I was in London in May 1953 for the Coronation festivities as a Postgraduate Student in Medicine. I stayed at London House, a Hall of Residence for Postgraduate Commonwealth Students in Guilford Street WC1 near Russell Square. My parents, Dr W. J. Hull and Mrs Clare Pool Hull, were also in London for the Coronation and we were together on the day.
London was bedecked with elaborate street decorations of arches and flags representing all parts of the Commonwealth. I particularly recall the Mall displaying an avenue of colourful decorated metal arches stretching across the full width of the road and extending from Admiralty Arch at Trafalgar Square, to Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria’s Statue.
London was alive with visitors, especially from all parts of the Commonwealth in their various colourful dresses and uniforms. Postgraduate Students at London House were invited to an Afternoon Garden Party and Reception at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, the home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury, in May 1953. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was the Royal Guest of Honour and we were all presented to her, each of us telling her our country of origin. The gardens were magnificent, and pathways lined with rhododendrons in full bloom were a special memorable feature.
Come Coronation Day on June 2nd – what an exciting and memorable day! I rose early and was required to take my seat in our allotted stand along the Coronation route by 10.00 a.m. All private vehicles were banned from the city and we witnesses superb precision in organisation that only the British can do! Every ticket holder was issued with a lunch pack and vinyl cushion for the long wait for the action.
We took our seats in the “Australia Stand”, No. 11 – an open, wooden, tiered structure – which was in Hyde Park off Park Lane and not very far from Marble Arch. I well recall the weather was cool and cloudy with intermittent rain. Umbrellas and raincoats lined the route. There were adequate provisions – latrines were well patronised, and a hearty cheer went up as the garbage truck patrolled the route carrying out its services ensuring a spotless roadway for the forthcoming cavalcade of carriages, the famous passengers of which were lucky enough to have won a seat in Westminster Abbey. (I actually viewed technicolour film of the full Coronation Service within the Abbey on a wide screen later in the week at the Leicester Square Cinema, there being no live television broadcast.)
I witnessed a most exciting and memorable event at about 11.00 a.m. on that morning when loudspeakers along the Coronation route announced that Sir Edmund Hilary had reached the summit of Mt Everest – the first person to ever do so. Wild cheering and clapping resounded along the route and Stand 11 was wild with joy.
After the Service concluded, the Coronation Procession was led by the Queen in her enclosed Golden State Coach drawn by its team of eight Windsor Greys decked out in their full regalia, accompanied by Horse Guards all appropriately bedecked. As Her Majesty progressed along the route, the National Anthem was played at intervals by military bands, and as the coach drew closer to Stand 11 the Anthem became louder and louder. I actually photographed the State Coach passing our stand with the family’s 16 mm Kodak Cine camera, so I only saw the Queen through the view-finder!
Following the State Coach was the entourage of open landaulet carriages carrying privileged guests, members of the Royal Family, Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth countries and members of the diplomatic corps. I vividly recall seeing Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Robert Menzies and an enthusiastic Queen Salute of Tonga, whose enormous torso nearly tipped up her landaulet! Finally, the procession was tailed by contingents of marching servicemen from all of the Commonwealth countries. A really loud cheer rang out as the Australian contingent stepped it out smartly, readily identified by their slouched hats. During the subsequent celebrations, I saw the Australian soldiers mounting guard at Buckingham Palace.
On the evening of the Coronation, London streets were packed and with other Australian Postgraduate students, I made my way on foot from London House through the city and down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen and other members of the Royal family made their traditional appearance on the balcony. The dispersal of the crowds and their control was carried out in a characteristically efficient and unobtrusive manner, managed superbly by the London “Bobbies” that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Thus ended a most memorable experience of an historic event that leaves one proud to be part of the heritage of Australia’s link with the Crown.