The Daily Telegraph
THE WORLD THROUGH HER EYES
Events to which Her Majesty bore witness.
Queen Elizabeth II’S diary was a history of the modern world. To look back on her life as monarch was for her to review the chief events since the Second World War. Every year her subjects were allowed a glimpse into that diary through the Christmas broadcast.
Queen Elizabeth travelled to more than 120 countries – never to Greece, but 27 times to Canada. This gave her a global view with a particular perspective. Notably, she returned again and again to the Commonwealth, of which she was head. It was during a six-month tour of the Commonwealth that she found herself in New Zealand on Christmas Day for her first Christmas broadcast after the Coronation. Because the broadcast was made live, she was able to mention the Tangiwai railway disaster in which 151 people died on Christmas Eve, “sending to those who mourn a message of sympathy in their loss. I pray that they and all who have been injured may be comforted and strengthened.” The Tangiwai disaster is familiar now to few outside New Zealand, but Queen Elizabeth remembered.
Since it was impossible to comment on party political matters, Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas broadcasts bore more than their share of disasters. Not that she was afraid to reflect on global events of the most far-reaching political effect.
One came in 1960: the massacre at Sharpeville in South Africa, where police shot dead 69 and wounded 180. It became a grim milestone in the opposition to apartheid. If events seemed beyond “the control of individuals, we can at least
influence the future by our everyday behaviour”, she urged.
In 1961, Queen Elizabeth made a piece of history by meeting in Rome the Pope – John XXIII, aged 79, who was to turn the Catholic Church upside down by convoking the Second Vatican Council. The Queen wore black, with a lace mantilla topped with a tiara. She was to meet four more popes, two of them on historic visits to Britain.
The white heat of technology, as the future Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was to call it, went into orbit in 1962 with the launch of Telstar, a communications satellite that made possible the first trans-atlantic television broadcast. “Telstar, and her sister satellites as they arise, can now show the world to the world just as it is in its daily life,” Queen Elizabeth said in her broadcast.
In the self-consciously neophiliac 1960s, England was swinging and winning. At Wembley England sealed the World Cup with victory. Postage stamps already issued for the event were overprinted with the motto “England Winners”, which appeared between the 4d price and the small silhouette of the late Queen’s head.
But that Christmas, she chose not to crow about the men’s triumph, instead making her theme the role of women in world events. “It has been women who have breathed gentleness and care into the harsh progress of mankind,” she said. “The struggles against inhuman prejudice, against squalor, ignorance, and disease, have always owed a great deal to the determination and tenacity of women.”
Queen Elizabeth’s deep conviction that “we all belong to the great brotherhood of man” was the theme of her broadcast in 1968, which had seen the assassination of the American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King.
In Northern Ireland that year a different kind of civil rights movement was coming into prominence, which would play its part in The Troubles that were to cause the monarch much anguish in coming decades.
Northern Ireland violence was the focus for Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas thoughts in 1972. “I want to send a special message of sympathy to all those men, women and children who have suffered and endured so much,” she said. In 1977 she made a two-day visit to the province as part of her Silver Jubilee celebrations, arriving in the royal yacht. It was a tense tour. Sinn Fein supporters held up banners: “Queen of death”.
In 1975, the Christmas theme was an ill that has returned in 2022: inflation. “The whole fabric of our lives is threatened by inflation, the frightening sickness of the world today,” Queen Elizabeth said. Yet she was hopeful: “We may feel powerless alone but the joint efforts of individuals can defeat the evils of our time.”
Long-term reconciliation was on show during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to America for the bicentennial of its declaration of independence in 1776. Queen Elizabeth’s face was lit up by a smile as she danced with President Gerald Ford at a formal dinner. At Christmas she recalled her warm welcome: “King George III never saw the Colonies he lost. My father, King George VI, was the first British Sovereign to see the famous skyline of Manhattan.” In the new millennium that skyline was to see a terrible transformation.
Another US president, Ronald Reagan, visited Britain in 1982. He rode with Queen Elizabeth (whose mount was her dependable Burmese). It was a piece of international diplomacy that no other head of state could have carried out. Britain was at war to save the Falklands from invaders. Reagan’s help was essential. Speaking from the library at Windsor Castle that Christmas, Queen Elizabeth’s praise was for the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, which had sailed for the Falklands “in defence of basic freedoms”.
In 1983, she spoke in her Christmas broadcast about her visit to India. A remarkable image from the tour shows the late Queen in New Delhi conferring the Order of Merit on Mother Teresa.
It was impossible during this decade for Queen Elizabeth to make a public visit to Northern Ireland. Her kinsman Earl Mountbatten had been murdered in Ireland by the IRA in 1979. But when at Christmas 1987 Queen Elizabeth spoke of the terrorist atrocity at Enniskillen that killed 11 people that year, it was to praise a remarkable example of forgiveness. “Mr Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie lost her life in the horrifying explosion at Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, impressed the whole world by the depth of his forgiveness,” she said.
Disasters did not lose their pace. In 1988, the Queen added to the footage of her Christmas broadcast by mentioning “the worst air crash in our history at Lockerbie”, when 270 were killed in a terrorist outrage on December 21.
Queen Elizabeth spoke an obvious truth in 1991 when she said at Christmas that “changes have happened with bewildering speed”. After the years of the Cold War, “in 1989 the Berlin Wall came down. Since then the rest of the world has watched, fascinated, as oppressive regimes have crumbled under popular pressure.”
It was astonishing that by 1994, the late Queen was able to make the first ever state visit to Russia. “I never thought it would be possible in my lifetime,” she reflected at Christmas, “to join with the Patriarch of Moscow and his congregation in a service in that wonderful cathedral in the heart of the Moscow Kremlin.” Of course future events developed in unforeseeable ways.
In the meantime, Queen Elizabeth suffered her “annus horribilis” in 1992. On top of family troubles, Windsor Castle was engulfed by fire. But at Christmas she embraced the example of Leonard Cheshire VC, who founded homes for disabled people and had died that year. Cheshire embodied the well-known lines: “Kindness in another’s trouble, courage in one’s own.” After the happy visit of Nelson Mandela in 1996, the next year was to call upon her courage once again. In 1997, Britain handed over Hong Kong to China, with well-founded fears for its future. On August 30, Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash.
The Millennium was marked with hope, and for Queen Elizabeth with the minor indignity of having her arm pulled by Tony Blair to sing Auld Lang Syne in the Millennium Dome.
September 11 2001 changed everything. For her 50th Christmas message, the late Queen reminded her vast audience that “happiness is heightened, the sadness softened when it is shared”.
The “grief ” of losing a sister, Princess Margaret, and a mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, figured in the broadcast for 2002, a year also of joy in the Golden Jubilee of the Queen’s accession.
War grew ineluctably in Afghanistan, and in 2007 Queen Elizabeth spoke about the people of the Armed Forces wounded there and in Iraq. She returned to service in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, by which time a financial crisis had hit Britain hard. “Genuine human happiness and satisfaction,” she declared “lie more in giving than
receiving; more in serving than in being served.”
The happy wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge cheered 2011. Queen Elizabeth was no Pollyanna. “Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families,” she said at Christmas.
In 2015 the 70th anniversary of VJ Day ending the Second World War was marked. Queen Elizabeth was now looking forward to her 90th birthday. “One of the joys of living a long life is watching one’s children, then grandchildren, then great grandchildren, help decorate the Christmas tree,” she said at Christmas.
Queen Elizabeth welcomed the heads of government of her beloved Commonwealth for their meeting in London in 2018. “My father,” she said at Christmas, “welcomed just eight countries to the first such meeting in 1948. Now the Commonwealth includes 53 countries with 2.4 billion people, a third of the world’s population. Its strength lies in the bonds of affection it promotes, and a common desire to live in a better, more peaceful world.”
THE TWENTY TWENTIES
In 2019, Queen Elizabeth celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, saying that it was “the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change”.
In 2020 came Covid. In her broadcast, Queen Elizabeth spoke of “family-members distanced for safety, when all they’d really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand.” In April that year she had broadcast to a nation gripped by the gravest fears. No one knew if a vaccine for Covid could be found; no one knew how many would die. “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,” Queen Elizabeth said.
In 2021, Queen Elizabeth sat alone at the funeral of her husband of more than 73 years. At Christmas she broadcast beside a photograph of the two of them. “That mischievous, enquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him.”
She ended by referring to another figure, “a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith. His birth marked a new beginning.”