Tuesday 2 June 1953 saw the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and I, like millions of others across the world listened to it on the radio; watched it on television or were there lining the route and cheering. I, with many others from our village, watched it in the school room on a small black & white television set. To be honest I was there because I was told to be there. To me it was just something that was happening that I would be able to read about in the Daily Herald the next morning. My ‘brush’ with our new Queen came a bit later. I cannot remember the actual date but it was during her post coronation tour of Britain. I was at school in Cambridge and was a member of the school Combined Cadet Force [the CCF] and we, with similar cadet groups, were lining her motor cavalcade route through Cambridge. I stood to attention as the cavalcade got closer. Behind me the watchers began to push forward. They were more powerful than us cadets and I was pushed – nearer and nearer the line of the cavalcade. As the Queen’s limousine reached where I stood – smartly to attention – those behind me made one last surge. Another two feet and one of my feet would have vanished under the Queen sitting, waving, as she passed me by!
Staying with royalty for a while Thursday 3 June 1937 is the day that Edward, Duke of Windsor, lately and briefly King Edward VIII, married Mrs Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé in the French Loire Valley – just thought you’d like to know!
On this Saturday 3 June 1989 Jeannie France-Hayhurst – a ‘charisma consultant’ who has been hired to teach image-skills to MPs before the arrival of television cameras in the Commons – disclosed that ‘Many MPs tend to adopt a head-in-hands third-form-Latin-exam position in the chamber, which is not very impressive.’ She says that ‘We teach them to prop their head up by their hands, which looks intelligent and thoughtful.’ I don’t think there is anything I can add to this little snippet – but you may well have your own thoughts!
On this Wednesday 4 June 1913 Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was trampled by the King’s horse in the Derby. She died four days later without ever regaining consciousness. Whether or not she intended to die for her cause that day remains a much debated issue. Her possessions found on the day included a return railway ticket, writing paper, envelopes and stamps. These items were often carried by suffragettes in the event of their arrest, to write home to family. She also had a ticket for a summer festival for the same day, and two WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) flags pinned on the inside of her jacket. Some believed she had planned to pin a flag onto the King’s horse. At the inquest into her death, having been given all the evidence, police reached the verdict of “misadventure” rather than suicide. Suicide was illegal at the time and would have brought considerable shame to her family.
Wednesday 5 June 1963 was the day that John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s government, finally admitted his relationship with Christine Keeler – a teenager of loose morals – and tendered his resignation. The affair had begun in summer 1961 and by the end of the year was finished. However stories of the relationship became stronger and more definite until, on 21 March 1963, Labour MP George Wigg invoked ‘parliamentary privilege’ and spoke of ‘rumours concerning a government minister – namely the Secretary of State for War – and a call-girl’. In a personal statement he later read to the House Profumo denied any impropriety, concluding with the threat that ‘I shall not hesitate to issue writs for libel and slander if these scandalous allegations are made or repeated outside this house’. Profumo repeated his claim of innocence to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Macmillan was a man who believed implicitly in the gentleman’s code of conduct and accepted the word of his minister. However on 5th June 1963 Profumo finally admitted the truth and resigned from the government and from Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan’s self-confidence, and he resigned as prime minister on health grounds in October 1963. The Conservative party as a whole was marked by the scandal and many believe the ‘Profumo Affair’ was a major contributor to its defeat in the 1964 election.
June 6th 1944 is a date so ingrained in our memories that even those who were born long after the invasion forces landed on the Normandy ‘remember’ it. It was a good day or it was a bad day – depending on just who you are – but I’m going to leave it there and go back over 200 years to a very different kind of fight.
On Friday 6 June 1727 James Figg beat Ned Sutton – a pipe maker from Gravesend – for the right to be called the Boxing Champion of England. BUT – this contest was not just with fists; there were three parts and the others involved swords and cudgels! The bout generated huge interest with many important names of the time watching – including the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. The first match was a ‘first cut wins’ battle with swords. This appears to have been fairly uneventful until Sutton went on the attack – an attack that resulted in Figg cutting his own arm on his own sword! Under the rules this did not count, and the bout continued. In the sixth round Figg cut Sutton’s shoulder and was granted the first victory.
After a thirty-minute interval, the “Fist-Fighting” – a mixture of boxing and wrestling – began. After eight minutes Sutton threw Figg, dumping him at the umpire’s feet. Figg immediately got to his feet and threw Sutton who had a bad heavy landing. He was allowed time to recover before the bout continued. Sutton landed a blow that was described as being ‘so powerful that Figg was knocked clean off the stage (there were no ropes at that time) and into the audience’. Figg recovered and ‘punched Sutton to the floor, where he then grappled Sutton into submission’.
The final bout was with Cudgels, during which Figg broke Sutton’s knee and secured a three-nil victory. Ned retired after this fight and James retired undefeated in 1730.
7 June – two interesting diary entries caught my eye for this day.
In 1851, after running up heavy gambling debts, Leo Tolstoy had gone with his older brother to the Caucasus and joined the army. It was about this time that he started writing and on this Monday in 1852 he confides in his diary that: ‘Feel proud, I don’t know what about. But I’m satisfied with myself morally. I’ve still got a rash, but I’m sure it’s venereal disease, the mercury or the gold, despite the fact that the doctor says it’s nettle rash.’
Adeline Virginia Woolf’s diary entry for this Friday in 1918 is very much related to the still on-going First World War. She writes: ‘L(eonard- her husband) was told the other day that the raids are carried out by women. Women’s bodies were found in the wrecked aeroplanes. They are smaller and lighter, and thus leave more rooms for bombs. Perhaps it is sentimental, but the thought seems to me to add a particular touch of horror.’ She does not note what side these women were on but, in 1918, around 500 women served in the newly formed WRAF in France and Germany.
Tuesday 8 June 1841 provides us with a very different view to that normally presented of Queen Victoria. It begins when Viscount Melbourne wrote to the Queen from Windsor Castle: ‘Lord Melbourne presents his humble duty to your Majesty. He is quite well, and has nothing particular to relate to your Majesty, at least nothing that presses; except that he is commissioned by Lord John Russell respectfully to acquaint your Majesty that his marriage is settled, and will take place shortly.’
Queen Victoria’s response to Viscount Melbourne was: ‘Does Lord Melbourne really mean J. Russell’s marriage? and to whom?’
Viscount Melbourne responds: ‘The Lady Fanny Eliot. Lord Melbourne did not name her before, nor does he now, because he did not remember her Christian name.’
[Fanny was the daughter of Lord Minto. Lord Melbourne spelled the surname wrong – it should be Elliot; and the word “Fanny” is written in subsequent to the completion of the letter.]