The year 1953 was dramatic and life-changing for me. At 27, I had already lived in wartime England, served on a British cruiser and experienced employment with a British airline, the Canadian Government in England and an oil company in Canada.
Life was good. But I was restless. Then, in February 1953, came the irresistible call of God to be a Salvation Army officer. It was a sudden and undesired change to my own vocation plans and daily routines.
To help me adjust to this calling and prepare for my future, I was invited to go to England and spend a few months with kind relatives. This I did. It proved to be blessed by God.
One of the first places I visited was Canada House in London where I had been employed before and after my Royal Navy wartime service. It came as a great surprise to be offered temporary employment on the High Commissioner’s special coronation staff. I happily accepted. (Although Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, her coronation took place the following year.)
The crowning of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey and the processional to and from Buckingham Palace were events of breathtaking pomp and pageantry. Many Canadians looked to Canada House to arrange seating for these events as well as other hospitality courtesies.
I had the privilege of watching the coronation procession from the stands built outside Canada House as the parade passed through Trafalgar Square no fewer than three times. This must have been one of the best positions on the whole route.
The weather on June 2, 1953, could hardly have been less kind. It was wet, cold and miserable. But tens of thousands of people packed the square below us and seemed undeterred. An air of expectancy mounted following our 6 a.m. seating deadline.
Right from the colonial contingents (as they were called in those days) that headed the procession, to the brilliantly plumed Household Cavalry that escorted the great, golden state coach in which the Queen was seated, the spectacular colour, magnitude and magnificence of the cavalcade was awesome. I do not suppose that ever again will we see so many royal personages, prime ministers, top service chiefs and leading representatives of so many countries in a single procession.
Little did we imagine in those days that our newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II would reign through 60 glorious years with unwavering steadfastness, dignity and grace, winning the admiration of people worldwide.
As I reflect on my own life through the past six decades, I see a road less travelled but fulfilling beyond all expectations.
Little did I imagine that in 1956 I would marry a session-mate, Evangeline Oxbury, and that within three years we would be asked to go to India. India was halfway around the world and required a six-week voyage by sea. In an age before phones and Internet, communication was made by sea mail and a letter would take six weeks to arrive. We would not return to Canada for five years. Our baby daughter would have her first birthday in England en route. Two sons would be born in India. I would not see my parents again in this world.
The years that followed were full of challenge, adventure and fulfilment beyond all expectation. And it all started because in 1953, the year that Queen Elizabeth II made her coronation vows, Eva and I made our own vows, echoing George Matheson’s inspired and transforming words:
O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
Commissioner Dudley Coles lives in retirement in Toronto. Together with his daughter, he is in England this month for the Golden Jubilee celebrations that mark 60 years of the Queen’s reign. The Canadian High Commission has invited him to share in a number of special events.