John’s special connection with the Queen

Joseph Bulmer

Memories of the accession to the throne, 60 years on.

A NORTH Devon pensioner has shared his own special connection with the Queen, 60 years on from her accession to the throne.

John Beaver and Princess Elizabeth were both in Africa when news of King George VI’s death was announced on Wednesday, February 6 1952.

While the young Princess received news of her father’s death in a remote part of Kenya, the sound of a bugle in northern Libya heralded the historic announcement for John, 78, from Rumsam, Barnstaple.

Sixty-years ago, the then 18-year-old was a National Servicemen, serving in Derna with the Exeter-based Devonshire Regiment at the start of the Suez Crisis.

“In February 1952 the battalion was ordered onto the parade ground for an important announcement,” he said. “The commanding officer, in full dress uniform, called the regiment to attention then read out the statement ‘the King is dead, long live the Queen’.

“We all said three cheers and away he went; there was no explanation of how the king died or anything like that. We were not told of any funeral arrangements so normal duties were resumed.”

John was working as a telephonist for British Rail when he was called up for his compulsory two years’ National Service on July 26, 1951.

After six-weeks’ basic training in Plymouth, he spent two weeks at Horrabridge on the edge of Dartmoor before being shipped to Colchester for the transfer to Tripoli the following October.

He said: “It was the first time I had ever been on an aeroplane and we were marched on at around 10pm and there were no seats – we had to sit on the floor.

“When we arrived in Libya it was around 2am and I remember the temperature being up in the 80s.”

While his memories of the Queen’s accession are clear, the retired builder’s recollection of the Coronation the following year are somewhat superseded by a certain famous football match.

“In 1953 we were in the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya fighting the Mau Mau so we didn’t know very much about the Queen’s Coronation,” said John.

“But some of us were lucky enough to have an army radio field set so we were able to listen to the FA Cup Final – now known as the Matthew’s Cup Final – between Blackpool and Bolton.

“They are very happy memories and I think doing National Service was one of the finest things that ever happened to me.

“It was hard work but I saw a lot of different places around the world.

“I learned discipline and respect and there is not a lot of that around these days.”

John lost touch with all of his colleagues in 11 Platoon D Company when he was demobbed in July 1953. But he would love to hear from any of his old comrades who remember him and can be contacted on (01271) 326261.