Tribute to Her Majesty The Queen
A Tribute from Lieutenant General David Leakey, 18 September 2022
When Her Majesty was born in 1926, she was not expected to be Queen. But at just nine years old her destiny changed as she became heir to the throne, and her life of dedicated public service began. Yet the responsibility was one that she readily absorbed, making her first radio broadcast in 1940 at the age of 14, to the children evacuated overseas during the Second World War.
We are living today in a very different society from the one into which Her Majesty was born 96 years ago. It was less than a decade since Britain had emerged from the horrors of the First World War, vowing that such devastating conflict should never happen again. And yet, sadly, it did happen again, in 1945, when Princess Elizabeth was barely a teenager.
At just 25, she succeeded her father to the Throne. That was four short years after she had married and while her first two children were still toddlers. As she became Queen, her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, warned:
“She comes to the Throne at a time when a tormented mankind stands uncertainly poised between world catastrophe and a golden age”.
The Queen will certainly give her name to a golden age, and to an era of extraordinary world events, technological advance and social change.
She has innovated to bring the monarch closer to the people, her Christmas message of 1957 being the first to be transmitted live. She pioneered the royal walkabout and, aged 89, she sent her first tweet.
But the fact that she has remained relevant and constant right up to the day she died is testament to her enduring values of decency, honesty, humility and honour.
What is truly remarkable about Her Majesty’s commitment is that she continued to serve with a zest and undimmed sense of public duty. As Her Majesty entered her 10th decade, she started to take things a little easier, … which is why, that year, she carried out 306 engagements in the UK and 35 overseas —a workload that would be daunting to someone even half her age. As Head of State, her commitment has been beyond question.
We should also acknowledge the lifelong support of her family, not least that of the Duke of Edinburgh, who remained always by her side – outspoken, sometimes irreverent and at all times totally human; his support was ‘her rock’.
Like all of us, the Queen will have had many personal memories of births and deaths, and of people, places and events. And while her life brought to her more privilege and opportunities than most, she has also known the highs and the lows, and the joys and the sadnesses which normal family life brings.
She was not just a Queen. She was a remarkable woman. With thousands of other young women, she qualified as a mechanic and driver with the ATS during the Second World War, the first female member of the royal family to join the armed forces. In that era, it was quite bold and daring for a princess. Many were not happy about it, believing that her most important training should be as heir to the Throne, not as a mechanic. Her determination and persistence in insisting that she wanted to serve her country was a clear indication that she would become a Queen who would bring her own style and make her own way.
So, on VE Day in 1945, the two royal princesses were as keen as anyone to celebrate the peace. They joined the crowds in London, and mingled anonymously, linking arms and celebrating the end of the war. In a world without selfies or mobiles, I wonder how many thought that the two attractive young women partying with them looked just like Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
In an age of Twitter, “Celebrity Big Brother” and sharing private lives far too publicly, it is refreshing and almost extraordinary that the Queen never spoke out publicly of her views on political issues, maintaining dignified privacy of thought and strict impartiality. If it was frustrating for her at times, it never showed.
The 14 Prime Ministers, who have had a weekly audience with the Queen (the 15th only had one meeting with the Queen as Prime Minister), always found a willing listener and someone whose discretion they could rely on absolutely: no leaks, no Tweets, just absolute confidence.
The Queen could light up a serious occasion with her radiant smile, and with the vibrant colours of her outfits too; and a dry sense of humour was often in evidence. The Queen once asked a newly elected Member of Parliament how she liked her new job. The MP responded that she felt that she had little power to help her constituents. The Queen replied understandingly, “Once they find out that you lot can’t help them, they all write to me”.
While walking near Balmoral, Her Majesty encountered two American tourists. They asked whether she was local, to which she replied that she had a house nearby. They then asked whether she had met the Queen. “No,” she replied, and gesturing to her protection officer, she said, “But he has.”
Times have changed, but values have not. The Royal Family is one of the most traditional institutions in the world. Yet if we stand back and reflect on the past 96 years, both the 96 years of the Queen’s life and the 70 years of her reign, we see significant changes. Perceptively, skilfully and without fanfare she guided the monarchy into the 21st century, not just for today but for the future. She has encouraged and supported her children and grandchildren and prepared them for their roles. It is evident that Prince Charles has certainly ‘stepped up’ and looks every inch the King.
She was not just a monarch. She was also a role model for women, particularly as women have increasingly taken their place in public life, have a voice in the Governments of their countries, break through corporate glass ceilings, are ordained in the Church, and many are now Bishops too.
As a diplomat and ambassador for the United Kingdom, the Queen has represented our country on countless official visits to most of the countries in the world. The reach of Her Majesty’s diplomacy was without parallel. She can be the only woman ever to have driven the King of Saudi Arabia around in a car.
Her Majesty was head of her armed forces, Colonel-in-Chief of 17 regiments. Soldiers, sailors and airmen swear an oath of allegiance to the Sovereign. It is she they served, and that bond between the Sovereign and the men and women of the armed forces is a very special one, not least because in her was personified the ideal of service and duty. Although King George II was the last sovereign to lead his forces into battle, in 1743, Elizabeth II has led from the front by example. My own commission as an Army Officer sits in a frame at home, to remind me of the duty I owe to my Sovereign.
Duty is perhaps the single word which resonates when one considers what the Queen has done for her country.
Recall the vow that the then Princess Elizabeth made in Cape Town on her 21st birthday. She said:
“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”.
Never has such an extraordinary promise been so profoundly fulfilled and surely no vow has been more dutifully honoured.
We no longer have to wonder how the Queen would get over the hurdle of sending herself a birthday card when she reached her century.
We should be happy that she died working right up to the last day of her life, that she died in a place which she loved dearly and that she died surrounded by her family and her dogs.
A picture is better than a thousand words. There have been many “iconic” photographs, but it is that picture—I think it is the last photograph we have—of her standing in her drawing room at Balmoral, with such fragility and frailty. In a world where it is endlessly presented to us that the only style of leadership is that which is bold, aggressive and so on, she was showing us that there are other sorts of leadership, which can come from humanity and fragility. That picture of her leaning on her stick, stooped over with her hand outstretched, will stay with us as a picture of welcome and warmth. For that, we give thanks for her life.