The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Death of George V and a Trip to Westminster Hall

Walter's letters always go into some detail about events surrounding the death or coronation of the monarch (Victoria, Edward, George V). When Victoria died and Edward VII crowned, Walter was still in the Sheffield Children's Homes and wrote about the school trip to Firth Park for the coronation celebration. By the time Edward died, he was in the Lincolnshires and had the role of honor guard in London. Now, he was a civilian paying respects to the monarch in a different way. He relates the events of 1935:

Our King George V passed away and “he laid in State” in Westminster Hall. Ron was now nine years of age. It was a holiday for all the schools, and I told May I would like to take Ron to see the King lying in state. So off we went. He was full of excitement, and I took some sweets and a few sandwiches for us to eat, as I knew it would be a long wait. And so it was. I told Ron to be patient and think of all the other people who were also waiting. It was a nice day. The queue began to move slowly forward, until we reached the portals of the Hall, and what a solemn ceremonial silence and splendour. Life Guardsmen surrounded the coffin on the catafalque and so immobile like statues. Ron couldn’t take his eyes off them, and slowly, we filed out in the sunlight again. “There you are, Ron. That is a sight you will never see again.” He was pleased I brought him to see the sight of our late King. He told his mother all about it and I told him that I am going to take you to see the funeral next Friday, and you will like that.

May and I took Ron on the bus to Hyde Park Corner, and we made tracks for the East Carriage Drive opposite all those large hotels. We got a position right on the edge of the footpath, and Ron had a little camp stool to sit on. It was a long wait, and then we heard the mournful dirge of the Dead March, and then the cortege came into view – a gun carriage the coffin draped with the Union Jack, and the King’s decorations and headgear, with the Prince of Wales so lonely walking bareheaded, and behind him, all the foreign royalty walking along so slowly. (I didn’t envy them either, with their knee boots and spurs. I guess there were some sore toes that day.) So that was another page in Ron’s memory. Doug was still working at Coppens and he stayed at work.

Walter was keenly aware of history, whatever the stage of his life or the circumstances in which he found himself. He was eyewitness to remarkable events in the first half of the 20th century.
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posted by MaryB @ 10:06 AM  


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