On September 8, we lost Queen Elizabeth II, England’s longest-serving monarch — and the only one most of us have ever known.
And though it’s been nearly a half-century since The Bahamas gained independence from England, to many Bahamians, she was still “our queen.”
While few local residents had TV sets on which to watch the Queen’s June 2, 1953 coronation, it was a time of great celebration in Abaco, where the royal family was viewed in high regard.
The Albert Lowe Museum is fortunate to have in its archives a first-hand account of Green Turtle Cay’s Coronation Day festivities provided by Jack Ford, then a teacher at the island’s school.
CORONATION DAY AT GREEN TURTLE CAY by Jack Ford
For weeks before the actual day of Her Majesty’s Coronation, the cay was a hive of active preparation both by children and adults.
I managed to get a wing from a grounded aircraft, and with the help of two lads, we stripped off the aluminum skin. A template of a crown was made, and enough crowns were cut out and painted so that almost every house had one tacked up in a prominent position.
Then came a meeting of all those organizations which could contribute sensible opinions as to what should be done on the day. These suggestions came from the meeting:
- A service and speeches from the veranda of the government buildings
- a 21-gun salute from the hill
- a fancy dress parade
- water sports
- walking a greasy pole
- childrens’ sports
- Maypole dancing
- A dance on the stone dock.
The suggestion of the dance caused some animated discussion at the meeting. One prominent person considered “dancing is the work of the Devil.” He was asked if when he died he would be going to Heaven and replied that he hoped to do so. The reply to that was that he would probably be entering at the Pearly Gates. He hoped so. Then came the answer, “Then those who favour the dance would probably be smuggled up the back stairs.” So the dance was on.
Other preparations included finding timber for the bonfire to be built on a raft out in the creek, because of the danger of starting a fire. Charles Curry undertook to build it, and any spare wood was collected by the boys, mainly in boats.
Even the oldest citizen, Mr. Oliver Saunders, was seen carrying a heavy limb from a tree. When told he ought to leave this heavy work to the boys, he replied, “She’s my Queen too, isn’t she?”
One special possible attraction would have been a procession after dark of illuminated houses on poles. They would have been made by cutting out cardboard cartons to the shape of houses, which had transparent red and orange windows. Lights were put inside and the house nailed to the top of a pole. This when carried shoulder high on the poles gave a very spectacular effect.
Unfortunately, Mr. Rodney Lowe, who was the architect, had a difference of opinion with Commissioner Mr. Gerassimus, with the result that he resolutely refused to cooperate. However, after I talked to him that commissioners come and go but the cay was ours, and that it was for the settlement, he finally agreed and his preparations went on in secret.
A greasy pole had to be found, and somebody lent a long mast. This had to be securely lashed to the wooden dock, a chicken lashed to its end, and much lard used on the pole. Any unfortunate competitor who failed to keep his balance just fell into the water without hurt.
The great day came, fine and hot, quite different from that in London, which turned out cold and wet. All collected at the government buildings for speeches by the commissioner and myself, and prayers by Charles Curry.
While we were waiting for this to begin, there came a startling crash of firearms from the hill. Those who had guns had gone up there and fired a 21-gun salute. Many and varied were the guns brought forth, several being only kept together by copper wire. It was a great gesture.
The national anthem was sung, together with other patriotic songs. Then followed a procession, led by a suitably dressed drum majorette, Mrs. Inez Gates.
Decorated prams, decorated bicycles, decorated individuals! The effect was most eye-catching. Mrs. Gerassimus, the judge of the fancy dress, had a very difficult job to decide the prizewinners.
The boys then went to the creekside, at the stone dock, for the tide was high enough for the water sports. There were prizes for the longest swim under water, the longest dive, the fastest swim to the shark house and back.
Then to add some extra fun, we had a tin bath into which we put a mixture of flour and water, at the bottom of which were sundry sixpences. The object was to fish with the mouth for the hidden money. It caused much fun and much mess on the dock and the person.
After mid-day, everybody went to the pond for sports. Adults took part in some events, including a race to the Little Maggie bar and back, in which there was an amazing degree of cheating.
When this came to an end, Mrs. Amy Roberts took over, and under her guidance, the children gave a fine display of Maypole dancing.
At the same time, there was a dinghy race from the wooden dock to the bluff and back. There were some extraordinary displays of “riding pry,” especially by Verdell Cooper.
The greasy pole proved a little too frightening to all but a few. All went into the water before reaching the chicken. Stafford Cooper made it to the end, grabbed the chicken, and into the water went Stafford, chicken and all.”
When dark fell, the stone dock became a fairy palace of coloured lights, operated from the light plant of the commissioner. The dance, whose suggestion had caused such turmoil, began.
Down the hill came a procession of dancing lights which, on approaching, were seen to be illuminated houses. Rodney Lowe had made a great effort. This was followed by a flash of fire out in the creek as the flames of the bonfire soared skyward, only outdistanced by the fiery rush of the fireworks.
Of course, there were a few who had gone “on the bay” a little too rashly, but in spite of all, a happy day was had by all.
For more than seventy years, Queen Elizabeth II would serve her subjects in the United Kingdom and throughout the British Commonwealth with unwavering strength and dedication. May she rest in peace.