Coronation Day Memories

In the spring and summer of 1953 I was an infantry officer cadet at Eaton Hall Officer Cadet School near Chester. As the date of commissioning (hopefully!) was late July there was plenty of time to be chosen to take part in the Coronation contingent, leaving time after that day for the big live ammunition exercises at Battle Camp on Dartmoor and for the final weeks before passing out.

And so it came about that I was one of the 34 of us selected to march in London on June 2nd. We drilled under the Coldstream Guards RSM each day and had to carry a rifle at the slope wherever we went during those days to accustom us to carrying it for long periods - one day left shoulder, the next day the right. The positive side of all this drill was that the RSM regarded us somewhat as 'his boys' and we were excused guard duty and fire pickets. One thing I vividly remember is that one of the cadets was a good golfer and often played for the Hall and when his name was called out on roll-call, someone would shout "He's playing golf, sir!!" To which the RSM would echo in a mystified and bemused tone "Playing golf!" as if he could not understand anyone preferring golf to the joys of a drill parade.

Some days before the event we joined the contingents from Sandhurst and the UOTC’s at Mons OCS in Aldershot to be licked into final shape by the legendary RSM Britain - now past his ferocious best and who treated us in a quite kindly fashion as I remember.

On the morning of the great day we were bussed into London and sang all the way in - songs perhaps more familiar to the military and to the gentlemen who play rugby! I remember the rain! The crowds, the noise of the cheering and, more particularly, marching down Regent Street, across Trafalgar Square and under the Admiralty Arch and down the Mall. We were near the end of Britain’s armed might - as befits officer cadets. There were bands at intervals in the columns and it was sometimes difficult to keep the step - I doubt if anyone noticed in the sum of things. There were frequent halts and during one of them one of the cadets made a date for that evening with a girl in the crowd - much to the amusement of all.

At the end of the day, wet through and with the white blanco of our doeskin belts all over the blue No1 uniforms we got cleaned up and celebrated - very long and hard as I recall. One of our number complained bitterly about the pavement which he claimed had risen up and hit him in the face! One casualty I suffered was not ensuring that my bayonet was NOT put back into a wet scabbard and, before I had to hand it back to the store I spent a very long time trying to remove the rust!

R N Wilkinson