A Royal Wedding to Remember . .
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.