Personal account of date with the Queen

Commandant Dame Jean Davies DBE hon ADC. 'WRNS Director Womens Royal Naval Service from May 1961
Commandant Dame Jean Davies DBE hon ADC. 'WRNS Director Womens Royal Naval Service from May 1961

AS the nation prepares to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee a Swinton couple have unearthed the memoirs of a woman who took part in Her Majesty’s Coronation and the ensuing celebrations.

Dame Jane Lancaster, who sadly died in August, 1996, aged 87, is the aunt of Julian Davies, who lives in Main Street, Swinton.

Following the Quebec conference Prime Minister Churchill and ten WRNS officers returned from Washington on HMS Renown, Jean Davies (pictured on left of Churchill) was incharge of the group and this picture was signed souvenir

Following the Quebec conference Prime Minister Churchill and ten WRNS officers returned from Washington on HMS Renown, Jean Davies (pictured on left of Churchill) was incharge of the group and this picture was signed souvenir

Julian and his wife Margaret recently came across scrapbooks containing the memoirs of Dame Jane who who was a Chief Officer in the Wrens at the time and later became a Commandant.

In these scrapbooks Jane reveals the fascinating story of how she attended the Coronation and the celebrations that followed and how she had a private meeting with the Queen.

The following is Dame Jane’s account of those festivities:

‘The first of the Coronation festivities for me was the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace which took place on May 28. To this I took a Canadian WRNS officer who was over here to take part in the Coronation Procession. We had a delightful afternoon with perfect weather, and I was able to introduce the Canadian officer to many senior Naval officers which she appreciated very much indeed.

The following day, the WRAC gave a party to all Commonwealth women officers who were here for the Coronation and who were all accommodated at Richmond Park Camp, Kingston. The Princess Royal was present at this party and I think that most of the Commonwealth officers had the honour of being presented to her.

Unfortunately the weather broke over the weekend, and, as everybody knows, Coronation Day was extremely cold and very wet. However, the enthusiasm of the enormous crowds was quite overwhelming.

Having spent the night in the WRNS Quarters at Princes Gardens, I left by car for Wellington Barracks at 8 o’clock. The scene in Wellington Barracks was quite amazing. All the senior officers of the three Services were assembled there and the parade ground was a most colourful scene with everyone in full dress uniform, orders, decorations, etc.

The horses for all those who were to be mounted were also being assembled by their grooms by this time, and the only women present were the three Directors of the Women’s Services and the Matron-in-Chief of the Air Force. The other two Matrons-in-Chief did not march in the Procession.

My fear was that my nylon stockings would be ripped to pieces by either a sword or spurs, but all was well, and just before 9 o’clock Group 4, which was composed of all ADCs of the three Services, was told to assemble on the parade ground to receive orders.

We eventually marched into the Mall and waited there until the Queen’s coach came out of the Palace when we set off for the two mile walk to the Abbey.

Fortunately we got there dry and and one of the most moving things of the whole day was the astonishing reception the Procession was given by children assembled on the Embankment.

We were very quickly ushered into our places in the Abbey and although I could not actually see the actual ceremony, I had an uninterupted view of the Processions up the nave. They were most beautiful, and the Queen looked perfectly lovely. We of course heard every word of the service and the first two and a half hours seemed to pass in no time.

We were the first to leave our seats and were given an excellent lunch in the Cloisters of the Abbey. This lunch, I may say, included champagne!

Unfortunately, when we went out to fall in for the return journey it was raining hard. However, everybody was in terrific form, nobody minded a bit. The crowds who had suffered far worse than we had seemed entirely undaunted by the weather and I found the whole thing a most moving and exhilarating experience.

When we arrived back at Wellington Barracks everybody was dispersed immediately. My car was waiting for me and in no time I was back at my flat in a hot bath and had no ill effects whatsover.

The following Sunday, June 7, I attended a Garden Party at Blenheim Palace given by the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough for the Commonwealth visitors here for the Coronation. This was a most enjoyable occasion.

Everyone was in plain clothes and the Party was honoured by the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret who looked perfectly charming.

One of the most prominent people at the party was the Prime Minister who was in tremendous form and seemed to be enjoying himself very much indeed. Amongst the notable people there was Queen Salote of Tonga, a very impressive figure.

On the following Thursday was the Trooping of the Colour ceremony which is always a memorable occasion, and that evening the Duchess of Kent gave a Cocktail Party to which I had the honour to be invited.

This was a most delightful party, very informal and friendly, and the Duchess told me that she had heard from all sides how splendid the Wrens had looked in the Coronation Procession.

The Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra were helping their mother to receive the guests, and Princess Alexandra shows every promise of being as charming as her mother.

On Friday, June 12, I attended an Evening Reception at Buckingham Palace. For this I wore my Mess Dress which was greatly enhanced by aiguillettes and my decoration.

This party was one of the most splendid sights I have ever seen and the men literally outshone the women in their finery. Very few men were wearing ‘tails’, nearly all of them were either in full dress Service uniform or Court Dress.

The dresses of the women were very beautiful, and nearly all of them were wearing tiaras and lovely jewellery.

Her Majesty The Queen, escorted by the Duke of Edinburgh in full dress Naval uniform, wore her Coronation dress. It was lovely to have the chance of seeing this near to. It is quite exquisite, and I am told weighed no less than 32lbs owning to the embroidery which competely covers it.

The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret and the Royal Duchesses were there and spent a great deal of time talking to the various guests. We had an excellent supper and left the Palace about 1 o’clock.

Monday, June 15, was, of course, the Naval Review at Spithead, and this indeed I think any of us in the Navy can claim, was the greatest day of all.

The weather was perfect, the assembly of ships was most impressive, and it was particularly gratifying for us that the Wrens should be actually present officially in the ships.

I spent the day in one of the Admiralty yachts, “Starling”, which was the second ship from the “Surprise” and escorted her right round the Review lines. We had a wonderful view of the entire fleet.

The ships looked magnificent and I could see the Wrens in very prominent places in the ships. One of the most magnificent sights was the Italian sailing ship with its rigging manned by sailors.

After the Fly Past which went without a hitch, I changed into my Mess Dress on board “Starling” and when the ship had got back to Portsmouth Harbour transferred to the Admiral Superintendent’s barge to go out to the “Vanguard”.

The Queen dined that night in the “Vanguard” with 122 Naval officers and I had the supreme honour of being the only other woman there except for the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting.

When the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived the Queen literally brushed past me as she came into the wardroom. I sat four from her at dinner and very nearly opposite the Duke of Edinburgh - an experience I shall never forget as long as I live.

A short time after dinner the Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Alice Egerton, came in to me and said that the Queen would like to see me, so before I knew where I was I found myself alone with the Queen and Lady Alice in the Admiral’s quarters.

Her Majesty was most charming, very friendly and informal, and I stayed with her for nearly quarter of an hour.

She asked me many questions about the Wrens, said how pleased she was with their work that day and how smart they looked.

It was a very great honour for her to have sent for me at this time, and I know that the whole Service will share in that.

I left the “Vanguard” about midnight and it took over three quarers of an hour to get back to Portsmouth Harbour after one of the most memorable days I know I shall ever have.’