A 'radiant' Queen in the pouring rain: Britons who were there recall the last coronation

·4-min read

Millions watched the coronation in 1953, a live event that brought television into the mainstream.

But while most remember watching from the homes of neighbours and friends, a few had a unique view.

Ann Harris was a 17-year-old schoolgirl sat in a grandstand outside Westminster Abbey after cycling into central London.

"We'd had a bad time after the war, it was a quiet and repressed time, and this coronation was a glimpse of the new world," she says.

Ann remembers hearing the Queen's arrival before she saw it.

"The first thing we knew anything was about to happen, there was a rumble of noise that got louder and louder like a big wave of cheering coming up," she says.

From her seat, Ann could see the late Queen's expression as she stepped out of the golden state coach: "She was beautiful and so radiant, and she was dedicated.

"The trouble is, I remember the Queen so vividly the rest has dropped away."

One detail she hasn't forgotten is the weather.

The rain after the ceremony so was heavy that only one dignitary wanted their carriage left open - Queen Salote of Tonga.

"She was enjoying it so much, she wanted us all to look at her, and we all cheered her," Ann says.

As the Queen moved into Westminster Abbey, nine-year-old Richard Watts was singing in the choir.

Although for him and his fellow choristers, another event had inspired their day.

"We were woken early with the news Everest had been conquered and we were more excited about that than the coronation," he says.

The boys spent hours inside the abbey, their pockets filled with "sandwiches and barley sugars" to sustain them, Richard recalls.

He remembers clearly the moment the Queen entered: "The state trumpeters started with the fanfare, and after we started to sing 'I Was Glad', and the Queen steps forward and slowly goes up in procession."

He couldn't see the Queen from his position up in the organ loft, but Richard knew when she went past.

"We were concentrating on what we were doing, but we knew the Queen was beneath us when we heard the Westminster School boys sing the vivats," he says.

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More than 29,000 troops took part in the 1953 coronation procession, with many of them lining the route.

Among them was Victor Needham-Crofton, a reservist with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

He was on active service in Suez when he and 15 others were called back to London for the coronation.

"The uniform was specially made for those on the parade. It was a proud moment, I always did like dressing up!" he says.

The troops had been living in camps in Regent's Park for six weeks before the coronation.

Victor, who was just 20 at the time, remembers the crowds and the rain: "The people were great, trying to chat to us, even though our sergeant major wouldn't let us.

"We were each given a poncho to wear - which I was pleased with. The rain did us in, it was pouring with rain every single minute of the day, but I didn't care.

"My Queen was going to be on the throne, and I loved it."

The rain was so heavy, it almost cancelled the fly-past.

An air marshal was standing on the top of Buckingham Palace watching the weather.

Terry Devey Smith was a Meteor fighter pilot with 56 Squadron, waiting for the all-clear.

"If the cloud base was down to a thousand feet it was too dangerous to be flying," he says.

"It suddenly cleared and there was a big cheer. You're concentrating on the aircraft you're formatting with so. you don't have time to look around."

But Terry admits as they flew up the Mall he did glance down.

"I bet everyone did. It's very rare we were allowed to fly over London, and never over the Palace, so it really was tempting to have a look."