The Queens portrait in Belstone Village Hall

At the first Thursday cafe in Belstone Village Hall after the death of the Queen on 8 September conversations were dominated by memories of her. It occurred to me that it would be a nice idea to record these to share with others. They say that almost a third of the British population had either met or seen the Queen over her 70-year reign, and this statistic was more than borne out – over half the people I asked had a story to tell. Unless otherwise stated, these are the words of Belstone folk. Some tell of close encounters, some of distant views; some were formal occasions, others fleeting and unexpected; some from long ago, some recent; many pinpointed to a particular day in the nation’s history; all springing instantly to mind.
I describe them here in the order that I was told them. If any of the quotes are not quite accurate I apologise to those who made them – the errors are all down to my mishearing or misremembering. And thank you to everyone who stopped what they were doing to remember.           
15.9; Paul Crisp (Sampford Courtenay) was at the cafe; ‘I first saw her when I was in the choir performing at the unveiling on 14 May 1965 of the JFK memorial at Runnymede and the gifting of the acre of land it stands on as American soil. I was not a tall chap so I was at the front of the choir. Afterwards the choirmaster said; ‘you arrived to stand on British soil and by the time you left, without moving a step you were on American soil.’

‘The Queen at Runnymede 14 May 1965 with Lord Harlech, Jackie Kennedy and Prince Philip’

Dawn Roe was outside her house; ‘I saw the Queen when she visited Falmouth during her tour of Britain during the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977.’
Angela Hammond was also outside her house; ‘I was at the Exeter Cathedral service on 31 March 1983 when the Queen distributed Maundy money to 57 men and 57 women, a number fixed by the monarch’s age at the time.’

‘The Queen arriving at Exeter Cathedral 31 March 1983’

16.9; Reg Wonnacott was walking his dogs; ‘I went with my mother to the Exeter Cathedral service on 31 March 1983 as my younger sister Helen had been selected to meet the Queen’. ‘Good Lord’ I said, ‘that’s the same event as Angela told me about yesterday. Maybe you sat next to each other years before you knew each other.’
Richard Penny was in his garden; ‘I’ve never seen the Queen but my mother and older brother did camp out so they could watch the Coronation procession pass by on 2 June 1953. I was only three years old then but I remember going next door to watch it on TV.’ 
17.9; Jo Robison was walking her dog Lewis: ‘I spoke to the Queen when she came to Leeds United’s ground at Elland Road during the Silver Jubilee in 1977. She was visiting to see the work of Yorkshire youth groups, scouts and guides. I had been in the guides and had just, as a 16-year old, become a West Yorkshire Ranger. I was chosen to be one of four from our group to be there, perhaps because I was good at sewing and had made our guide tents. We put the tents up the day before and had to be at the ground very early on the day. It seemed ages before she arrived. I also met Prince Charles when he came to Almonry Barn at Mulcheney in July 2014 to say thank you to all the locals, agencies and authorities who had helped during the serious flooding of the Somerset Levels earlier that year. I was working for the British Red Cross as their Emergency Response manager at the time and my role was as Silver Commander coordinating the Voluntary Sector response to the flooding, working alongside the police, military and other agencies.’

‘The Prince of Wales visits the flooded Somerset Levels February 2014’

Kay Hassall was putting dog treats out for passers-by to purchase for charity; ‘At the Royal Windsor Horse Show in the 1960s the Queen presented me with a rosette, I’d finished second or third in a competition. It was a surprise to find her presenting the prizes. I was sitting side-saddle on my horse. The Queen asked who was the trainer and after I’d replied she said; ‘The horse has been very well trained.’ Prince Philip, who had been behind the Queen, came forward and patted my knee saying; ‘That’s a cracking pair of knees!’ The Queen turned abruptly and said; ‘Philip, don’t say such things’, and we all burst out laughing.’
Chris Bonnett was out walking; ‘I was a student studying civil engineering at Nottingham University when she came to visit the town on 21 March 1997. A few of us went to the city centre square and saw her.’
Ian Solomon was in his conservatory; ‘My parents were one of the many people who bought their first TV – it was a Bakelite model – to watch the Coronation. We all crowded round to watch the small black and white square picture. In about 1960, when I was 12 years old my father took me to a polo match at Smith’s Lawn in Windsor Great Park between Prince Philip’s team – who included Jimmy Edwards, a very good polo player – and a visiting team. Between chukkas the announcer asked the spectators to go out onto the field and help tread down all the divots made by the horses. So we did this and soon noticed that one of those treading down the divots was the Queen, wearing her regulation scarf and mac.’
18.9; Susan Norrish was out walking her dog Maddy; ‘In the late 1960s, maybe 1968, before we were married, when Dick and I went to Ascot. Somehow Dick managed to get us into the Royal Enclosure – he had a word with a fellow policeman on the gate – and then as we lent on the rail there she was very close to us.’
Richard Norrish was on his tractor; ‘My parents ran the village stores in Denbury, South Devon. They bought a TV for the Coronation and invited all their customers to come in to watch, the place was packed.’
Alix Quested was returning home after the Harvest Festival service; ‘It was in the summer of 1969 when my husband David and I were invited to a reception at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh to meet the Queen – David was the Security Office for NATO in Northern Ireland at the time. I was four months pregnant. The reception didn’t start until 9pm. We all assembled to meet the Queen but there was a long wait. Now, I knew that David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots had been murdered here in 1566, stabbed 57 times and thrown down the stairs, leaving blood stains on the floorboards which could still be seen. I started to wander around looking down for signs of the blood. After a while I looked up to see the Queen, dressed all in white, right next to me. ‘Are you looking for something?’ she asked. I was so surprised and probably tongue-tied that I can’t remember what happened next.’

‘The reputed blood stains of David Rizzio’

Ann Finucane was gardening; ‘I just remember watching the Coronation on my parents TV. It was home made with a green screen.’
Ed Currie was also gardening; ‘I was a 14 year old at Epsom College. It was Derby Day so school lessons were changed; some of us walked the mile or so to the racecourse and two of us blagged our way into the Members Enclosure. I was wearing my grey school suit and tie which probably helped me get in. We saw the Queen there. I don’t think I saw the actual Derby.’
Bob Weaver were taking his dog Layla for a walk; ‘I was teaching at Streatham Court, Exeter University, when the Queen came to open a new extension in the late 1990s I think. We were lined up to meet her; I don’t remember saying anything to her but she did say to Eric, the chap standing next to me; ‘Where are you from?’ He replied in his best accent; ‘I am from France, your nearest neighbour.’  
Michael Ash was in St Mary’s Church, raising the six bells in preparation for their ringing tonight, ahead of the nationwide one minute’s silence at 8pm; ‘In 2019, as Chairman of Belstone Parish Council,  I unexpectedly received an invitation to attend the Queen’s Garden Party in May. There were hundreds there; we walked in through the main entrance, past lots of palace ‘flunkeys’ in their finery lining either side of the red carpet, then out into the garden at the back. The Queen appeared on the balcony for five minutes, Prince Charles and Camilla came round greeting people, I was six rows back so didn’t meet them personally. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.’

‘A Garden Party at Buckingham Palace’

To be continued
Chris Walpole