How Jamaican Jews and teenage photographers marked the Queen's coronation

By Jennifer Lipman, June 3, 2013
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the coronation (Photo: Library and Archives Canada/K-0000047)

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the coronation (Photo: Library and Archives Canada/K-0000047)

The ambassador of the fledgling state of Israel and Jewish dignitaries from Canada, Australia, Rhodesia and even Jamaica were at Westminster Abbey 60 years ago this week to watch Princess Elizabeth be crowned queen.

For envoy Eliahu Elath, it was not the first time he had been present at a coronation. Both he and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, by 1953 president of Israel, had attended the crowning of the queen's father, George VI in 1937. Then, they were representing the yishuv; 16 years later Mr Elath spoke of how the honour of representing the Jewish state at the event "will always remain as one of the outstanding events of my life".

At the time, the empire still stood, and it was a further nine years before Jamaica achieved full independence. Accordingly, Mr Leslie Mordercai, a former president of Kingston's United Congregation of Israelites, was invited to the coronation.

One of the Canadian officials, Max Siegler, dean of Montreal City Council, spoke of how "everyone present was not only deeply impressed by the surroundings, but also by the beauty, and simplicity of our young Queen. One almost thought that England was being reborn, in her youth and vitality, and I believe that all present dedicated themselves in their own ways to do what they can to make of Britain and the Commonwealth an even greater Power than she is to-day".

They were joined on the coronation route by Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen acting in official capacities, while ambulance worker Frank Simons, of the East London division, was one of a select few on duty inside the Abbey. A 17-year-old Jewish trainee chef from Ramsgate, Colin Morris, was assisting in Buckingham Palace during coronation week.

For Alex Falk, a photographer's runner for the Reuters-PA agency, it was just another day at work – with overtime. Then 16, he will be one of the few to have attended both the coronation and this week's anniversary celebration.

Having been given a camera for his barmitzvah, Mr Falk had been working at the agency for a year and had already covered the Great Smog by the time of the coronation. "You couldn't move in London on the day," he said. "I had to get up very early and be prepared with my lunch to be in the Abbey up the scaffolding facing the main entrance.

"I was not privileged to take the pictures but once people had started to move away I came down and ran back to Fleet Street to take the plates of film to the dark room for the evening editions. They were going into special supplements and world editions – we had the exclusive."

The experience did not faze him. "As a 16-year-old I did not lack confidence. You don't realise that history is being made until after."

Anglo-Jewry also marked the occasion with a United Synagogue Coronation service at Hampstead Synagogue, led by the chief rabbi and attended by Viscount Samuel and Rev I levy, then the senior chaplain to the forces.

Last updated: 1:04pm, June 3 2013