Right royal occasions

In tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, Rob Batiste looks back on her most memorable visits to Guernsey...

THERE are royal visits and then there are royal visits.

Nothing is greater, more attractive to us islanders, than the visit of a monarch.

In the case of Queen Elizabeth II, there were five of those joyous occasions, preceded by a spectacular first entry into Guernsey as a princess, primarily to open the island’s new hospital.

It was summer 1949 and St Julian’s Avenue will never again look like it did that day when the 23-year-old and her young husband visited and, during the short stay, opened and gave her name to our hospital.

Many a memorable photograph has emanated from those multiple visits of the monarch, but perhaps none more so than the shot of the royal cortege slowly climbing St Julian’s Avenue having just moved through a sea of people on the White Rock.

In those first minutes of a mere seven-hour stay, the future Queen swung through the White Rock junction to proceed up the avenue and pass under a massive floral archway which on one side displayed the simple message ‘Welcome’ and the other ‘a la prochaine’.

A visit to Saumarez Park beckoned before heading up to the hospital for a quick tour and declaring it officially open.

Guernsey was at its festive best under blue skies that day and nobody was more thrilled than veteran grower EP Gavey of The Newlyns, Frie Baton, who would get to explain tomato and grape production.

While crowds estimated at 10,000-plus had swarmed over Town to welcome the royal couple, two thousand had stayed back in leafy St Saviour’s to see them climb the hill to old Edwin Gavey’s vinery.

The Gavey family gave Elizabeth and Philip all ‘the inside dope’ as the Press reported, on the picking, packing and dispatch of the finest Guernsey tomatoes and how he treated his beautiful Cannon Hall grapes.

The paper also noted that an understandably nervous veteran grower had quite forgotten to tell his famous visitors how just a few years earlier Germany’s big guns at the adjoining Frie Baton gun battery had broken his heart when they fired their first salvos and the blast smashed more than 4,000ft of glass.

Whether it be in Town, the routes west, Saumarez Park, St Saviour’s or the hospital, it seems just about the whole population got a glimpse of the future Queen somewhere and it was a similar story when she was back eight years later, this time as the royal ‘boss’.

The Queen pictured in Guernsey in 1957. (31248283)

For this 1957 trip, Saumarez Park did not get a look in as the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh walked among thousands of islanders before lunch at the Old Government House Hotel and paid a brief visit to Government House in her own Queen’s Road before a triumphant car tour which touched eight of the island parishes.

Only St Martin’s and Torteval missed out as the cortege turned left out of Government House and headed towards Bailiff’s Cross, passing waving nurses outside her hospital in the Vauquiedor.

Onwards they moved through Four Cabot and Les Vauxbelets, giving the Little Chapel a miss, and at the Forest Church the crowd’s cheers were strengthened by the peal of church bells.

At Luff’s Corner (now Forest Stores corner), through St Peter’s village and at the Longfrie, ‘further large numbers’ cheered the couple on their way.

Then, it was sharp right, giving Gavey’s Frie Baton tomatoes a miss this time, heading for St Saviour’s Church and more bells in their ears.

Le Mont Saint was next stop having slipped past the reservoir, the Dos d’Ane and on to King’s Mills, where 14 cattle were shown to the royal visitors by the president of the Royal Guernsey Agricultural and Horticultural Society, Jurat Osmond Priaulx.

The drive then continued to cheers all the way as they headed uphill towards St George and then down to Albecq.

You wonder, as they swung around this headland, whether anyone took the chance to ask their most special guests whether they, too, could spot the shape of a lion in the pink granite peninsula?

If they did, nobody reported it.

From Le Guet to Cobo thousands more waved and yelled their approval, before their car went underneath a second floral archway outside the Rockmount Hotel.

The hotel, apparently newly painted in royal blue and white, was a blaze of colourful bunting and on the seawall opposite was an old Guernsey fishing scene where the picturesque costumes had women mending fishing nets, the fishermen in three boats hauling in nets, crab pots and lines containing live fish, lobsters and spider crabs.

During her 1957 visit, the Queen and Prince Phillip pass through the Cobo area where locals put on a fishing-themed display. (31174217)

Cobo had really pushed the boat out.

The massive archway of greenery and wild flowers spanned the roadway, with the centrepiece being the parish crest and a patois greeting which read: ‘Les Gens de Cobo vous font loi bienne venue’, which translates as ‘the people of Cobo bid you welcome’.

It was spectacular, as was so much of this Grand Tour, but with time being tight they moved on northwards where ‘especially large numbers’ were to be seen at Houmet du Nord, L’Islet, the Vale Church crossroads, Pembroke crossroads, L’Ancresse Lodge Hotel and the bus stop a couple of hundred yards further along under The Doyle.

La Turquie was ‘brilliantly beflagged’ before the royal couple eased past beautiful Bordeaux Harbour and on to the Bridge.

The tour was almost at an end and having progressed past the Halfway and the Red Lion, there was a short diversion inland to head up Mont Arrive and slow down for the nurses at the old Amherst Maternity Hospital.

Yet there was no time to stop and having passed a Beau Sejour ‘thick with cheering, happy people’ it was back down St Julian’s Avenue.

In no time at all, the stars of this most spectacular show were standing on the balcony of the old St George’s entertainment hall, not quite the Buckingham Palace balcony but it would do for Guernsey.

Years later that old vantage point above St George’s Esplanade does not seem fit for a pauper, let alone a Queen, but the rest of Town has more than survived the test of time and you would like to imagine Her Majesty would approve of what exists today.

But back in 1957 and as the royal couple prepared to head back to the peace of the Royal Yacht Britannia, it was the other side of Town and the Albert Pier which took centre stage for the departure.

A large square had been partitioned off near the Albert Slipway from where the statue of the Queen’s great-great grandfather Albert, the Prince Consort, gazed out.

The Queen was running late.

At five to six the royal barge entered the Old Harbour and five minutes later, having popped along to see Castle Cornet at close quarters, the couple arrived for a final farewell accompanied by the national anthem.

Prince Philip was first to step aboard the barge and then the Queen, who stepped ‘gracefully and unaided’ onto the little craft, which quickly drew away.

The nearby steamcutter named Victoria and Albert sounded her siren in salute and the band struck one more time to play ‘Will ye nae come back again?’.

They would of course.


On her first visit to Guernsey in 1949, the then Princess Elizabeth opened the island’s new hospital. Rob Batiste looks back at this momentous occasion...

Princess Elizabeth serenely glides through the welcoming party outside the island's new hospital in 1949. (31252262)

YOU name it, Her Majesty has probably unveiled it.

In Guernsey terms there was the 2005 memorial stone, and before that the millennium stone.

But no occasion was greater and more important to the workings of Guernsey short, mid and long term than the time she arrived on-island as a 23-year-old princess.

Guernsey had a spanking new hospital to show off and who better to both open and give her name to it than the Princess Elizabeth?

This red-letter day in the history of Guernsey medicine put the seal on a suitable transformation of a hospital which, having been originally designed as a mental health institution, had opened in 1939 just after the start of the Second World War.

The Occupation years saw the Germans utilise what was known as Le Vauquiedor Hospital, but soon after Liberation the States of Guernsey decided to convert the mental facility into a general hospital, for which there had long been an urgent need.

That late June day 73 years ago, sisters and nurses from all the island’s hospitals and homes lined up outside what we now know as the old PEH frontage to welcome the royal couple.

The Press reported that ‘the nurses looked very summery in their mauve dresses, white caps and aprons, and white sandals.

‘The princess produced her best smile and her husband remarked on what “a nice lot of nurses they were”.

He always had a way with words.

Princess Elizabeth was guided through the guard of honour by Deputy Marie Randall MBE, Guernsey’s own queen of politics.

Miss Randall introduced the four matrons assembled from across the island, including the one-day legendary Matron Bones of the Town Hospital.

Introductions and speeches complete, 15-year-old student nurse Joyce Queripel stepped up with a cushion on which a beautifully-wrought silver key lay for the star guest to pick up, unlock the front door and state: ‘I have much pleasure in declaring the Princess Elizabeth Hospital open’.

Of course, inside, the sick and injured wondered if they would get a glimpse of the royal couple.

In short, yes.

The patients rewarded for their patience included, in a ward on her own apart from her two-week-old son Martin, Mrs Leonard of Montville Road, Les Vardes.

Princess Elizabeth took a peep at the baby in the cot and asked Mrs Leonard how old he was and how much he weighed.

‘Do they look after you well?’ enquired the Duke, who was to provide a few typical ‘Philipisms’ during the hospital visit.

From ward to ward the royal couple moved.

She was attracted to the bandage on the head of two-year-old Brian Le Cras of 2, Les Huriaux, St Andrew’s.

The little lad had fallen down the cliff at Jerbourg.

‘You musn’t do it again,’ counselled the future Queen with a smile.

Wilfred Hawkins, 7, of Rosslyn, Grandes Rocques, told the special guest he was there because he had fallen down in the school playground.

‘What’s the matter with this lot? Anything particular?’ asked the Duke of Edinburgh with his customary bluntness when he glanced into a ward of tiny children.

However, he showed real concern at the health of baby Susan Brouard, just a few months old and very ill with pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Princess Elizabeth remarked how lost three-month-old Marilyn Collas looked in the white-quilted bed she was lying.

One more high-profile patient required visiting – no less than the president of the Board of Health, HG Stephenson, incapacitated for what could have been his own big day.

‘I think it is very bad luck,’ remarked Princess Elizabeth, who added that the hospital was ‘a very nice one’ and she liked the surroundings.

The royals then signed the visitors’ book and were off, destination Government House.

Most Read

Top Stories

More From The Guernsey Press

UK & International News