Queen Elizabeth II is mourned throughout the world not only for who she was but for what she represented: a set of values that are as important today as at any time in our history. First, the Queen represented the ideals of monarchy, encompassing values of duty, service, honour, dignity, tradition, continuity and stability, of grandeur yet understatement and leadership beyond politics.
Second, she represented her family, providing a link between all of Australia’s monarchs, from George III to Charles III, and, beyond, to the next generations: William V and George VII. In particular, she was a link to her revered parents, George VI and the Queen Mother.
Third, the Queen represented the wartime generation, and that is why losing the Queen is like losing a beloved grandmother. In a sense, she was everybody’s grandmother. She was a living link to that greatest generation which put country before self—a generation whose values of service, modesty, dignity and thrift helped reshape the postwar world for the better; a generation that prevailed through depression and war to rebuild the world with hope and optimism. We have, in a sense, lost our anchor to that world and those values and find ourselves adrift, bobbing like a cork on the sea.
The Queen’s generation projected a sense of moral clarity less observed today. It was a generation in which fewer people were formally educated, and yet seemed wiser; a generation, in Great Britain, Australia and the Commonwealth, that stood alone against the tyranny of Nazism; a generation in which commitment to faith was the norm; and a generation which had more in common with each other because of the shared privations of depression and war. That common experience was shared by the Queen and her family remaining in London during the blitz. As the Queen Mother famously said, ‘The children won’t go without me, I won’t leave without the King, and the King will never leave.’ The strength of George VI in those days—not a strongman like the European dictators but a man of character—set an example that inspired people across the globe. The stoicism of the royal family during the war represented a gritty British spirit and never-say-die attitude shared by Australians. Those, then, are the values that we mourn and the generation that we’ve lost, represented by the Queen.
Queen Elizabeth was never meant to be queen. She was born the eldest daughter of the Duke of York—the equivalent, in today’s generation, of Princess Beatrice. She was 10 when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated, in 1936, and the accession of her father, George VI, made her heir to the throne. It’s hard for us to imagine what it must be like at age 10 to have a responsibility like the Crown thrust upon you—to have no choice in the matter and to do that job for the rest of your life, right up until the day you die. It makes the Queen’s flawless service even more extraordinary. In her 21st-birthday broadcast she said, ‘My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’ It was a promise that she kept till the end.
During the war, she served as a mechanic in the British Army and later assumed a number of honorary military roles in the Australian Army and the RAAF Reserves. When George VI died, in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne, at 25. She went on to become our longest-serving sovereign and, in 1954, became the first reigning monarch to tour Australia. Seventy-five per cent of Australians saw her on that tour. She went on to visit Australia a further 15 times, the most recent being 2011. The Queen’s interest in Australia and Australians remained deep and abiding. She took particular interest in Indigenous Australians and attended Indigenous events during visits. She was the patron of nearly 30 organisations.
Queen Elizabeth touched the lives of millions of Australians—people like Richard and Gwen Howes, of Berowra, who watched the Queen’s coronation procession travel up London’s Northumberland Avenue. Richard hung a piece of rope from a lamppost for a foothold to get a better view of the Queen. During Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Australia, Janette Batcheler, a member of the Anglican Girls Friendly Society, was in a guard of honour outside St Andrew’s Cathedral when the Queen attended a morning service. In 1986 Sue Batho, of Beecroft, was invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace. She records with pride her English father standing to attention when ‘Rule, Britannia!’ was played. Graham Bruce, Secretary of Glenorie RSL Sub Branch, led the air transport security team responsible for the Queen and Prince Philip during their visit to New Zealand in 1990. Dorothy and Greg Davidson, of Cheltenham, saw the Queen during many of her visits to Sydney. On one such visit, the Queen spoke to Dorothy’s late mother. When the Daily Telegraph took a photo, it became a significant keepsake for Dorothy. And Graham Ross, of Beecroft, was honoured with Queen Victoria’s gold Veitch Memorial Medal at Hampton Court for his work filming an Anzac poppies project and was invited by Her Majesty to film her private garden.
As we contemplate a world without Queen Elizabeth II, we give thanks for her life of service. We pray for the life and health of our new King, Charles III. May he be inspired by the life and example of his late mother, and may her memory be a blessing to us all.