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Bishop's Stortford family's pride in their 'Poppa' who helped to plan Queen's Coronation



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The Platinum Jubilee has special significance for one Bishop's Stortford man – his father was a key figure, at the age of just 20, in the organisation of the Queen's Coronation 69 years ago.

Modest Alfred Marshall received a British Empire Medal (BEM) for his contribution to the smooth execution of the pageant but consigned his honour – a signed letter of thanks from Her Majesty and evidence of his painstaking planning – to his garage for 40 years.

Those mementoes, rescued from the damp after Alfred's death in 1998, are now treasured by his son Alan and daughter Julie.

Alfred Marshall was just 19 when he started work on organising the military pageant for the Queen's Coronation
Alfred Marshall was just 19 when he started work on organising the military pageant for the Queen's Coronation

Alan, who has lived in Stortford for 40 years with wife Lesley, believed his dad downplayed his contribution compared to others recognised in the Queen's 1953 Birthday and Coronation Honours List who had been in combat. His own father, also named Alfred, served in the First World War on HMS London as a torpedo operator.

"He was proud of what he did, but he just didn't enjoy talking about it," said Alan.

Alfred was born in March 1933 in Hackney, east London, and joined the Royal Army Service Corps as his National Service.

Alan Marshall and wife Lesley with his father's BEM. Pic: Vikki Lince
Alan Marshall and wife Lesley with his father's BEM. Pic: Vikki Lince

The lance corporal's fuss-free attitude to life stood him in good stead. When his senior officer became ill, he stepped up to wrestle with the logistics of co-ordinating almost 30,000 men taking part in the procession. Alfred was temporarily promoted to sergeant so he could issue orders as part of the task.

According to Buckingham Palace, the assembled ranks included 16,100 from the Army, 7,000 from the RAF, 3,600 from the Royal Navy, 2,000 from the Commonwealth and 500 from the 'colonies'. There were 6,700 reserve and administrative troops, while 1,000 officers and men of the Royal Military Police were brought in to assist the Metropolitan police. A further 7,000 police were drawn from 75 provincial forces.

Alfred and his colleagues spent 11 months completing the administration manual - a thick, hand-typed volume packed with information and instructions, including uniform requirements and haversack rations, to ensure the Coronation was a flawless spectacle.

No detail of billeting the small army of military participants was too small to be considered – from servicemen washing in the Serpentine to hay rations for their horses.

Armed forces members marching from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace (57045049)
Armed forces members marching from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace (57045049)

The eyes of the world were on the UK as the ceremony of almost three hours was the first ever to be televised and captivated 27 million people at home and many millions more across the globe.

Queen Elizabeth was the 39th sovereign to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, on June 2, 1953. She had ascended to the throne at the age of just 25 on February 6 the previous year upon the death of her father, George VI.

As an 11-year-old girl in 1937, she had watched her father's Coronation. She was watched by her first-born and heir, Prince Charles, and 8,250 guests from 129 nations and territories as she took the throne.

The Coronation ceremony (57045052)
The Coronation ceremony (57045052)

While Alfred saw little of the pageantry as he toiled behind the scenes, his new wife Mary had a bird's-eye view from Admiralty Arch in recognition of his contribution. The couple had married the year before.

The citation for his BEM emphasises his sterling service: "This has been a very big job entailing a great deal of hard work over a long period both in and out of office hours. In addition to this, Lance Corporal Marshall has of course had to carry out his normal duties as a Q clerk. Throughout all this time, this NCO [non-commissioned officer] has shown tremendous energy and has never relaxed in the slightest when there was still work to be done."

A letter from Buckingham Palace, signed by the Queen, to Alfred Marshall
A letter from Buckingham Palace, signed by the Queen, to Alfred Marshall

A typed covering letter from Buckingham Palace, signed by the Queen, says: "I greatly regret that I am unable to give you personally the award which you have so well earned. I now send it to you with my congratulations and my best wishes for your future happiness."

The evidence of his efforts, including telegrams of congratulation from senior officers, are now treasured family heirlooms.

Alan and Lesley said: "We thought it was fascinating, the amount of detail and work he had to do. It makes us feel really proud."

They took the collection to BBC TV's Antiques Roadshow to show experts when the programme visited Audley End House around five years ago but would never part with the priceless memories.

The citation for Alfred Marshall's BEM in the Queen's 1953 Birthday and Coronation Honours List
The citation for Alfred Marshall's BEM in the Queen's 1953 Birthday and Coronation Honours List

Alan followed in his father's footsteps as a furniture maker and now runs Blue Line office furniture at Thremhall Park, near Stansted Airport. He hopes to use his skills to create a display cabinet for the medal and documents which will preserve them and still allow them to be read and enjoyed.

Lesley, a former special needs teaching assistant at Manor Fields Primary School in Stortford, said Alfred – who spent his later years at his dream home with a view in East Sussex – was affectionately known as Poppa by their four children, Charlotte, Joanne, William and Samuel, all of whom share their parents' pride in his achievement.

Lesley said: "He was a larger-than-life character – he would walk into a room and you would know he had arrived."

The Queen's Coronation procession on June 2, 1953
The Queen's Coronation procession on June 2, 1953
The Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, including Prince Charles and Princess Anne as children
The Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, including Prince Charles and Princess Anne as children
A letter of congratulations from Major-General Julian Gascoigne
A letter of congratulations from Major-General Julian Gascoigne
A personal telegram from Alfred Marshall's General Officer Commanding-in-Chief congratulating him on his British Empire Medal
A personal telegram from Alfred Marshall's General Officer Commanding-in-Chief congratulating him on his British Empire Medal


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