Within Arms Distance Of Her Majesty
The fat gray drops of rain splattered about, around my feet, on my new suit pants and coat, mussing my new haircut.
The camera, if there were one, pans up and forward, and you can see a line of people waiting to be admitted into the grounds of Buckingham Palace, home to Kings and Queens and not-so-bonnie Princes.
If you were to put on x-ray specs, for that it what you’d need to see inside the Palace, given no cameras or video recorders were allowed, it would be with awe and wonder that you would gaze about at the marble busts of kings, the oil paintings of the royal families, the stern-faced real-life guards upright and silent.
The Investiture was held in the Ballroom. It was a large room, with red-carpeted seat benches lining three of the four walls, and then seats ordered in the front half of the floor.
We were given an order of service, and then one of the officials walked us through what would be happening. Dancing girls, kegs of mead, haunches of roast boar .. Ahem. No.
We were seated right at the back, and above us was a small Orchestra from one of the Military Bands. They played an excellent mix of old, middle and new music, starting with “When Somebody Loved Me”, the song in Toy Story 2 (Sarah McLachlan sings it).
The importance of the Gurkha’s (of which Grandpa was a Captain) was underlined in the Investiture. Two Gurkha Orderly Officers attend the Queen as she entered the Ballroom, a tradition begun in 1876 by Queen Victoria.
There were quite a number of people receiving awards on that day. By far, the majority were for non-military reasons. I was reminded of the awarding of a “Colors Coat” at school, and the indignation expressed by some (the relief by others) when Non-Sporting Colors were given.
However, in my mind, Grandpa’s award was the most important of that day. Because I’m biased. But also because it was posthumously given over 60 years after being awarded. And because it was for military service.
Two people were knighted. One person was already a “Sir” but got a different Order.
On a more amusing side, someone got an MBE for “Services to Knitting” or some-such. I cast no disdain on the person who received it; But the contrast between an award for battle, war, killing and violence in defence of one’s country or beliefs as opposed to the practice of making scarves is quite stark.
Mum was at the end of the handful of Military awards. As she approached the Queen, things did get quite emotional. I felt Kate (sister) start to feel the same, and I’m sure Dad was too (wasn’t sitting next to him).
There was a lot of weight on this moment in time. There was the amazing story of the last few months, of how the MBE was discovered. There was the life of Grandpa and Grandma White, of which we grandchildren barely knew, but now has been brought to light through Mum. There was the presence of one of the last true earthly Sovereigns.
And there was the memory of Grandpa himself. That he was awarded this, dare I say when these awards meant a lot more, and that he lived his life without it. That he would probably shrug, wave his hand, and think nothing of it anyway. But that we, his children and grandchildren, can honour this memory in the receiving of the award, and in the retelling of the story.
I feel compelled to be clear, as in previous posts. I do not hold Grandpa in a “saint” status. Yes, he was a hero to me, especially as a younger man, but not more than my own Dad is. And certainly in no way sinless.
Visiting the Queen was an amazing experience. The whole weight of Grandpa’s MBE made this something truly special and “once in a lifetime” in it’s events.
Oh, and yes, Her Majesty passed within a couple of meters of us folk in the back row.
Next in this series is a couple of posts about Ireland, visiting some fantastic landmarks and places.