Heart and Soul: Remembering Queen Elizabeth II

In this file photo taken on March 23, 1950, the Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain greets Winston Churchill at a Guildhall reception, in London. Photo: AFP

When I was a young child growing up, I often saw portraits hanging on the walls of homes, shops and government offices, of a charming lady with a crown on her head and a sash across her elegant dress as well as pictures of her in a smart uniform sitting on a horse.

I didn’t know who she was but it felt good just staring at her portrait because in many ways she reminded me of mother, the queen of my heart. So it was only natural that this affection for this beautiful lady was to stay with me forever.

This elegant woman in the pictures I looked up to decades ago was Queen Elizabeth II who, at the age of 25, was officially crowned monarch on June 2, 1953.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day  in 1953. — Filepic/The StarA portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day in 1953. — Filepic/The Star

My parents recalled the pomp and pageantry of the grand celebrations that were held all over Malaya in 1953, in conjunction with her coronation in London. Everyone revelled in the festivities as the people could not forget how they had suffered under the Japanese occupation.

Father, who was now a retired police officer, must have taken great pride in our police contingent because the country’s police force was represented during the coronation in London. They were the colonial police force chosen to represent the entire British Empire as they had made great sacrifices during the ongoing Emergency at the time.

During colonial rule, when I was in early primary school and right up to the time before we became an independent nation in 1957, we were taught that she was our Queen and that she ruled Malaya from England.

I can’t remember if we were taught to sing God Save The Queen but I often heard it over the radio. When I was older, I found its melody to be as moving as our beloved Negaraku.

Before Merdeka was proclaimed, we were part of the British Empire and, if you were around then, Queen Elizabeth II was also your monarch sitting on the throne in England.

If you were a baby boomer, you may recall that the Queen’s image was featured on all our currency notes and coins including the square bronze one cent coin, in 1954, a year after her coronation. Her image on our currency was replaced only in 1959.

If you were an avid stamp collector during this time, you could have amassed plenty of stamps with her image issued by Commonwealth countries. In Malaya, stamps commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll were issued in 1953.

Mother used to tell us that the queen was almost her age and she always felt nostalgic when talking about her or whenever she saw the queen on television.

Mother had great esteem for the Queen and felt a connection to her, most likely because of their age.

Like Elizabeth, my mother also aged gracefully into her role as a grandmother and great-grandmother, with dignity and always reassuringly composed.

When she turned 90, mother was happy to have the company of the queen, so to speak. When mother wore her headscarf with a knot under her chin, there was this similarity to the queen, and she looked just as regal.

Mother was delighted on the three occasions when Malaysia had special moments with Queen Elizabeth: She visited the country in 1972 as part of a tour of several countries in the region. My wife, then a teenager, came face-to-face with the Queen in her walkabout to meet the people in Kampung Baru.

The Queen also came to Malaysia in 1989 for the 11th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and finally in 1998, for the XVI Common-wealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

The Queen and Prince Philip stayed at Carcosa Seri Negara in 1989, which had been converted into a luxury boutique hotel by then.

I have many other reminders and recollections of the Queen. Among them were the postcards, now vintage, that father often sent us in 1954 when he was undergoing training in England for six months. They were our window to London.

Then I think of our beloved Tunku Abdul Rahman’s special friendship with the Queen and how he proudly sat next to Her Majesty during the Common-wealth Meeting held in London in January 1969.

In the 1982 Falklands War, she was just as anxious as any other mother, when her son Andrew was fighting in the conflict.

From the time she became queen to her old age, her face was the most recognisable in the world.

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