Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Just across the street--Prince Charles and Prince William

Unfortunately, our side of the street was barricaded. In front was the majestic facade of Westminster Abbey. The church's courtyard was decked out for a formal event, with a dais, rows of chairs and cops all around. The Pope, I thought, as the bus passed by. I was on my way to the British Museum when I got intrigued at the crowd that grew by the minute in front of the church, so I lingered.

Who's in there, I asked the cop near the fenced-in curb. Camilla, he said, and Prince William--for the 75th Battle of Britain anniversary. Oh oh oh. The British Museum visit promptly banished to after lunch, I began looking for a good vantage point. It was hard. I was a pygmy straining for a look behind the growing forest of Caucasian backs in front of me.

After about 15 minutes, the church bells began to peal, the doors opened, and out came a phalanx of flags. Then the congregation began trickling out and taking their seats on the courtyard. Trickling's the right word--it was excruciatingly slow, at least for those of us standing impatiently and watching the proceedings from across the street. It looked like everybody had to be out of the church first before Their Royal Highnesses would march out. The scene looked veddy English with the women in their sprightly frocks and colorful hats.

My view was already blocked by bobbing heads and shoulders--then an inconsiderate cameraman positioned himself right in front of our spot, earning audible hisses from the crowd. When the two princes finally appeared--and they materialized with no fanfare, announcement or introduction, though you heard the crowd gasp--I had to stand on tiptoe and hoist my camera far above my head to get good shots. The only time I hated being short, I tell you.

Neither of the two princes spoke. Prince William sat on the front row, while Prince Charles ascended the dais and saluted as a military parade passed by. Which lasted all of five minutes perhaps. After a flypast by three Royal Air Force planes in formation, the two princes got up, turned on their heels and reentered the church. And just like that--not even a wave or a nod at the crowd--the royal appearance was over.

The cop got one thing wrong. The event commemorated the 70th (not 75th) anniversary of the Battle of Britain. In 1940, after France fell, the UK was virtually alone in Europe against the might of Hitler's army. Only 21 miles separated the French coast from England; the Germans were set on crossing the Channel and annexing the isles next, except for one thing--Hitler first had to have air superiority before he could launch the invasion.

In this, he was thwarted by the Royal Air Force, whose squadrons of young pilots engaged the Luftwaffe in legendary dogfights over the English skies. The RAF's bravery and successful defense of the realm effectively scuttled Hitler's planned invasion of England, rallied the world against the Nazi onslaught and helped alter the course of war. The sacrifices of those young men--“a truly multinational force comprising 574 British, 139 Poles, 98 New Zealanders, 86 Canadians, 84 Czechoslovakians, 29 Belgians, 21 Australians, 20 South Africans, 13 French, 10 Irish plus others from the USA, Jamaica, Palestine and Southern Rhodesia” [from here]--moved then-UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill to utter one of his deathless lines: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

That morning, what were left of the young heroes of 1940 shambled out of Westminster Abbey still distinguished-looking in their crisp military coats and medals, but a number of them already looking feeble and on wheelchairs. The royals were there to pay tribute to these men--boys, really, 70 years ago--who had saved England and the Free World from tyranny.

The event, quiet and solemn and dignified, moved me tremendously. How great for a country to continue to remember its heroes. Back here, my late lolo--in his teens already a guerrilla against the Japanese, and then post-war was denied recognition for decades by the US for his and his comrades' sacrifices--couldn't even get a decent Philippine flag for his burial. A debt owed by so many to so few, indeed--yet so stingily remembered.

The reward I gave myself for the exhausting royal stakeout? A Coke and a Subway sandwich. It was my 6th and last day in London. Two days before my 40th birthday.


Mary Anne D. Tolentino said...

I like your camera! sharp photos :) What brand are you using?

gibbs cadiz said...

hi mary anne! samsung st550--the one with the dual-lcd screen. :)

Yj said...

omg... william!!!!

Gypsy said...

Wow, seeing Prince Wills would've been reward enough for me. :) Loved London when I was there a few years ago--witnessing this would have been a great bonus. :)

PS. Back to blogging. Thanks for not deleting me from your bloglist. Hopefully I'll be a more consistent blogger and not let Facebook suck the blogger soul out of me. :D

gibbs cadiz said...

welcome back to blogging, GYPSY! i resist deleting the good ones from my list because i, too, know we need to take a break from this damn blogging thing sometimes. but we go back. as you have now. looking forward to reading you again! :)

TheBachelorGirl said...

Okay, I got teary eyed with Churchill's line -- “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

What an extraordinary adventure! The serendipity of it all is just amazing! Love it!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Search this blog or the Web