A FELLOW WI MEMBER’S REFLECTION
On the evening of September 8, 2022, a radio announcement stunned the world by reporting the sudden death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Whether one is in favour of the monarchy or not, this was a moment of history.
Surrey Federation marked the passing of Her Majesty with a simple but heartfelt statement that read: “It is with deepest sadness that the Surrey Federation of WIs acknowledges the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Her lifelong commitment, loyalty, wisdom and dedication to her peoples has been truly inspirational, particularly to fellow members of the WI. Our condolences go to the Royal family. Rest in peace Your Majesty.”
Members of the Royal Family, political leaders, sovereigns and journalists shared words of condolence and admiration for a life lived well in the service of her country and the Commonwealth. Over the following days it felt that the whole world had much of significance to say, to which I could add little.
Her Majesty was a lifetime member of the WI, as were the Queen Mother and Queen Mary before her, and many other senior female royals, including the Countess of Wessex, a member of my own WI, Bagshot.
On reflection, the institution of the monarchy, and the WI, two seemingly disparate organisations, share much in common because during her reign, Her Majesty exemplified the ideals of service, loyalty and commitment and was truly inspirational, characteristics highly valued by we WI members. Perhaps we recognised that, despite the Queen’s seemingly detached world of luxury and entitlement, on the day that she sat alone at the funeral of her husband, HRH Prince Philip, the love of her life, she became one of us?
Throughout her 70-year reign she had been a voice of women, speaking out on behalf of all women. A universally respected woman, she always supported the WI. Many of us recall her surprise address at the NFWI Centenary at the Royal Albert Hall, alongside the jovial moment of the cutting of the cake, when the knife she wielded failed to penetrate the icing and Princess Anne and the Countess of Wessex stepped in to help. A magical moment for very many members as we all shared in their laughter!
It is a remarkable statistic that 85% of the current UK population has lived their whole life with Queen Elizabeth II as their reigning monarch. I hear some of you saying that the monarchy is outdated and has lost its relevance in 21st Century global living. But what do we know about our past monarch?
For the vast majority of us, engagement with the Queen will have been through entertainment, for example the wonderful series The Crown or through press coverage.
Some of you will have spotted in the book recommendations in WI Life’s summer edition — Mrs Simpson by Wendy Holden. You may have been motivated to read her other recent novel, The Governess, a fictional account (though thoroughly researched) of the life of Miss Crawford — Crawfie — governess to the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, the former a little girl not born to be Queen but who took on the mantle of heir to the throne as a child.
The book tells how Crawfie battled to ensure that their education acquainted them with the lives of ordinary people. Perhaps one measure of her success might be the Queen’s lifelong commitment to the WI as a loyal and dedicated member. Both novels are a super read, but I digress.
Of all that has been reported about the Queen in the last few weeks, what has struck me most are her own words, that give us food for thought in these difficult and troubled times in an everchanging world, and seem most apt today: “We may hold different points of view, but it is in times of stress and difficulty that we most need to remember that we have much more in common than there is dividing us.” (1974).
The realisation of this sentiment was echoed in the sermon given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, when we were reminded that “the pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death… People of loving service are rare in any walk of life… But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”
What has been acclaimed as the biggest gathering of world leaders and politicians in living memory brought together nations, faiths, beliefs and politics. Does this foreshadow a wind of change, I wonder?
Of the many significant features integrated into the ceremonial commemorating the Queen’s death, all meticulously designed by her, has been the increasing role that women, particularly the female royals, have played. The poignant Vigil of the Princes, which included Princess Anne, the first time that a woman has taken part in this historic ceremony, and the stark and moving Vigil of the grandchildren, punctuated only by their seemingly muted footsteps, united in grief.
With the succession of His Majesty King Charles III we are likely to move into a time of continuity and also change. The immediate everyday changes that we will see will be the King’s head on our postage stamps, facing in the opposite direction to that of his mother, and the cypher on post boxes. Our rather rare George VI village post box was stolen recently; I trust that the one marked E II R will not suffer a similar fate.
And what of our passports and royal warrants on many of the products we buy? They too will change. When visiting a 1,000-year-old Benedictine monastery, Pannonhalma, in Hungary, I was honoured to be invited to lunch with the monks in their stunning Baroque refectory, a strikingly ornate room with frescoes and countless ancient religious triptychs decorated in gold leaf. We sat together around a table laid with silver and crystal. Evenly spaced along the centre of the table were bottles of a well known brand of tomato ketchup bearing our Queen’s Royal Warrant!
The last two-and-a half years have been marked for us all by a series of challenges that we could not have predicted and could never have been prepared for. The list continues to grow with the war in the Ukraine; rising gas, electricity, food and petrol prices — all everyday essentials — will have significant implications for ourselves, our families and for the WI. In contributing to the discussions around and the solutions to these problems, we could recall other wise words of our past Queen: “None of us have the monopoly of wisdom and we must always be ready to listen and respect other points of view.” (1991).
Thank you for your legacy to us, Your Majesty. Rest in peace.
God Save the King.
Carol A. Gartrell
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