Northern Ireland

Coronation: Northern Ireland ceremony memories

Coronation cathedral
Image caption The Queen took the Coronation Oath in front of 8,000 guests at Westminster Abbey.
Coronation crowds
Image caption Crowds lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the newly crowned Queen.
Balcony call
Image caption The Queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, waved from the balcony of Buckingham Palace to the crowds after the Coronation.
Eddie Officer now
Image caption Eddie Officer recalls the excitement of being in London for the Queen's Coronation.
Eddie choirboy
Image caption On 2 June 1953, Mr Officer was a choirboy at the Coronation in Westminster Abbey.
Chris Wilson
Image caption Chris Wilson, who joined crowds to line the streets, feels enough time has lapsed for him to be able to tell the world he gatecrashed a royal garden party.
Royal invitation
Image caption This invitation to a garden party four days before the Queen's Coronation was addressed to Chris's uncle - who couldn't go.

The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 60 years ago, was transmitted live on television and many bought their first TV set to watch the ceremony.

The ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey over a year after the Queen's accession to the throne on the death of her father, King George VI.

But two schoolboys from Northern Ireland were among the thousands who bore witness to events in London on 2 June 1953.

The choirboy

Eddie Officer is now 75 but on Coronation day he had a unique vantage point in the Abbey. He was head chorister at St Anne's cathedral in Belfast and was one of the 30 boys chosen from cathedrals all over the UK to take part in the ceremony.

"The choirmaster approached me in the way he would normally do, very short and snappy, and said: 'I want you to go to the Coronation and represent the cathedral.'

"We did a little bit of preparation at home, we were given the book and we tried to learn as much as we could. We were then taken to London for four weeks training in Addington Palace, not far from London."

When Coronation day came, Eddie says he wasn't that nervous, just excited.

"Whenever we were allowed into the Abbey we climbed up stairs to a balcony on either side of the nave and chancel and we were in a lovely position looking down on all the high powered guests that were arriving and then eventually the Queen Mother and the Queen."

"Being in a choir of 500 and singing that sort of music with perhaps eight parts in it with a big orchestra in a big cathedral can't be bettered."

The spectator

A short distance away on The Mall, 14-year-old Chris Wilson from Greenisland, County Antrim, had a prime view from one of the stands. His aunt and uncle had bought him a ticket for the event.

His day started early at 6am. "It was very wet at first that day. We had all been supplied with a map to help us find our seats. I made my way through St James' Park and found my seat on The Mall."

"It was about 10.25am when the carriage procession came down The Mall - it was the moment everyone had been waiting for and the crowd just went wild."

After the return leg of the procession, Chris made his way to the railings of Buckingham Palace.

"Everyone started chanting, "we want the Queen, we want the Queen" and I think the Royal Family must have done about seven balcony calls. It was impossible not to get caught up in the atmosphere."

The gatecrasher

It wasn't Chris's first glimpse of the young Queen. Now 74, the retired school principal feels he can reveal he managed to gatecrash a garden party at Buckingham Palace a few days before the Coronation.

"My uncle was then a Belfast corporation councillor and a member of the senate of the then Northern Ireland Parliament so he and my aunt were invited to palace."

Chris's uncle had business commitments that prevented him from being able to attend the garden party on 27 May, 1953. So instead Chris accompanied his aunt to London. The tickets were not transferrable but they decided to see if he could get in.

"We set off in a hired limousine from our hotel in Southampton Row for the Palace. (Once there) We joined the line of guests moving slowly towards the liveried footman. My aunt, ever resourceful, put my uncle's invitation below hers and handed both to the footman who accepted them without a word."

"At 4.30pm precisely the band played the national anthem and the young Queen, her consort and other members of the royal family appeared at the top of the steps. They came down on to the lawns and spoke to some of the guests. I was relieved that they did not speak with me. I would have given away my gatecrashing by not knowing what or whom I represented."

Chris says small memories of his day at the palace still stick with him such as a woman picking daisies in the palace grounds as a reminder of her day. He also says the food sticks in his mind.

"To be honest I was most interested in the food. There was so much of it and no limit on how much you could eat."

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