Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Smerconish.com on December 24, 2018, the day before Christmas.
The best gift I’m giving for Christmas this year hardly cost me anything. And it involves a personal and sentimental story.
My father passed this year, on October 11. When I delivered his eulogy, I highlighted eleven things about him that didn’t appear in his formal obituary, anecdotes that I hoped would surprise even some of his family and closest friends.
Number 3 on my list was that he served in the army during the Korean conflict and enjoyed his time immensely. He had completed an 8-week leadership training program at Fort Eustis, Virginia, in 1952. And then spent most of his time as an army surveyor in Germany.
The posting enabled him to travel with army buddies throughout Europe. He wrote long, detailed letters to his parents which I now possess that are noteworthy for their penmanship. They are revelatory both about him and the times.
One dispatch was dated July 18, 1953, from Stuttgart. It read:
“The big highlight of London was when we got to see the queen. We saw her at hyde park and again at Buckingham Palace. You can’t realize what an accomplishment that is. She doesn’t come out often at all, and she and Phillip were in a closed car. We stood for hours to see her, she was inspecting 80,000 civil defense people.
We stood on the sidewalk of Buckingham Palace and waited. When she came, all the people rushed into the street and her car had to go slow, plowing through. We were right up front. I was about 4’ away from her when I took the pictures. But my camera was set for 10’ so I don’t know how it will be. Such a picture is really a prize, they really worship her.”
In my eulogy, I then noted that in the summer of 2017, our middle son, Wilson, my dad’s grandson, studied in London. On his first day there, he stumbled upon a royal celebration (trooping the color 2017, a celebration of the queen’s official 91st birthday), and stood watching as the entire royal family came onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
So, 64 years later, the same queen, Elizabeth II, different Smerconish. Wilson took his own picture, only unlike his grandfather, he used an iPhone. I’d like to think the story enhanced my eulogy.
Then, one month after Dad’s passing, on November 11, I was going through some of his possessions, getting them ready for storage. I found a small stack of slides that I’m not sure he knew he possessed at the end of his life. I tried holding them up to the light but I could not recognize the images so I bought an inexpensive slide viewer to assist me. Lo and behold, there was the picture Dad took of the queen and it didn’t disappoint.
Yes, a bit blurry, but up close just as he described. Looking at the image taken of the young queen through a clear car window, I could easily understand the thrill he felt and described when writing to his parents.
Immediately it occurred to me that framed side-by-side with what his grandson recorded, this would make for a great Christmas gift and keepsake for my son. I knew the year and presumably the month it was taken because of my father’s letter, but to perfect the gift, I thought I needed the exact date. When my rudimentary google searches didn’t yield any results, I consulted my Rolodex.
Years ago, at a charity event in Philadelphia for Nelson Shanks’ studio ‘Incamminati’, I met Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana’s chief of staff. He was subsequently a guest of mine on radio and television and impressed me with his warmth. By email, I explained to him my dilemma and solicited his support.
His immediate reply was kismet. He told me that my email found him in an airplane in China en route to Seoul. Explaining that he loved such puzzles, he promised to help try to solve mine with contacts at Buckingham Palace, if need be.
Ten days later, eureka!
Take a look at the attached JPEG of a page from The Times of July 6th, 1953. In the top left corner, you’ll see the Court Circular for July 5th, reporting that the Queen drove from BP to Hyde Park for a parade of veterans. From the background visible in his photo, my guess is that your father was standing somewhere near Hyde Park Corner when the royal convoy passed by.
Of interest, you’ll note that among those “In Attendance” was the equerry, Captain Viscount Althorp – aka Johnny Spencer, Diana’s dad.
Among other diverting details, it says that the parade was under the command of Lord Tedder, aka Ike’s deputy for Overlord. Coincidentally, his grandson was a school friend of mine. Truly, the world of The Crown has come to life!
Thank you for giving me the excuse for this little bit of research.
Best as ever,
That means Dad photographed the queen on July 5, 1953; his grandson did likewise on June 17, 2017.
For good measure, I asked my framer, Gail Fogel, to add the queen’s coat of arms. And now the gift was perfect. I can’t wait to give it.