The Places of Honor Bit

(McCambridge Park War Memorial in Burbank, CA)

Greetings!

And a happy Veterans Day as we in the US let those who’ve served in the military know how much they mean! Also, after spending a fair number of November days in Canada (while playing recreation ice hockey!), I’ve picked up the habit of observing Remembrance Day as well, and honoring those who gave their lives in that service.

A little bit more this year, I’ve been – well – remembering a Remembrance Day spent in London when I happened to follow in the footsteps of none other than Queen Elizabeth as she observed the day.

I recently caught a magazine ad for a commemorative doll of the Queen dressed in the regal get-up from her Diamond Jubilee (the doll was dressed up, not me) – and I expect items like it will adorn plenty of shelves in tribute to Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Not being big on commemorative dolls myself, I didn’t act on the limited-time opportunity to “secure” one.

I did, however, find myself solemnly taking in many of the televised events following the Queen’s passing. Although my ancestors rather famously rejected the British Monarchy, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t stayed generally aware of what the clan gets up to. Of course, the royals to which I remain most devoted are the LA Kings of the NHL! (Please note though that hockey will not figure amongst the copious digressions to follow – that’s a promise.) But I’ve sure enjoyed learning about Britain, its history and its royal roots through visits to London – probably my favorite city in the world!

My first visit there was in 1985, and my introduction to Queen Elizabeth was by way of her image on various denominations of money. (I’m not counting the Australian money with her likeness that I’d have seen when my family lived in Adelaide – I was only four and wouldn’t have cared unless Skippy the Bush Kangaroo were on a bill.) Once I had some colorful currency in my pocket, one of the first places I hit on this college backpack tour was Buckingham Palace!

(One impressive address!)

I’d been wandering around St. James Park when I noticed a crowd gathering nearby. I joined them just too late to catch the famous Changing of the Guard – but I was right on time to get a photo of the back of some guy’s head…

(D’oh!)

I also took a tour of, and later boated past, the Tower of London! William the Conqueror’s imposing fortress has been home to the Crown Jewels when they’re not being worn or wielded by a monarch – making the Tower maybe the biggest hotel safe ever!

(The Tower from the Thames – and the gate one didn’t want to go through to get there…)

On a day trip from London, I checked out another of William’s little hideaways – Windsor Castle!

(Serenaded at Windsor!)

Since the Queen wasn’t at this particular royal residence just then, I took the opportunity to behave like an idiot tourist – although no palace guards were harmed in the taking of this picture:

(A Benny Hill impression for Dad! So proud…)

Okay, so I’ve also managed a little reverence here and there on my visits – especially in the places of worship through which centuries’ worth of royal figures have moved! Like I’ve explored ornate and enduring St. Paul’s Cathedral pretty much from top to bottom:

(St. Paul’s from the Millennium Bridge [opened in 2000])

It was at St. Paul’s where the Queen participated in Services of Thanksgiving and celebrated a series of Jubilees marking milestones in her lengthy reign. I eventually began my own modest tradition of lighting candles in memory of loved ones whenever I’ve gotten to be there.

(St. Paul’s – from the top of St. Paul’s!)

Westminster Abbey is another amazing church where every Gothic inch is full of history! Here in the company of departed royalty like Elizabeth I and Henry V, the Queen was married and later had her coronation. Then, after 70 years on the job, Elizabeth’s state funeral was held at the Abbey – and she left London for Windsor from there one final time.

(Westminster Abbey.)

In 2003, almost two decades after my first London visit, I was wandering from Trafalgar Square toward the Thames when I noticed that traffic had been stopped and a crowd was forming and – once again – I joined on in. This time, it was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and the crowd was forming round the Cenotaph:

(The Cenotaph in the middle of Whitehall.)

The monument, originally built to honor those lost in World War I, was ringed by wreaths of vivid red poppies at its base – and I understand it was a tradition of Queen Elizabeth’s to place one there herself each year. Even in the heart of bustling London, respectful silence was pretty well kept while a lone bagpiper and four young soldiers led a procession that included uniformed veterans of many an age. After a clergyman’s prayers, the procession moved on while the piper took one more slow turn around the Cenotaph before marching out of sight.

I’d found my way there purely by accident – but it turned out to be a deeply moving and unforgettable scene.

Later that day, I stumbled onto yet another spot where a feeling of gravity still hung in the air. I’d strolled up to Hyde Park Corner just after the dedication of the newly completed Australian War Memorial.

(Australian War Memorial, London.)

The event was so recently concluded that a red carpet was still being rolled back up, and audience chairs were still in place – one of which had a program left on it. I kind of helped myself to it (the program, not the chair) and read that the Queen had been among the dignitaries who gave an address and laid a wreath at the monument to the Australian dead of the First and Second World Wars. Having lived in Australia and come by somewhat of an understanding of the Aussies’ contributions and losses, I felt humbled to have stepped onto such newly hallowed ground and been among the first to pay my respects there.

(Dedication Service program.)

In the end, my aimless and ambling path never actually crossed with what I’m sure was a measured and precise one for the Queen; but the one image – or impression, I suppose – of Queen Elizabeth that looms largest to me comes from that day. It was the day I found myself moving in the wake of a woman who was out and about following through on her youthful promise of service.

It’s an an image and impression I like very much.

I’ve written about those events before, but this seemed a fitting time to share them once again. And in the years since that singular day, I hope I’ve learned not to leave my recognition of Veterans Day and Remembrance Day quite so much to chance! To that end, I’ll take this opportunity to offer my thanks and prayers to veterans for their service and sacrifice (among them, two gentle readers named Jack and Mike), and my promise also to pause to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Cheers.

(Dad the WWII vet!)

5 comments

  1. Yes we shared our Memorial Day here in Nova Scotia..My Dad and my Brother were in the War Zones. But they survived. Anita

    1. Glad to hear they got through okay! I used to go to Vancouver every year for hockey which is where I learned about Canadian traditions like wearing poppies. Now I like to recognize both holidays. Thanks for reading!

  2. Great photo of your Dad!

    1. Thank you! Wasn’t he dashing? (He joined the Marines at 17 during WWII but didn’t end up having to fight.)

      1. He certainly was!

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