The Death of Queen Elizabeth Il brought back memories of my 13-month stay in England while serving in the U.S. Army. I was stationed at Greenham Common Airforce Base just outside Newbury and took a train to London at least once a month. I spent many Sundays visiting the southern countryside in what was a life-changing experience.
I joined the military to get the Gl Bill and go to college, but my three-year tour not only prepared me for college, but for a complete civic and social life as well. Although I visited Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace and the Queen's beloved Balmoral Castle in Scotland, it was more exciting to meet some of the people at those places who were tourists like me. I enjoyed talking to local merchants. They, in turn, were curious about this young lad from Tennessee.
I spent many of my off-duty evenings at local movie theaters that featured films with British stars, including Richard Attenborough, who made a number of war movies; Sir Cedric Hardwicke, a leading stage star; and Sir John Mills, who also made war movies. Peter Cushing had begun to try his hand at horror films.
The news reels between movies made us aware of British life and politics. Very often they showed dashing Prince Phillip and his young son Prince Charles. Philip, titled the Duke of Edinburgh, and Charles could be seen on various outings, including Charles riding his pony.The press delighted in presenting their antics.
Every Sunday when I did not have duties, I went to the base service club, boarded a school-type bus with 20 or 30 other soldiers and airmen, and headed for some chosen place within a few hours' driving distance. It was on those trips that I visited Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-upon Avon, Stonehenge at Salisbury, Bath, the tourist town of Brighton on the English Channel and other sites. I can retrace them because they are marked in red ink in my Funk & Wagnall's Hammond World Atlas.
I was never lucky enough to recognize any members of the Royal family at the shows I attended in London. Some of them must have been present when I saw the Platters at the London Palladium in 1956. I am sure some came there to see "No Time For Sergeants" with Barry Nelson. Surely some royals were present for the hilarious performance of Victor Borge, but I did not see them.
In the spring of 1957 I took a two-week leave and visited Scotland, where I stayed at a bed and breakfast on Princess Street in Edinburgh. I took a cruise up the Clyde Coast and made a stop in Glasgow. While in Scotland, I got a glimpse of Balmoral, the private residence of the Queen in the Scottish Highlands that was built by Prince Albert and left to Queen Victoria in 1861.
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I spent New Year's Eve 1956 and New Year's Day in 1957 with some British friends in Oxford. In addition to seeing historic sites, we saw the play "Waiting For Godot" by Samuel Beckett at a local playhouse, and the next day we saw the movie "High Society" with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
It's hard to believe I had those experiences more than 65 years ago, but some of them are just as fresh as yesterday. The death of Queen Elizabeth, the scenes at Windsor Castle and the good memories I have of those times make them seem more recent.
Robert J. Booker is a freelance writer and former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. He may be reached at 865-546-1576.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Death of Queen Elizabeth II prompts memories of time in the UK