Nearly Sixty Years

In February of 1952, following the passing of her father, Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, commencing what would be the second-longest reign of a British monarch to-date. Sixty years later, the Queen and the Commonwealth are celebrating her Diamond Jubilee [2012].

For Virden resident Audrey Jasper, however, it isn’t this year that stands out in her mind as the diamond anniversary, but next—she was in attendance at the Queen’s coronation, June 2, 1953.

In January of 1953, Jasper (nee Adair), a grade 11 student at Pipestone and avid 4-H member, was encouraged by her teacher, Mr. Mac Taylor, to fill out a form listing all of the positions and programs she’d held and completed in the 4-H organization. With nine years of 4-H experience in both beef and handicrafts under her belt, Taylor claimed that she had as good a chance as any to win the coronation trip.

Recounting her memory of the application process, Jasper recalls Taylor insisting she fill out the form, despite the 25-mile trip to Virden to confer with the records at the Department of Agriculture office. “So Mom and I came to Virden and I filled out all the positions I’d held in the organization, and in February I was given a letter to be in Winnipeg on February 22 for an interview.”

Of the eight students requested for interviews, there was one boy and one girl chosen. “I happened to be the lucky girl,” she says. Ken Forbes of Dauphin was the lucky boy.

Her first trip out of Canada, Jasper boarded the train from Virden on May 19, en route to Montreal where she and Forbes caught a ship to Liverpool. Leaving Canada on May 22, the ship arrived in England one week later. She would return to Pipestone in mid-late July a well travelled woman.

Billeted in military camps, university residences, and personal homes throughout their tour, Jasper and her companions first boarded at Chigwell, approximately thirty minutes out of London. In a speech written upon her return, Jasper commented that “Driving from Liverpool to Chigwell Camp was delightful. We were no sooner out of one town than we’d be in another and everywhere people were busy decorating for The Great Day, June 2.”

Arriving a few days prior to the coronation, the troop also took part in the Coronation Sunday Service at St. Alban’s Cathedral and a garden party for the Queen Mother at Hatfield, of which they were only a few of some 1,600 guests. As well, they toured Windsor Castle and, on the day before the big event, they viewed people camped out in front of the palace gates so as to ensure a satisfying location for the following day’s proceedings.

“And now we come to the event long awaited, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth,” wrote Jasper. “Our group were up at 3 a.m. and after a hurried cup of coffee left for London… We were in our seats at 6 a.m.” Tickets for the event were £4, or $12, “you may be interested to know.”

Seated at a pleasing vantage, Jasper watched as an hour-long procession pranced toward Westminster Abbey, listened as the crown was placed on Elizabeth’s head, and cheered as the procession took her back to the palace where she emerged on the balcony as Queen. “This was a long day and one to be remembered for a long time,” wrote Jasper.

“I was 17 and I’d won a trip to England,” recalls Jasper; “that was pretty big.”

Jasper spent the rest of her month-long European tour gallivanting around England and Scotland with her group, and heading off to Ireland on her own to visit relatives for four days before boarding the sea-worthy vessel that brought her home.

Since 1953, Jasper has returned to Europe twice, retracing her first tour as well as seeing new places. “I’ve been back, yes, but that first time was an experience; kind of like a dream,” she recalls.

Regarding Elizabeth’s long reign, Jasper hasn’t given it much thought. “You never know,” she says. “I guess it’s been quite a while… nearly sixty years.”

 Published in the Virden Empire-Advance. April, 2012.