A Queen in time

The Queen’s special broadcast today brought back a vivid memory of my youth, a 67-year-old memory, the year of my 13th birthday. 

Today, we set aside a few minutes to see and hear the Queen’s Covid-19 address streamed on our iPad. 

This was a far, far different scene to the day I sat with my family, huddled round the household’s one radio, to hear her Christmas broadcast from Auckland, New Zealand. 

That broadcast had a sombre conclusion as not 24 hours earlier the country experienced its worst-ever rail disaster at Tangiwai, in the lower part of the North Island.

Just before midnight on Christmas Eve, a locomotive and carriages dived headlong into the river when a lahar flood knocked out the bridge piers. And 151 people perished. 

It was a tragic introduction to the country’s first visit by a reigning monarch. 

We received the appalling news on Christmas Day via the radio, that news link to the whole country as newspapers did not publish on Christmas Day. (Television did not arrive in the main centres until 1960.)  

The Queen and Prince Philip arrived in New Zealand by the chartered Royal Yacht SS Gothic. They stayed in the country until January 31, travelling the length and breadth by car, train, and plane before reuniting with their ship at the southernmost part of the country. All told, more than three-quarters of the population must have turned out to see them. 

Prince Philip amended his itinerary to take part in a state funeral for many of the rail disaster victims.

1953 was a landmark year in other ways for me as an adventurous 12-year-old living in the shadow of wonderful Mt Taranaki. I’d followed the conquest of Mt Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa Tensing. And yes, I still have my scrapbook documenting the world shattering news of that achievement on May 29 just a few days before Queen Elizabeth 11’s coronation on June 2, the actual day the epic news hit London.