Friday, December 11, 2009

The Queen Mother

I share my birthday with the Queen Mother. Well, sort of: she was turning 49 on the day I was born. And come to think of it, allowing for the time difference, I guess I was actually born the day before she would have celebrated her 49th birthday; but whatever - my passport shows the same date as hers did. There, that's full disclosure for you! Anyway, I always make it a habit to toast the Queen Mother on my birthday, and it has actually become a ritual recognised by all my friends. The old dear didn't mind a drink either, apparently. I recently read her biography, written by William Shawcross, and a glass of Champagne or a gin and Dubonnet were her favourite tipples. The biography is a veritable tome at around 1,000 pages, so skip to this rather acerbic review (on the other hand - I quite enjoyed the look at how the Royal Family operates) in the New York Times and save yourself the aching arms - that book weighs a ton! I'm not a fervent royalist in terms of their relevance to Australia, but I do have great respect for the work they do. The Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II must surely have worn out several secretaries each - the QM lived to be 101, and QEII has been queen for almost sixty years. And, in the case of the Queen Mother, she was never meant to be a queen at all. When her brother-in-law, King Edward VIII, fell in love with and wanted to marry a divorcee, he was forced to abdicate; and he did so on 11 December 1936 (seventy-three years ago today). Her husband thus became King George VI, she became the Queen, and the two of them were press-ganged into Buckingham Palace. Their coronation took place in 1937, just in time to marshal Britain through World War II. Ten years earlier than the coronation, they had been here in Brisbane as the Duke and Duchess of York - the roles they had every reason to expect would be theirs for life. They were recently married and proud parents of their first child (Elizabeth, the current queen) who was then not twelve months old - too young to go on the arduous six-month tour with her parents. Here is a picture of the Duchess being introduced to someone in Brisbane during that 1927 tour. The man in the impressive robes with his back to camera may well be William Jolly, Brisbane's first lord mayor (1925 - 1931), although he is not identified in the information with the image.

(Photograph: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #62412)

A Vice-Regal Ball was arranged in Brisbane to honour the couple. In order to accommodate the huge number of guests, it was decided to fit out a New Farm wool store for the occasion, and here is a picture of the transformation that was taking place at the new Australian Estates and Mortgage Company Limited building in April 1927.

(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; # 44018)

There was some 16,000 square feet of space available for this important occasion - the photo below shows the expansive dimensions of this building at Macquarie St New Farm.

(Photograph: Courtesy Nicholas T Curry - Happy Birthday, Nick!)

The Queen Mother passed away on 30th March, 2002, after a lifetime of service to the Crown, Britain and the Commonwealth. Shawcross, in his biography, gives countless examples of her dignity and her ability to bridge the gap between royalty and commoner. She is particularly remembered for the role she played during the difficult years of World War II, when, at the height of the blitz, she refused to leave Buckingham Palace - insisting instead on remaining with the King in order to support her fellow Londoners. Here is a reminder of her in her later years.

(Photo: Courtesy

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Well, that's it for this year! I've had a lot of fun, and I hope you have enjoyed my meanderings through Brisbane. The blog will be on hiatus (as they say in show-biz) until mid-January 2010, so that I can gather some more material and also recharge the batteries. I wish you all a very happy and safe Christmas holiday season, and good health and good fortune in the New Year. tff


  1. "When her brother-in-law, King Edward VIII, fell in love with and wanted to marry a divorcee, he was forced to abdicate; and he did so on 11 December 1936". Thank goodness. Royalty may be irrelevant to Australians today but it was very central in the lives of our parents and grandparents.

    King Edward and his wife were nasty, not because of the divorces, but because Edward favoured German fascism as a bulwark against communism. The photos of him smarming around the Nazis suggest he was comfortable with an alliance with them.

    I am so grateful that King George VI and Elizabeth became king and queen instead. Happy birthday and happy holidays :)

  2. Thanks for your amazing posts about our wonderful city. You will be missed over Christmas!

  3. "King Edward and his wife were nasty, not because of the divorces, but because Edward favoured German fascism as a bulwark against communism."

    Indeed. Shawcross's biography (mentioned in this post) indicates that Edward may have harbored ideas of resuming the crown if the Nazis had been able to overthrow Britain. Bertie (King George VI) stepped up manfully, and his wife (later the Queen Mother) never forgave Edward for his folly, believing that becoming King in these circumstances shortened her husband's life.

  4. I have just today finished reading the Shawcross biography, so what extraordinary serendipity that I came across your blog by way of Hels, who left a comment on mine! I agree, it was not an easy book to read because of its weight, and I only resolved that problem by reading it at my desk. Unfortunately too, despite being very careful with it, the binding split when I was about halfway through. As Sir Roy Strong suggested, it would have been better to print it in two volumes.

  5. Thanks for dropping by. Yes, it is far too heavy to read in bed. If you drop off to sleep while reading (as I frequently do) you could do yourself a serious injury!


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