Robert Vale: Remembering the Queen (and her Consort)

The Coronation ‘flypast’, a Sussex visit, and later Sandringham House

The Coronation in June 1953 is one of my early memories. I was aged four and in the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London, where I spent a year being treated for tuberculosis which I had caught at my nursery school. I was very excited about the Coronation because as part of the celebration there was going to be a ‘flypast’ by the Royal Air Force and I was mad about aircraft at that time.

In 1966 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were in Sussex to mark the 900th anniversary of the invasion of England. They visited my school, Eastbourne College, as part of its centenary celebrations.

Her Majesty inspected the Combined Cadet Force, of which I was a member. This was where I learned the useful life skills of marching, saluting, rifle drill and shooting, as well as how to polish Army boots and clean a .303.

A cheerful Queen inspecting members of the Eastbourne College Combined Cadet Force in 1966. Photo:

Although I was a cadet (it was voluntary, but you had to do it) I was not among the cadets being inspected by the Queen.

I was presented to her separately as the designer of the school’s hovercraft, which was demonstrated to the Royal party. The Duke remarked “I don’t see much future in these small hovercraft”. I have a photo of the event but cannot find it after moving house over Christmas 2021.

Robert test driving the Royally inspected hovercraft at Eastbourne College on Speech Day 1967

One of the pupils presented to the Royals was an avowed Republican, so he had one of the Royal bodyguards standing behind him at all times, just in case he might decide to attack the Queen.

Later in my early twenties, I worked for a firm of architects in Cambridge, David Roberts and Geoffrey Clarke. In the early 1970s they were commissioned to upgrade Sandringham House, the Queen’s residence in Norfolk and to replace part of the building called The Bachelors’ Wing.

I was put in charge of the alterations to the remaining buildings and spent hours wandering round the house taking measurements for drawings. The house was surprisingly un-palatial in many areas. The downstairs toilet was decorated with the original drawings of newspaper cartoons featuring the Duke of Edinburgh.

Being a rather scruffy long-haired leftie, it always amused me when the policeman on duty waved me through the palace gates in my VW Microbus.

Eventually the works were not carried out; the Royal Family did not feel it would be appropriate to do up their house while the rest of the country was on a three-day week as a response to a miners’ strike and consequent electricity rationing.

Robert Vale
15 September 2022

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