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British Islanders mourn the Queen’s passing: Respect and honor for Elizabeth II

It was one of the most inescapable worldwide events in memory, with wall-to-wall TV and press coverage memorializing the passing of a 96-year-old woman.

It started with the death watch in Scotland of Queen Elizabeth II, when every detail of her family’s travel plans were broadcast around the clock and written about in the newspapers around the world, followed by all the ceremonies leading to her funeral — including a 5-mile-long queue and a 24-hour wait to spend a few minutes passing her coffin, all with the world watching.

The Reporter spoke with some English-born Islanders about their reaction to the news.

Duty and fortitude

 Michael Coles, a British Royal Navy veteran of the Korean War and the civil war in Cyprus, said, with some dry, English wit, “The Queen and I go back a long way.” He was speaking, he added, of his age, rather than knowing her personally. But he had met the queen’s husband, Prince Phillip, during his navy duties, he said.

Michael Coles and Edie Landeck. (Reporter file)

Mr. Coles was especially struck by the queen’s sense of “duty and fortitude,” by following protocol to meet Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, even though she was gravely ill. “A good example of the orderly transfer of power,” Mr. Coles said, adding that it was an event Americans should note. By staying completely out of politics, he said, she could hold her country together in many ways.

Edie Landeck, Mr. Coles American-born wife, said, “You don’t have to be British to be moved by this.” She was speaking about the outpouring of emotion surrounding the death and the solemn, clockwork efficiency of the  elaborate ceremonies.

Ms. Landeck said she’d always admired the queen, especially her “constancy and caring.” She hadn’t watched  much of the news from Britain, but was planning to watch the funeral on Monday morning. “Our tennis group canceled for Monday so we could watch.”

The queen’s legacy will endure without stain, Mr. Coles said, even though “there are a lot of people coming out of the woodwork, saying, ‘Oh, she was nasty to this one or that one.’ No. Not all. Never.”

The overwhelming response of Americans paying tribute to the queen has to do with her longevity, but also staying above the scrum of politics, allowing power to change peacefully, with no controversy, Mr. Coles said. “Americans have — maybe — a touch of jealousy about that,” he added.

A good woman

English-born Mollie Strugats said she had watched some of the coverage of the queen’s passing, and was amazed by the American reaction. “Some have been more affected than many British people,” Ms. Strugats said. For Britons, the queen “has always been a big part of our lives,” she said, adding, “She was a good woman who did a good job.”

As for her successor, King Charles III, “I haven’t’ seen enough of him yet,” Ms. Strugats said. “I really haven’t followed all of the family drama. But he’ll be O.K. He was brought up to be O.K.”

Another Islander who served in Britain’s navy, Vivienne Gershon, said she had not watched much of the coverage, but was saddened by the passing of the queen. Her long life made it seem she would reign forever, but, “It was inevitable of, course,” Ms. Gershon said.

Viviene Gershon in her Women’s Royal Naval Service uniform in the early 1940s when she worked on a secret code breaking project. (Courtesy photo)

Ms. Gershon was a player in one of the most remarkable feats of World War II — the breaking of the German military code by a group of British patriots. When she graduated from high school the war was on, with the German Wehrmacht rolling from victory to victory through Europe and bombing British cities.

She worked for a while caring for returning veterans and then joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service, known as the Wrens, at the end of 1942. Not long after that, she was recruited by British intelligence services to work on breaking the German codes, which historians say substantially shortened the war.

“The Queen never faltered,” Ms. Gershon said. “She did a wonderful job right to the end.”

A personal feeling

Islander Frank Emmett was born in the same Yorkshire town, Keighley, as Ms. Gershon. He also felt saddened hearing the news. “I’m not a royalist,” he said. “But I’m also not a rabid anti-royalist.”

Like many, Mr. Emmet said that in his life, the queen was a permanent presence. “I was born in 1951 and she was coronated in 1952.”

As for the American reaction, Mr. Emmet had to look no further than to his wife, Colleen Smith, who hung a Union Jack with black bunting outside their Baldwin Road house.

Frank Emmett and Colleen Smith at home on their Baldwin Road porch. (Credit: Charity Robey)

“Even though I’m not a slavish monarchist, it was a personal feeling about her,” he said. “I respected her, always.”

Some snarky humor came his way recently when he received a postcard from a friend with a picture of King Charles. On the back was written: “73-year-old man finally gets a job.” Mr. Emmett’s reaction was that the sentiment, although funny, was “not very nice. It’s not the time for that.”

He didn’t watch much of the coverage, busy with other things, including volunteering for the Senior Center. But Monday’s funeral was different. “We had made plans for Monday and canceled so we could watch.”

Keeping us together

Mollie Numark puts herself firmly in the royalist camp. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I cried when I heard of her death,” adding that she was“glued” to the TV coverage of the ceremonies. “She kept us together. She was the glue of Britain and the commonwealth. We respect and love her.”

As a young woman, Ms. Numark was a member of the Royal Academy of Dance and Queen Elizabeth had been the patron of the academy.

In London she performed in dance companies that were called on for command performances, and once had a close encounter with the  queen.

Mollie Numark as a young dancer. (Courtesy photo)

“I was invited to the races at Ascot for Queen’s Day by some friends at the Daily Mail to sit in the newspaper’s box,” she said. “The Queen was in the next box.”

Ms. Numark remembers with pleasure how much fun the queen was having on race day, chatting and laughing freely, a break from her public stance of constant reserve.

Ms. Numark also commented on how the ancient rites of public mourning were performed with precision, quiet drama and ease, with deft bows to tradition and continuity.

“We’re good at that,” Mr. Emmett said, about the people of his homeland.