Today (January 6) in London History – say goodbye to mummy and daddy

This one could have been titled What Happened in Those Six Months Was History Repeating Itself. The Today in London History podcast for January 6, it’s about a couple of Royal Tours that were uncannily similar even though they were separated by 27 years.


London calling. 

One side of this coin is pretty familiar. But omg does it have a kicker. The kicker’s the other side of the coin.

So, yes, let’s start by looking at the familiar side of the coin.

It’s November 1953. Prince Charles is a brand new five-year-old.

Nine days after that little boy’s fifth birthday his parents say goodbye to him for what must have seemed like an eternity to a five-year-old. Mummy – Queen Elizabeth II – and Daddy – the Duke of Edinburgh – were off on a six-month-long, round-the-world trip. It was long haul distance-wise as well as time-wise – over 40,000 miles long, 13 countries visited. It was the historic Royal Tour of the Commonwealth of Nations that effectively commenced the Queen’s reign. The first circumnavigation of the globe ever undertaken by a reigning sovereign.

Let’s get some dates on the table. They tell a story. Prince Charles’ fifth birthday was November 14th, 1953. He spent his birthday at the Royal Lodge at Windsor. With his grandmother, the Queen Mother. An official photograph of the child was taken on his fifth birthday. A stranger, a photographer was there for his birthday. His parents weren’t there. They were at Sandringham, completing the arrangements for their approaching departure for the Commonwealth Royal Tour.

 A week later – November 21st – two days before their departure – the Duke went shooting in Windsor Great Park, the Queen was at Sandown, at the races, accompanied by her mother.

And so we come to November 23rd, the departure day for the half-a-year-long round-the-world trip. The Queen and Prince Philip flew from London airport. The Queen Mother was there to see them off.

Their son – that little boy – was not part of the farewell entourage. He will have been in the care of a nanny. Back at Buckingham Palace –  or perhaps Windsor Castle. It’s going to be six months before he sees his mother and father again.

That chapter in the royal story is very well known. And there’s been a great deal of speculation about it. Did that long separation from his parents take a toll on that child? Did he feel abandoned? How did he come to terms with it? Who knows? My personal reaction: royals must be made of sterner stuff than I am. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. 

As I said, it’s a very well known episode. What’s not widely known is – that story – royal parents disappearing from the life of their little child for a very long time – has a doppelganger. An uncanny doppelganger. What happened in those six months from November 1953 to May 1954 – that was history repeating itself. 

And so we come to the other side of the coin, come to the kicker. We start with a date. This day in 1927. January 6, 1927. And we’ve got an address: a mansion at 17 Bruton Street in toniest Mayfair. Thanks to her Uncle – King Edward VIII’s passion for an American divorcee – and in consequence his abdication – 17 Bruton Street turned out to be the birthplace of our present, much admired, much-loved monarch – Queen Elizabeth II. Ninety-five years ago – on January 6, 1927 – she was nine months old. Nine months old and about to be set aside – for a very long time – from the lives of her parents. That royal couple – the Duke and Duchess of York – the future King of England and Queen Elizabeth – have just said goodbye to their baby daughter. We see them emerging from the house, getting into a waiting car. There’s a crowd of onlookers. Six or seven servants are looking out of upstairs windows. The car the Duke and Duchess have got into is going to take them to Victoria Station. Where they’ll take a train to Portsmouth. Where they’ll board HMS Renown. Which will set sail for the Caribbean. At the start of a six-month-long, round the world voyage. Bears repeating, their baby daughter – nine months old – will not be accompanying them. She will not see her mummy and daddy for six months. 

It’s uncanny isn’t it. What happened to that tiny tot, that baby girl, will, come the next generation, 27 years later, happen to her small child. Both trips are round-the-world excursions. Both trips follow almost exactly the same itinerary. For all intents and purposes, they’re virtually identical. Even unto how long they lasted. The Duke and Duchess’s trip in 1927 took 173 days. The young Queen Elizabeth’s and Prince Phillip’s 1953-54 trip took 176 days. A difference of all of 72 hours. And, yes, there’s no gainsaying the big picture historical echo: both royal couples followed virtually the same route that Drake and Gilbert and Raleigh and the great Tudor sailors took in the reign of the first Elizabeth 400 years ago. And, sure, that’s stirring stuff. But for me it doesn’t outweigh the other thing. I can’t get out of my head those tinies – that baby girl, that little boy. Can’t get out of my head the thought that in some sense those kiddiewinks were the ones who paid for those fabulous royal tours. 

Well, there’s small change – and there’s small change. 

Children separated from their parents. Happens. The world got a good dose of it a few years back at the U.S.-Mexican border. Easy to say this is completely different. Easy to say, “those were forcible separations at the U.S.-Mexican border.” No way of knowing for sure of course but my hunch is – to that five-year-old boy – it might well have felt like a forcible separation.

The goings-on at the U.S.-Mexican border – a little boy in London having to say goodbye to his parents for six months – like it or not, both of those instances fall on the same spectrum – they’re just at opposite ends of it. I can picture all that luxury and all those nannies and the very best of everything. Well, maybe not quite the very best of everything. I suspect that for that five-year-old – and that baby girl – “the very best” would be for mummy not to go away. Impossible to imagine the five-year-old Duke of Cornwall, as Prince Charles was then, saying, “yes, that’s fine, no worries, you two run along, take your time, enjoy yourselves and I’ll see you when you get back next summer.”

Just a thought or two. Some London history thoughts. Some parenting thoughts. Some what it means to be a human being thoughts.

All for now.

Good night from London.

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