Parties and free ice-creams on Coronation Day 1953

RAIN! And still more rain. Sorry to put the dampener on anybody’s fond Technicolor memories of sunshine and blue skies for the 1953 Coronation festivities, but my predominant recollection is of rain ... and more rain.

The nation is hoping that when the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty’s Coronation takes place in June, and umpteen events are planned across the land to celebrate, the weather will be kinder than it was then.

However pro-monarchy you might be, and however much you enjoyed the pomp and ceremony, the royal parade with the Queen in her golden coach and the Westminster Abbey dignified service (even in subsequent film newsreels if you did not have a monochrome television at that time), the local carnival processions and the street parties and civic celebrations six decades ago, you have to admit that the rain and cold took the shine off it.

Even we stoic British found our enthusiasm diminished despite our outward patriotic show of enjoying the great day.

I did not arrive in Great Yarmouth until mid-evening on that June day, for I was doing National Service in the Royal Air Force 20 miles away, stationed at the Horsham St Faith fighter base – now Norwich International Airport.

And I was dragooned, along with scores of my fellow servicemen and women, into being part of the formal parade through the city to mark the Coronation.

In our best blue uniforms with buttons and buckles burnished and belts whitened pristinely - but without greatcoats or waterproof capes - we marched with rifles through the heart of Norwich while cheering onlookers were huddled under umbrellas or wrapped themselves in raincoats.

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When we returned to St Faith’s, we hung up our soaked uniforms to dry and “stood down” for 48 hours, apart from essential personnel ready for action in case the Cold War suddenly became even colder as the Soviet bloc took advantage of the Coronation to catch us unawares.

So when I reached my Gorleston home, it was all over.

Any pride and pleasure we derived from participation in the Norwich programme evaporated completely for, on our return to base, there was an immediate arms inspection and many of us were disciplined because water trickled from our rifle barrels and rust was spotted, providing our corporals with ample evidence that we had neither dried nor cleaned our weapons before we left for our break.

The Mercury front-page headlines summed up the day in Yarmouth: “Celebrations went on despite rain; procession carried on; river too choppy for boats procession; weather changed plans but children were not disappointed.”

We described it thus: “As on the occasion of the crowning of King George VI just over 16 years ago, the weather seriously interfered with the celebrations which Yarmouth had planned to mark the Coronation on Tuesday of Queen Elizabeth II. Lowering clouds, frequent rainstorms and a bitter northerly wind made the day most unpleasant for outdoor celebrations, but only one event – the river procession – had to be cancelled.

“The largest crowds in the morning were on Marine Parade where a Royal salute of 21 guns was fired on a car park as the Queen left Buckingham Palace on her way to Westminster Abbey; as she was crowned, a salute of 21 life-saving maroons had been fired from the Britannia Pier.

“Despite rain in the afternoon – at times heavy – the carnival procession made its long tour from North Drive to Gorleston, although many of the entries left the route long before the end.

“Driving rain and cold winds combined to give Yarmouth the worst possible carnival weather, yet the procession – wet and bedraggled though it became – went on. The procession was to have been the highlight of the day’s celebrations but it was far from a carnival mood that dominated the entrants and spectators as the procession, losing numbers as the afternoon wore on, moved slowly on its predetermined route.

“The rain persisted throughout the evening when the day was brought to an end by fireworks and bonfires. In the evening crowds on the sea front and Regent Road increased to almost bank holiday proportions.”

The weather persuaded many people to stay at home listening to the Coronation broadcast on radio, reported the Mercury, although the Golden Mile was well peopled and had a holiday appearance. But those who ventured that far frequently had to dash for shelter from rain falling heavily at intervals.

Several hundred gathered in the open-air Marina to listen to a relay of the Coronation broadcast.

“Television reception was poor although some of the finest moments of the Coronation were captured clearly. One TV set was placed before an open window so that passers-by could view the Coronation, and those who took advantage of this opportunity were able to see the actual crowning.”

Many American servicemen and some Australians were on leave in the town and took photographs of the decorations as souvenirs.

According to the Mercury: “One of the biggest crowds was on Regent Road and consisted of children drawn to an ice-cream parlour by the announcement that ice-cream was to be given away. One policewoman and two policemen were engaged in marshalling the queue.”

Scores of children’s tea parties were held throughout the borough and although many had to make a late switch from outdoors to indoors to avoid the downpour, the move failed to dampen enthusiasm.

In the evening, dancers packed the Winter Gardens, Floral Hall and the Britannia Pier ballroom, this latter venue featuring old-time dances and a display of the Queen’s Quadrille composed especially for the occasion.

It seems unlikely that many of the participants in that 1953 day’s events envisaged that the Queen would one day celebrate a reign enduring for 60 glorious years.