When something as momentous as the death of a woman known all over the planet, just as ‘The Queen’, happens we can be shocked and disoriented for quite some time.
Like most of the rest of the nation, I was glued to the television yesterday, watching the state funeral of the Queen. Like any watcher I was in awe of the arrangements made, the precision with which they were carried out, the solemnity of the occasion, the strength of the coffin bearers, the dignity of the royal family and the distance and pace at which elderly people were required to walk publicly.
Every moment had been planned for years. The OH was in on Operation London Bridge when he was County Emergency Planning officer, well over twenty years ago. Nobody knew, when the event was first planned, how old the participants would be. Numerous naval ratings must have undergone training to pull the gun carriage, moved up through the ranks and retired, since they were first aware of their allotted task.
It is only a fortnight ago today that the Queen appointed the new Prime Minister and her appearance of fragility gave concern; in two days she will only have been gone a fortnight, no wonder we are shocked.
People who had met the Queen have been vociferous in their admiration of her humanity, compassion, and all-round ability to put people at their ease and bring out the best in everyone.
It is far too soon to be able to assess what her reign achieved, but we can look at the Commonwealth to know for certain what she valued.
The Commonwealth of Nations, started in 1949 with just eight countries, has grown to 52 members with the shared goals of prosperity, democracy and peace. The Queen’s known attitude of setting great store by the Commonwealth has been instrumental in growing the institution, initially by her Christmas broadcast of 1953 in which she referred to a new concept built on the highest qualities in the spirit of mankind: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace.
The countries involved had been those who, in Victoria’s reign, had been the vast swathes of pink on the map. These were definitely subjects of the British Empire. When this was dismantled, because the Queen’s father had such ill health and died so young, it was up to the new young Queen to ignore the new arrangements or to lead the way. She chose to pick up the ball and run with it. New countries are joining all the time, as equal member states, a great force for peace and progress on the planet.
Only someone who personally made it her business to meet so many ordinary people and so many politicians round the world could recognise our commonality in such a way as to elevate it and celebrate the positivity and good in everyone. In post war 1949, this was forward looking, radical and different. History is stiff with ruled and rulers, nobs above and serfs below. It took a woman to promote publicly that we, individuals, are all the same, no matter what our colour, creed, or class and to recognise that this is a strength, not a weakness.
Part of the equality is that the head of the organisation is not automatically the monarch of the UK. King Charles is the next head because he has been agreed upon. Neither are all states guaranteed membership for all time. Membership can be revoked or suspended for human rights abuses, racial abuse, loss of democracy and various other arrangements that go against the general aims of the organisation.
Of course the Commonwealth would exist without the involvement of the Queen. Winston Churchill was instrumental in the formation and headed the first meeting in 1944. But there is no organisation which does not benefit from a photogenic and charismatic young woman, who is prepared to travel anywhere to shake the hand of anyone with an aim of peace and progress. She started as she continued, was seen anywhere and talked to anyone.
A person who uses seventy years in the job to make and cement friendships with millions of like-minded ordinary people and their democratically elected leaders, has used history to the advantage of the nations of the world. I think this will be a significant part of her great legacy.
But what of us? The world is strange and new, no one knows yet what the new normal will be. We face a very cold winter, with scarcity of fuel, a new, untried government, war in various areas, flooding brought about by rising sea levels and climate change. What can we do?
In the Queen’s first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957, she tells us not to be afraid of the future and speaks of upright honesty. It is worth watching to see how she nailed her colours to the mast from the beginning. Perhaps we can look forward, unafraid but full of hope and the conviction of positivity.
Whatever happens there is no doubt that the future will unfold one day at a time, in the usual way, as we ease into the new normal. All you can ever do, is to do your best and live each day with humour and grace and kindness to all, in the spirit of the seventy year example we have been set.