“A great privilege” and “a lot of happiness”: Joyce Lewis has just celebrated her 90th birthday but remembers very well this June 2, 1953 when she attended among the massed crowd in London the coronation of 'Elizabeth II.
The day before the ceremony, she camped one night with friends on the Mall, the avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, to see the procession pass by taking the queen towards Westminster Abbey.
It was raining heavily, but Joyce remembers the “joyful” atmosphere as she awaited the event.
“There was a lot of laughter, a lot of happiness. People were waiting for a very big occasion and it was,” she told AFP from her home in rural Warwickshire, central England.
After a night out on the ground, silence falls on the Mall when the sun rises. “At one point we heard a distant voice saying, 'Everest is conquered. Hillary has conquered Everest.' And of course there were cheers.”
Renowned New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had made the famous climb a few days earlier, a world first, and the news had reached the UK on the day of the coronation.
During the morning of June 2, as the crowd grew, Joyce was pushed back into the back rows. “But this lovely Asian man turns to me and says, 'Come on, she's your queen', leading her back to the front row as the parade begins.
“There was no one in front of me. We were close enough to see inside the carriage” whose sides were “beautifully painted”. “It really was something unforgettable,” Joyce recalls.
“One thing I remember was the bouquet of white flowers the Queen had in her lap. As the carriage moved forward, the flowers moved very gently (…) And of course, on the way back (after the ceremony) she carried the orb and the scepter”.
“She was so young,” recalls Joyce. “She was a young mother, with young children. And the death of his father was sudden. But of course she was well prepared”, adds the nonagenarian.
In 1953, the United Kingdom is still in the midst of reconstruction after the Second World War. Rations of food and clothing are still in effect. The coronation of a young queen breathes an air of optimism into the country.
It was “a great privilege” to be there, recalls Joyce Lewis. “The flags, the pennants, the horses… It was a day of pure luxury”, adds this former missionary and teacher who then spent 17 years of her life in Malawi.
If the coronation of Charles III is currently arousing less enthusiasm among the British, Joyce, who proudly calls himself a monarchist, is convinced that he “will have enough support”.
“I think it's someone who will do everything he can' for the UK, she says, while acknowledging that the mindset of the British is 'a bit mixed' on this new king and his coronation, in particular among young people.
She is pleased that the ceremony is open to so many “ordinary” people from civil society, and not just reserved for an elite from the British nobility.
< p>But this time, Joyce will not be on the Mall to see the royal couple's carriage pass by. She will follow the event in front of her television to “see it warm and comfortable”.