Today, February 6th, marks a significant date in history - a date that would impact the entire world for nearly a century. I wish to pay tribute to this date and the iconic figure who made this date groundbreaking, but first I want to set some background based on the title of this message.
For fourteen years of my career, I was the Procurement Compliance Officer for Rolls-Royce. This meant I spent several weeks travelling to, and staying in, the cities of Derby, Rolls-Royce’s Global Operational Headquarters and Bristol, Rolls-Royce’s Defense Headquarters, in the United Kingdom (UK). I often would stay there for 2-3 weeks at a time, giving me weekends to tour the surrounding sites and countries. I generally spent about 26 weeks per year on business travel seeing such great sites as the Guinness Factory in Dublin Ireland and Edinburgh’s Royal Castle in Edinburgh Scotland.
I would return home with great stories and pictures of these adventures in those marvelous old country’s. So much so that Sarah and I had planned to vacation in the United Kingdom for a couple of years, and our plans were taking shape for a 2020 visit to England, Ireland, and Scotland. Excited for the upcoming trip, we saved our money and planned our activities for a summer’s visit.
Very soon after, our plans were squashed. Enter the pandemic/crisis dubbed Covid-19. All travel stopped, jobs were in jeopardy, and countries closed their borders. There would be no vacation this year and who knew when and if we would return to normal, and be able to make such a trip.
Well, things did mostly return to normal, but it took roughly two years. We leaped at the opportunity to revisit our plans and take that trip we had previously only dreamed of. Thanks to the pandemic, we were able to save for an additional two years so we decided to go all out on this trip. We planned a couple of days in London seeing the sights we wanted, a day visiting Highclere Castle where they filmed the hugely successful show “Downton Abby,” a favorite of ours, a trip to Ireland to see the Waterford Factory and visit Dublin and the Guinness factory. Then back to England to visit the Rolls-Royce Museum, spend time with our dear friends the McCartney’s (no not Paul of Beatles fame), then drive up that beautiful English countryside to Edinburgh, site of a wonderful historic downtown and an iconic castle.
We arrived in London on September 7, 2023. London is not the easiest city to get around and there are a lot of tourist traps we weren’t interested in, so we had pre-arranged a private tour of just the few sites we wanted to see; Westminster Abby, the Crown Jewels held in the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Our tour started uneventful as we and our guides toured Westminster Abby. We stopped by Buckingham Palace on our way to the Tower of London. Our guide asked us if we wanted to get out at Buckingham Palace to look around and take some pictures. Although this was an unplanned stop, we of course jumped at the opportunity and spent time at the Palace. All through our drive across London, our guide Angus, educated us on the Royals and all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds London and the Royal Family. He explained how the royal lineage was tied together and how the succession of the crown worked. He thought it was important for us to know because the Queen was nearing 100 years of age and some day soon, we would likely experience the succession occurring in our lifetime. Something that had not happened before for nearly all the world due to the Queens age.
We got back in the car and headed toward the Tower of London. Our guide got a call while in route and then informed us of the nature of the call. It seemed that the Queen was battling an ailment of sorts but doctors advised she was under treatment and observation. The Queen being 97 years old, this was not all that unusual for the Queen’s doctors to issue such a statement.
We arrived at the Tower and were headed to see the Crowned Jewels when our guide got another call. He was informed, and shared with us, that the Queens family had been summoned to Balmoral Castle in Scotland where the Queen currently was staying. This obviously made this illness sound far more ominous.
After seeing the Crown Jewels and touring the rest of the Tower of London, day one’s planned events were over and we headed back to our hotel. Angus explained to us that they would come up with an alternate plan should the Queen pass in the night. You see day two was supposed to be Windsor Castle, the Queens London home, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, both of which Angus told us would be closed if we did lose the Queen before our day two tours began.
There was still a lot of day left when we returned to our hotel. We were fortunate enough to stay in the heart of the “Royal” district so we decided to go for a stroll. We had driven by Big Ben numerous times and never got any pictures so we decided to walk the few blocks to Big Ben and take some photos and visit some of the other sites in the area.
We passed numerous government buildings, with incredible architecture, and a few foreign embassies with their countries flags and insignias proudly displayed. We got to Parliament Square Garden and took some pictures and looked around. This garden area is the site of several iconic statues and the place where many protests are held due to its proximity to the British Parliament.
We started to head back to our hotel and all of a sudden, we noticed helicopters, at least 5 or 6 of them, hovering over the area, and there seemed to be a buzz in the air of people talking. As we walked down Victoria Street, the sun was shining but there were pockets of rain showers intermittent amongst the breaks in the clouds and bright sunshine. Then the oddest thing happened, as we walked up the street, we could see a huge downpour of rain coming towards us. It was only 30-40 yards away from us, with the sun shining brightly. Not one drop of rain ever fell on us. Because of this, I said to Sarah; “There must be a rainbow.” We turned and looked back in the direction of Buckingham Palace, and there it was, a beautiful rainbow. It seemed a fitting ending to our first day in the UK and London.
We continued on towards our hotel and we began to notice couples walking with a hurried pace, and many of them oddly seemed to be carrying bouquets of flowers. But they didn’t seem to have joyous looks on their faces, the looks that generally accompany an occasion for beautiful flowers. We honestly didn’t give this a second thought at the time.
We stopped at a coffee house and came out and looked down the street. That’s when the first confirming sign appeared. We looked at one of the embassy’s we had passed and their flag was at half-staff. That’s when it hit us – the Queen must have just passed. We then knew the reason for the flowers, the helicopters, the heightened buzz, and yes…I believe…the reason for the sudden odd weather and the resulting beautiful Rainbow. (Coincidence or Divine – If you followed the news, you know that a rainbow appeared at Balmoral Castle, where the Queen passed, at exactly the same time it appeared at Buckingham Palace)
The next day Angus did a marvelous job adjusting our plans and taking us to some other incredible sites. We are so very thankful we had professional guides to work with as they did a marvelous job of adapting and caring for us. When we returned to the hotel, we wanted to venture out to dinner and possibly stroll around some more sites. As we headed back to our hotel, we walked back through St. James Park, and noticed several couples and groups of people all headed the opposite direction as us. So, we turned and followed them.
They led us back to Buckingham Palace where thousands had gathered, in the rain, to pay tribute to the queen, and just to morn as a collective spirit of their nation. Moments after we arrived at the Palace, we got as close as we could but we were easily 100 feet away from the gates and in between us and the gates were rows and rows of well-wishers. We notice a new flag upon the palace – this meant that the new King was actually there at that time. We knew the King was going to address the nation at 7:00pm, just a short 30 minutes from that moment, so we stayed there until about 7:30 hoping the broadcast we be somehow shared with those of us outside the Palace.
We later learned that there was not sufficient time to put up loud speakers or giant TV screens for those of us outside the Palace. We also learned that we had arrived just a bit too late as the King, Prince William and Kate, and Prince Harry and Meghan, had been outside walking through the crowd speaking to those who had gathered to pay tribute.
We continued on with our trip never getting to visit Windsor Castle nor St. Paul’s Cathedral; they were in fact closed. We had to rearrange our schedules a bit and delay some of the things we had planned, but we were in the UK experiencing a once in a lifetime event. For the next 20 days, we would get to morn, weep, and pay tribute, with a grateful nation, so proud of their Queen and so grateful for her lifetime of service to their nation.
So, I’m sure you’re saying, how does any of this relate to this day, February 6th? Well, you see, it was February 6, 1952 that Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, dubbed on this day as Queen Elizabeth the Second, became Queen. She would become queen regent of 32 sovereign states during her lifetime, and was head of state of 15 realms at the time of her death. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest of any British monarch and the longest verified reign of any female monarch in history. She served as queen until September 8, 2022.
Elizabeth had a deep sense of religious and civic duty, and took her Coronation Oath seriously. Aside from her official religious role as Supreme Governor of the established Church of England, she worshipped with that church and also the national Church of Scotland. She demonstrated support for inter-faith relations and met with leaders of other churches and religions, including five popes: Pius XII, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. A personal note about her faith was often featured in her annual Christmas Message broadcast to the Commonwealth. In 2000, she said:
“To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.”
So, you see, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah and I were there witnessing history unfold. We never even considered this would happen and never dreamed of an England without “THE” Queen. Even through the challenges these events created, we were so blessed to be a very very small part of this monumental moment.
God Bless Elizabeth Alexandra Mary; Queen Elizabeth the Second – Go in Peace with God!!!