An officer meets her Queen
IN 1939, shortly after it was announced in the press that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were to be guests at the World's Fair in New York, I received an invitation to join the Honor Guard at the Canadian Pavilion. I accepted at once. It had not been suggested that I should wear my uniform, but my husband insisted I should, since I had obviously been invited because I had been an officer in the British Expeditionary Force. Considering that I had only that one uniform during my two years' service with Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) in France, it looked remarkably well. It had been professionally cleaned twice during that time, and carefully sponged and pressed many times by my batman. One of our Army friends bought me a khaki shirt and tie at the PX, but nowhere could we find a hat. Finally, I had my little golf hat dyed, and with brown shoes and gloves my outfit was complete.
When the anticipated day arrived I drove away from home at 7 o'clock. My instructions were to be there two hours before the royal couple was due to arrive. As I entered the parking area a guard stopped me, asking to see my invitation. After he searched my car he locked the doors and said he would return the key when I was ready to leave.
Inside the pavilion, after reporting at the desk and signing in, I was asked if I would assist the guards in searching the building. Every room, closet, desk drawer was thoroughly checked. Every box supposed to contain papers or pictures was opened, its contents examined. When we had completed our search, the guard locked the door and posted a notice saying it had been inspected. We both had to sign the notice.
After about an hour of this rather tiresome work, I was told to go outside and join the other veterans in the Honor Guard. Stretching from the front of the pure white Canadian Pavilion to the street was a red carpet; along each side, two rows of New York's chapter of the Canadian Legion; on the steps, four tall, handsome Royal Canadian Mounties; and, to the right, the band of the Mounties, their silver instruments reflecting the sun's rays. Across from the red carpet, facing the band, I was told to stand with four World War I veterans and one nurse; behind us, several more rows of the Legionnaires.
Just before their majesties were due to arrive, the colonel in charge put us through our paces six times, reminding me of the exciting occasion in France when King George V came to inspect our camp. I had difficulty keeping a smile off my face at the age-old commands.
``Toes on the line; eyes front; heads up; tuck your tummies in; wipe that grin off your face; attention; stand at ease!'' Finally, he was satisfied.
While we waited for our King and Queen to arrive, I glanced up at the roof. Soldiers with guns were lined all along the edge of the roof. I shivered. I wondered what I would do if an attempt were made to assassinate our sovereigns. To my own rather surprised concern, even thinking of my darling babes at home, I realized that I would let myself be killed to protect Britain's King and Queen. The thought shook me. Now I understood how strong the feelings must have been to leave a comfortable home and spend three uncomfortable and dangerous years in England and France during World War I.
Moments later one of the Tommies shouted down to the colonel, ``Here they come!'' We all stood to attention. The Mountie band played our national anthem. The King came first, escorted by two Canadian officials. They walked slowly between the line of soldiers. As he passed, one of the men whispered, ``God save you, Sir.'' The King smiled at him. As the Queen neared me I thought I had never seen such a radiantly beautiful creature. Her complexion was flawless, her blond hair carefully arranged under a charming hat. Her eyes were a clear gentian blue, accentuated by her graceful turquoise gown. As I held my feet together, tummy in, in the eyes-front posture I had learned during army training in London, I thought suddenly of my mother singing ``Annie Laurie'':
Her brow is like the snowdrift
Her face it is the fairest
that e'er the sun shone on.
What made a lump come into my throat was the way King George kept glancing back over his shoulder, showing that never for a second was Queen Elizabeth out of his thoughts. The Queen always seemed to sense his glance and in the middle of a sentence to her attendant would flash a smile to the devoted husband as if to say, ``I am right here, thinking of you, too.'' As they passed by and the King slowly started up the pavilion steps, I felt Queen Elizabeth looking at me. With a supreme effort I succeeded in keeping my eyes fixed on the brilliant scarlet uniforms of the band in front of me. Then the Queen, too, passed through the doorway.
Later, we were again brought to attention. The band, playing ``God Save the King,'' heralded the approach of their majesties. As the King stopped to speak to one of the soldiers the Queen walked over to me and asked me questions about my service with Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps. She seemed sincerely interested, especially when I told her that I was the only Canadian girl who had been designated as an officer in the British Expeditionary force way back in 1917 and that I had served in France until late fall in 1919.
``Why did you go to England?'' the Queen asked. ``Were not your parents reluctant to allow you to leave home when you were still in your teens?''
``My father was very upset,'' I told the Queen. ``He said I was too young to be of any use over there, but my mother persuaded him to let me go. She understood my desire to help.'' Queen Elizabeth's blue eyes twinkled. She lightly touched the service stripes on my arm.
``I am sure you were useful. Is this one of the uniforms you wore?'' I could not help laughing as I replied:
``Yes, ma'am, but the only one! I wore it from 1917 until I returned home in the late autumn of 1919. I have had two baby boys, but my uniform still fits!'' The Queen smiled again as she turned to join King George.
``Take care of those boys,'' she said softly to me. The band of the Canadian Mounties continued to play ``God Save the King.''