Fantastic memories to last a lifetime

Very humble: Helen Carroll with some of her memorabilia from when she met the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Very humble: Helen Carroll with some of her memorabilia from when she met the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
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She has touched the lives of millions in her 60 years on the throne. Today, in the second of a two-part feature to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, The Star’s Deputy News Editor Sarah Crabtree spoke to five Sheffield people for whom meeting the monarch has been an unforgettable highlight.

Helen Carroll, now 87, from Nether Edge, was 22 when she waited all night in London to watch Princess Elizabeth’s wedding procession in 1947. Fourteen years later, in 1961, Helen had a slip-up at Buckingham Palace after being invited to a garden party.

“I was a student in London in 1947 and, when arrangements for Princess Elizabeth’s marriage were announced, my friend and I decided we must go to watch. It was just like last year when Prince William married Kate - crowds lined the streets and camped all night to catch a glimpse. It was November, so it was chilly, but we were young, we didn’t mind!

“Finally, about 11am, Princess Elizabeth came by in a horsedrawn carriage, and we all cheered madly. She looked radiant. I can remember her veil and she was waving.

Years later, in May 1961, I had qualified as an almoner - a social worker now - and as chairman of the regional institute I was invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party. I bought a new outfit from House of Fraser: a fitted silk dress, a three-quarter-length coat, a brown handbag and gloves, and very expensive shoes.

“We had to line a long path, and the Queen walked along slowly and spoke to some people. I thought she was very humble with so much of herself to give. You could feel the warmth coming from her.

“Unfortunately, on my way out, I tripped on a carpet and the heel ripped off one of my new shoes. I had to hobble out with one foot raised.

“Back in Sheffield I took the shoes back to the shop, and they asked, ‘How on earth did you do that?’

“They were most impressed when I replied, ‘I slipped on the stairs at Buckingham Palace’.

“They repaired the shoe free of charge.”

Retired cutler Bert Housley MBE, now 86, and his wife Margaret, from Ecclesall, first met the Queen in 1976. Twenty years later they were invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party for their 30 years’ voluntary work for people with learning disabilities.

“I know it’s unfashionable these days to be a Royalist, but for me our Queen’s traditions and tolerance are the envy of the world.

“We first met the Queen when she opened Birmingham NEC in 1976. She had to wait at our cutlery stand until the Duke of Edinburgh finished speaking to me!

“My wife was quite delighted both she and the Queen had chosen the same colour outfits.

“In 1996, out of the blue, an invitation arrived to a Palace garden party. It said two unmarried children aged 16 to 30 could accompany us. Tim, our son who has Down’s Syndrome, was 32 then. But we decided to take him, and no-one asked questions.

“The gardens were more like a park. Music drifted from two military bands, and there were dainty sandwiches, cakes and drinks.

“At 4pm Her Majesty came onto the terrace, and it started to rain. But she was undaunted - she carried her own umbrella. She was much smaller than I’d imagined, with cornflower blue eyes.

“She asked what kind of voluntary work we undertook. We explained, and she replied: “The community needs people like you.” Then she urged us to try the buffet, saying: “Please do, people have been saying how excellent it is.”

“As she moved into the VIP area there came an almighty thunderclap, forked lightning and torrential rain. The headlines the next morning read, ‘Lightning Terror At Palace’.”

Former silversmith Peter Parkin, 55, from Stannington, was commissioned to make £600,000 of silverware for new P&O cruise ship the Oriana, and in 1995 was invited to the vessel’s Royal launch.

“I was very proud to meet the Queen. It was special. Every time I look at a banknote now I think, ‘I’ve met that lady’.

“In the 1990s I was managing director of Parkin Silversmiths in Sheffield, and in 1994 we won a big order to make the cutlery for the Oriana. We made nearly 10,000 place settings.

“In April 1995 the ship entered service, and my wife Linda and I were invited to the Southampton launch. It was a lovely occasion.

“Only three of us were presented to the Queen in the restaurant - me, the managing director of Wedgwood who made the tableware, and the artist who painted the murals.

“The Queen and I talked for a few minutes, longer than I was comfortable, really, because I was running out of conversation! But she was very chatty, and put you at ease, and in the end you felt quite relaxed. She was smaller than I’d thought, and very sweet.

“She said the last time she’d been on the old Oriana the cutlery had been very poor. She said it cut your mouth.

“She said how splendid it was to see the new Oriana and the beautiful new cutlery.

“I said making the silverware had been a great honour, not only for me and the company but for Sheffield, too.”

Stephen Battle, 55, and his wife Julie, from Hillsborough, attended a Buckingham Palace garden party in July 2001. The grandfather-of-two admits the visit changed his view of the Royals.

“Before we went to the garden party I confess to not being a Royalist. Since then I’ve had a shift in opinion. We had a wonderful day.

“I’m still not sure who nominated me. I have cerebral palsy, and for 25 years I was involved with the Sheffield Association for People with Cerebral Palsy, so perhaps it was in recognition of that.

“The garden was massive, with a beautiful lake. As the Queen stood on the steps to come out, the national anthem was played, and I felt quite emotional - I think it was a sentiment shared by many around us.

“We were next to the Bermuda Town Cryer who was dressed in his uniform. He did look beautiful. I was astonished when the Queen walked straight up to him and said, ‘I’ve met you before’. She said she remembered their previous encounter - and she included all of us around them in the conversation.

“We thought she was marvellous. When you see her like that, well, it is good.

“There were about 6,000 people in the grounds and the place wasn’t even full. There were cups of tea, and little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Each sandwich was only about an inch square - we had to have quite a few.”

Great-grandfather Bryan Dyer was a 22-year-old RAF pilot in 1953 when he helped line the route of the Queen’s coronation parade. Now 81, the retired engineering draughtsman lives at Burncross with wife Jean.

“I had just joined the RAF when the King died in 1952. The following year I volunteered to line the route of the Queen’s coronation in London.

We had weeks of training. They even changed our marching stride. We had a sergeant at the side of us with a pacing stick while we marched around a football pitch getting it right.

They taught us to deal with all sorts of eventualities, like what to do if a horse collapsed. You had to sit on its head.

We were measured for new uniforms tailor-made in Savile Row, and given new bayonets which were very difficult to get out of their scabbards.

I confess I felt a tingle up my spine when they inspected us. The RAF band was playing - it made you feel very proud.

It drizzled all the time on the day. We were communicated with by signals because of all the cheering, but we could hear the coronation from wirelesses in the crowd.

The parade was a spectacle. I remember royalty from other countries, and the Queen of Tonga in her finery. When our Queen came past waving I had a very clear view. It was marvellous to see her. I felt chuffed to bits.

Afterwards they took our new made-to-measure uniforms back! The only thing we kept was an extra tot of rum - and the memories, of course. Those will never go away.”