Queen Elizabeth II remained steadfast in her service to country and Commonwealth

21 September 2022

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown): On behalf of the people of the Charlestown electorate, I express condolences to King Charles III and his family on the death of his well-loved mother, their grandmother and great‑grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and also congratulate him on his accession to King. His mother certainly leaves big shoes to fill, but I am sure that he will fill them well. From the vantage point of 1952, when Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, the world of this year 2022 might appear unrecognisable. Over the course of her seven decades on the throne—a reign all but unmatched in history for its duration—the world underwent seismic social and cultural shifts. Throughout that time, she provided for many people in Australia, the Commonwealth and across the world a comforting, familiar presence. The world might have changed, but the Queen was a constant.

We are now living in a time of uncertainty and it is easy to think that such uncertainty is unprecedented, but Elizabeth II came of age in a time just as turbulent. She was born in 1926, in the shadow of World War I and the last great pandemic, and the world seemed to be on an economic and cultural upswing. We know, with the benefit of hindsight, how fragile that prosperity would turn out to be. Elizabeth's uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 when she was 11. Her father, King George VI, took the throne and suddenly Elizabeth was destined to be Queen. Despite that privileged position, the future monarch was not insulated from the hardship that was about to engulf Europe.

The world reached a tipping point when Elizabeth was just 13 years old. On 3 September 1939 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced to the world that his country—and along with it the British Empire, including Australia—was going to war against Nazi Germany. When bombs began to fall on London in 1940, King George resisted calls to flee the besieged city. His daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, were just two of the hundreds of thousands of children evacuated from the city to the countryside. The princesses went to Windsor Castle where, in October of 1940, 14-year-old Elizabeth gave her first public speech on the BBC's Children's Hour. She said:

Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister … and I feel so much for you as we know from experience what it means to be away from those we love most of all.

In 1943, 17-year-old Elizabeth was photographed tending the garden she had planted at Windsor Castle as part of a campaign called Dig for Victory, where citizens were urged to grow vegetables in every plot of available land to help combat wartime food shortages. By 1944 Princess Elizabeth was 18. Like 200,000 other women across Britain and the empire, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service—the women's branch of the British Army. Vital to the war effort, those women supported the military in a number of ways, some of them dangerous. More than 300 Auxiliary Territorial Service members were killed during the war.

The princess' father ensured that she was not given a special rank and she qualified as a mechanic on 14 April 1945, two weeks before her nineteenth birthday. Less than a month later, on 8 May 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered. Thousands of people flocked onto the streets of London to celebrate and, as the party continued into the night, the royal sisters slipped out of the palace to join them. The Queen would tell the BBC 40 years later:

I remember we were terrified of being recognised so I pulled my uniform cap well down over my eyes.

Throughout the war years Princess Elizabeth served alongside the people she would one day rule and, on that night, she celebrated with them too. She joined a party in progress all over the world, including here in Sydney. The celebration was joyous but bittersweet: millions had died and hundreds of thousands more would, as the war in the Pacific ground on until September. Now, in recent days, thousands of people have again flocked to the streets of London, this time in mourning of the Queen who stood on those streets with them 77 years ago. They share that feeling, just as they did 77 years ago, with countless others all over the world. Just as the happiness in 1945 was tinged with sad memories, the sadness in 2022 is tinged with happiness, respect and admiration for a woman whose long life saw tumult and change, but who remained steadfast in her service to her country and the Commonwealth. Vale, Queen Elizabeth II.