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Memories of the Coronation, 2 June 1953

I marched in the State Procession from Westminster Abbey, as part of the Army Contingent within Detachments drawn from Eaton Hall Officer Cadet Training Unit, Mons Officer Cadet Training Unit and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

My inclusion in the Eaton Hall Officer Cadet Training Unit, comprising 36 cadets, was more by accident than merit. I commenced my National Service on 20th November 1952 at the Depot of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Budbrooke Barracks, Warwick and completed 10 weeks basic training. During basic training, I passed a Unit Selection Board (USB) and was recommended to go forward to the War Office Selection Board (WOSB) held over 3 days at Barton Stacey, Hampshire. I passed the Board towards the end of February 1953 and was posted in mid April to Eaton Hall. The Unit’s prime function was to train cadets to be infantry officers. Intakes arrived at Eaton Hall every two weeks for a sixteen weeks long course.

At the time of the Coronation, the Detachment was to be made up of representatives from every Brigade and, respectively, to be in their 8th, 10th and 12th week of training. Firstly, my name began with ‘C’, secondly, there were few eligible cadets available from the Midland Brigade, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment being a constituent member, and thirdly, as a Royal Warwick, in my 8th week of training, I met the requirements. Officer cadets at any time have above average levels of fitness from the course’s many field-training modules. This standard did not suffice; for four weeks we paraded additionally an hour before breakfast and for two hours in the evening becoming both physically and parade ground fit for the task ahead. We were measured and fitted for No 1 Dress. It was returned to store the day after a commemorative photograph was taken.

We travelled by train from Chester to Aldershot on Sunday, 31st May and were accommodated at Mons Officer Cadet Training Unit. Monday morning, 1st June we paraded under the renowned RSM Brittain, during which we practised marching twelve abreast, changing arms on the march and negotiating structures, such as Marble Arch. The rest of the day was spent preparing our kit.

Whereas Peers of the Realm had to be in place in Westminster Abbey very early, we travelled in 3-ton Army trucks to Birdcage Walk in London, arriving in time to be drawn up to attention during the Crowning. Then, it was a packed lunch, including barley sugars, prepared, it was said, by Lyons Corner House. I have no recall about the toilet arrangements, although I have no doubt we needed them on account of the length of the day.

Eventually, we moved off and joined the processional route. We thought we were very smart and were encouraged by the shouts of the crowds, thinking that they were for us. Later, we were to be disillusioned; the film, a Queen is Crowned, showed our contingent was followed by one other and then the Women’s Royal Army Corps to whom the public were endeared. I cannot remember the rain or any discomfiture from it. We marched the whole route, said in our case to be sixteen miles, at the slope with the rifle, the old 303 Lee Enfield, changing arms from time to time. We were positioned very near the front of the procession; our route ended near the Serpentine in order to accommodate, without congestion, Her Majesty’s Procession. The column took 45 minutes to pass any given point so this may explain why we marched such a distance.

Some went to London again that night but I did not do so, daunted by being a country cousin as far as my knowledge of London rather than through tiredness. It was back to Chester by train next day, Wednesday and on Thursday, Adjutant’s drill parade for the whole school of 600 cadets. The Staff were determined that all cadets should put the Coronation behind them, starting with nearly 400 cadets ‘losing their name’ that morning and parading, as a punishment, the following Saturday afternoon. There was no leave for our Coronation Contingent, merely a return to the very exacting course. It needed to be since there was a job to be done. In my case, on 1st August 1953, I was commissioned and posted to serve with the 1st Bn. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment in Korea and later Egypt. I take pride in my two years National Service, which, for me was fulfilling.

Andrew Clark

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