Her Majesty the Queen
The death of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain yesterday has opened the floodgates of commentary around the world. I can't add anything to the plaudits of those who were her subjects, admirers and friends, so I won't even try. Instead, I'll try to portray her as my parents and their friends saw her.
They'd been through World War II as servicemen, and as the wives who'd "kept the home fires burning" during their husbands' absence. They remembered the then-Princess Elizabeth as an example, working alongside her parents, King George VI and his wife, to shore up public morale and share the burdens of wartime living with their people. Princess Elizabeth trained as a driver late in the war, as soon as she was legally able to get her license, and ferried supplies around the country behind the wheel of a truck. She was almost universally admired and liked as setting an example for others.
She came to South Africa in 1947, celebrating her 21st birthday in what was then still part of the Commonwealth. It was in South Africa that she broadcast to the British people on her birthday, making her famous pledge.
"I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong." She certainly kept that oath, her whole life long. Service to her country was indeed her watchword, setting an example greater than almost all of her predecessors. It might be said that she was a living bridge between the "old" Britain and the modern one, embodying the best of the old while guiding the sometimes excessive energies and enthusiasms of the new. My parents held her up to their children as an example of that. I'm not saying we paid much attention, being the usual self-centered teenagers and young adults that we were, but I think we all developed an instinctive respect for her as embodying the very best principles of monarchy, while eschewing the worst.
Another aspect of her life that I greatly admired was her relationship with Prince Philip, her husband. They fell in love during World War II, and wanted to marry, but faced opposition from her parents and the protocol-ridden establishment, who were dubious about Greek-born Philip's acceptability as King Consort. They overcame those objections, and became secretly engaged in 1946, but had to wait until after Elizabeth's 21st birthday the following year before they publicly announced it. They were married late that year. Queen Elizabeth always acknowledged Philip as the great strength and support in her life, and they were devoted to each other - an example I wish more of us would emulate.
Elizabeth was very conscious of her role as head of the Church of England, and made a point of acknowledging religious faith's importance in her life. There are those who decry a head of state being also the head of a church, and I think their points are valid: but Britain was always an exception to that rule, because at a time when the rest of Europe was being ripped apart (sometimes all too literally) by religious dissent and antagonism, the Church of England allied with the monarchy to give the English people a center around which to rally. Over the centuries since, as England expanded into Great Britain, that center held, and remained constant. Nowadays it appears to be on rather shaky foundations, but it's to Elizabeth's credit that she affirmed and reinforced those foundations whenever she could. Whether or not that center will hold in the years ahead, no-one can tell.
Queen Elizabeth was never my monarch, never my sovereign: but I always respected her, and admired the way she coped with "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that plagued her family and her nation in recent decades. She never stopped setting an example. I hope and pray her son, now King Charles III, will be able to grow into her shoes.
May she rest in peace.