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Royal memories

Prince Edward County children were among the crowd that witnessed Princess Elizabeth visit the Royal Canadian Air Force base at Trenton, Ontario in the summer of 1951 . She was there with Prince Philip to unveil the memorial gates erected to commemorate the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

By Alan R. Capon

Sometime around the summer of 1951, Princess Elizabeth paid a visit to Royal Air Force Halton in Buckinghamshire. I was stationed there at the time and recall the flurry of activity that preceded her visit. Everything on the station that could be freshly painted was, including white-washing the stacks of coal.

In the fall months of that same year, Princess Elizabeth visited the Royal Canadian Air Force base at Trenton, Ontario when she unveiled the memorial gates erected to commemorate the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan that operated during the Second World War. During the war, Canada had become an advanced training centre for pilots and other aircrew from all parts of the Commonwealth and Empire.

The governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand erected the memorial gates to commemorate the successful operation of the wartime plan. The gates feature the coats-of-arms of Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand and symbolize the solidarity of the air forces of the Commonwealth.

More that 130,000 aircrew graduated from the many Air Training Plan stations in Canada including, locally, Trenton and Mountain View. Of this number, some 16,500 were Australians and New Zealanders and 42,000 were from Great Britain.

Senator Bill Fraser of Trenton and Mayor Harvey McFarland of Picton arranged for thousands of children to see the Royal visitor. They personally financed special trains to take the schoolchildren to Trenton where a special section along the Royal tour route was reserved for them.

Although most of the children only got a fleeting glimpse as the Royal limousine passed, the train ride and the excitement of the day made it one to remember.

A scant few months after this Royal Tour by Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, King George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham, Norfolk on February 6, 1952. The news of the King’s death reached Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip while they were visiting Kenya. “The King is dead, long live the Queen!” – Elizabeth ascended the throne as Queen Elizabeth II.

At the time of the King’s death I was serving at Royal Air Force Station, Henlow. I was in the station stores when I heard the announcement of his passing on the BBC. I returned to my office and relayed the news to the Wing Commander for whom I worked. He expressed disbelief that this had happened and suggested I must have mis-heard the news, for George VI who had ascended the throne after his brother Edward VIII had abdicated, was only 56 years old.

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