By Chaitram Aklu
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history died September 8 after 70 years on the throne.
In 1952, then Princess Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip were in Kenya at the start of a royal tour of the British Commonwealth – the oldest political organization in the world, fulfilling the commitment of her father King George VI, who had become severely ill. When on February 6, 1952, word reached her that the King had died; Princess Elizabeth immediately became Queen Elizabeth II, becoming “the first sovereign in over 200 years to ascend the throne while abroad.”
Her coronation took place on June 2, 1953 in Westminster Abbey and according to a 2003 release: “50th Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s Coronation” by her Press Secretary, some 2,000 journalists and 500 photographers from 92 nations had lined the coronation route on June 2, 1953.
At the time of Princess Elizabeth’s ascendancy to the throne (British Guiana) Guyana was known as “Booker’s Guyana” because of the company’s ownership of the sugar industry and dominance over the economy which impacted the lives of the entire Guyanese population. The Booker Group of Companies was in retail and other economic activities. It also operated an extensive modern dairy farm and large pig farm located at Belair.
Guyana has an interesting colonial history with the French, Dutch and British leaving their lasting legacies particularly in place names (Georgetown, Stabroek, La Penitence, New Amsterdam. The three counties of Guyana (Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice) were separate colonies with Berbice and Demerara owned by the British and Essequibo owned by the Dutch until 1814 when Britain gained final ownership. In 1831, the colonies were united and renamed British Guiana. It remained Britain’s only anglophone colony in South America until 1966, when the colony gained its independence and changed its name to Guyana. It became a republic in 1970 but remained a member of the Commonwealth.
After the coronation (according to my mother) one day my father who was in charge of the pig farm, came home holding his Wilson hat which had seen better days, close to his chest. In it were 8 porcelain mugs decorated with the official Queen Elizabeth II coronation design and manufactured by British Pottery Manufacturers Federation. Why 8 mugs? The manager had asked each employee how many children they had and he gave each of them one mug for each of their children. (See photos of the original mug.)
The Queen visited some 117 Commonwealth Countries during her reign, some many times during her 70 year reign. She visited Guyana twice – the first time February 4 – 6 1966 where she opened the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Georgetown (Later renamed the National Park.) She was represented by the Duke and Duchess of Kent at the country’s independence celebrations on May 26, 1966. She made another visit in February 1994.
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, there were over 70 colonies in the empire. Only seven of them were independent. Today, there are 56 members, some of which, after becoming republics, chose to remain members in the Commonwealth, now largely an intergovernmental organization. Barbados is the latest to become a republic – November 30, 2021. As of 2022, there are only 15 realms remaining in British Commonwealth of Nations.