited press pho­tog­ra­pher Joe Fal­lon and his wife Judy, friends from Aus­tralia who had en­ter­tained him dur­ing his days with the Bri­tish Pa­cific Fleet. Philip also in­vited Joe Day­mond and his wife. Joe was a lo­cal baker in Cor­sham and leader of the Moon­rak­ers, the chief op­po­si­tion when Philip and his friends — the Fire­brands — played skit­tles at the Methuen Arms in Cor­sham.

When 16- year- old Betty White of Win­nipeg, Canada, sent Princess El­iz­a­beth a gift of a pair of ny­lons she was amazed to re­ceive a wed­ding in­vi­ta­tion as a thank you. Betty flew in and had the time of her life. Princess El­iz­a­beth also re­ceived a gift of six pairs of pearl- en­crusted ny­lon stock­ings from Lord In­ver­chapel, Bri­tish Am­bas­sador in Wash­ing­ton. With tiny pearl seeds around the an­kles, they cost about £ 45 per pair — re­mem­ber this was in 1947 when the av­er­age an­nual wage was £ 278 and there was still ra­tioning.

The princess also re­ceived 25 dresses as a gift from the New York In­sti­tute of Dress De­sign­ers. She was amazed, but said, “In this time of dif­fi­cul­ties and re­stric­tions I just could not keep them all for my­self. So I am keep­ing six and giv­ing 19 away.” They went to 21- year- old girls called El­iz­a­beth who were get­ting mar­ried on the Fri­day or Satur­day after the royal wed­ding.

By the time the big day ar­rived six rooms at Buck­ing­ham Palace were filled with wed­ding presents. Meanwhile, spec­u­la­tion about the dress grew. De­signer Nor­man Hart­nell said, “It’s the most beau­ti­ful thing I have ever turned out.” It was de­scribed as a flow­ing ivory satin gown dec­o­rated with thou­sands of pearls. There were em­broi­dered bands of blos­som and stars bor­dered with pearls and crys­tals. The train was dec­o­rated with pearls and satin flow­ers and the veil was held in place by a tiara of pearls and di­a­monds. Ivory satin sling- back shoes with open toes com­pleted the look and the eight brides­maids were dressed to com­ple­ment the spec­tac­u­lar wed­ding out­fit.

Novem­ber 20th fi­nally ar­rived and thou­sands lined the streets, many hav­ing camped out overnight. The weather was kind, the princess’s wed­ding dress was en­chant­ing while Philip looked re­s­plen­dent in full Naval uni­form.

The many re­hearsals paid off, al­though there was a near thing when the page boys, Prince Wil­liam of Glouces­ter and Prince Michael of Kent, did not no­tice that the train was about to catch on the step lead­ing up to the al­tar. For­tu­nately the King and the Best Man — Lord Mil­ford Haven — stooped to the res­cue and on the way down the steps after the cer­e­mony Princess Mar­garet made sure that there was no pos­si­ble re­peat of the near dis­as­ter.

The sign­ing of the regis­ter was wit­nessed by the King and Queen as well as the Duke of Glouces­ter, Queen Mary and Princess An­drew of Greece. The new­ly­weds went to the re­cep­tion at Buck­ing­ham Palace in the Glass Coach. At the re­cep­tion Philip, now the Duke of Ed­in­burgh, made a short speech and sim­ply said, “I am proud. I am proud of my coun­try and of my wife.”

Princess El­iz­a­beth also said a few words in­clud­ing, “Thank you to my fa­ther and mother and guests

for mak­ing this such a spe­cial day. I am espe­cially de­lighted that my grand­mother, Queen Mary has been able to at­tend. I ask noth­ing more than that Philip and I can be as happy as my fa­ther and mother have been and their fa­ther and mother — King Ge­orge and Queen Mary — be­fore them.”

Hav­ing cut the tow­er­ing cake with Philip’s sword it was soon time for the happy cou­ple to change and leave for their honey­moon at Broad­lands in Hamp­shire, the coun­try home of Earl and Count­ess Mount­bat­ten.

They vir­tu­ally had the place to them­selves al­though there was a se­cu­rity de­tec­tive on a couch in the at­tic and a po­lice guard at the gate to the es­tate. As well as spend­ing time read­ing all the greet­ings re­ceived, they also made full use of the grounds by walk­ing, horse rid­ing, fish­ing and en­joy­ing the free­dom. Philip took a fancy to a rather beaten- up Jeep and they went joy- rid­ing in the lo­cal coun­try­side, which both alarmed and em­bar­rassed the se­cu­rity po­lice on the gate who did not know they had gone un­til they ar­rived back!

Most of the time they had the princess’s corgi and con­stant com­pan­ion, Su­san, with them. Broad­lands was the first part of the cou­ple’s honey­moon as they later re­turned to Lon­don be­fore set­ting off for Bal­moral.

To­day, 70 years later as they cel­e­brate their plat­inum wed­ding an­niver­sary, that spe­cial smile and look be­tween them shows that the ro­mance is still alive.

Po­lice­men guard­ing the royal wed­ding cake, which was nearly nine- feet tall.

The royal cou­ple leav­ing the Abbey.

Princess El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip tak­ing their vows at West­min­ster Abbey.

Plat­inum An­niver­sary Cel­e­bra­tion 20th Novem­ber 1947


The Queen and Prince Philip on their way to Troop­ing the Colour this year.

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