The Governor-General, Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, looks back on the 60 years since the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1954:
Sixty years ago millions worldwide stopped to witness one of the most amazing spectacles as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953. Many spoke of her reign as the dawning of a new Elizabethan age, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill remarking: “Famous have been the reigns of our queens.” Named Time magazine’s Woman of the Year, she had appeared on the first cover of 1953 against the backdrop of a red rose and over the heading: “On a hardy stock, a new bloom.”
It was not the first time she had appeared on the magazine’s cover, and it would not be the last as the media has played a critical role in chronicling the course of her reign. Against Churchill’s advice, the young Queen agreed to the Coronation being televised, allowing millions to see a ceremony with origins that stretched back to 1066. While King George V was the first to make a Christmas radio message, she has truly been our first multi-media monarch with a presence that now extends to social media.
For Britons who continued to live with the slow process of rebuilding cities devastated in the Second World War, the glorious occasion of the Coronation lifted their spirits. For New Zealanders, it highlighted our special links with the Queen. Her accession date on 6 February 1952, the day her father King George VI died, is also Waitangi Day—the day in 1840 that New Zealand’s first resident viceroy, Lt Governor William Hobson, signed the Treaty of Waitangi with 40 Māori rangatira in the name of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.
The connection was reinforced on the eve of the Coronation, when it was announced that a New Zealander, Ed Hillary, along with Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, had conquered Mt Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. As Acting Prime Minister, Keith Holyoake, told Parliament: “What a magnificent Coronation present for the Queen! How proud we all are that it is from our loyal little New Zealand.” Four days after the Coronation, the Queen knighted Sir Edmund and in 1995 made him a Knight of the Order of the Garter, England’s highest order of chivalry.
Later in December 1953 and January 1954, the Queen and Prince Philip made the first of 10 visits to New Zealand. During that visit, she broadcast her first Christmas message from Government House in Auckland and became the first reigning monarch to open the New Zealand Parliament. At that event, she wore her Coronation gown, one of only six times she had worn it since the Coronation itself.
The facts and figures that surround Her Majesty’s reign are extensive. She has travelled more than any previous monarch, making more than 260 official overseas visits to more than 110 different countries. She has conferred more than 404,000 honours and awards and personally held more than 610 investiture ceremonies. She has sent more than 175,000 congratulatory messages to centenarians in Britain and the Commonwealth and some 540,000 messages to couples celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary.
The numbers, mindboggling as they are, are not an end in themselves. They are a testament to the Queen’s remarkable dedication to her duties as Sovereign of the 16 nations where she is Head of State, and as Head of the Commonwealth. Her reign has been a time of dramatic change and yet through it all she has remained a constant and unwavering advocate of family and community values. She is admired for her dignity, her promotion of charitable organisations and her patronages, her support for returned servicemen and women, and as an inspirational role model for service.
As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty’s Coronation, we recall her inspiring words when, after the ceremony, she said: “my Coronation is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future.”
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM QSO
Governor-General of New Zealand
Image (c) Press Association