THE 6 May coronation of Charles III and his wife Camilla as king and queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth brings back special memories for Mornington retiree Geoff Strongman.
As a teenager in the 1st Mornington Scout Group, the now 88-year-old was one of just 14 Queen Scouts representing Australia for the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
It was the first overseas trip for the starry-eyed monarchist, who remembers feeling privileged and honoured to have been selected for the occasion, and still cherishes the trip as one of the most eye-opening and transformative events in his life.
It was also an important chapter in the Commonwealth’s history, its significance highlighted to the youngsters by the succession of dignitaries and royals they met before, during and after the trip.
Just before the 23,371 ton passenger ship the Orion departed Melbourne on 16 April, the boys were farewelled by the Governor of Victoria Sir Dallas Brooks and Sir Edmond Herring, and were then met, in South Australia, by the Governor Sir Robert George and taken to the home of the Chief Commissioner of Scouting for lunch.
The journey to Europe and the UK opened a world of discovery for the boys, and they were treated to excursions in Western Australia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Paris, Marseilles and Italy along the way, seeing historic sights and meeting dignitaries. There was also time for bus tours and a little shopping, with the boys crashing into bed back on the ship each day, left amazed by their adventures and what they had seen.
But the excitement had really just begun and, after finally pulling into Tilbury Docks in England after 35 days at sea, their adventures continued.
“We walked along the embankment over Waterloo Bridge past Festival Hall, into Waterloo Station, where we got onto a double decker tour bus which took us around London for two hours and then had out first sighting of Buckingham Palace and the streets of London were decorated with flags and streamers,” Strongman said.
“We all met at Australia House and were introduced to Sir Thomas White, the High Commissioner for Australia, and we had afternoon tea … our first day was very exciting.”
Next it was Fleet Street to see newspapers printed, and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace before lunch, followed by a trip to Sandringham for a jamboree with scouts from all over England.
More adventures followed, including a Lords Cricket Ground test match to see Australia play England, a visit to Madame Tussauds, live concerts at the London Palladium, a trip to Windsor Castle, Scotland Yard and train trips to France.
“We had such an amazing time in the UK and Paris, and I feel lucky to have been part of it, and lucky to have been given the opportunity by the scouting movement,” he said.
While the teenagers did not get to meet the Queen, they received a telegram conveying her best wishes.
Strongman says the experience was something he will never forget, and admits he still cherishes the memories.
“The upcoming coronation just reminds me of what an amazing time it was.”