27 May 2013

An eyewitness account of the Coronation

This was originally posted 19 August 2010 under the title ‘Genes, prep schools and Eton’. It has been re-posted ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Coronation.

In connection with the absurd claims by Alan Ryan (former Warden of New College, Oxford) that it is 'crazy' to look for a genetic element in determining intellectual ability, I may comment that I have never known, or known about, a family in which the innate variations in IQ and other aptitudes between the various members were not very definitely recognised by both parents and siblings. My colleague Charles McCreery was decidedly the most precocious of his family, although some of the others had IQs well above average, and his precocity aroused hostility and obstruction even within his own family.

Photograph of Charles McCreery
taken by Hay Wrightson, London,
at the time of the Coronation, 1953.
Below is an article by Charles (written when he was 11) which was published in the magazine* of his preparatory school after he had been a page at the Coronation. It aroused agitated reactions, and mockery of the vocabulary he had used, perhaps partly because it was accidentally published with no adult editing or alterations, so that it was unmistakable evidence of Charles’s precocity.

His form master was agitated to find that Charles had handed it in to the headmaster – ‘Oh, but you were supposed to show it to me first’ – and the headmaster, perhaps assuming that it had already been edited, published it in the magazine with no alterations at all. (The spelling, as well as the vocabulary, was all Charles’s own.)

On seeing the article, his mother also became agitated and asked him repeatedly if he had written it entirely without help. Was he sure he had? Really sure? She reverted to this issue so often that Charles started to feel guilty, as if he must have done something wrong.

At about this time his mother was colluding with his headmaster, who was also hostile to him, to prevent him from taking the scholarship exam for Eton, as it had always been assumed that he would. This was allegedly to spare him ‘stress’, but actually ensured that he would get nothing positive out of his time at Eton.

Scholars at Eton were in a different position from the others. Although a bit looked down upon socially, as they included some boys whose parents could not have afforded to pay the fees, they were the only ones in whose case it was regarded as socially acceptable to work; so it was really a necessary position for someone like Charles who had strong academic inclinations. Everyone who was not a scholar at Eton was expected to manifest indifference and to be interested only in sporting activities.


Acting as page to Lord Alanbrooke at the Coronation was a wonderful experience for me as it is a thing I will remember all my life and I will be able to tell my children when I grow up.

I met a lot of very famous people such as Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister and the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl Marshal, whom I thought was wonderful in the way he managed everything alone and yet remained calm and impassive. I was also greatly struck by the demeanour of our Queen who too remained cheerful yet dignified.

The music was very moving and impressive, with a choir of 400, an orchestra of sixty and a large organ. The service began with the Psalm "I was glad when they said unto me", some of the verses of which I learnt during Scripture.

I got to the Abbey on Coronation Day at 6 a.m. in the morning, and had to wait, in the specially built annexe, about four hours with nothing to do but watch and wait, in rather uncomfortable clothes, for the arrival of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. At last the Queen arrived, amid cheers from the people, and, after about ten minutes interlude, took up her place in the already formed procession for the entering of the Abbey. I myself did not carry a coronet because Lord Alanbrooke, being Lord High Constable, and the Earl Marshal, have two pages and my partner, being older than me, carried it instead. Beside me were four other pages, all but one carrying coronets and not far behind them the Queen herself with her six maids of honour carrying her train. On either side of the nave, west of the screen, were tiers of specially constructed seats. Although these people had a wonderful view of the procession in and out of the Abbey they saw nothing of what went on in the Theatre. My parents however were lucky and had seats on the top right of the peers who are on the right of the dais in the centre of the Theatre, on which is the real throne, and saw practically everything. When my row of pages reached the dais four of us turned to the left and one to the right; I turned to the left and proceeded up a gangway between the lovely blue velvet chairs in which the peeresses were seated. About half way through the ceremony, at a signal given by our "Goldstick", all the pages walked back down the gangway, carrying their coronets, and delivered them with a bow, to their respective peers and returned to the steps where they had been sitting. I, however, did not have to do this as my partner went by himself while I remained seated. At the historic moment when the Archbishop, Dr. Fisher, placed the crown on our beautiful Queen's head, all the peers and peeresses put on their coronets, (some of which were so small that they had to be kept on with hair combs, elastic etc.), to the sound of a fanfare of trumpets and great guns being fired from the Tower of London.

At the end of the service, all the pages walked to their peers and formed up for the procession out, to the triumphant music of the National Anthem.

C.A.S. McCreery, (aged 11).

* Cothill House Magazine, Vol. LXIX, September 1953, pp.17-18.

Statement by Charles McCreery: ‘With regard to Dr Green’s piece introducing my contemporaneous account of the Coronation service, and which describes my mother’s reaction to my essay, I can vouch for its accuracy since it is based on accounts I have given Dr Green over the years concerning this episode, and I read over her account before she published it.’

We appeal for funding to enable Dr Charles McCreery to continue and extend his Oxford doctoral research into hallucinatory experiences in normal people, which would have practical and theoretical implications both for the fields of psychopathology and for the philosophy of perception.