ANYONE too young to remember the Coronation will undoubtedly have learned something new about the Queen from the extensive celebrations to mark the Platinum Jubilee of her accession to the throne. But they may also have discovered something about the great British public; for the tributes that were paid to our longest-reigning sovereign, extolling her sense of service and selflessness, held up a mirror to something heart-warming deep in the character of the nation.
That first struck me during the interviews with the succession of pilots and ground crew, as they spoke during the preparations for the fly-past after the Trooping of the Colour, which opened the four days of public celebration. The Queen’s sense of unstinting duty found its correlative among the scores of individuals involved in the great parade of aircraft — from the wartime Spitfires, Hurricanes, and Lancaster bomber, to their high-tech modern successors — which passed though the bright blue summer skies over Buckingham Palace.
Airman after airman spoke with a bursting joy of the honour of being selected for the great event. But their sense of pride was mingled with an awareness of the onerous burden of duty to get things exactly right in the micro-second precision of flying in perfect formation — so that their planes spelled out a giant sky-borne “70” as they flew over the Palace. It is a real honour, one air-traffic controller WRAF said, to be a small cog in such a great enterprise.
“Throughout all my life, and with all my heart, I shall strive to be worthy of your trust,” the Queen had said as a very young monarch. She has not only fulfilled the promises that she made: she has inspired the nation to reciprocate; for what is true of those who serve in the armed forces is also true of the wider public.
From the crowds in the Mall, with their Union-flag hats and masks bearing the faces of members of the royal family, to those attending street parties, there was manifest a sense of affection which intuitively echoed the embrace that the Queen has offered to the great diversity of her peoples as a family, nation, and Commonwealth.
Our Queen, as the Dean of Windsor said on Sunday, “has helped us to believe that, for all our differences, we belong together; that we need each other. She has encouraged us to treasure that heartfelt conviction that the future well-being of this world depends upon our remaining true to the belief that we are all God’s children, deserving of each other’s care, respect, and love.”
The Jubilee celebrations, through which we link our nation’s past to our children’s future, show that it is not merely “pomp and circumstance” that Britain does best, but something considerably deeper. Beneath the coarseness of so much of our modern life, there lies buried deep within British hearts what the Dean called “a conviction that, as human beings, we shall never find real peace and happiness until we recognise our fundamental belonging to, and need of, one another in the human family”.
If that is to be lauded in our Queen, it is also to be recognised, even at the humblest level, among her people — perhaps, most especially, there.