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Chris OldfieldNaracoorte Community News

Richard Downward remembers the magical glamour, pomp and pageantry of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 because he was there.

Just 14 years old at the time, he and fellow Naracoorte High School student Geoffrey Arthur (deceased) were selected to join The Advertiser Sun Youth Travel Coronation contingent.

Geoffrey was chosen by the former Naracoorte District Council and Richard was selected by the previous Lucindale District Council.

Each council contributed 310 pounds to help pay the cost of the trip, which was mainly funded by The Advertiser and Sun newspapers.

“We were the only two from the SE selected to go,” Mr Downward said.

“We had to apply and we had to do a written examination in the first instance.

“It wasn’t really a scholarship, but we went through a process and we were youth ambassadors.”

All up 20 SA boys were appointed following an intense application process.

Mr Downward said the SA group joined a larger contingent – 33 others from Victoria and Tasmania.

Together with managers, teachers and a matron the party expanded to 60.

Mr Downward described it as “a trip of a lifetime” with a lot of good experiences and said he felt very fortunate to have been selected.

“We lived on a farm at ‘St Helena’ near Lucindale,” Mr Downward said.

“I had two brothers and two sisters – I was the eldest, next was Peter who became a stock agent for Elders and is now retired at Kingston.

“Then there were my two sisters, Mary who lives in Adelaide and Flora Bird who lives here (in Naracoorte, whom he was visiting at the time of this interview).

“Then there’s my youngest brother ‘Crash’ (Andrew) – he wasn’t born at the time of the coronation and he is standing for council (in the upcoming election).

“There was no area school at Lucindale at that time, and so for my secondary education I boarded in Naracoorte with some very good people who looked after me.”

Before leaving on the 13-week adventure for the Queen’s coronation, Richard wrote a letter to the town’s newspaper.

A clipping highlights his letter in which he thanks “the Naracoorte High School who gave me a pencil and to my classmates, who gave me a Scottish travel book.

“Also to those who presented me with money – I would like to advise them that I purchased a watch and pen with this money,” he wrote at the time.

The tour started when the boys boarded the Oronsay ship at Outer Harbour on April 30.

“We docked in Tilbury four days before the coronation and were billeted out with people in London,” Mr Downward said.

He stayed with a family at Kensington which was only a short walk from Westminster Abbey and they “took us around everywhere”.

Mr Downward found it all scenic and interesting, especially as his grandfather had once been the late King George VI’s hairdresser and his father had played in the palace grounds with other children, including the now King Charles.

While billeted with a family in London, he also learned Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had on May 29 been the first two people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

“So, it was a very memorable time,” said Mr Downward, highlighting the two great historic events.

“We got up at 2.30am and walked to the Abbey on the day of the coronation – it was amazing to be there.”

At the Abbey, the 53 boys all met at 6.30am for what was deemed the highlight of their trip – the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

“We were in London for five or six days, then we travelled through Scotland,” Mr Downward said.

They spent five weeks travelling through Britain with an itinerary that included London, Cheltenham, Nottingham, the Lancashire seaside resort Grange-over-Sands, Edinburgh, Inverness, Crieff, Glasgow and Rochester.

While in London the traffic was dense and televisions were in many of the homes that boys were billeted with.

Upon returning home, Richard recalls being invited to attend as a guest speaker many events and functions around Naracoorte, Lucindale and the SE.

“It was a fantastic experience,” said Mr Downward, who was saddened by the recent death of the Queen.

The Advertiser at the time reported the objective of the youth travel project was threefold – “to strengthen ties of Empire, particularly among youth”; to encourage British people to migrate to Australia; and, “by cultivating the highest ideals of citizenship, develop future civic leaders”.

Returning to his studies, Mr Downward won a scholarship to Roseworthy and became a schoolteacher for several years before returning to a career in farming.

With secondary qualifications in agriculture and experience in farming, he was later snapped up by the Lucindale council as a weeds officer.

Ironically, as a resident in Adelaide in the decades that followed, Mr Downward did become a civic leader for several years with Hills-based councils.

Naracoorte Community News 21 September 2022

This article appeared in the Naracoorte Community News.

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