Queen Mum's 100 Scottish Years (Page 3)
Second World War
From the outset of their marriage, Elizabeth was a tower of strength to her husband. She arranged for a speech therapist for her husband which allowed him to make public speeches. Her warmth, good humour and energy helped in the constant round of official engagements. And, as one newspaper reported "She lays a foundation stone as if she has just discovered a new and delightful way of spending an afternoon." But it was during the stresses and strains of the Second World War that she really showed her mettle. As air raids began, the Prime Minister suggested that the Queen and the Princesses should be evacuated to Canada for safety. She refused. A year later, a German bomber flew down the Mall and dropped bombs on Buckingham Palace (pictured above) while the King and Queen were in residence. She remarked afterwards "At least now I can look the people of the East End of London in the face." The Royal couple made many visits to see the bomb damaged East End and indefatigably toured many other parts of the country, inventing the first Royal "walkabouts" and managing the delicate balancing act of being regal but also warm and friendly. An American newspaper described the Queen as the "Minister for Morale." In a broadcast at the end of the war the King said "I have been unceasingly helped by the Queen whose deep and active resolve for victory has comforted my heart never more than in our darkest hours."
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
The strains of the Second World War (and a lifetime of smoking cigarettes) had taken their toll of King George VI. In 1952 the King died of lung cancer at the age of 56 and the 26-year-old daughter became Queen Elizabeth II. There was some debate at the time that as the first Queen Elizabeth (in the 16th century) had only been queen of England, the new queen should be called Queen Elizabeth I in Scotland. The court got round that one by suggesting that the "highest number should always be used."
The Queen Dowager (as protocol described her) withdrew from public life after the King's death and even contemplated forever remaining out of the public spotlight (as Queen Victoria did for many years after Prince Albert's death). But she was persuaded by Winston Churchill that she still had a role to play - and that the King would not have wanted her to remain in mourning. She was given the title "Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother" and returned to what Prince Philip described as "the Royal family firm", undertaking not only engagements in the UK but a jet-setting life touring various countries of the Commonwealth.
Of course, the Queen Mum also enjoys going to watch horse racing (and her own horses have won 440 races during her lifetime). She also used to enjoy fishing, either at her own Castle of Mey in the north of Scotland or at Balmoral on Deeside where the Royal Family take up residence every summer. Her love of dancing was most in evidence when she used to take part in energetic Scottish country dancing at Balmoral.
In Her Own Words
The Queen Mother has only given one interview in her entire life (shortly after her engagement to Prince Albert - and she was roundly reprimanded by King George V for doing so) but over the years her humour and warmth have been conveyed through reports of things which she has said. Here are a few examples:
- In 1947, on a tour of South Africa, an Afrikaner said to her that he could never forgive the English for conquering the Boers. She smiled and said "Oh, I understand that perfectly - we feel very much the same in Scotland."
- Having decided that helicopters were a useful convenience on many occasions, she remarked to a pilot "The chopper has transformed my life - even more than it transformed Anne Boleyn's." (an English Queen who had her head chopped off).
- At a lunch attended by the Queen and the Queen Mother, the Queen asked for another glass of wine. The Queen Mum frowned, with a twinkle in her eye, and said "Is that wise? You know you have to reign all afternoon."
- The Queen Mum has a reputation for her daily gin and Dubonnet. While on an engagement at which she was supposed to be offered a cup of tea, her host blurted out instead "I hear you like gin". Without hesitation, the Queen Mum said "I hadn't realised I enjoyed that reputation. But as I do, perhaps you could make it a large one."
- She objected to President Jimmy Carter greeting her with a kiss on the lips. "Nobody has done that since my husband died."
- The Queen Mother still feels the loss of her husband (and for a long time blamed Mrs Simpson for his early death). When comforting a friend who had lost her husband she was asked if it got any better with the passage of time. She replied "It doesn't get any better but you get better at it."
When the Queen Mother reached 80 (the commemorative gates shown here were installed at the entrance to the Italian Garden at Glamis to mark the occasion), Scottish Labour MP Willie Hamilton, who attacked the Royal family at every opportunity, said "I am glad to salute a remarkable old lady. May she live to be the pride of the family. And may God understand and forgive me if I have been ensnared and corrupted, if only briefly, by this superb royal trouper."
The Queen herself has said of her mother: "She has the extraordinary ability to bring happiness to other people's lives. And her own vitality and warmth is returned by all she meets!" And her grandson, Prince Charles is quoted as saying "Ever since I can remember, my grandmother has been a most wonderful example of fun, laughter and above all, exquisite taste in so many things. For me she has always been one of those extraordinarily rare people whose touch can turn everything to gold. She belongs to that priceless band of human beings whose greatest gift is to enhance life for others through their own effervescent enthusiasm for life."
The Queen Mother has been a queen who has lived longer than Queen Victoria and is the longest-living member of the Royal Family, ever. She has had both hips replaced and has had operations to remove a cataract from her left eye and a number of other health scares has seen her death prematurely reported on at least three occasions. Yet anyone who saw Britain's favourite gran going down the many steps of Westminster Abbey a few weeks ago after the service of thanksgiving for her long life, would do well to remember her secret of longevity - "I love life - that's the secret. It is the exhilaration of others that keeps me going. Sometimes I feel drained - you do at my age - but excitement is good for me." If that is so, there are many people in Scotland and around the world who wish her many more years of excitement!
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