16, Number 89, February/March 2013 The Queen and I by Sabine Schouten
Queen Elizabeth II, who is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee as a reigning Queen, has become a role model of graceful aging and dedication to royal duties. I didn’t always have this upbeat opinion about her.
As a matter of fact, my initial impression was negative and influenced by my background as a German immigrant to Canada.
When I arrived on these Canadian shores in November 1951, our ship was scheduled to land at Pier 21 in Halifax, which was the Ellis Island of Canada. Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, were on an official visit to Canada, with an itinerary that had been changed frequently due to the declining health of her father, King George VI. Since we were German immigrants, it was deemed inappropriate that the Princess encounter us as reminders of WW II. As she was visiting Nova Scotia at the time our ship entered the St. Lawrence River, it was decided that we would dock in Quebec City instead of at the designated immigrant harbour in Halifax. As a family with four children, one of whom was seriously ill, it was tough to arrive in a harbour like Quebec which was not equipped to deal with immigrants and as a consequence the whole procedure was more cumbersome than anticipated.
For years our family stories included the one about having to land in Quebec because Princess Elizabeth was not allowed to see German immigrants.
As part of my schooling in Canada, I learned about British history and the role of the royal family but the whole idea of a traditional monarchy in a modern country seemed archaic and irrelevant.
Then in 1974 I was fortunate to have an opportunity to meet the royals first hand and was impressed with the Queen. We were living in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the Queen, Prince Philip, and the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, came on an official state visit. I believe it was the first time that the British royal family visited Indonesia and it was a major happening. One of the official events was a reception for Commonwealth citizens living in Indonesia. Since we were on the list of Canadian expatriates, we were invited to a cocktail reception on March 20, 1974, along with other Commonwealth citizens from New Zealand, Australia, India, Africa and the Caribbean. A true reflection of the multi-ethnicity of the Commonwealth was the panoply of colourful traditional outfits. Guests were gathered in a hotel ballroom. We waited for the arrival of the royal party, somewhat surprised because the Queen is invariably on a tight schedule and being late is highly unusual. Eventually the royal party arrived. The Queen was her usual dignified, royal self. She said a few words - nothing earth-shattering - and then the guests were divided into two long reception lines, with Queen Elizabeth greeting people on one side of the ballroom and Prince Philip and Lord Mountbatten talking with people on the opposite side. My husband and I were in the line shaking hands with Prince Philip and Lord Mountbatten. Prince Philip asked my husband why we were in Indonesia. Rudy told him that he was in charge of opening the new Hilton International Hotel in Jakarta. Prince Philip said, “They’re springing up like mushrooms.” True, he was right about that.
Although I did not speak with the Queen, I was impressed with the presence she exuded despite the fact that she’s not very tall and dresses in rather boring clothes, but I do like the strong colours she wears. Her hats were a topic of endless gossip and news stories in Indonesia because Indonesian women don’t wear hats. In the local press, the Queen was jokingly called “The Hat Queen”. The atmosphere at the reception was relaxed and the royal party put everyone at ease although there was a sense of formality and tradition. Naturally, while waiting, we discussed why the Queen was late and eventually heard that the delay was due to Queen’s learning of an attempt to kidnap her daughter, Princess Anne, in London, that same day, i.e. March
20, 1974. With cumbersome international communications and the eight hour time difference, the Queen apparently heard about this kidnap attempt just before the start of the reception. Despite the fact that she must have been concerned for her daughter, there was no indication in her demeanor; stoic self-discipline and dedication to duty are her hallmarks and we experienced these qualities first-hand - no-one realized that this was a worried mother - she was all Queen.
In the summer of 2010 the Queen visited Canada again and, at the age of 84, exhibited the same sense of duty and responsibility as I had seen first- hand in 1974. Here is a woman who lives her beliefs with few deviations to popular opinion and to me, personally, she has become a supreme example of aging gracefully, maintaining personal self-discipline and setting an example to society at large.
After her visit to Canada in 1951 and return to the UK, Princess Elizabeth said about Canada, “I am sure that nowhere under the sun could one find a land more full of hope, of happiness and of fine, loyal, generous-hearted people” and, after 60 years, I would think that she has not changed her mind about Canada.