New images of Queen Elizabeth's coronation displayed on 'QE2' liner in Dubai

Army photographer Charles Wilson captured young monarch's procession nearly 70 years ago

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As Britain's Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 70 years as monarch, only a few of her subjects can still remember her coronation.

One who does is Charles Wilson, who spent the day perched alongside a statue of his namesake, King Charles I, as the royal procession passed by.

Only 18 at the time, he was an army photographer given the task of recording the great day for his regimental magazine.

Now his photographs will be displayed on the QE2 liner in Dubai, thanks to the efforts of his daughter, Angela, who lives in the city.

Quote
I was soaking wet but I knew I had to get the job done
Charles Wilson

They are also a tribute to his wife, June, who died earlier this year, and to the happy memories they shared visiting the ship, now moored in Port Rashid as a floating hotel and attraction.

Queen Elizabeth’s coronation took place on June 2, 1953, exactly a year after she ascended the throne. The latter event was marked by last weekend’s platinum jubilee celebrations.

Mr Wilson signed up for military service with the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers that year and was a clerk, when he saw a notice on a board inviting applications to work as a photographer.

He was offered the job, and soon found himself capturing everything from officers’ training courses, to the Trooping the Colour ceremony and army boxing tournaments.

With the coronation came special instructions. “We arrived at the War Office on the night before and slept in chairs, At about 5am I was told to 'go out on to the streets and get what you can'.”

Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince George and Prince William appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the platinum jubilee pageant on Sunday. Photo: AP

Large crowds had gathered between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey despite pouring rain that drenched everyone to the skin.

Pushing his way towards Trafalgar Square, Mr Wilson found his path blocked by a metal barrier but managed to get past thanks to his “press” armband.

He was able to climb next to the statue of Charles I, precariously balanced about three and a half metres up but with a clear view of the procession.

“I was soaking wet but I knew I had to get the job done,” Mr Wilson recalls.

In all, he managed about 50 photographs, using a Kodak camera that had a glass plate, which had to be changed for each shot.

“I was working pretty fast,” he says.

The photographs showed dignitaries like prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, but the star of the day was the queen, arriving at the Abbey and then returning after the coronation in her gold coach.

Mr Wilson then had rush back to the darkroom to develop the photographs. “That day will always be in my memories,” he says.

Now 87, he lives in Blyth in Northumberland, not far from Newcastle, the city in north-east England where he was born.

He had hoped to celebrate the platinum jubilee with his wife, a proud royalist, until she died in March. The photographs, of which only four survive, are his tribute to her.

They were displayed as part of the jubilee celebrations on the ship at the weekend, including a variety show from Theatre by QE2 and a celebratory dinner.

Updated: June 08, 2022, 10:01 AM
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