Our dear Mom — who passed away in April of 2019 at the age of 97 – was and remained a loyal British citizen all her long life, even after moving to America as a war bride in 1948 at the age of 27 and living here in America for the next 70 years of her life. She died just a few years shy of receiving her “Letter from the Queen” — the traditional congratulatory letter that HM Queen Elizabeth II sent British subjects on their 100th and 105th birthdays.
Mom and Dad moved to Lansing in 1954 — during the post-war housing boom — where they raised a family of ten children. Throughout all the decades, Mom shared with us memories, stories, songs, games, and traditions from her youth in England.
Her memories, of course, included the war years — the mandatory gas masks, the air raid sirens, the distant whistling of dropping bombs, the blackout that caused her to drive an ambulance into a brick wall, the terrifying drone of German buzz bombs passing overhead, her and her mother’s daytime viewing of a British Spitfire chasing a German Luftwaffe, both flying so low they could see the plane markings as they hung their laundry on the backyard clothesline.
During the Blitzkrieg, Buckingham Palace was bombed, but King George VI and the Queen steadfastly remained at the Palace in solidarity with Londoners. Their royal daughters, however, — the teenaged Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret — were eventually moved to Windsor Castle. From Windsor, Princess Elizabeth gave hopeful and encouraging speeches over radio airwaves to British children who had been evacuated overseas, displaced from their parents and country.
Our mother told us of her own uncle, a Londoner, who came to stay in Sudbury to escape the constant threat of bombs, but who returned home after a “basket of bombs” landed — and partially detonated — on a local Sudbury street.
Our mother shared happy war memories as well — of the U.S. army trucks transporting her and her girlfriends to the RAF aerodrome for the Big Band dances. “Really, those were the best years of my life,” our mother confessed.
Princess Elizabeth assumed royal duties during the war that would begin her lifetime of public service that she devoted as Queen. After the war, in 1947, on her 21st birthday, she famously announced to the Commonwealth, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Perhaps the Queen’s proven devotion throughout her reign is what inspired the requited dedication from her subjects this summer for her 70th Jubilee. Our mother had shown her own dedication to the Queen and to the entire history of the British monarchy — to England, itself — in her living room glass curio cabinet. It was filled with porcelain Toby mugs, plates, teapots, and teacups commemorating British royalty and their royal births, weddings, coronations, and jubilees. A large gold-framed portrait of the Queen hung on Mom’s living room wall. After she passed, we found a stack of carefully stored British-themed calendars and British magazines, with Mom’s handwritten note on top: “Dear Children, Before you throw out these calendars and ‘This England’ magazines, look through them if you have time and you will see in part why I loved my country so much. Love as always, Mum.”
News of Queen Elizabeth’s death felt — as my eldest sister put it — like news of the death of a family member. These past few years the Queen’s own longevity served for me and my siblings as a comforting presence and a connection to our late mother. As long as the Queen carried on, then a part of our mother lived on as well. Sadly, Queen Elizabeth’s death causes us to face the fact that a great era and a greater generation is indeed coming to pass. Rest In Peace, Your Majesty. And rest assured, Mom, we see why you loved your country so much.