The Queen has recollected becoming the first young person in the Commonwealth to receive a junior lifesaving award from the Royal Life Saving Society.
As a 14-year-old the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, earned her junior respiration award in February 1941, after completing training at a gentlemen’s club in central London, where she had swimming lessons with her sister Princess Margaret.
Smiling and looking in good spirits just a few weeks after the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, she recalled those days during a conversation with lifeguards, who have been recognised for saving swimmers, and a senior figure from the Royal Life Saving Society.
During the video call held last Thursday, the Queen said she had not appreciated she was a trailblazer.
She said: “I didn’t realise I was the first one. I just did it, and had to work very hard for it. It’s a very long time ago, I’m afraid, I think it’s changed a lot.”
When Clive Holland, deputy Commonwealth president of the society, told her: “Your Majesty, when you say it was a long time ago, it was in fact 80 years ago.”
The Queen, 95, laughed and said: “That’s terrible!”
Sarah Downs, 20, a student who saved a little boy’s life when she was on duty as a lifeguard at a swimming pool in Exeter in 2018, asked about her memories of achieving her award.
Speaking about the gentlemen’s club in Mayfair the Queen replied: “Well, it’s a very long time ago. I do remember it was of course all done in the Bath Club in the swimming pool.
“And I suppose I didn’t really actually realise quite what I was doing, you know, because I think I must have been 12 or something, 12 or 14, or something like that.
“But it was a great achievement and I was very proud to wear the badge on the front of my swimming suit. It was very grand I thought.”
The Queen asked Ms Downs, a physiotherapy student at Manchester Metropolitan University, about her own experiences of lifeguarding and how she came to win the society’s Russell Medal in 2018, for resuscitating a boy at Middlemoor Pool in Exeter.
The Russell Medal is awarded annually to someone under 18 for displaying bravery and quick-thinking under pressure.
Ms Downs said that a boy had a fit underwater as she was getting some arm bands.
She added: “So when I came back to the shallow end, being notified of this child under the water and then getting him out of the pool, I completed CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on him to resuscitate and bring him back around.”
The Queen also praised the bravery of another young lifesaver, Tanner Gorille, from Cape Town, South Africa, who won the Russell Medal in 2016 after performing resuscitation on a young woman at one of Cape Town’s tidal pools while on volunteer lifeguard duty.
“That was splendid work you were doing,” she said after hearing his story.
The Queen is patron of the Royal Life Saving Society, which was founded in London in 1891 in response to the hundreds of preventable drownings that were happening.
Drowning remains one of the biggest causes of preventable death in the world, with an estimated 235,000 fatalities every year. About 90% of those deaths occur in poor or middle-income countries.
During the video call the Queen also virtually presented Dr Stephen Beerman, from Nanaimo in British Columbia, Canada, with the King Edward VII Cup, awarded every two years in recognition of outstanding contributions to drowning prevention.
The Queen congratulated Dr Beerman on more than 40 years of work to draw attention to drowning, and told him: “I’m very delighted to be able to present you with this cup – a very large cup, which one day you might see if you come to London.”
The virtual engagement comes after the United Nations adopted a historic resolution on drowning prevention, formally acknowledging drowning as one of the biggest causes of preventable death.
The resolution, spearheaded by Bangladesh and Ireland, sets out specific actions for each country to take to prevent drowning and introduces an annual World Drowning Prevention Day, which will be marked for the first time this year on July 25.